House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Response to Oral Question
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Yes, you see the difficulty we get into when we get into points of order that are not really points of order.

Private Members' Business
Oral Questions

March 11th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair would like to take a brief moment to provide some information to the House regarding the management of private members' business.

After a replenishment of the order of precedence, the Chair has developed the practice of reviewing the items there so that the House can be alerted to bills which, at first glance, appear to infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown. The aim of this practice is to allow members the opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to present their views about the need for a royal recommendation.

Accordingly, following the March 3 replenishment of the order of precedence with 15 new items, I wish to inform the House that two bills give the Chair some concern as to the spending provisions they contemplate. They are: Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments), standing in the name of the member for Alfred-Pellan; and Bill C-445, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for loss of retirement income), standing in the name of the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

I would encourage hon. members who wish to make arguments regarding the need for a royal recommendation in the case of Bill C-490 and Bill C-445, or in the case of any of the other bills now on the order of precedence, to do so at an early opportunity.

I thank the House for its attention.

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering. I will hear him now.

Alleged Obstruction of Member in the Conduct of His Duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege arising out of a letter I received from Peter Downard, a lawyer at Fasken Martineau on behalf of Mr. Chris Froggatt, chief of staff to the Minister of the Environment. I am raising this matter at the earliest opportunity as I was officially served with this letter yesterday afternoon.

I believe that by instructing his counsel to send this letter, Mr. Froggatt has deliberately obstructed and interfered with me in the conduct of my duties as a member of Parliament and is, therefore, in contempt of the House of Commons and has violated my privileges as a member.

As noted on page 84 of Marleau and Montpetit, it states:

Over the years, Members have brought to the attention of the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede, interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some business with them or the House. In a technical sense, such actions are considered to be contempts of the House and not breaches of privilege. Since these matters relate so closely to the right of the House to the services of its Members, they are often considered to be breaches of privilege.

Also on page 84 of Marleau and Montpetit it states:

...that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his responsibilities as a member of the House free from threats or attempts at intimidation.

I believe that Mr. Froggatt has crossed this line.

In his letter of March 7, 2008, Mr. Downard alleged that I defamed Mr. Froggatt during an interview on CTV Newsnet and threatens to launch a libel suit should I not comply with his demands for an apology and retraction.

Specifically, Mr. Downard writes:

Your statements in the CTV Newsnet were false and seriously defamatory of Mr. Froggatt. A reasonable viewer would have understood your statements to mean that Mr. Froggatt had interfered with or attempted to interfere with a police investigation into [the Minister of the Environment] and caused or attempted to cause the OPP to alter a decision you allege the OPP had made to forward its file to the RCMP so that the RCMP could conduct an investigation of [the Minister of the Environment].

I deny all of the charges that have been levelled at me by Mr. Froggatt. In particular, I deny that anything that has been said is defamatory or untrue.

At the root of my question of privilege is Mr. Froggatt's attempt to prevent me from debating the issue of conduct by the Minister of the Environment.

Mr. Speaker, as you are well aware, serious questions have been raised in the House about the conduct of the minister during the 2006 municipal election in the city of Ottawa. You are also aware that the Ontario Provincial Police have charged Ottawa mayor, Larry O'Brien, with two counts of bribery under the Criminal Code.

At the end of its investigation, the OPP indicated that it would be forwarding its files to the RCMP for further investigation. The next day, the OPP withdrew that statement. As far as we are aware, the only intervening events between those two statements were a series of phone calls made by Mr. Froggatt to the OPP.

I have repeatedly questioned the Minister of the Environment about his involvement in both the actions of Mayor O'Brien and his dealings with the OPP in this matter. It was those questions that led to the CTV Newsnet interview, of which Mr. Froggatt now complains.

It is clear that the primary goal of Mr. Froggatt is to prevent me from continuing to raise the very serious questions that I have about his actions and the actions of the Minister of the Environment with respect to the OPP investigation.

Mr. Froggatt is well aware that he is unable to directly control what I say in this House. As a result, he has chosen to attempt to intimidate me outside the House by threatening a lawsuit should I refuse to withdraw my earlier comments and refrain from accusing him of inappropriate activity.

I believe that the involvement of the Minister of the Environment in a bribery scandal and improper interference by the chief of staff to a minister are two issues that are clearly of public importance. Indeed, I have laid these issues before the House on a number of occasions. Mr. Froggatt's attempt to stifle debate is clearly a violation of my privileges.

As I have read from the letter that I received from Mr. Downard, I have a copy of it to be tabled in the House.

Mr. Speaker, should you find there is a prima facie case of privilege I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Alleged Obstruction of Member in the Conduct of His Duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, as you and all members of the House are aware, the privileges that extend to a member of Parliament that their speech is free from any consequences in terms of libel or other harm that they may cause and free from any responsibility is restricted to their duties as members of Parliament in this House.

There is a big difference between our Westminster parliamentary system, based on the mother Parliament in Britain, and as it has evolved here in Canada, and those of, say, the Republic of Russia right now where one becomes immune from any form of prosecution or any form of liability simply by one's status as a member of the house.

The fact that one is a member of Parliament does not give one licence to make reckless accusations that harm the reputation of any individual in this country, regardless of one's position or status.

Any comments that are made outside of this chamber, outside of one's direct role in the House, are comments for which a member must assume responsibility, comments which they should recognize have risks and that they should have a basis on which they can defend the truthfulness and accuracy of those remarks.

Were it to be otherwise, the situation that would result would be one that would be most unfortunate. Any member of the House could speak freely to the newspapers, on television, communicate in any form or fashion they wished, and have their comments reported widely which could harm the reputation of all kinds of private individuals or public figures, regardless of the basis for them.

Our parliamentary privilege does not work like that. We are simply restricted to comments made in the House. On that basis, I think it is very easy for you, Mr. Speaker, to dispose of this matter because there simply is no privilege being interfered with.

A very unfortunate trend has been coming from the official opposition in the House. It is an official opposition whose members have resorted to an ongoing program of character assassination. I recognize that they consider that to be part of the political game and they can do it in the House with the protection and the privileges of the House, but they must take seriously the responsibilities of every Canadian citizen outside the House.

They are not freed from that burden nor are they freed from the duties of every other citizen when they step outside the House and make their comments. They are in the same position of having to defend their public statements and utterances as every other Canadian citizen. If they make reckless and false accusations of criminal behaviour, which is the worst kind of bully tactic, if they go out there and say that someone is an ax murderer who is not, that someone is a criminal who is not, and they say those things without any consequences, that would be a serious affront to our democratic system and our Parliament.

We protect members within the House to allow for freedom of speech but we also respect the rights of every citizen and recognize that there is a difference between what Parliament means and what the House means. It is by virtue of membership and participation in the House that those privileges exist. It is for the protection of what happens in this chamber that those privileges exist. It is not to give individuals licence to engage in reckless behaviour and destroy people's reputations without any basis, which is exactly the conduct that the member continues to engage in outside the House.

On that basis, he must, as any other citizen outside the House, be prepared to defend those comments, not to cry like a baby that he is not allowed to say what he wants. He must assume the adult responsibilities for the truth of the comments he makes. If they are not true, then he should own up to the lack of evidence and own up to the lack of truth and be prepared to defend those words in court. That is all he is being asked to do.

It is not an unreasonable proposition for any individual or any citizen. It is the basis of our democracy. That is why laws against libel and slander exist. They are as old as our traditions in this western Parliament. They are laws that come out of our common law tradition to protect the people. While it may not be consistent with the Liberals' strategy, when they have no policies to talk about and no facts on which to base their accusations, they still engage in repeated false accusations that harm the individual reputations of people, harm their families and their loved ones and ruin people's lives. This is what that man is seeking the right to be able to do without consequences.

A member cannot do that, by virtue of being a member of Parliament, outside this House. A member can make his or her best efforts in this House, engage in debate, and that privilege exists, but there is no such privilege outside this House.

The fact that this question is even being entertained in front of you, Mr. Speaker, the fact that it has been raised, demonstrates the dangerous path that we are going down.

The particular case is quite clear. The police themselves have said that his accusations are false. The police have said that none of the interference which on television he alleges existed, exists. The police have said that in a public forum.

The facts do not bear out anything he said. If he disagrees with this, he can attempt to rely on those facts in a court of law for comments he wishes to make outside this House, but privileges of this House, and the privilege to speak, are restricted to inside this House.

Alleged Obstruction of Member in the Conduct of His Duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, my comments are very clear. I stand by what I say both in this House and outside of this House.

The issue is when members of Parliament in trying to execute their duties as members of Parliament ask legitimate questions of the government about matters of deep concern to the country, matters that are well reported, are sued by individuals who try to do indirectly what they cannot do directly, to try to intimidate individuals into not asking legitimate, fair questions on matters of fact, in my opinion, that is a serious attack upon the privileges of members of Parliament.

I believe the courts are being abused and used to try to stifle the abilities of members of Parliament to ask questions.

Alleged Obstruction of Member in the Conduct of His Duties
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In the circumstances, I feel I am in a position to dispose of this matter.

The hon. member for Ajax—Pickering has not sent me a copy of the letter that is the basis for his complaint. I am sure he will send that over and I will review it before I make a final decision on this matter, but unless the letter convinces me of something that he did not read, because he read a section of it and to me the section was quite clear, the complaint was all about statements he had made on a television program, and those are not ones that are subject to parliamentary privilege.

As has been pointed out by the hon. government House leader, a privilege exists in respect of statements that members make in this House, but also in committees. Something he neglected to mention is that comments in committee are also protected. Statements made outside the House are not protected. If the hon. member received a letter that alleges he said something that was defamatory of someone else--and that is what I sense from the segment he read--somewhere other than in the House, then the question of privilege is not available to him to have this matter somehow protected under that guise.

As I have indicated to the hon. member, I will review the letter when I receive a copy. If my ruling on this matter needs to change as a result of reviewing the letter, I will come back to the House. Otherwise, I consider the matter closed. I do not believe this is a question of privilege, unless otherwise convinced by the letter and in which case I will be back.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Prior to oral question period, the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain had the floor. He has two minutes to conclude his remarks.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will use the two minutes remaining to summarize the Bloc Québécois' position with regard to the Minister of Finance's intention to establish a single securities regulator.

It is very important to clearly understand that Quebeckers do not support this initiative. Securities fall under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. It is imperative for the government, and the Minister of Finance in particular, to realize that it will face a major obstacle, especially in Quebec, if it decides to proceed with this initiative.

The National Assembly of Quebec is unanimously opposed to the establishment of a common securities regulator. I find it difficult to believe that any Quebec members, whether Liberal or Conservative, would vote against this motion that defends the interests of Quebec by concurring with the National Assembly of Quebec.

We should also remember that establishing a common securities regulator would jeopardize the survival of trading activities in Montreal and, additionally, would favour the concentration of financial markets in Toronto. Once again, this situation is completely unacceptable to Quebec.

In closing, I would remind you that the World Bank and the OECD reported that the current system, governed by an agreement among all provinces except Ontario, provides for a market that permits exchanges. This system works very well and is more cost-effective than that proposed by the Minister of Finance.

For all these reasons, the members of the Bloc Québécois will definitely be voting in favour of the motion asking the Minister of Finance to abandon his initiative.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know that we only have five minutes to put questions to the hon. member who just spoke so eloquently and persuasively. He explained Quebec's specific problem really well, namely the unanimous reservations raised by this bill. It is rather surprising to see that the central government does not respect the wish of the Quebec nation, after recently recognizing our nation. It is also surprising to see other provinces opposed to such concentration. This is yet another scheme to crush Quebec's aspirations.

My question to the hon. member has to do with the behaviour of Conservative members from Quebec. I am surprised by the behaviour of those Conservative members, who were elected by claiming that the Bloc Québécois was not representing Quebec's interests very well. They promised they would do a better job of protecting those interests, since they were going to form the government and thus be in a position to influence the government's decisions.

Today, I was surprised to hear, among others, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, address the House to defend the federal government's indefensible position.

As my colleague pointed out, the three provincial parties in Quebec unanimously passed a motion against this House of Commons' bill. Quebec's finance minister, who is a provincial Liberal, wrote a long letter to her federal counterpart, telling him that she would never accept the implementation of this legislation.

So, all politicians in Quebec are opposed to this bill, including federal NDP members, such as the member for Outremont. As for Conservative members from Quebec, they see no reason to protect Quebec's interests. They would rather defend the interests of Ottawa, at the expense of Quebec.

Is this the new way to make one's presence felt in Ottawa? Does the hon. member not find it surprising to see this attitude on the part of Conservative members from Quebec?

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question my colleague is asking is about the Quebec nation and the position of Conservative members. My answer is that indeed, Conservative members, who bragged about recognizing Quebec as a nation, are now ready to take one of its exclusive powers away from that nation.

Presently, Quebec exerts this power through the Autorité des marchés financiers, which oversees securities transactions in Quebec. The Conservative members—and particularly the Conservative members from Quebec—are ready to go against the interests of Quebec and support the bill which the Minister of Finance wants to propose.

I must say that this is absolutely incomprehensible and unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain on his speech.

The argument used by the Conservative members from Quebec involves, first, recognizing that the majority of financial transactions are now under the responsibility of Ontario, and, second, deciding that through centralizing these transactions under a single Canadian authority, the position of Ontario would be strengthened since more than 80% of securities transactions in Canada would be managed in Ontario.

For my colleague, is there any coherence to the position advocated by the Conservative members representing Quebec in Ottawa? Is this not just part of an ideology that promotes the interests of Canada in Quebec, rather than the opposite?

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is very certain that when it comes to standing up for Quebec’s interests, opinion in Quebec is unanimous on this situation. The three parties in the National Assembly have adopted a motion stating that they are completely opposed to the bill to be introduced by the Minister of Finance.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to take the opportunity offered today so that I can state my opinion about this unprecedented economic power grab against Quebec and the provinces that the present Conservative government is preparing to carry out: the creation of a common securities regulator. It is truly an unprecedented economic power grab, designed to give the federal government the upper hand. We know that when the information and the financial power are all in one hand, then that hand is holding all the powers needed to crush a nation.

The 2008 budget confirms what was announced some years ago as one of this government's intentions: create a single securities regulator. This has been talked about for a number of years, as we know. It has been 40 years, in fact, since the idea that Canada should have a single window or a single securities regulatory body first started circulating. The subject really got brought back to the table in 2003, under the Liberal government, which created a committee of experts to study the possibility of creating a single securities commission.

In 2005, the Ontario government decided to do its own investigation and so it assigned a group of experts, which became the well-known “Purdy Crawford group”, to study the benefits of a single system for regulating securities. We all know that Ontario wants to have both the Canadian stock exchanges and the securities regulation system concentrated in that province. As well, the 2006 federal budget took up the idea again, and it then came back in the November 2006 economic statement and the 2007 budget.

Finally, the present Minister of Finance took up the idea, but this time he asked his committee of experts to draft a bill, or what could become a bill, to create this single securities commission.

For the benefit of the people listening to us, I would like to recall what we mean by securities, because not everyone is accustomed to that term. These are securities that could be negotiable or exchangeable, that could be listed on the stock exchange, shares, obligations, investment certificates, obligations, warrants or insurance policies. In other words, everything that can be traded on the stock exchange is considered to be a security.

This securities market, this commerce, is currently regulated in Quebec by the Autorité des marchés financiers. That is the body that is responsible for all regulation of these securities. Because it has a clearly defined mission, the Autorité des marchés financiers is also responsible for enforcing the laws governing the financial sector, which includes insurance, securities and deposit institutions, except for banks, which are under federal jurisdiction. The Autorité des marchés financiers also supervises the distribution of financial products and services.

Each province, except Ontario, has a group, an agency, an authority or financial markets that belong to it alone. However, to ensure the free circulation of money within Canada, each of the provinces has adopted a passport system.

These are agreements among the provinces that enable Quebec companies, for example, to do business on the Alberta or Saskatchewan markets or the market of any other province.

Above all this, but not heading it up, is the Investment Dealers Association of Canada. All the provinces and territories and the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, except Ontario, can do business with the international securities regulator.

This morning I heard a member of the party across the floor say that a single Canadian capital market would help Canada open up to the world. We are already open to the world, though, thanks to the fact that both the provinces and Canada can do business under the aegis of an international securities regulator. There are no guarantees that we would open up a larger market if we had one common regulator or one common agency for regulating securities.

The provinces have their own securities regulators. They have had this power ever since the Constitution Act, 1867. Section 92(13) says that this is a matter of exclusive provincial jurisdiction or power.

It is fascinating to see just how determined the Minister of Finance is to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction and particularly areas within the purview of Quebec, which has the power to manage the free flow of capital.

Quebec's jurisdiction must be respected. As we have often pointed out today, Ms. Jérôme-Forget, the Quebec finance minister, sent quite an explicit letter to her federal counterpart saying and I quote:

First of all, I reiterate that the existing regulatory system in Canada works well—

In addition, it has been noted that the OECD and the International Monetary Fund have congratulated Quebec and Canada on their passport system and the free flow of securities.

The minister says, on the other hand, that the Government of Canada would do better if it applied its energies to its own fields of jurisdiction and:

—worked to more effectively crack down on economic crime rather than trying to impose itself in a field of exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

We have made reference to the Vincent Lacroix story, but that could have happened in any other province.

I want, therefore, to ask the Minister of Finance to back down. If we are really a nation, as the people on the other side of the House seemed to recognize, then they must recognize that we are entitled to our own financial powers and these powers should be respected.

Opposition Motion—Securities Regulations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my Bloc Québécois colleague, who even went so far as to quote the IMF, which apparently said the model was perfect. I would like to share with him another quote from the IMF:

Securities regulation is currently a provincial responsibility, but the presence of multiple regulators has resulted in inadequate enforcement and inconsistent investor protection and adds to the cost of raising funds. It also makes it hard for the country to respond to changes in the global market place or to rapidly innovate.

My Bloc Québécois colleague often talks about the Quebec nation. How will this help Quebec businesses if we prevent them from raising funds in Ontario, when we know that 80% of the money available in stock brokerage is in Ontario? How will that help Quebec businesses?