House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of another question of privilege from the hon. member for Wellington--Halton Hills.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning abuse of the frank.

The member for London North Centre has been sending bulk mailings into my riding under his frank. A number of constituents have contacted me with concerns about these mailings and in particular have asked why they are getting mail from another member.

These bulk mailings are nothing other than 10 percenters or householders under a different name. Using the frank to deliver 10 percenters and householders in enclosed addressed mail is a violation of the spirit of what the frank is for and a violation of the spirit of the rules concerning 10 percenters and householders.

However it is the nature of the enclosure in these bulk mailings that concerns me most and is, I believe, a violation of my parliamentary privilege.

It is stated in House of Commons Procedure and Practice :

Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively...and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions--

As the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, anything that impedes my ability to discharge my function is a violation of privilege.

The enclosure in these bulk mailings impedes my ability to be the member for Wellington--Halton Hills because they mislead the reader into thinking that the member of Parliament for Wellington--Halton Hills is someone other than me.

I know that the envelope contains the riding and name of the member for London North Centre; however, many people do not take note of exactly what appears on the envelope when they open an envelope and look for what is contained therein. When one reads the enclosure, one concludes that the member for London North Centre is the member for Wellington--Halton Hills. This is causing a lot of confusion with my constituents as to who is their MP. I suggest that this constitutes a prima facie violation of my privilege.

If you find, Mr. Speaker, that I have a prima facie case, I would be prepared to move the proper motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

As the hon. member for Wellington--Halton Hills well knows, we have had a number of these kinds of questions of privilege raised in the House recently and quite a number have been sent off to the procedure and House affairs committee, which is actively studying these issues, I believe, as we speak.

I am more than happy to permit him to move his motion and send the matter to committee, if he wishes. I am sure the committee will be interested in considering this one along with all the other ones that it is currently dealing with of a similar nature. There do seem to be a lot of these mailings these days.

I know that the committee is actively considering the issue. I just heard a little about it from one of the members who has one of his matters before the committee.

If the hon. member has a motion to make, I will be glad to hear it.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly am not using my frank for bulk mailings into someone else's riding. I move:

That the matter of privilege raised by the member for Wellington--Halton Hills on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion? Debate, the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know colleagues do not want to spend the whole afternoon debating this issue, but I want to make two remarks.

First, I intend to support the motion, not because I believe it is, as has been put, a clear-cut case of breach of privilege but it certainly falls within the category of difficulties that the procedure and House affairs committee is looking at now.

Mr. Speaker, I would not want your ruling to be taken as a ruling that a franked envelope communication from a member of Parliament to a person in another riding would constitute a breach of privilege of the member in the other riding where the letter was sent. Members of the House of Commons routinely send out communications to Canadians either in reply to letters or for other purposes.

In terms of free speech and our franking privilege, I just wanted to make it clear that members have to continue to be free to communicate with Canadians on issues, especially when Canadians write to individual MPs who are not their members of Parliament.

The second point I want to make is that the rules that govern both mailings, whether it is under the frank or whether it is a 10 percenter or whether it is distribution of householders or the bulk mailing machinery that allows us to send communications by weight, I regard the rules now as an absolute wild west show. I do not regard the rules as being in keeping with the way these privileges and services developed originally.

When I first came to this place, there was a rule that mailings of that nature did not include partisan material. Eventually that rule sort of fell by the wayside. It was honoured more in the breach, which is a very unfortunate thing to say. The rule was not followed so we abandoned the rule because we could not police it. Then, not only did we have the partisan material going out routinely as part of any of those types of mailings but we started to add in negative political material. It would not just be promotional of one's own party; it would actually be negative about another party, or another MP, or a minister.

Now all kinds of communications are going out under different categories of parliamentary services, paid for by the taxpayer, which is loaded with political self-promotion and negative political content about other members and other parties. I do not believe the citizen would be able to keep track of it all. I am afraid to even inquire into it. It is a wild west show. None of us is actually in a position, singly, to grab hold of this, but I am hopeful that the procedure and House affairs committee will signal the problem and commence on developing a resolution.

Ultimately, it is not the procedure and House affairs committee as much as it is the Board of Internal Economy that will have to deal with these rules. Of course that particular body, the Board of Internal Economy, operates in camera and its minutes are not public. Nobody knows--I do not even know--how his or her representative or how the representatives of their colleagues in the House are dealing with this issue on the Board of Internal Economy. That is just not the way to run a democratic institution, especially when we are dealing with on one hand, members' privileges and services, and on the other, our democracy, which relies on fair free speech, as was pointed out earlier today, and communications between this place, its members and our electors.

I make those remarks in trying to be helpful. I regret if my inability to immediately unanimously agree to the motion has prolonged debate here, but I hope my remarks will be taken as helpful.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague across the way on this issue. I had not anticipated participating in this debate. I thought your remarks, Mr. Speaker, summed up the situation as it has been presented over the past number of days in the House. Members of Parliament from all parties raised the issue of 10 percenters and franked mail going into neighbouring ridings.

My colleague from the Liberal Party raises these issues and says that we want to ensure we do not have a situation where partisan mailings go in. As we pointed out in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as we deal with these one by one when they get to committee, which I sit on, the reality is that this has been happening for quite some time.

Another reality is that all parties do it. An additional reality is that one of the few tools open to the opposition parties to offset the tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars that are spent every year advertising the supposed good works of the Government of Canada into all of our ridings is for us to offset that in a small way by either direct mail or 10 percenters, and getting communication pieces into Liberal held ridings.

The member can stand and try to narrow the debate down to the use of 10 percenters or franked letters. I agree with him that we cannot have a situation where it would be illegal for me as a member of Parliament to respond to a Canadian citizen who writes me a letter by sending a franked response. I must have that right. If a citizen from the hon. member's riding writes me a letter, I must be able to respond. Otherwise, obviously I would be accused of ignoring the concerns that he or she wrote to me about. We are in complete agreement on that.

We have information that the Liberals are using virtually pallets full of negative partisan material that they are franking into ridings. I suggest that the hon. member communicate his concerns not only to this side of the House but among his own colleagues as well.

The government uses millions and millions of dollars to advertise what the government does. I think every Canadian is well aware of who the Government of Canada is at the moment. It is the Liberal Party of Canada. Certainly, they have become more aware of it because of the sponsorship scandal. What is the sponsorship scandal all about? It is about advertising.

We have an interesting situation. The government is caught in a scandal of monumental proportions that came about because it spent millions upon millions of dollar advertising. In this particular case it was advertising Canada in Quebec trying to buy Quebec votes. To get the truth out to Canadians, the opposition from time to time must send a counter, so to speak. We must send out our views to Canadians to get the message out unfiltered.

We certainly cannot rely on the government to do that for us. It has a pretty partisan agenda of sending out its message and costing millions of taxpayers' dollars to get its message out about all the supposedly great and wonderful things it is doing for Canadians. We have very few resources to get our side of the story out. I would like everyone to bear those remarks in mind.

The last point I want to make is that quite frankly twice during my hon. Liberal colleague's remarks he said that the use of franked mailings for political self-promotional items and 10 percenters was, in his words, “a wild west show”.

I notice that he did not say a wild east show. He did not say a wild central Canadian show. As a western member of Parliament, I take exception to that because once again, it is a Liberal trying to denigrate western Canada by this being a plot of the west and that is not the situation. All four political parties use these communications pieces and I just wanted that on the record.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the subject matter and support my colleague from the Conservative Party in getting this to committee because I was one of the members who originally brought this to the House of Commons. There was an organized campaign of several members of the Conservative Party who made mailings into my riding to gather data on the signature or request of the official opposition leader.

I would hope that they would be consistent in their objections of this practice, especially when it comes to two things and if it is about the content. It was interesting because the clerk of the House of Commons testified in our case in public before the committee and said that the material that the Conservative Party sent into my riding could not be done procedurally in the House of Commons.

The issue that we had was not only just mailings into my riding, but material that was saying we could do something that is impossible for us as members to do. We were not only attacking a particular member, but also misleading the public about the role of a member of Parliament.

I would hope that my Conservative colleagues would be very supportive of my case because it is wrong to use the frank or the mailing issues in that way. It is not even about putting a slant on something, a political spin or an evaluation of legislation. We are talking about whether members can do something or not do something.

I had several Conservative members mail a piece of legislation related to the RCMP and the gun registry on the very day that this country was mourning the loss of our four officers. People in my constituency were picking it up in their mailboxes. This was very improper as it related to the whole issue of the gun registry, the RCMP, and how it affects individual members of Parliament.

That day my wife pulled that piece of literature out of the mail. It had been sent to the wrong area. We need to have corrective action for all members in the House. If we are going to use a resource of the House to at least provide our commentary on issues and our positions on issues, that is one thing, but we are actually using public resources to tell Canadians things that we cannot even do as members of Parliament and we harm our democracy.

I support the member and I would hope that his party is going to be consistent on this. I would hope that his party is going to recognize that this damage is not only to a particular member of Parliament but it damages Canadian democracy when we literally spin things as opposed to talking about the truths of members.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to unnecessarily prolong this, but I did want to raise the issue that the New Democrats raise. All parties utilize this access to Canadians for partisan communications. It is not just the Conservative Party.

Has he checked with his party to ensure that everything that it has mailed out is completely factual? I asked him that question when he appeared on his own point of privilege on this issue. I asked him that in the procedure and House affairs committee and he did not reply. I do not think he knew the answer, to be completely honest, but I did ask him the question.

If he is going to point the finger at other parties then has he at least checked with the18 colleagues in his caucus to ensure that everything that they have mailed out to other members' ridings, whether they be Liberal, Bloc or Conservative, has been completely factual? He did not reply.

I would agree with him that it is something that the House needs to look at. It certainly will be. At present there is the point of privilege that he himself raised that went to procedure and House affairs that we have dealt with now. In addition, there is one there now from the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country. There is also one from a Liberal member that cited a point of privilege and now another one from my colleague from Ontario.

It is a growing problem. I certainly recognize, on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, that we are not just pointing fingers. I said that during my remarks. We are not just pointing fingers at the other three parties. We are recognizing that it is something that must be dealt with.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Trinity—Spadina
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Ianno Minister of State (Families and Caregivers)

Mr. Speaker, I have been dealing with this issue for 12 years. There has not been a member from the NDP who has not sent something into my riding, and I think they have had three or four mailings since we have been here. They continue to send things into my riding, and to my family and myself. I face the same thing with that member.

I have been against this issue for a long time. It is important for members of Parliament to have freedom of speech and to write to someone. I have no problem with that. However, when it is a mass mailing into another member's riding for partisan political purposes, then they should pay for it from their party's coffers as compared to paying for it out of the Canadian public's coffers.

It is just coincidental that the leader of the NDP's wife happened to run against me, and more mailings from him continue to come into my riding. I am sure he is aware that his wife did not win the election in my riding. He can continue sending anything he wants into his riding, but people in my riding would like to hear from their own member of Parliament. When the information becomes partisan, it is often not factual.

It is important that we deal with this from a House perspective, so that we take a legitimate approach versus a partisan cheap shot approach.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made a very relevant point that basically reinforced what I said and what his own Liberal colleagues said earlier. This is not something unique to one party. We cannot point fingers because all of us are utilizing this. Obviously, there is a problem otherwise the Speaker would not be ruling prima facie questions of privilege and sending these issues to procedure and House affairs. It is something that not only that committee needs to study in some depth but as my colleagues have said, it is something that the House itself should be seized with and see if there is not something we can do.

As I have pointed out, there is a slippery slope here from the position of the three opposition parties. In my mind we are already at a disadvantage. I want to be totally fair here. In this case, it is not only the federal Liberal government but provincial governments all across the land.

In the 12 years that I have been a member of Parliament I have seen millions of dollars wasted. Governments, whether provincial or federal, argue that the responsibility rests with the government to communicate to its citizens what programs are available. This is what they are doing. That again is a slippery slope between making average Canadians aware of what is available to them, what the government is doing to put programs in place that they can access, and going beyond that which is self-promotion of the government and by extension, their political party.

Governments use millions of taxpayers' dollars to tell Canadians how wonderful they are and very little resources are left for opposition parties to combat what a government said and get out their side of their story. That is the issue I was trying to raise.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, this may not be a precise point of order, but my colleagues have all made a number of worthy points and there is consensus on all sides of the House that this issue needs to be addressed. I personally share that view. There are examples everywhere of how we can improve it.

There seems to be an agreement to send the question of privilege without a vote to the procedure and House affairs committee. That is probably the best place to sort this out. I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to seek the consent of the House to have the question put, send it to committee, and then we can do the work that is necessary on this issue.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

If that is the will of the House we can certainly do that. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Windsor West.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment on the testimony that was applied. This is about an individual member. The member from Wellington--Halton Hills has brought forth a very serious issue as a member of Parliament. It does not have to be brought into partisanship, as the chief opposition whip is trying to do. This is about their own member having been infringed upon in bringing something before the Speaker.

For people to understand this, a member can bring forth a question of privilege to the Speaker of the House. That is what I did a number of weeks ago. All the other issues that people are talking about, that somebody mailed this or somebody mailed that, there is always this avenue. That is the avenue I chose to bring mine to committee. It is important to understand that is a remedy.

I have had materials from the Liberals and Conservatives. Since 2002, I have been inundated by all kinds of material. What also is important is we do not lose focus on the content which misleads the public to think something else. There have to be remedies for members of Parliament.

I would hope members of the Conservative Party of Canada, seeing as they orchestrated a campaign in my riding, would take responsibility for the content for which they are asking taxpayers to pay.