House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I want to commend you for your great years of service in the House, and how frustrating it must be to have to sit and listen to such irrelevant topics day after day that come from these members.

I am actually astounded that time is being taken up in the House listening to someone cry such sad crocodile tears. It is like two kids in the sandbox and one saying, “He took my toy”, and the other saying, “No, I didn't”. Canadians expect better of us.

The issue that we are dealing with is the ability of a committee to deal with the government's business. The member talked about how he was shut down because the chair said it was irrelevant. Committee members sat and listened to 20 minutes of absolutely irrelevant testimony from him about how his feelings were hurt. I say it is irrelevant because he must know the basic rules of Parliament.

The Speaker is not in a position to intervene, hold his hand, and take him back to the classroom and say, “Bad chair”. That is not the role of the Speaker. The member must know that there are certain rules of Parliament that go back hundreds of years that establish fair debate, so that a government party that is still, in his mind, a rump opposition cannot undermine the rules of Parliament. It cannot block committees day after day; it cannot filibuster week after week.

We are talking about an unprecedented situation where a governing party has tried everything it can to shut down the work of Parliament. It keeps coming back to the fact that this is also a party that has been charged, after an RCMP raid, so questions have to be raised about the ethical nature of what was done.

I do not think I need to get into the whole very dubious and dodgy past of the Conservative Party with election spending. That is not the issue.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

It would take far too long. We don't have enough time.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Yes. It would take us into mid-July and I think people want to get home.

I am asking the question of why he is taking up the time of Parliament in raising an absolutely irrelevant point? You know well, Mr. Speaker, that I am a great student of the rules of Parliament. The point of order has to be taken through the committee. It is not for him to cry to the principal that the teacher did something wrong in his classroom. The rules are very clear. They say:

Unlike the Speaker, the Chair of a committee does not have the power to censure disorder or decide questions of privilege. Should a Member wish to raise a question of privilege in committee, or should some event occur in committee which appears to be a breach of privilege or contempt, the Chair of the committee will recognize the Member and hear the question of privilege, or in the case of some incident, suggest that the committee deal with the matter.

This is to be dealt with by the committee and if the committee rules that there was an issue, the member quite rightly can bring it to the committee. Then it is brought to the Speaker and then the Speaker rules.

We have been seeing a bizarre filibuster in Parliament since 10 o'clock this morning where very important issues of parliamentary law have not been debated. The issue of nuclear liability, which the New Democratic Party is absolutely opposed to, has been completely shunted to the side. The bizarre airline safety bill, that the government has been trying to push through, has been shoved aside by the government and it has been bringing up irrelevant issues.

The question that we are dealing with is why the member is taking up the time of Parliament to cry foul over the government's filibustering techniques in a committee? Its track record has been that it basically shuts down committee after committee with the same kinds of shenanigans and, finally, a chair has to rule that there is a question of absolute irrelevancy in what it was speaking about.

I am sorry if his feelings were hurt, but this is the big boys' chamber. We are paid to be professionals, to stand and do our job. He knows full well, Mr. Speaker, that he cannot appeal to you to intervene. This is not the way Parliament works.

Perhaps there is a need for some parliamentary lessons over the summer. Maybe, through the wonderful clerk's office, members of Parliament could be offered, especially the Conservative backbenchers, a summer course where they could learn some of the basic rules of Parliament.

It is a very good thing for all of us to learn. As someone who is into his second term of Parliament, I found the clerks to have been excellent at being able to show us, so we do not stand in the House and embarrass ourselves or our constituents.

At the end of the day, what has happened in the House has been a bizarre and useless filibuster by the Conservatives, keeping important and very controversial bills from coming forward at the end of a session.

However, it also undermines our parliamentary role here because we are seeing attempts to create ad hoc rulings, to change the hundreds of years of tradition in terms of how things are reported through the committees and then to the Speaker, and then asking the Speaker to unilaterally override the committee tradition, especially on a point where the committee was trying to do the work of Parliament. That is what I have to keep getting back to. This committee finally said that enough was enough, that it had heard all the irrelevant banter of the party that fundamentally was an opposition party, and that it needed to get down to the work of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, you know the rules and you respect the rules and I do not think you will be swayed by such a maudlin display as what we have just seen from the member from Edmonton.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage you and your staff to have a wonderful summer. I know my colleagues in the Bloc also want to wish you a wonderful summer because you do take the brunt of having to listen to many parliamentary debates that are--

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

That is not a question of privilege.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is a question of privilege, the privilege of serving in this House under you, Mr. Speaker, and I am thankful for that.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I have before me some information that will be very troubling to you concerning the conduct of the chair of the Standing Committee on Ethics.

Before I go into that information, I would like to read a quote. In his ruling of May 5, 1987, Speaker Fraser stated:

The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.

Today, I rise to inform you of such an incident where my privileges were violated by a chair who took action to impede me from fulfilling my duties and functions as an associate member of that committee.

The matter relates to a motion which was moved by--

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but we are dealing with a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park at this moment and this is a separate question of privilege. I think the member should restrict his remarks to the first privilege.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the incident in question occurred at the Standing Committee on Ethics. We have heard from the member from Alberta who has indicated that his rights and privileges as a member of Parliament were impeded by the actions of a chair who was willing to ignore the rules and overturn the ability of members to speak their minds and carry out their duties.

The member from Alberta explained earlier on that the chair prohibited him from speaking, but it was much worse than just speaking. The chair refused to even entertain amendments to the motion that was before the committee.

Amendments are not only permitted but they are a regular, run-of-the-mill component of committee and parliamentary debate. I have almost never seen a document go through this place without being amended, but the chair of the ethics committee took the position that amendments were not allowed if they changed the motion.

If you look up the definition of an amendment, Mr. Speaker, without changing a motion, an amendment is not an amendment. An amendment by its very nature is a change. To amend is to change. The two words are synonymous.

In particular, the chair indicated that the motion, which sought to investigate the electoral practices of the Conservative Party, was allowed but that any amendment that would expand the motion to investigate the financial practices of his party or any opposition party was not allowed. He said that this was because his committee, the committee on ethics, was not allowed to study the actions of parties. However, the motion in question states explicitly that it wants to study the actions of the Conservative Party. It does not say that it wants to investigate the actions of Conservative public office holders but rather of the Conservative Party of Canada.

For the ethics committee chair to suggest that only one party can be investigated by his committee, infringes on the privileges of members of all political parties in this House. The privilege to which I speak now is the right to be treated equally, regardless of party affiliation. The chair of the committee indicated that only one party could be investigated and that all the other parties would be exempt from any scrutiny whatsoever.

It would have been unfair if committee members from the opposition had amassed their votes and suppressed the right of Conservative members to investigate the financial practices of all parties. That would have been unfair and wrong. However, the committee chair went even further than that when he said that it was not only the right of committee members to vote down such an inquiry of their finances, but that it was completely out of order for such an amendment to even be considered.

In other words, he structured the entire meeting in a way that would allow a motion to survive and pass only if it focused exclusively its scrutiny on the Conservative Party. In essence this is a partisan--

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member again but it sounds to me as though he is arguing a point of order, not a question of privilege.

The question of what amendments or whatever are in order in a committee is not a matter of privilege. We are dealing with a question of privilege raised by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park which deals with his right to speak, freedom of speech. That is not the admissibility of amendments. Therefore, I hope the hon. member will move very quickly to deal with privilege, not a point of order.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are right. If we were to focus on the admissibility of amendments then that would be traditionally a point of order. However, what I am dealing with here is the privilege of the member from Alberta to speak freely by amending a motion.

I will not focus any more on this point as I believe it has been well exhausted but I think you should note that that privilege, which is afforded to all members, to amend a motion was infringed upon by a heavily partisan chair bent on advancing his own partisan interest.

On the subject of the member's point of privilege, the member from Alberta is correct to say that he was not even capable of uttering a full sentence before being aggressively interrupted by a highly partisan chair who would abruptly push any member who tried to speak off the speaking list and silence them immediately.

I know the member from Alberta who spoke earlier to be a statesman of this House. He presented himself in the committee to make intelligent arguments on behalf of his constituents and advance careful consideration of a highly partisan motion. He was interrupted again and again by a chair who did not want that member to have his voice heard.

The chair has a right to his private opinion and, as we all know, the chair in this particular committee is heavily opinionated, which is his right, but it is not his right to impose his personal opinions and his personal urges on that committee. That is exactly what he did in denying the privileges of the hon. member from Alberta to speak his mind freely in that parliamentary setting.

I was present throughout and I can corroborate exactly what the member from Alberta indicated. I can say that my privileges were equally denied. I know we are not speaking of my privileges at this point but it is important to show that there is a pattern here. There is a pattern of behaviour on the part of that chair who refuses to permit members of the committee to carry out their work and to speak freely, which is a fundamental right of members of any committee.

As we move forward in this discussion, I think it will be found that this committee cannot go on functioning like this because it will deny members of the committee the privileges with which they were vested when they were elected by their constituents.

The chair might not be pleased or happy with the fact that members on this side were elected and given the privileges of parliamentarians, and it is his right to be displeased with the choice by Canadians in the last election, but it is not his right to take away their choice by silencing the members who Canadians have elected, which was exactly what he attempted to do when he silenced the member from northern Alberta and other members of the same committee.

The intention of Conservative members on the committee was to see a fulsome investigation of the financial practices of all political parties in this House, including our own. We are more than happy to defend and have our finances investigated, which was what the member was speaking about at the moment he was interrupted. This shows that the topic on which he was intervening was completely germane and, therefore, totally permissible in the committee context. He was indicating as well that he wanted to see an investigation of the Conservative practices in concert with a similar investigation of all parties.

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I will move to my final point by reiterating the words of one of your predecessors, Speaker Fraser. On the quote I raised earlier, I would like to unpackage it a little more. It states:

The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.

Speaking in a parliamentary committee is a duty and a function of a parliamentarian. Were the member from Alberta to refuse to speak in committee, he would be abdicating his duty to represent his constituents. Were he to be prevented from speaking in that same committee, he would be deprived of his ability to carry out the functions of a member of Parliament.

As such, it is not only permitted for him to speak, but it is essentially obligatory that he do speak. He was denied the right to do that. He was denied the right to carry out his functions and shoulder his duties when the chair slammed that gavel again and again with the fury and wrath of a northern Ontario thunderstorm.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

That is out of order.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

I can hear that there are other members who have that same wrath right now because they do not want any of these matters to be discussed.

Therefore, it is the duty of the Speaker of the House in extraordinary circumstances like these to intervene with the chair and indicate to him that he has neither the right nor the responsibility to silence members of the committee with whom he disagrees.

I would invite you, Mr. Speaker, to read the Standing Orders. We know that you are a master of those Standing Orders already, but if you would review them and then look at the comportment of this chair, you will find that he has acted in a way that is out of line with the Standing Orders and out of line with the privileges that are vested in that member through our traditions in this House.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, in addition to wishing you a good summer and saying that I hope you have a chance over the summer to reconnect with your friends in Kingston and indeed right across Canada, I would like to point out that you have set a tone of responsibility and parliamentary privilege in the House that no one has contested. However, it is being undermined by one of the chairs of the parliamentary committees. I invite you to remind him of the spirit and tone that you have set in the House.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I wish you and yours a terrific summer.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the two previous government speakers, we cannot help but note that they seem to be having difficulty grasping the very notion of a question of privilege.

I would like to share with the House a document on House procedure. The document indicates just how important questions of privilege are. Any member who wishes to raise such a question of privilege must first convince you, Mr. Speaker, that his or her concern constitutes a question of privilege on the face of it—and the Latin expression prima facie, meaning at first glance, is often used. The document goes on to say that your only duty is to decide if the question raised by the member will take precedence over all other business of Parliament.

Elmer Driedger, a Canadian author who has written a number of texts on drafting and interpreting legislative instruments, has taught us the following cardinal rule: any interpretation of an act, regulation or the rules governing this deliberative assembly must take context into account. The context of a question of privilege cannot become a pretext for reraising a question regarding a lawful decision made by a parliamentary committee chair.

Mr. Speaker, I respectfully submit that that is exactly what the Conservatives are trying to do here today. For some time now, they have been raising a series of arguments that, when reduced to the simplest terms, are intended quite simply to undo the work of parliamentary committee members.

At first glance, in my opinion, it is not a prima facie matter of privilege and you should rule accordingly, Mr. Speaker.

Let us look at what it is all about. The government, even though a minority, nevertheless has all the rights, privileges and powers attributed to a government. As we know, unlike the American system, the members of the executive branch of our government sit at the same time here, in Parliament, in the legislative branch. The only time that the fact that we are elected, that we are parliamentarians, takes on its true meaning is when all four parties work together on a parliamentary committee. By electing a minority government, Canadian voters decided the following: henceforth, the government is to respect the will of the majority of voters.

After 10 hours of debate, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics ruled that that was enough. He did not prohibit anyone from speaking. He said to the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park and others that that was enough and that, as elected members—not the executive branch of government, not the cabinet—gathered around the table of a parliamentary committee, we would make decisions about the public interest. We made this decision together. The members had every opportunity to speak. They had the opportunity to make known their opinions over the ten hours.

It is not right that we should allow a filibuster, a term derived from the French word flibustier. The pirates are trying to take control of our ship and we should not let them. Respect for the fundamental rules of Parliament means that there is nothing more important than allowing parliamentarians to express themselves, that much is true. But we do not honour Parliament or its parliamentary committees by allowing individuals to repeat the same thing for 10 hours.

Therefore, I submit to you that the only way to deal with the member's request is to reject it because, on the face of it, it is not a question of privilege, but an underhanded way of calling on you to review a decision duly made by the chair of a parliamentary committee that was supported by the majority of parliamentarians present who, in turn, represent the majority of Canadians.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments made by the member for Nepean—Carleton. Based on his remarks, I would like to ask him if he could table the book on dirty tricks that the government whip provided. That would really tell us what a partisan chair is all about. I want to put that on the record since those members talk about it so often.

Committees of the House
Privilege
Oral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I do not think that is necessary for determining this question of privilege.

The hon. member for Louis-Hébert.