House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sudan.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh and I am now prepared to hear the hon. member's submissions. I call upon the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on this question of privilege because I believe it is a very grave matter with regard to democracy in this country. It is a grave matter with regard to the issue of respect by the government of the day to the House of Commons and the elected members of the House of Commons.

I rise with regard to the announcement last week by the government that it was terminating all funding to the Law Commission.

The Law Commission was established by legislation in 1996. It has functioned since that time with staff preparing reports, et cetera. The legislation that empowers the establishment of that commission was passed by Parliament through all stages. Nothing has been done with regard to that legislation to alter it in this period of time of 10 years.

What is happening is another attempt by the government to thwart the intent of Parliament to the expressed wish and desire of Parliament in the form of that legislation. What the government is doing, if I can put this in street language, is trying to do through the back door what it should be doing, if it is serious about this, through proper mechanisms through the front door.

The government is simply saying by stroke of the pen through, and I am not entirely sure where it thinks it gets the authority, either the chair of the Treasury Board or through some officer in the Prime Minister's Office that it simply is eliminating all the funding for the Law Commission.

It was quite clear when the commission was set up under the legislation that it had certain duties. One duty in section 6 of the legislation is to report to this House. It requires the Law Commission to establish a president and a set of commissioners. Those commissioners shall be paid by the government of the day by direction of this legislation. In addition to that, the commission would have full time staff and operate an office to do research and report on issues of the day in the legal community. As an aside, the Law Commission has done an excellent job in that regard.

This is not the first time that we have been confronted with this type of an issue and by this government. It is not as though the government could claim “sorry we slipped”. We went through this earlier this year with regard to the Firearms Act. We had speculation coming from various members of the government side that it was simply going to gut the provisions of the gun registry under the Firearms Act unilaterally by way of regulatory decree. This would have come from the PCO and/or the cabinet.

The government knows it cannot do that. The government received legal opinions that it cannot do that. There is no difference in that situation than in the situation with the Law Commission. The Law Commission is bound to be established by that legislation of now some 10 years. It has been established. The Law Commission had been complying with the legislation up until a week ago.

The Law Commission has been directed to cease operations completely by the end of the year. The government is cutting out the entire budget and have in effect directed the Law Commission to cease operations before the end of the year.

The government knows it cannot do it under the Firearms Act. It cannot do it under this legislation either for exactly the same reasons. In addition to that, and I think this goes to almost the contempt that the government has for the House of Commons, the previous Conservative government did the same thing to the Law Reform Commission back in 1992-93. At least that government followed the law and that was a majority government, which maybe is the difference that we have here.

This government knows that in a minority government, this particular minority government, with regard to this issue that it could not get a piece of legislation destroying the Law Commission through the House. The government knows that all three of the opposition parties would be opposed to that occurring. We believe in the institution of the Law Commission and so we would vote that legislation down.

If I again may go back to 1992-93, the previous Conservative government did in fact destroy the Law Reform Commission, the predecessor of the Law Commission, but it did so by legislation. The Conservatives had a majority government and they shoved that through the House at that time.

We have two solid authorities to say that the government cannot do what it last week proposed to do. The Conservatives cannot cut that funding and thereby destroy the Law Commission. They know they cannot do it because of the opinion they got on the Firearms Act. They know they cannot do it because there is a precedent specifically on the Law Commission, named the Law Reform Commission at the time, when a previous government did the same thing but did it by way of legislation through the front door, not by the back or side door.

In terms of the impact this has, it is not just a privilege to me as an individual member of Parliament, quite frankly, it is for every single member, including the members on the government side. If we are not going to abide by our own laws that we pass here, what could be more undermining of the authority of this House? I cannot think of anything.

This is a direct attack on our privilege as members. The laws we pass have to be abided by and have to be carried out. If they are not going to be, that is, if the government of the day wants to change this, then the government has to change the law. The Conservatives cannot do it by fiat. They cannot do it in the backroom. They have to do it publicly. They have to bring it to a vote in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I am asking you to find that in fact our collective privilege has been damaged and has been interfered with and that you provide us with that ruling. If you do, Sir, I would then ask that the issue be referred to the justice committee. Upon your ruling, I am prepared to submit a motion with regard to this.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this privilege motion today.

The minority Conservative government has made drastic cuts and has given notice to the Law Commission of Canada which will, for all practical purposes, eliminate the working of this independent federal law reform agency.

The Law Commission of Canada was established on July 1, 1997, under an act of the Parliament of Canada entitled the Law Commission of Canada Act, which was assented to on the May 29, 1996. This act provides that the commission is an independent departmental corporation that is accountable to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Justice. This is explicitly set out in sections 2 and 6 of the act.

Under section 7, the act further requires the appointment of a president and four other commissioners. Subsections 11(1) and 11(2) provide that the president and the commissioners shall be remunerated. That requires funds.

Under subsection 15(1) we see that an “executive director of the Commission, and such other officers and employees as are necessary for the proper conduct of the work of the Commission, shall be appointed in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act”.

Subsection 18(1) established a council consisting of not less than 12 and not more than 24 members, called the Law Commission of Canada Advisory Council.

Section 19 went further and stated that the council “shall advise the Commission on the Commission's strategic directions and long-term program of studies”.

The duties are stated in subsection 5(1):

The Commission shall

(a) consult with the Minister of Justice with respect to the annual program of studies that it proposes to undertake; ...and

(c) submit to the Minister any report that it has initiated itself or on the request of the Minister.

Therefore, both options are available to this group.

Section 23 requires that “the President shall submit to the Minister of Justice an annual report of the activities of the Commission in that year”.

Section 24 requires that the “Minister of Justice shall cause a copy of any report of the Commission to be tabled in each House of Parliament”.

Finally, section 25 requires that the “Minister of Justice shall cause a copy of the Minister’s response to any report of the Commission to be tabled in each House of Parliament”.

Mr. Speaker, the words of the statute are mandatory words, as you would know, stating “shall”, not “may”.

When the previous Progressive Conservative government, under Prime Minister Mulroney, ended the work of the predecessor Law Reform Commission, which was also constructed by a similar act of Parliament, the Law Reform Commission Act, it had to repeal the act and did so in 1993. The work of the Law Reform Commission was mandated by Parliament. Thus, we do have the precedent of having to end the work of the current Law Commission in the same manner.

This minority government cannot unilaterally decide that it will ignore statutes put in place by Parliament. These decisions serve parliamentarians. It is particularly appalling that the Minister of Justice is choosing to ignore the instruction of a law of this chamber which addresses the members of Parliament in both Houses.

Under section 3, we see that:

The purpose of the Commission is to study and keep under systematic review, in a manner that reflects the concepts and institutions of the common law and civil law systems, the law of Canada and its effects with a view to providing independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform that will ensure a just legal system that meets the changing needs of Canadian society....

Is this another case where the government, as in the case of the firearms registry, is trying to slash critical funding instead of coming back to this Parliament and these parliamentarians to debate and decide the future of the statutorily instituted Law Commission of Canada?

The Law Commission of Canada Act created Canada's internationally respected Law Commission. What the funding cuts to this commission that were announced last week accomplish is the virtual elimination of the commission. It has been advised that it is to cease operation within the next couple of months. Under what authority can the government do this?

This, I believe, is a contempt of this Parliament, of the members of this Parliament and, through us, of the public of Canada. We have a statute on the books that if Parliament is to be served by this commission, it has to have funds to operate. It cannot be a shell.

We cannot have a Minister of Justice in this country who sits and chooses to watch this happen. He is part of the cabinet that makes these decisions on funding cuts. He knows that this is a statute. Do other Canadians then follow the example and choose what statutes they should look to and which ones to ignore?

Mr. Speaker, I believe and I heartily hope that you will find there is a prima facie case of privilege. I believe this is even a contempt of this Parliament.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am quite sure you will not find that anyone's privileges have been violated in this case. It is just the opposite.

The hon. member of the New Democratic Party indicated something about this being a threat to democracy.

It seems to me it is a threat to democracy when governments do not follow through on exactly what they have promised the people of this country.

Mr. Speaker, you would know that during the last general election my political party came forward and very clearly told Canadians they were overtaxed and that we intended to do something about it. We saw this in the budget that was tabled in the spring. There were definite tax cuts.

At the same time, we indicated to Canadians that we would not spend money when we believed it was not absolutely necessary and that we wanted to be careful with the tax dollars of ordinary Canadians. That is exactly what was done by the President of the Treasury Board.

Mr. Speaker, you have heard this before from individuals in positions similar to that of the President of the Treasury Board. There is no law that compels us to spend every single cent we can. We heard the argument when there was a more than $13 billion surplus that somehow we had an obligation to find places to spend it. That is ridiculous.

When you have a look at this argument, Mr. Speaker, I think you will come to the conclusion that the President of the Treasury Board and the Government of Canada are not obligated to continue to spend money in areas that the government has decided it does not want to spend in, in trying to protect the interests of the taxpayers.

Mr. Speaker, I think you will be able to make a very quick decision on this, but whenever you make that decision of course it will be respected. It will be well considered, I am sure, but I believe you will conclude that the government has acted quite properly and is being very careful with the money of the taxpayers of this country.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, the hon. member for London West and the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for their submissions on this matter. I will take it under advisement.

The hon. member for Vancouver East is rising on the same question of privilege. I hope it will be a new point, because I feel I have heard both sides of the argument at this stage. If there is something new I will hear it, but in fairness I think we have heard a fair bit on this already.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the member for Windsor—Tecumseh because I think this is a very important matter for all members. We are the guardians of Parliament. If we do not act, speak out and protect the measures and processes we have in place, then they will fall by the wayside.

I would like to draw to the Chair's attention page 51 of Marleau and Montpetit, which makes this clear. It states:

The House has the authority to invoke privilege where its ability has been obstructed in the execution of its functions or where Members have been obstructed in the performance of their duties. It is only within this context that privilege can be considered an exemption from the general law.

This is the point I want to stress. It states:

Members are not outside or above the law which governs all citizens of Canada. The privileges of the Commons are designed to safeguard the rights of each and every elector.

This is precisely the point we want to make today. Members before us came to this place to debate that legislation back in 1990, with the due process that was given then, on behalf of the electors of Canada. It was duly passed. For it now to be thrown asunder and just written out with a stroke of a pen I think violates every sense of democracy and decency we have and really does affect our privileges.

I hope you will consider the arguments put before you today, Mr. Speaker, and consider that the government has created a wrong. It needs to be addressed by the Speaker. The due processes and traditions of this place need to be upheld.

Law Commission of Canada
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Vancouver East for her submissions on this point. I will take the matter under advisement and come back to the House in due course with a ruling in respect of these submissions.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Mississauga South had the floor. There were five minutes remaining in the time for questions and comments following the hon. member's remarks.

I therefore call for questions or comments. The hon. member for Windsor West.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to ask my colleague a question in starting the debate this morning.

One of the things that is important to remember about Bill C-24 and the subamendment from our colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, is that this affects a whole series of trade agreements with ourselves and the United States.

Does the hon. member believe that this sets a precedent? What we have here is basically the hijacking of a trade agreement that we have with the United States where a set of rules have been put in place and those rules are now being altered unilaterally by one side and now, with complicity, the government.

Does the hon. member feel that it will affect future trading relations under this current agreement?

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I tend to agree with the member that what has happened on the softwood deal, where we have a minister in the previous government being the same minister in the current government on one side he was fighting to the finish utilizing the NAFTA and WTO rulings as well as relying on the dispute resolution mechanism to help us to deal with these.

Now he has abandoned it totally and he has abandoned the industry. What is worse, now we have a situation where not only has he threatened those who have not signed on to the deal, he has also said that the government will make their lives uncomfortable. We have also found out that if others choose to pursue their legal rights, this may jeopardize the current deal.

Therefore, I would think that this whole softwood sell-out has been a boondoggle right from the beginning. The government should be ashamed of itself for not standing with the softwood industry rather than threatening it.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having had the opportunity to listen to the debate over the last number of days on Bill C-24, the softwood lumber agreement. A number of members have spoken about the impact on their own communities of job losses and the impact on their local economies. This is something that needs to be brought to the forefront.

One of the concerns we have about the bill is that it is not based on any kind of coherent industrial strategy. We have an agreement that basically violates all the procedures and processes that we have in place under our trade agreements and it puts people's backs to the wall in terms of signing it, but it is not part of any coherent strategy that is based on sustainability, on value added jobs and on ensuring the strength of local economies.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that in terms of how this is an isolated agreement that is not connected to a broader industrial strategy that is needed in this country.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also have some grave concerns about the impact on other trade arrangements. This has obviously not worked because the government has not supported the process.

However, I think it is even worse than that. We all know that the deal was not supported by the industry some time ago and all of a sudden there is a mysterious flip-flop to taking a cash settlement which left a billion dollars on the table to the benefit of the U.S. industry and to the U.S. government.

Could it be that the change of position has to do with the government's preponderance of decisions it is taking, which seem to be following an American policy rather than a Canadian policy, the republicanization of Canadian policy? Whether it be foreign or economic policy, there is a litany of examples. I think it is time the Conservative government was exposed to its beholdenness to George Bush.