House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege for which I have given you notice.

I believe that a breach of the rights and privileges of all members has occurred and that this constitutes contempt of Parliament.

For the last number of weeks, the government has run advertisements in newspapers across the country promoting unpopular amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act through Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill.

These advertisements amount to contempt of the House of Commons. These ads have both obstructed and prejudiced the proceedings of the House and its committees with dishonest and misleading information.

Furthermore, the use of public funds to promote legislation that is currently before the Standing Committee on Finance is flagrant interference by the government with the deliberations of members of Parliament and is defined by former Speaker Sauvé as a prima facie case of contempt.

On the first point, the advertisements that appeared in ethnic and mainstream news media, a copy of which I will table here today, are misleading for several reasons.

The headline of the ad reads, “Reducing Canada's Immigration Backlog”. The ad goes on to state that the Government of Canada is proposing measures to cut the wait times of the 925,000 applications in the immigration backlog.

Since the legislative changes will only affect applications submitted after February 27, 2008 and since they will have no impact on the backlog of the 925,000 applicants in the system before that time, this is a clear case of misleading government advertisements.

The word “backlog” is defined as “a quantity of unfinished business or work that has built up over a period of time and must be dealt with before progress can be made”. The definition is clear, but there is nothing in the legislative changes in Bill C-50 that deals with the “unfinished business” of the 925,000 applicants currently waiting to come to Canada.

The ad also states that there is an additional $109 million to speed up the application process.

What it does not tell the public is that there has been a cut of 49% in the spending of the immigration program at the department between 2006 and 2008. The actual spending in 2006 was $244.8 million and in 2008 it is $164.86 million. That is a cut of $80 million.

On my first point that the ads constitute contempt of Parliament due to their misleading nature, let me quote the definition of “contempt” as outlined in the 20th edition of Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, chapter 10, at page 143:

It may be stated generally that any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

It is clear. The government advertisements are both an act and an omission. The government deliberately made misleading comments on the effects of the proposed legislation, and it deliberately omitted other information about the effects of the proposed legislation.

In attempting to shift the public debate through massive spending of public dollars on a partisan position of the government, it impeded the work of members to perform our duties and it is disrespectful of the role of the House of Commons.

Former Speaker Sauvé further ruled on October 17, 1980, which can be found on page 3781 of Hansard, that advertisements would constitute contempt of the House if there appeared to be “some evidence that they represent a publication of false, perverted, partial or injurious reports of the proceedings of the House of Commons”.

We know through the legislation before the House that the proposed changes have nothing to do with the backlog and that these ads appeared in the public even before the House of Commons finance and citizenship and immigration committees had a chance to study the issue.

Therefore, the intention of these ads is to mislead the public and mislead and disrespect the role of Parliament. These actions of the Conservative government were deliberate and should be considered a contempt of the House.

It is further considered an act of contempt against all hon. members when the government interferes with parliamentary deliberations by the spending of public funds. Madame Sauvé said on October 17, 1980:

--when a person or a government attempts to interfere with our deliberations through spending public money, or otherwise, directly or indirectly...such action would constitute a prima facie case.

The government is clearly interfering in the debate before the House and the Standing Committee on Finance through the spending of public money. According to the 2008 budget estimates, it is spending $2.4 million in public funds. Already $1.1 million has been spent, even while Parliament is considering this bill. More spending on advertisements is to come.

The sad truth is that there is a long history of governments attempting to insult the dignity of Parliament with advertising.

In 1989 the Progressive Conservatives placed misleading ads with respect to the GST prior to a vote in Parliament. In 1980 the Liberal government of the day placed ads across Canada promoting constitutional reform before it was approved by Parliament.

Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said on September 25, 1989:

We believed that advertising that advocated a certain policy before it was approved by the Parliament of Canada...should not be supported by the spending of public funds. We said it in 1980; we repeat it now.

Sadly, I am repeating it again in 2008.

In conclusion, the very tenets of our parliamentary democracy are at risk if actions like these are not reprimanded and stopped.

On October 10, 1989, former Speaker Fraser ruled on similar actions taken by the then Conservative government in its promotion of the GST. He said:

--I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous. This is a case which, in my opinion, should never recur. I expect the Department of Finance and other departments to study this ruling carefully and remind everyone within the Public Service that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.

He went on to call the advertising campaign “ill conceived” and said that “it does a great disservice to the great traditions of this place”. Former Speaker Fraser continued:

If we do not preserve these great traditions, our freedoms are at peril and our conventions become a mockery. I insist, and I believe I am supported by the majority of moderate and responsible members on both sides of the House, that this ad is objectionable and should never be repeated.

Mr. Speaker, in your deliberations, I am sure you know that your decisions will affect future actions of the government. We cannot allow the floodgates to open to extreme partisan advertising paid for by the public purse. We must put a stop to this practice here and now.

I thank you for this time, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to your ruling.

Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 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, I am pleased to respond to this and the point raised by the member for Scarborough—Agincourt earlier today. While not the same, it is obviously related to the exact same question.

The first point I would like to raise is that the member did not raise the question of privilege at the earliest opportunity. This is one of the requirements for a question of privilege of this type. I refer the Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 122 where it reads as follows:

A complaint on a matter of privilege must satisfy two conditions before it can be accorded precedence...First, the Speaker must be convinced that a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been made and, second, the matter must be raised at the earliest opportunity.

Page 124 states:

The matter of privilege to be raised in the House must have recently arisen and must call for the immediate action of the House. Therefore, Members must satisfy the Speaker that the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity. When a Member does not fulfil this important requirement, the Speaker has rule that the matter is not a prima facie question of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, the advertisements in question began running on April 15. We are now about a month later. We have had, since the advertisements began running, 17 sitting days. I would think that on that basis alone, you should dismiss this question of privilege.

I would further add that in terms of the member raising the question, the member for Trinity—Spadina who just spoke, that she is in fact quoted in the media commenting on the issue in question. Some time ago, after the advertisements began running, there was a story by Andrew Mayeda of the Southam group on April 21, which was four days after it began running. Therefore, that, again, is many weeks ago. Ample opportunity has existed and the member has failed to meet that minimum obligation of raising the issue at the earliest possible opportunity.

I would like to comment on something the member forScarborough—Agincourt raised this morning. He argued that the money being used for the ads flowed from Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill. Since Bill C-50 has not yet passed into law, he argued, that the government was in contempt.

There is absolutely no basis or evidence for the argument he raised, although that did not stop him from raising it. However, as you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, the money being used for the ads has nothing to do with the passage of C-50. The money was approved in March when the House, with the support of his party, the Liberal Party I might add, adopted interim supply.

With respect to the advertisements themselves, I would invite the Speaker to review the advertisements, which I will be pleased to table in the House. You will note that the ads are very respectful to the House and the legislative process. The authors of the advertisements took into consideration Speaker Fraser's ruling from 1991, from which the member for Trinity—Spadina quoted from extensively, when they were drafting these advertisements. As you will see, they were careful not to be dismissive in any way of the legislative process, which was the subject matter of the question of privilege that led to Speaker Fraser's ruling.

Let us recall what the core finding of that ruling was and the core message. The core principle of it was that advertising undertaken by the government should not presume or suggest that a decision had been made already when it had not been taken by the House of Commons or by Parliament. It is the taking of a decision by Parliament that represents the privilege that should not be prejudiced. Advertisements that imply or suggest that a decision has already been taken when it has not would be not in order, would be inappropriate and would give rise to a case of privilege. However, if the advertising does respect the fact that Parliament has yet to make a decision, then it will not have in any way prejudiced the privileges of Parliament.

I will, for the benefit of you, Mr. Speaker, and for those in the House, read the content of one of these advertisements, and they are all essentially the same, although in many languages. I will read one that appears in English:

Reducing Canada's Immigration Backlog

Newcomers to Canada have helped build our country from the beginning.

The Government of Canada believes in immigration: we want more newcomers to join us, families to be re-unified faster and labour market demands to be met.

Currently, the immigration backlog sits at 925,000 applications. This means that the wait time for an application can be as long as six years.

That's why the Government of Canada is proposing measures to cut the wait.

These important measures, once in effect, include:

More resources: An additional $109 million to speed up the application process.

Faster Processing Times: The ability to fast-track new applications.

Better Employment Opportunities: Matching skills with our economic needs.

Complete Processing. All applications currently in the backlog will be processed.

Then, the next sentence is critical. It says:

These measures are currently before Parliament.

The advertisement continues:

All of these changes respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Canada needs an immigration system that is flexible, fast and fair for everyone—that's why we're reducing the immigration backlog.

It proceeds to provide a number of contact phone numbers and a website to which people could go.

As I have said, the principal question that has to be determined is whether the advertisement in any way apprises, or suggests or presumes that Parliament has already taken a decision, that there is a fait accompli.

What things are spoken of in the past tense? There is something spoken of in the past tense and that is newcomers to Canada have helped to build our great country from the beginning. Perhaps the member suggests this is a fait accompli that has not happened. We believe it has happened and, therefore, I do not think that gives rise to a concern.

However, as for the substantive policy measures in question, all of them are spoken of as proposed measures, once in effect, and being matters that are currently before Parliament.

As I have said, the advertisement was crafted with that critical decision of Speaker Fraser, relating back to the GST advertisement case, in mind and they respect that principle so as to respect the privileges of every member of this House of Commons.

This is very much in contrast, I might add, to what we saw from the former Liberal government, which went out of its way to dismiss the role of Parliament and parliamentarians. This was highlighted by former prime minister Chrétien's reference to his backbench as terracotta soldiers.

Compare our ad to the former Liberal government's ads, announcements and activities and it will be concluded that it is not side of the House that needs a lecture on respecting the legislative process.

For example, the Liberal minister of international trade, on March 30, 1998, sent out a press release entitled “Marchi Meets With Chinese Leaders in Beijing and Announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”. At that time, there was no Canada-China interparliamentary group.

The Liberal government appointed the head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation before there was legislation setting up the foundation

The Liberal government sent out a news release, on October 23, 1997, announcing that provincial and federal governments had constituted a nominating committee to nominate candidates for the new Canada pension plan investment board. The nominating committee is provided for under subclause 10(2) of Bill C-2, which had not yet been adopted at that time by the House.

On January 21, 1998, the Liberal agriculture minister met in Regina to discuss the rules for the election of directors to the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, as proposed in Bill C-4, An Act to Amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Substantial amendments to Bill C-4, tabled at report stage by opposition members, had yet to be debated in the House. While the House was still debating how many directors should be farmer elected versus government appointees, the minister was holding meetings as though his bill was already law.

How can we forget what took place in the last Parliament, when the opposition defeated two bills that would reorganize the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. After the defeat of these bills, the Liberal minister responsible said that the government would go ahead and reorganize the departments anyway.

I point out that the Speaker did not consider any of these actions to be an affront to the House. That being the case, and in comparison to the respectful tone of this government's advertisement, I submit it cannot be viewed as dismissive of the legislative process or the role of members of Parliament. We on this side of the House do not think our caucus members are nobodies. We respect the institution and the members who serve it.

The advertisement is very clear in stating that the measures are currently before Parliament, and that is certainly the minimal test.

I might add, with regard to some other questions that were raised, much of what the member for Trinity—Spadina raised goes to the debate of the bill itself and the merits of it, some contentions about whether it would succeed in having some of the desired outcomes that were sought. Those are very much matters for debate. They are appropriate for debate, but they are not questions that go to the issue of the privileges of this Parliament, as people can have different views. The government is very confident in its views on this matter.

I might also add, with regard to Speaker Sauvé's 1980 ruling, she stated the following:

The fact that certain members feel they are disadvantaged by not having the same funds to advertise as does the government, which could possibly be a point of debate, as a matter of impropriety or under any other heading, does not constitute a prima facie case of privilege...

I understand she wished there was nobody making the case on the other side of this debate. However, the government reserves the right to make that case and it is doing so actively, but doing so in a fashion that respects the previous rulings in the House, the leading ruling of Speaker Fraser, which is the critical one to which we must have regard.

The advertisements were done in such a fashion, all of them in different languages, that they fully respected Parliament's jurisdiction, its ability to make this decision and communicated fairly to Canadians that the decision was yet to be made and it was something for which they should watch how Parliament determines, by saying that the measures were currently before Parliament and that they were, indeed, that the Government of Canada was proposing.

Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to rise this morning on the same issue.

I listened very carefully to what my colleague across the way said. He stated that this was proposed legislation, which appeared in 20 or 100 newspapers.

This question was raised in committee and the minister was to verify that all the ads were the same. The question was posed by myself. The minister was also asked to verify that the advertising figures were right.

An advertisement contract came to my attention, where the newspaper was asked to charge three times the going rate. There were all kinds of newspapers, which I can certainly table in the House. However, I have in my hand three contracts, and this goes beyond and above what is happening: the Nigerian-Canadian News, a full page add, $220; Urdu Times, a full page ad, $600; Awam, a full page ad, $450. This goes beyond the right to advertise. With these numbers, which I will table in the House, and the advertisements that were done, it does not add up.

I know the minister will be before the committee in two weeks, but Mr. Speaker, there is something more here that just does not add up.

Citizenship and Immigration
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am afraid, in terms of money spent for ads, this is not a procedural matter. That will be entirely a matter for possibly a committee, if that, but it is clearly not procedural.

The member for Trinity—Spadina has put the procedural matter clearly before the House. The government House leader has responded to that. I am prepared to take the matter under advisement and come back to the House with a ruling. I am looking forward to receiving copies of the ads in question from the government House leader, at which I can then look. I believe the member for Trinity—Spadina has some copies as well.

I will undertake to look at all these things and come back to the House in due course, but I do not think there is any need to respond to this argument because it is not relevant to the procedural matter that is before us.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

May 15th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising regarding yesterday's point of order what some hon. members may have interpreted as a gesture they thought to be unparliamentary.

Please know that I did not, nor do I now, have any such intention toward any hon. members. Nonetheless, I apologize to the House for any misinterpretation.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member and we will consider that matter closed.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have a Treasury Board document from 2005, which shows the previous Liberal government planned stable funding for the Coast Guard College in Sydney for that year and succeeding years of more than $4 million per year.

This demonstrates that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has misled the House. I seek unanimous consent to table the document.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to table this document?

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yes.

No.

Alleged Unparliamentary Behaviour
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 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, I rise on a point of order. There was a request made, following question period and the Thursday question, by the opposition House leader for the tabling of documents from the Prime Minister.

I indicated that the Prime Minister referred to notes, but those notes indeed involved an extract from a backgrounder document on Canada's first defence strategy, “The Four Pillars”, which is dated May 12 and goes on at quite some length.

I am quite happy to table that document, in both official languages, at this time so the official opposition House leader will have an opportunity to familiarize himself with the matters he was asking questions on today.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 14, 2008, by the hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip concerning the admissibility of the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was presented to the House that day.

I would like to thank the hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I also wish to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River, and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of Western Economic Diversification for their interventions.

In his detailed remarks on this matter, the hon. Chief Government Whip argued that the recommendations contained in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which seeks to amend the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, went beyond the mandate of the committee and therefore should be ruled inadmissible. He pointed out that even the chair of the ethics committee had ruled that the matter was beyond the committee's mandate, but that this decision was appealed and overturned by committee members.

In his remarks, the hon. member for Mississauga South acknowledged that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was well aware that the matter was outside of its mandate when it adopted its seventh report to recommend amendments to the Conflict of Interest Code. However, the hon. member argued that the committee was justified in doing so because the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which has the responsibility to propose such amendments, was currently unable to discharge its duties in this respect. Furthermore, he stressed the urgency of the subject matter of the report, contending that any delay in addressing those issues might unfairly restrict members' rights and privileges. In summary, he argued that there was no other possibility available to members of the House to deal with this fundamental matter in a timely fashion.

In his comments, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst agreed that this issue needed to be addressed as soon as possible. He also spoke of the well-recognized procedural principle that committees are masters of their own proceedings.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River acknowledged that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics exceeded its mandate in this matter, but suggested that it may have had sufficient procedural jurisdiction to render its report admissible.

As noted by the hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip, Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii), which deals with the mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, states, “the review of and report on all matters relating to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons”. I may add that pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(iii), the mandate to amend the Standing Orders, to which the Conflict of Interest Code is an appendix, also belongs to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

On the other hand, Standing Order 108(3)(h), which outlines the mandate of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, states at subparagraph (iii) that this mandate includes, “the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner”, while subparagraph (v) indicates, “in cooperation with other committees, the review of and report on any federal legislation, regulation or Standing Order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders”.

Hon. members will recall that the issue of the mandate of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was raised just a few weeks ago and was dealt with in a ruling that the Chair gave on March 14, 2008. I wish to quote again, as I did in that ruling, from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at p. 879:

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.

As mentioned by the hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip in his remarks, Mr. Speaker Parent offered clear guidance in the matter before us in his ruling given on page 5583 of the Debates of June 20, 1994:

While it is the 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.

This is a reality that continues to this day, a reality that cannot be simply set aside because of existing circumstances in another committee, or by invoking the urgent need to address a subject, or by arguing the gravity of that subject.

As hon. members know, and as explained in House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 857, decisions of committee chairs may be appealed to the committee. However, as hon. members may recall, in my ruling of March 14 last, I raised serious concerns about committees overturning procedurally sound decisions by their chairs and the problems that may arise from such actions. I find it particularly troubling in this instance that the committee chose to proceed as it did with the clear knowledge that what it was doing was beyond the committee's mandate.

Some of the arguments presented in this case suggested that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was the only venue possible to deal with this important and urgent matter in an expeditious fashion. In my view, there are other mechanisms available to debate and resolve the matter at hand. Furthermore, as I mentioned on May 14 when this issue was raised, the fact that the procedure and House affairs committee is not functioning at the moment does not permit other committees to usurp its mandate.

I wish to remind hon. members that the Chair can apply the rules of the House only as they are written. The subject matter of the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is clearly not within the mandate of that committee, as spelled out in Standing Order 108, and therefore, in my view, it is out of order.

For this reason, I rule that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be deemed withdrawn and that no subsequent proceedings may be taken in relation thereto. Accordingly, the two notices of motions for concurrence in this report currently on the notice paper standing in the names of the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and the hon. member for Halifax West will be withdrawn.

I thank the hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip for having brought this matter to the attention of the Chair.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I think if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following two travel motions.

I move:

That, in relation to its study of science and technology in Canada, twelve (12) members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology be authorized to travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Vancouver British Columbia, from May 25 to 30, 2008 and that the necessary staff accompany the Committee.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. chief government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?