House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest. I will now hear from him on his question of privilege.

Communications between Bureaucrats and Members of Parliament
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions of privilege. How do you want me to proceed? Did you wish me to proceed with both at once or one at a time?

Communications between Bureaucrats and Members of Parliament
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

If the hon. member could proceed with both, we will deal with them at the same time.

Communications between Bureaucrats and Members of Parliament
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first question involves an issue which arose during the election campaign in my capacity as a member of Parliament, and obviously the earliest opportunity to raise it is this morning. In order for you to understand what has occurred, I have to give a bit of background.

In the 38th Parliament I was a member of the House Subcommittee on Public Safety and National Security of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The House of Commons had charged that committee in December 2004 to study and report to the House of Commons within one year on Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act. The subcommittee finished its hearing of witnesses in October or November, I cannot quite recall which, and we were just about ready to sit down to begin deliberations of our report when the election was called.

When the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of the time appeared before the committee, they came with a number of officials, two of whom, Mr. Stanley Cohen and Mr. Douglas Breithaupt, were identified as the experts on the Anti-terrorism Act. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of the time invited me, if I wished to, to contact these two gentlemen and any others through his office if I wished to discuss any matters with respect to Bill C-36.

Of course, the election occurred, and it occurred to me as an individual who never likes to go down a one-way street that there are always two possibilities in an election: one either wins or loses. I was hoping I would win, of course, but I thought that in the event I were to lose I had put over a year's work into this committee and had 104 recommendations and questions that I wanted to put to the ministry so that it would have the benefit of my views. I therefore sought a meeting with these two individuals so I might communicate these 104 points to them, so that in the event that perchance I was defeated in the election, at least the work that I had done would survive by having been passed over to the appropriate justice department officials.

I began by doing everything in accordance with the channels of communication that I was told to do, namely, I contacted the then parliamentary secretary and asked that he arrange a meeting with these two individuals. I did not hear back, so on Monday, December 12, I contacted Mr. Stanley Cohen directly through my office. When I say “I”, I mean my office. We got his voice mail. We left a detailed message explaining why I wished to speak to Mr. Cohen and asked that he call me back.

Mr. Cohen did not call me back, so on the following day my assistant called and talked to his office coordinator and assistant, Linda Ménard. Actually, we got her voice mail. Again it was explained what I wanted. When he had not heard back by 2 p.m., he called again. She answered and they had a conversation in which it was explained what the purpose of my call was and why I wanted to speak to Mr. Cohen. She assured my assistant that Mr. Cohen had received my message and would return my call.

By Wednesday I had not received a call from Mr. Cohen. I began to get frustrated. I called the chief of staff for the then Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Hilary Geller, and explained the difficulty. She indicated that she understood there was a PCO directive that had gone out instructing bureaucrats not to speak to members of Parliament during an election campaign. I indicated that I wanted to speak with justice officials and spoke with the chief of staff of the Minister of Justice. His name is Jonathan Herman. He said he would contact Mr. Cohen personally and suggest that he at the very least return my call. Mr. Cohen never returned my call.

My assistant then called his assistant again on December 14 and left a message explaining that I was getting more and more frustrated. She returned the call and indicated that Mr. Cohen was not going to be available for two or three days. In my view, it became clear at that point that Mr. Cohen's office was being intentionally uncooperative in returning my telephone calls.

I then turned my attention to Mr. Doug Breithaupt, who was the second gentleman who had been identified as an expert. My assistant called his direct line and left a message on December 15 and also spoke to his assistant, who suggested that I make the request by e-mail. I made the request to Mr. Breithaupt by e-mail, asking that he contact me. Mr. Breithaupt did not return my call or respond to my e-mail.

I tried to find out what was going on. Since it had been suggested that it was the PCO that had issued the directive, my assistant contacted the PCO. We contacted the clerk's office there through the then Prime Minister's switchboard, asking them what kind of directive had gone out to bureaucrats not to speak with members of Parliament during an election.

A Hali Gernon returned the call, indicating that she was not aware of any such directive but that it would not have come from the communications and consultation section, which is where she worked, if it had been issued. My assistant then spoke with the PCO clerk's office manager on December 15 and explained my problem. By the following Friday, my assistant had not heard, so again called. She indicated that she had just been told that the PCO had not issued a directive and that it may have come from the Public Service Commission.

My assistant then immediately called the Public Service Commission and spoke with Debra Crawford, director of parliamentary affairs, who, believe it or not, did return our call. She said that the Public Service Commission had posted clear guidelines for the impartiality of public servants on the PSC website, but in no way do those indicate that bureaucrats cannot speak to MPs. In fact, she said that MPs and their office staffs continue to receive regular service for their daily business with the public, and of course I knew that because we were dealing with them.

My assistant indicated the problem and that we had come full circle. I still had not been able to speak with these two officials, nor had I been able to receive a copy of any written directive to the public service indicating that no one should speak to members of Parliament.

On Monday, December 19, not having had at least the courtesy of a telephone call from either of these two gentlemen to explain that they, in their view, could not speak to me, I then called the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Sims. The Deputy Minister of Justice did not return my call either; however, Melissa Cassar, from the then Minister of Justice's office, called and indicated that there could be no conversations because of an e-mail prohibiting bureaucrats from speaking to members of Parliament. I asked for a copy of that e-mail from Melissa and of course she could not locate such an e-mail.

The reason I am raising this is that, in my view, my abilities as a member of Parliament have been impaired. In my opinion, and I believe this is correct, we remain members of Parliament, and certainly our constituents consider us to be members of Parliament, until the actual date of the writ. That is why they continue to come into our office. That is why they continue to ask for our help.

I can understand if there would be some sort of a directive from bureaucrats, but it seems incumbent that if there is a direction to bureaucrats it should also be given to members of Parliament, so that we know, first of all, who gave that direction not to speak to members of Parliament, second, on what basis that direction was given, and third, so that we have some input into coming up with some kind of reasonable policy during an election period.

What I have determined as a result of my experience is that either there is no such vague policy directive or, if there is, everybody is afraid to show it to a member of Parliament. I believe that has breached my privileges as a member of Parliament to effectively exercise my duties. Let us suppose I had not been running for election. Let us suppose I was going to retire, wanted to finish off some files before I did so and called these justice department officials to try to finish off some of these files. Even though I was not seeking re-election, according to this phantom directive they would have been prohibited from speaking to me.

Mr. Speaker, I think this is completely outrageous and I believe it is a breach of my privileges, and if you so find, on a prima facie basis, I would be prepared to move a motion to refer this matter for further study to the procedure and House affairs committee. That is the first point.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second question of privilege is one that might be considered minor in terms of monetary amounts but it is an irritation and it is a possible overzealous interpretation, in my view, of the manual of members' services.

On October 28, 2005, I was contacted by a newspaper called The Interim to place my usual Christmas greetings. I have placed my Christmas greetings in that newspaper for at least the last 16 years. Immediately my office indicated that I would be prepared to place my Christmas greetings in The Interim that year. The cost of that was $100 plus 7% GST which is $107.

On November 24, 2005, Interim Publishing mailed me the expected invoice for $107. That invoice arrived in my office on December 1, obviously mailed before the election and arrived after the election was called. I approved the invoice for payment on December 3 and sent it in. It was rejected. The reason given to me for the rejection was section 6.2 of the Members' Allowances and Services manual entitled Constituency Offices and Services. I say parenthetically that this has nothing to do with my constituency office. I have dealt with this through my Ottawa office for 15 and a half years.

In any event, under the heading Constituency Offices and Services it states:

Advertising: Because of certain restrictive provisions of the Canada Elections Act, Members are not allowed to use their Member’s Office Budget to advertise during dissolution up to and including election day. Members should review and cancel their advertising commitments.

Being a lawyer I wanted to check everything out so I contacted The Interim and I received a written letter indicating that the particular issue had been published and mailed to the public on November 25, four days before the election was called. I had approved it a month before the election was called. It had been prepared and mailed before the election was called.

House administration believes that under the heading of advertising in section 6.2 it indicates that the invoice could not be paid even though I could not possibly cancel my advertising commitments since they had already occurred and since the matter was already being delivered across Canada. By the way, this paper goes across Canada, not into the riding of Scarborough Southwest exclusively so that I might be re-elected.

In my view, my privileges as a member have been breached because we are entitled to advertise. I believe I have complied with all of the rules and regulations but House of Commons officials have taken an interpretation which I believe to be too restrictive under the very unique circumstances that occurred. Everybody knows I have no control over the timing of an election. I did not know an election was going to be called. Had an election been called before the issue had gone to press I would have been happy to cancel it. However since it had already been mailed it was too late.

In this instance I would suggest that if you find that there is at least a prima facie case of privilege this matter could be referred by way of motion to the Board of Internal Economy to examine it.

I say parenthetically as well that there were numerous members of Parliament on both sides of the House who also advertised in that particular edition of that particular newspaper. I do not know how many of them had their particular request for payment authorized or how many of them were rejected. If any of them were authorized, then mine should have been authorized. If they were all rejected, then I would suggest that all of those bills be reviewed and that the wording of that particular section be very carefully examined by the Board of Internal Economy.

The bureaucrats who service us as members of Parliament are not agents of Elections Canada which has its own people. If for some reason Elections Canada believes this particular expense should be included within election expenses, then that is something that my campaign and Elections Canada will work out individually. I ask that this matter also be found to be a prima facie case and referred to the Board of Internal Economy.

I hope on both of these issues I will have the support of the House.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a remark in connection with the first question of privilege that my hon. colleague lamented about. He expressed his frustration about an alleged directive from the PCO that prevented interaction between him and his office and specific bureaucrats. While I certainly can sympathize with his frustration, I want to point out for viewers who might be watching this at home and anyone who might be in the gallery today, that this is in connection with the direction of the former government of which the member was a member. This has nothing to do with the administration of this new Conservative government.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the first question of privilege my colleague raised.

The most recent election marked my fifth campaign. It was the first time I too had heard of this alleged directive. During the campaign, I had the feeling that my privileges as a member were being breached, even though we remain members until election day.

Since 1993, I had never come up against a bureaucratic brick wall when trying to solve problems for constituents. And I am not alone. My colleagues had the same experience as my Liberal friend. This is not normal.

In the end, not only are our privileges breached, but we are unable to obtain immigration, revenue and other services for our constituents. Even during an election campaign, we have to be able to serve the public. For 50 years, the public has suffered because of an inappropriate directive. Like my colleague, I am wondering whether it actually exists.

Yet calls my office made to departments in Ottawa to deal with issues on behalf of constituents systematically went unanswered because of this directive.

Old government or new, this sort of barrier to public service must be eliminated. When the next election is called, members should not be faced with a bureaucratic brick wall.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, speaking to the first point of the privilege that has been raised by the Liberal member, it is up to the Speaker to determine whether there is a prima facie case of privilege but I have to say that I and my colleagues experienced many of the same kinds of frustrations that are being described.

I think two very important points need to be made. First, it is of course up to the Speaker to decide whether there is a personal question of privilege for an individual member but I think it is in the minds of many members and of the public that exactly what we have heard described and what we experienced was the predictable, lamentable outcome of the culture of entitlement that really characterized the previous government.

The second point is that I know our public servants, who work very hard for Canadians, do not expect nor should they expect that they will have their names, individually, and their reputations, individually, dragged across the floor of this House by members who are complaining about their own privileges having been trampled upon. I wonder whether there is not every reason to be guarded and concerned about the situation that is evolving here on the floor around this discussion.

I think it is absolutely in order for us as individual members to indicate that our privileges have been interfered with but I would urge the Liberal member, who has chosen to name public servant after public servant, to look upon his own government's actions, which was the government in power at the time that created the clamp down, the shutdown, not just on information but on cooperation that is normally extended by those very professional public servants.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:25 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, although the hon. member may have a grievance I really do not see under what guise the Speaker could consider this a prima facie question of privilege.

This is the first time we have heard of this and, if it does please the Speaker, I would look into the matter and get back to the House later today or first thing tomorrow before the Speaker's ruling.

Advertising Expenses
Privilege

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I think I have heard enough on this point for the moment. I will deal with the second question of privilege first.

The hon. member for Scarborough Southwest has raised a question about advertising that, in my view, has nothing to do with his privileges as a member. The rights granted to him by the Board of Internal Economy to advertise, to give him a budget and so on are not privileges of members of Parliament. They are rights that are granted by the board and by statute and do not come with the package of privileges that we normally claim as privileges of members of the House. Accordingly, I will treat the matter as referred to the Board of Internal Economy.

The member could write to the board and make it clear but I think the board could receive the Hansard of today, look at it and decide whether or not the member has an argument. However it is purely a technical argument with the board. It has nothing to do with privileges and, accordingly, in my view it ought not to be raised as a question of privilege and I dismiss it out of hand.

On the first question of privilege we have heard submissions from various parties in the House and I thank hon. members for their submissions. I will take the matter under advisement so that if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons wishes to come back later he will have an opportunity to make further argument on it. It need not necessarily be today. Then, if the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest wishes to respond to his arguments, I will hear more.

I will take the matter under advisement. I will look into it and come back to the House with a ruling in due course.

Member for Haldimand--Norfolk
Points of Order

10:25 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order. Graves' disease is a genetic thyroid condition that affects 1 in every 100 Canadians. Its symptoms include a dramatic increase in metabolism, shakes and tremors, and sensitivity to heat, cold and light. It also sometimes affects the eyes in a range of different ways. While there is no cure yet, there is treatment. It just takes time.

I was very recently diagnosed with this non-life-threatening condition and am responding well to treatment. As it now appears that I have had this disease for almost a year, I can assure everyone that it in no way affects my ability to do my job.

I raise this today to ease the concerns of my colleagues and constituents and to explain why from time to time I may wear tinted lenses when I have the honour to rise here.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-United States Interparliamentary Group respecting its participation at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region's 15th annual summit in Seattle, Washington, July 14 to 18, 2005.

While I am on my feet, I would like to present a second report, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-United States interparliamentary group respecting its participation at the 46th annual meeting of the Canada-United States Interparliamentary Group held in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, September 30 to October 3, 2005.

National Appreciation Day Act
Routine Proceedings

April 6th, 2006 / 10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-201, an act respecting a National Appreciation Day.

Mr. Speaker, today I am extremely proud and pleased, on behalf of the good citizens and constituents of Prince Edward—Hastings and, of course, the balance of the people of Canada, to introduce a bill entitled national appreciation day.

This enactment would designate the third day of March in each and every year as a day for the people of Canada to express appreciation for the heroic work of members of the Canadian Forces and emergency response professionals, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.

I believe all members of the House and all parties would agree to support and see a speedy passage of this bill.

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

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-202, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act (marriage after the age of sixty years).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill entitled “An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act”. This enactment would amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act to allow the survivor of a contributor to receive an annual allowance after the death of that contributor, notwithstanding the fact that the contributor and the survivor married or commenced to live in a conjugal relationship after the contributor had attained the age of 60 years. In all fairness and decency, I believe all members would agree to the swift passage of this bill.

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

Canada Elections Act
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-203, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (telephone, fax and Internet service to campaign offices).

Mr. Speaker, in consideration to some of the difficulties that colleagues from all parties in the House may have experienced on occasions, I am pleased to introduce this bill to amend the Canada Elections Act. This enactment would ensure that telephone, fax or Internet service is provided in a timely manner to the campaign offices of each and every candidate in all federal elections and in all parties. In order to ensure parity, I believe my esteemed colleagues would agree to seek approval and swift passage of this bill as well.

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