House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was interest.

Topics

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the truth of the matter—

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member for Windsor West has the floor. We will have some order, please. If members wish to carry on a discussion, I would urge them to do it in the lobby.

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the truth of the matter is that under the old regime and this regime, we have gone from fourth in the world in auto assembly to tenth. It has been a legacy of loss of jobs here.

A one-time fund for one plant at one moment is not a winning strategy. We need is to stop picking winners and losers. Oil company executives who want to have their tar sands projects fast-tracked are the winners and manufacturing families are the losers left behind by these policies.

Where is the green auto strategy that brings all workers together and produces the vehicles here? Why do we not have that leadership, for crying out loud.

Automotive Industry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the auto innovation fund is exactly for that. It is for innovation and for green technology.

The reason the auto strategy was successful before, and I am sure the member knows this, is because of the innovations such as the flex line in the Oshawa car plant and the Oakville car plant.

Had we not had these innovative technologies through government assistance in research and development, we would not have the auto sector we have today, an auto sector with a future with the auto innovation fund.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

June 5th, 2008 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of a number of distinguished visitors:

His Excellency Sredoje Novic, Minister of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina; His Excellency Dr. Safet Omeovic, Minister of Health of Bosnia and Herzegovina; His Excellency Dr. Ranko Skrbic, Minister of Health and Social Welfare of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and the members of the Balkans Primary Health Care Policy project.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the government's plan for the business of the House going forward, I would note that there are now two weeks left before the regular summer adjournment and to date, the government House leader has given no precise indication of any priorities among the various items of business that are now notionally on the order paper. They are all lumped together in one continuous stream, one incoherent gob. Will the government House leader say which are the three top priorities from that list that the government would want to see concluded before the adjournment on June 20?

Second, with respect to the residential school apology that is planned for Wednesday, June 11, unfortunately, despite questions in this House, there are no meaningful details about what exactly is planned for that day. Could the government House leader tell us what consultation has in fact been had with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine? What advice has the national chief offered? Will the national chief and the appropriate elders and others be invited onto the floor of this House to hear and receive the apology directly and to respond in person?

There is precedent for that, Mr. Speaker, as you know. The aboriginal people of this country should not be assigned to the gallery or left outside. They should be right here on that occasion with us. I wonder if the government House leader could give us the assurance that they will be.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 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, this week we have focused on the economy by debating and passing at report stage the budget implementation bill as part of our focused on the economy week.

The bill guarantees a balanced budget, controls spending and keeps taxes low without imposing a carbon and heating tax on Canadian families.

It also sets out much-needed changes to the immigration system in order to maintain our competitive economy.

It will also include the new tax-free savings account, TFSA, an innovative device for individuals and families to save money. That bill is now at third reading and we hope to wrap up debate tomorrow on the important budget implementation bill to maintain the health and competitiveness of our economy.

Next week will be we have work to do week. Since the Speech from the Throne we have introduced 59 bills in Parliament.

These bills focus on fighting crime, sustaining our prosperous and dynamic economy, improving Canadians' environment and their health, strengthening the federation, and securing Canada's place in the world.

To date, 20 of these bills have received royal assent, which leaves a lot of work to do on the 39 that have yet to receive royal assent. I know the Liberal House leader suggests perhaps we should work on only three, but we believe in working a bit harder than that.

To ensure that we have the time necessary to move forward on our remaining legislative priorities, I will seek the consent of the House on Monday to extend the sitting hours for the remaining two weeks of the spring sitting, as the rules contemplate. I am sure all members will welcome the opportunity to get to work to advance the priorities of Canadians and get things done.

I will seek in the future the consent of the opposition to have next Wednesday be a special sitting of the House of Commons. This is to accommodate the special event about which the Liberal House leader was speaking. The day would start at 3 p.m. with an apology from the Prime Minister regarding the residential schools experience. I will also be asking the House and its committees to adjourn that day until 5:30 p.m. to allow for solemn observance of the events surrounding the residential schools apology. Residential school survivors and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations will be offered a place of prominence in our gallery to observe these very important formal ceremonies in the House of Commons.

Tomorrow and continuing next week, we will get started on the other important work remaining by debating the budget implementation bill. After we finish the budget bill, we will debate Bill C-29, to modernize the Canada Elections Act with respect to loans made to political parties, associations and candidates to ensure that wealthy individuals are not able to exert undue influence in the political process, as we have seen even in the recent past.

We will also discuss Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers; Bill C-53, to get tough on criminals who steal cars and traffic in stolen property; Bill S-3, to combat terrorism; Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability; Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins; Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods; Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45; Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules; Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers; Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector; Bill C-45, regarding our military justice system; Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain; Bill C-39, to modernize the grain act for farmers; Bill C-57, to modernize the election process of the Canadian Wheat Board; and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

I know all Canadians think these are important bills. We in the government think they are important and we hope and expect that all members of the House of Commons will roll up their sleeves to work hard in the next two weeks to see that these bills pass.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have two points I would like to make.

With respect to the details for next Wednesday, the government House leader has provided for the first time a bit of detail. I wonder if he could provide to the House leaders of all parties a written description of how he sees that day unfold so that we can all have it clearly on paper to be able to decide the appropriate response.

Second, with respect to that same event on Wednesday, I hope the government would reconsider the point about where aboriginal people are placed in this chamber on that day. There is precedent for inviting persons to join us on the floor of the House as a gesture of respect and inclusion. I hope that the government will take that into account. This is a solemn occasion and it should be treated as such. I think aboriginal Canadians should join with us on the floor of the House rather than being somewhere else.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Liberal House leader is quite right that it is a solemn occasion. This is an occasion for the government to offer an apology for the residential schools experience, an apology that has not been forthcoming for many decades under previous governments that had an opportunity to do so.

It is important that it be a solemn apology in this House using the rules of this House and that it follow a format that indicates it is clearly not something different, not a special event, but actually the business of the government and the business of the House to make a formal apology. It must be done in that fashion and that is the approach we are adopting so that it does have the solemnity and seriousness which it merits.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Liberal opposition day. The Liberal motion seeks to amend the current code of ethics so that a member who is being sued is not deprived of his or her right to speak. Freedom of speech is indeed at issue today.

On May 7, one of our colleagues in this House lost his right to speak at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and in all committees examining the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, as well as in this House. He is the only member who cannot legally speak today, on this Liberal opposition day. I am talking about the member for West Nova. This makes no sense, and it is essential that the code of ethics be amended to correct this situation.

I would like to give a bit of background. On May 7, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson handed down a decision that gagged the member for West Nova and prohibited him from taking part in any parliamentary investigation into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. This decision opens the door to using SLAPP suits against elected members. We know that this happens frequently in the private sector. This would enable private interests to restrict parliamentary independence and prevent members from discussing issues of public interest.

This decision comes in the wake of a complaint filed in November 2007 by a Conservative member, who asked the ethics commissioner to investigate in order to determine whether the member for West Nova, a Liberal member from Nova Scotia, had failed to meet his obligations under the conflict of interest code for members by taking part in a study by the ethics committee on the Airbus affair involving Mr. Mulroney.

In his request, the Conservative member referred to the legal proceedings instituted in mid-November against the member for West Nova by Brian Mulroney, who is seeking $2 million in damages. The member for West Nova allegedly made libellous comments about Mr. Mulroney when he appeared on Mike Duffy Live on October 31, 2007. The issue is whether the member was in conflict of interest when he took part in the work and debates of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics regarding the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.

More specifically, it must be determined if the lawsuit against the member for West Nova means that he now has a personal pecuniary interest that might incline him to use his public role—his participation in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics—to gain information and thus discredit Mr. Mulroney so that the lawsuit would be dropped, and he would not have to pay out the millions of dollars being claimed.

In her decision, the Ethics Commissioner agrees with the Conservative member and concludes that the potential damages award in the libel action instituted by Mr. Mulroney against the member for West Nova constitutes personal interest which could reduce the value of his assets. Given this interest, the member for West Nova should recuse himself and no longer participate in parliamentary business pertaining to the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.

The member for West Nova is now stripped of an important part of his parliamentary privilege, a principle that goes back to 17th-century England and gives members protected rights, rights such as freedom of speech and freedom from arrest, and allows the House to freely conduct inquiries and proceedings without fear of unjustified interference from the courts or the executive.

So much for the facts.

Let us move on to the interpretation of the code of ethics. We must ask ourselves: was it the intention of those who wrote the code to silence members this easily? I do not believe that the authors of the code would want members to be silenced this way. I do not believe that they would want the most important privilege for members of this House to be taken away, in whatever way and for whatever reason.

On that, concerning parliamentary privilege on the freedom of speech, I would like to quote from the book we call Marleau and Montpetit. As we will see, it is very informative. Indeed, Marleau and Montpetit is always very informative. I quote:

The privilege of freedom of speech in parliamentary debates or proceedings is generally regarded as the most important of the privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament and witnesses that appear before parliamentary committees.

The right of parliamentarians to freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C., 1985. Section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act confirms that the Senate and the House of Commons each enjoy all of the privileges of the British House of Commons at the time of Confederation. This includes the parliamentary freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 9 of the British Bill of Rights of 1689.

Here is what Marleau and Montpetit has to say about parliamentary immunity:

Freedom of speech permits members to speak freely in the Chamber during a sitting, and members and witnesses to do so freely in committee meetings, while enjoying complete protection from prosecution or civil liability, or, in the case of witnesses, reprisals, for any comment they might make. Members are able to statements or allegations about outside groups or people, which they may hesitate to make without the protection of privilege. Though this is sometimes criticized, the freedom to make allegations which the member genuinely believes at the time to be true, or at least worthy of investigation, is fundamental to the privileges of all members. The House of Commons could not work effectively unless its members, and witnesses appearing before House committees, were able to speak and criticize without being held to account by any outside body.

Although the parliamentary privilege of freedom of speech applies to a member’s speech in the House of Commons and in other proceedings of the House, including committee meetings, it may not fully apply to reports of proceedings or debates published by newspapers or others outside Parliament. Privilege may not protect a member republishing his or her own speech separately from the official record of the House of Commons or one of its committees. Comments made by a member at a function as an elected representative—but outside of Parliament—would likely not be covered by this privilege, if the member were quoting from his or her own speech made in a parliamentary proceeding.

Marleau and Montpetit says more about the work of a member.

This freedom of speech is extremely important in this chamber. In fact, it is the most important of our privileges. This would be very dangerous to freedom of expression, which is recognized as necessary for hon. members to truly play their role. Parliamentary immunity is necessary for hon. members to do their work, and much of their work is done in this House and in committees.

This is strangely similar to a SLAPP suit. If the Liberal motion does not pass, it could result in a large number of what are commonly referred to as SLAPP suits, in other words, lawsuits filed with the intention of silencing people.

We know that large companies, who have not necessarily had a very environmentally conscious attitude, have been criticized by the public. These large, rich and powerful companies have filed very large suits against average citizens who do not have any money, which results in muzzling those citizens. Usually an average citizen who is sued for $1 million, $2 million or $3 million for criticizing the environmentally irresponsible attitude or behaviour of a large company ends up, despite his or her good intentions, going home and focusing on mowing the lawn and paying less attention to the environment and the conduct of large companies, even when that conduct is irresponsible.

That is a SLAPP suit.

That is what seems to be happening now. A lawsuit has been filed against a member of this House, who has lost the right to speak freely. This kind of SLAPP suit would be even more effective because it would be automatic. It would be part of the code of ethics. SLAPP suits filed by big companies against private citizens work because intimidation silences them, not because of the law.

This would give too much control to the rich and powerful. From now on, “tyrants” or perhaps even “dictators” might be more appropriate descriptions than just “the rich and powerful”. This would be a new threat against members of Parliament, a new kind of blackmail and manipulation, a new kind of democracy. Democracy as we know it would cease to exist.

I would like to talk about what the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics went through at the height of its work and hearings surrounding the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. We received lots of letters from lawyers representing all the parties involved. Many of the letters were from Mr. Mulroney's lawyers, and some were from Mr. Schreiber's lawyers. The letters we received constantly attempted to undermine our mandate. The lawyers questioned our questions and the members' conduct.

We felt manipulated. They picked apart every aspect of our mandate and continually asked us about the questions we intended to put to the witnesses, the documents we were expecting, and the names of the witnesses who would be appearing before us. In their letters, they commented on committee members every day, every week. They commented on our biases and on the kinds of questions we asked. They even invited certain committee members to dinner.

As you know, Brian Mulroney's lawyers even asked to see our draft report before anyone else, before it was even done, so they could fix it.

Given the number and tone of the lawyers' letters we received, the subjects discussed in those letters, and they way the letters addressed these issues, I began to believe that the member for West Nova would not be the only one getting sued. I fully expected every member of the committee to be sued too.

If the Liberal Party's motion does not pass today, it would mean that anyone could sue any given MP to prevent the MP from talking about a subject in which he or she is an expert. We know that the member for West Nova was very familiar with the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.

There are 308 members here; there are 308 areas of expertise. Someone could file a lawsuit—you may say it would be frivolous, and that would likely be true—concerning each one of the specialties of every member in this House, and we would no longer be able to talk about our specialty. We would have to talk about other things.

One hundred Liberal MPs could sue the Conservative Prime Minister over 100 different topics, in order to prevent him from further discussing them in this House. That makes no sense. Absolutely no sense.

If the ethics code is left as is, the door will be open to vexatious, unfair and unjustified lawsuits. That makes no sense and would be the complete opposite of democracy, because it would make it possible to easily, capriciously, frivolously or even fraudulently silence any MP.

And then there is the matter of compensation. Imagine that a lawsuit had been able to silence a member of this House—although this is currently the case. Nevertheless, imagine if, in the future, a member were denied the right to speak on a certain topic, and that the lawsuit were dropped the following day, as soon as the subject blew over or the case was lost.

What compensation could be given to a member silenced for days, weeks, even months? If Mr. Mulroney loses his case, what compensation will the member for West Nova receive for the real loss of his freedom of speech since May 7, 2008?

We have to give serious thought to these matters. The Conservative Party must think carefully about opposing the Liberal motion and it must consider the compensation that it would give to a member who is deprived of his freedom of speech. Can you imagine that? What is the loss of an MP's freedom of speech worth?

I do not wish to answer this question, Mr. Speaker. I will leave it to your imagination and I am certain that you will be on the money.

In conclusion, I find that the code of ethics, in its present form and as interpreted by the ethics commissioner, will deprive members of a power and a privilege— freedom of speech—while giving a new power to irresponsible plaintiffs. The rich and powerful will become ever more influential and tyrannical. As I mentioned earlier, it is possible that any of the members could be sued over any matter at all, to prevent them from speaking out.

The Bloc Québécois must support the Liberal Party's motion in order to restore the freedom of speech of the member for West Nova and to protect that freedom for all other members who could be sued in future.

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. The motion says specifically that this amendment will deal only with actions with respect to members as members of Parliament. In other words, it will not apply to members of Parliament as private citizens. Commissioner Dawson's report will still apply if a member is sued or sues as a private member.

The question is, does she still support the resolution? If she still supports the resolution, should there not be a definition in this change that will define an action for and against a private citizen and an action when it involves a member of Parliament?

Opposition Motion — Conflict of Interest Code
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Dufferin—Caledon very much for his question.

I have a hard time imagining a case where a member would be sued as a private citizen regarding an issue that is before this House.

For example, if my neighbour sues me because my fence is not in the right place, I do not believe that will change anything about my right to speak in this House. However, if the member for Dufferin—Caledon would like to give me an example, I am prepared to look at it.