House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 215
Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

With regard to the Small Craft Harbours Program of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, what was the funding amount allocated, granted or contributed to each harbour in each federal electoral district within the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in each of the years 2003 to 2007, inclusive?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Return
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

May 14th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for Papers
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would have raised this point of order earlier, but I have only just seen the video.

On Monday evening during the vote that took place in the House, the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River made a very unparliamentary gesture. I would like to give the member the opportunity to apologize to the House and to Canadians.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am sure the hon. member will take note of the hon. member's comment and come back to the House if necessary when the matter has been brought to his attention.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning the report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was presented to the House earlier today by the chair, the member for Mississauga South. I submit that the report is out of order and that it is beyond the mandate of the committee, as set out in Standing Order 108. I would like to begin with a bit of background.

The committee report recommends an amendment to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. Standing Order 108 makes it clear that the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons does not fall under this committee's mandate. Standing Order 108(3)(h) states that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has responsibility for overseeing “the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner”, as well as the commissioner's annual reports on activities in relation to public office holders.

On the other hand, Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vii) states that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is responsible for reviewing “the annual report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to...her responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act relating to Members of Parliament...”.

Furthermore, Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii) states that the procedure committee's mandate includes, “the review of and report on all matters relating to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons”.

It is, therefore, clear that the Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons falls under the mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs rather than the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. It therefore follows that the report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is beyond the committee's mandate.

I recognize that the Speaker often declines to interfere with committee proceedings by noting that committees are their own masters. However, in your ruling on March 14, 2008, in which you expressed your concerns over committees exceeding their mandates through, in your own words, “tyranny of the majority”, you stated:

However, if and when the committee presents a report, should members continue to have concerns about the work of the committee, they will have an opportunity to raise them in the House and I will revisit the question at that time.

The authority for the Speaker to rule a committee report out of order is confirmed in Marleau and Montpetit at page 879, where it states:

Committees are entitled to report to the House only with respect to matters within their mandate. When reporting to the House, committees must indicate the authority under which the study was done, i.e. the Standing Order or the order of reference. If the committee's report has exceeded or has been outside its order of reference, the Speaker has judged such a report, or the offending section to be out of order.

In conclusion, I understand that the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics had ruled this motion out of order on the ground that this issue did not fall under the mandate of his committee. However, his ruling was subsequently overturned by a majority of committee members.

Mr. Speaker, you have already raised concerns in the House that procedurally sound decisions by committee chairs are being overturned by majorities on committees. In your March 14, 2008 ruling, you stated:

...appeals of decisions by chairs appear to have proliferated, with the result that having decided to ignore our usual procedure and practices, committees have found themselves in situations that verge on anarchy.

I submit that this is another example where a sound decision by a committee chair has been ruled out of order. While I am confident that this report itself will be ruled out of order, it does not address the problem that the committee proceedings that lead to reports of this nature may damage the reputation of an individual or a political party, and the committee is allowed to do so by breaking the rules.

Mr. Speaker, in your ruling, you quoted Bourinot and how he described the first principle of our parliamentary tradition as:

To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner....

If we are truly to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, then the rules must be respected at the front end of the process as well, and that is at committee. If we are to avoid anarchy in the committee system, then the majority must respect sound rulings by chairs, particularly those that touch on the authority provided to the committees by the Standing Orders.

As the Speaker ruled on June 20, 1994 and on November 7, 1996:

While it is a tradition of this House that committees are masters of their own proceedings, they cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House.

Again, Mr. Speaker, I am confident you will rule this report out of order and I thank you for allowing me to express my continuing concern and caution over the ongoing defiance of committee mandates by brute force of numbers in our standing committees.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you know, on March 3, I raised a point of order in the House on a similar matter with regard to the Standing Orders. The Speaker gave a very extensive ruling on March 14. I accept the ruling and I do not want to repeat all of the citations because they were quite extensive.

However, there is a further aspect that must be considered in regard to the matter that came before the committee and that has been reported to the House today during routine proceedings.

The committee, as the government whip has indicated, has the responsibility, under our Standing Orders as approved by the House, to deal with that matter and similar matters related to the Standing Orders, which include appendix 1, the conflict of interest guidelines for members of the House of Commons.

However, Mr. Speaker, as you know, that particular standing committee has not been able to discharge its basic fundamental responsibilities assigned to it by the House of Commons. In fact, it has put political interests ahead of the best interests of the House.

The matter that is being addressed by the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is a very serious matter. It has to do with the rights and the privileges of members of Parliament. It is a fundamental matter to be dealt with by this place and it is being frustrated by the government's imposed hijacking of the procedure and House affairs committee, which you, Mr. Speaker, are well aware of.

The committee was well aware that the matter was outside of our mandate. A vote by consensus or simple majority is the minimum threshold required to proceed on such matters. Even to change the Standing Orders, it only takes a simple majority of the House. However, in the context of the environment in which the House is operating, in the context of the seriousness of the question that has been raised by the report of the Ethics Commissioner and in the context that members' rights and privileges may be restricted for the wrong reasons, I believe the member who was cited in the Ethics Commissioner's report has already indicated that he accepts the report. I suspect that he will want to make further submissions with regard to it.

The Ethics Commissioner herself suggested, encouraged and, I think, even prompted members of Parliament to seek an amendment to the guidelines on conflict of interest, which are included in our Standing Orders.

We could see absolutely no horizon where this matter would be dealt with. We could see no opportunity where the government would permit this to move forward.

Mr. Speaker, I was prepared today, under routine proceedings, to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to move concurrence in that report so we could have a debate here, put this forward and let the House decide. Government members are not going to permit that. They do not want this to happen. They have made it very clear that, as far as they were concerned, if the member has been named in a lawsuit, his rights and privileges as a member of Parliament have been impeded in some respect. That should be the subject of a debate and a vote by Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, in light of your ruling, we fully understand that the matter is beyond the mandate of the committee, but the consensus and simple majority of the committee did overrule my ruling, in accordance and in upholding the Standing Orders, to say that members of Parliament wanted to deal with this matter because they felt it was important and felt that there was no other opportunity for us to have this quickly discharged. It has been dealt with by those members, debated for a full hour and all government members had an opportunity to speak.

It is clear that there is some disagreement as to the interpretation of certain items, and to the enforceability and propriety of the decision made by the Ethics Commissioner. Those still have to be examined and explored. It should be done by the procedure and House affairs committee. If it could only get its act together, we could get this matter dealt with because it is too important.

I believe that is the motivation of the hon. members on the committee. They want it to be dealt with because it is a question that the House of Commons should be able to deal with on an urgent priority basis, a matter of urgent and pressing necessity. That is what it is about. It is about dealing with the rights and the privileges of members of Parliament. What could be more fundamental and important to this place?

Mr. Speaker, please take this in the context that the committee, in good faith, is recommending to the House an amendment to the conflict of interest guidelines for members of the House of Commons. It would provide the House an opportunity to debate it and determine whether or not simply being named in a lawsuit would constitute a possibility of furthering one's private interests.

The members in their vote decided that, in their view, it did not. The debate shows that there is an opposing view. But the consensus said that this change should be made. It has been presented to the House.

We seek direction from the Speaker, as we did when I raised my point of order in the first place. As a committee chair, I want to be able to uphold and defend our Standing Orders. But the problem that existed when I first raised it back on March 3 continued to exist.

I suspect that if committees like the procedure and House affairs committee and the justice committee do not resolve their problems, the issues that are before those committees too will ultimately have to come to the ethics committee if that is the only committee that is going to be able to take up these important questions and to discharge them.

If they are in order in terms of proper business of parliamentarians, there should be no delay. This is an issue similar to justice delayed is justice denied. A resolution of serious parliamentary issues which is delayed is also similarly totally unacceptable in our parliamentary environment.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to seriously consider what options are available to Parliament to deal on a priority and urgent basis and to recognize that this is a matter of urgent and pressing necessity. To in fact rule this report out of order would simply again be an indication of a roadblock that the government would like to put in front of us to say that it does not want this thing to move forward and that it does not want it to be addressed by Parliament. Let us have the House vote on whether or not this is a matter of urgent and pressing necessity.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will not talk for long. This shows what has become of Parliament and the committees.

Ordinarily, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should deal with this, but the Conservative government has decided not to elect a new chair. As a result, problems are arising in some committees, and others are not functioning at all.

A parliament exists to make laws, but the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is not functioning, just like the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which ensures that the House of Commons functions properly and which handles everything that has to do with the code of ethics—I am thinking of Elections Canada, for example.

The committee members made it clear that they did not have confidence in the chair. They called for his resignation, and he agreed.

Mr. Speaker, we recommend that, in your decision, you find a solution to problems such as this one, especially when a member of Parliament could lose his privilege to ask questions in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister decided to sue the Leader of the Opposition. Because this case will go to court, does that mean the Leader of the Opposition will no longer have the right to ask questions in the House of Commons? This is unacceptable.

The members of this House must be treated in the same way as the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Our privileges cannot be taken away, and that is what is disturbing about this situation. This problem can be solved with an amendment to the code of ethics, and Parliament must decide.

I want to add my voice to this debate so that this problem will be addressed as soon as possible and Parliament can carry on with its work. The Conservatives do not want Parliament to function, but that is not our problem. They form a minority government, and they will have to accept the will of the Canadians who elected them to Parliament.