House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Monday, September 26 by the hon. member for Calgary East concerning the work of the Ethics Commissioner. I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter, as well as for the additional information he provided.

In presenting his case, the hon. member for Calgary East argued that the Ethics Commissioner had not followed the proper process for conducting an inquiry as defined in the Conflict of Interest Code appended to our Standing Orders. Specifically, the hon. member claimed that the Ethics Commissioner failed to provide him with reasonable written notice that he was the subject of an inquiry. In addition, the hon. member stated that, by commenting on the inquiry to a journalist, the Ethics Commissioner failed to conduct the inquiry in private.

Finally, the hon. member alleged that the Ethics Commissioner's comments to this journalist had damaged the hon. member's reputation and unfairly prejudiced the investigation.

For those reasons, he charged that the Ethics Commissioner was in contempt of the House and asked that I find a prima facie breach of privilege.

As both the position of Ethics Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest Code are relatively new, I believe it would be helpful to review how they came into existence.

On March 31, 2004, Royal Assent was given to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence. This act created the position of Ethics Commissioner, whose role in relation to Members of Parliament is specified in subsection 72.05(1) of the act, namely to:

“perform the duties and functions assigned by the House of Commons for governing the conduct of its members when carrying out the duties and functions of their office as members of that House”.

On April 29, 2004, the House adopted the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which recommended that a Conflict of Interest Code for members be appended to our Standing Orders. This code, which came into force at the beginning of the 38th Parliament, assigns several responsibilities to the Ethics Commissioner.

I mention these events to underscore that the Conflict of Interest Code contains rules that the House has adopted for itself and that the House has mandated the Ethics Commissioner to interpret and apply the code. However neither the act nor the code provide a mechanism for members to make a complaint against the Ethics Commissioner regarding the discharge of that mandate. By the same token, there is no mechanism for the Ethics Commissioner to defend himself against a complaint about how he performs his duties.

Having no other recourse, the hon. member for Calgary East has asked me to rule on whether or not the Ethics Commissioner has breached two specific portions of the code. The first alleged violation relates to subsection 27(4) of the code which reads:

The Ethics Commissioner may, on his or her own initiative, and on giving the Member concerned reasonable written notice, conduct an inquiry to determine whether the Member has complied with his or her obligations under this Code.

The hon. member stated that the inquiry into his conduct began last May, but claimed not to have been notified officially until August 23, 2005 of the nature of the allegations against him.

Second, the hon. member claimed that by revealing details of the investigation to the media, the Ethics Commissioner has failed to conduct his inquiry in private. This requirement is found in subsection 27(7) of the code which states:

The Ethics Commissioner is to conduct an inquiry in private and with due dispatch, provided that at all appropriate stages throughout the inquiry the Ethics Commissioner shall give the Member reasonable opportunity to be present and to make representations to the Ethics Commissioner in writing or in person by counsel or by any other representative.

Those two allegations are troubling in themselves and the correspondence provided by the hon. member lends further weight to his case, so I have concerns about how this matter has progressed.

That being said, it is unclear what role, if any, that I as your Speaker have to play in ensuring that the code is properly interpreted and enforced. For example, is it up to the Chair to determine what constitutes “reasonable written notice” or to say to what extent inquiries are to be conducted in private? Can the Chair be expected to rule on what constitutes “due dispatch” or on whether a member who is the subject of an inquiry has been given a “reasonable opportunity to be present and to make representations?” A close reading of the act and the Standing Orders suggests to me that that responsibility lies elsewhere.

Subsection 72.05(3) of the act specifies that the Ethics Commissioner shall carry out his duties and functions under the general direction of a committee of the House. The House has designated the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to be this committee. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii), the standing committee has the mandate to “review and report on all matters relating to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons”.

Since, as I stated earlier, the code is still relatively new, I believe it would be beneficial both for the office of the Ethics Commissioner and for the House if the committee considered this matter. This would afford the Ethics Commissioner an opportunity to explain the process by which inquiries are conducted and give hon. members a chance to raise any concerns. The Chair hopes that such a dialogue between the committee and the Ethics Commissioner will clarify matters for all involved.

To summarize then, while the Chair is hesitant to rule that the conduct of an officer of Parliament constitutes a contempt of the House in the absence of a thorough review and assessment by the responsible committee, the Chair is nevertheless sympathetic with the hon. member for Calgary East who is seeking guidance on what avenues are open to him to ensure that this very serious matter is resolved. In particular, the Chair is concerned that the absence of a clear process to address these kinds of disputes leaves both hon. members and the Ethics Commissioner lacking the clarity to which they are entitled in the performance of their respective roles.

For these reasons, and to afford the House an opportunity to pronounce itself on how it wishes to proceed in this very delicate case, I am prepared to find a prima facie question of privilege, and I therefore invite the hon. member for Calgary East to move his motion.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, just before you started, you said we are here to make wise decisions and I thank you for making a wise decision here. I move:

That the process by which the Ethics Commissioner is conducting inquiries in relation to the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, in particular, the issue raised in the House by the hon. member for Calgary East on September 26, 2005, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)viii.

I know the committee in its wisdom will ensure I receive a fair hearing.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Privacy Commissioner
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Privacy Commissioner pursuant to the Privacy Protection Act for the year 2004-05.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Personal Information Protection
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Privacy Commissioner on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act for the year 2005.

Pursuant to standing order 108(3)(h), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Finance

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-66, An Act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and citizenship issues entitled, “Updating Canada's Citizenship Laws: It's Time”.

In tabling this document, the committee calls on the government to fulfill its commitment in the throne speech to present the House with a citizenship act. We have had three previous attempts at reforming the citizenship laws since 1997 which were Bill C-63, Bill C-16 and Bill C-18.

In concluding, citizenship is the most sacred covenant between the citizen and the state and it is time we had citizenship laws that reflect that reality.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a number of petitions concerning the importance of kidney research. Hundreds of petitioners in my area are concerned about kidney disease, which is a huge and growing problem in Canada, but in particular, they are interested in a form of research which relates to the bioartificial kidney. This is a partly artificial, partly natural device that will help people who, at present, can only be helped by dialysis.

These citizens call upon Parliament to make research funding available to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for the exclusive purpose of conducting bioartificial kidney research as an extension of research being successfully conducted in several centres in the United States.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of petitions signed by the people of Fundy Isles, the St. Andrews area and surrounding towns as well. The petitioners are asking the Government of Canada to say no to the transport of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage to a proposed liquid natural gas plant on the American side of Passamoquoddy Bay. These citizens say that it is much too dangerous and we are putting our citizens, our environment and our economy at risk. They are asking the Government of Canada to say no to the transport of those tankers, as it did 30 years ago.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to table the following petition on the clothing and textile industries.

This petition was circulated by my constituents and it calls on the government to intervene as soon as possible to save the clothing and textile industries by taking significant measures that will produce results as quickly as possible.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions signed by hundreds of Canadians concerned about the state of our national broadcaster. Although these petitioners will be happy to know that the two parties are reaching a settlement and that CBC will be back on the air, they do want to register their concern with the process and with the plan by CBC senior management to hire, without restriction, temporary and contract employees. The petitioners call upon all of us to protect the future of public broadcasting in Canada.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of residents from my riding of Cardigan, Prince Edward Island, who have the same concern. They are certainly concerned about the CBC as a national public broadcaster and they feel they are at risk because senior management planned to hire, without restriction, temporary and contract employees. These residents of Canada in the federal riding of Cardigan call upon Parliament to help unionized employees at the CBC negotiate a fair collective agreement and protect the future of our public broadcasting in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition signed by residents of Charlottetown and from the constituency of Malpeque, who are also expressing concern about the same issue and contract and temporary employees and who want a fair contract for them.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to rise and present a petition on behalf of many of my constituents from Calgary Centre, particularly in this case the Westgate, Wildwood and Glamorgan areas of my riding. The petitioners are concerned about the CAP program. The community access program is in its last year of existence.

The CAP initiative has greatly increased the number of Canadians who are able to take advantage of the social and economic benefits of computers and the Internet. The absence of CAP will be a step backward in the Canadian government's ongoing goal to improve the quality of life of Canadian citizens. These petitioners are asking that the program be continued.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary South Centre, AB

Further, Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by citizens of Calgary who want to amend the Criminal Code to provide exemption for all martial arts and all martial arts contests and competitions.