House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was autism.

Topics

December 15th, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber His Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income--Chapter No. 15

Bill S-210, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act and the Auditor General Act (involvement of Parliament)--Chapter No. 16

Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts--Chapter 17

Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs)--Chapter 18

Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings)--Chapter 19

Bill C-464, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (justification for detention in custody)--Chapter 20

Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products--Chapter 21

Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act--Chapter 22

Bill C-28, An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act--Chapter 23

Bill C-58, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2011--Chapter 24

Bill C-47, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010 and other measures--Chapter 25

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Canadian Council on Learning; the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, Public Safety.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

We are resuming the question of privilege. I understand the hon. parliamentary secretary is rising on the same question of privilege.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief response to the question of privilege raised by the member for Parkdale—High Park. I have two very quick points for the hon. member opposite.

First, when the member speaks of rights of members being infringed because of actions and comments in S. O. 31s of members on the government side, I would point out that free speech applies to all members in this place.

With particular reference to the member's comments regarding his own attendance at the summit in Cancun on the environment where he criticized the government for making statements in this place stating that the member himself left the summit halfway through, Thursday to be exact. He stated that was an unfair use of the government's executive powers. He also stated that it was unfair and basically untrue since he informed the Minister of the Environment that he would be leaving early.

I have before me a letter of invitation from the Minister of the Environment to the member for Parkdale—High Park stating quite clearly that the conference runs from Tuesday, December 7 until Saturday, December 11, 2010 and that his travel and accommodations would be picked up to attend the said conference.

While the member himself may feel somewhat aggrieved and perhaps even be sensitive to the fact that he left early, that is exactly what happened. Statements made in this place were factually correct. In other words, the member left before the conference had concluded when he had been invited to attend the entire conference.

While he may be sensitive to the comments made in this place, he should not be rising on a question of privilege saying that his own privileges had been infringed because, in fact, they were not. The statements were factually correct.

I would comment further but I know the time is running short and we have other business to conclude. In my opinion and in the government's opinion, this could be a matter of debate as opposed to a privilege, and I would ask that you, Mr. Speaker, rule accordingly.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to cite from the ruling you made yesterday in which you stated:

I would like to draw the attention of the House to page 618 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, where we are clearly reminded that:

The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect for the integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 614, goes even further in stating that:

Remarks directed specifically at another Member which question that Member's integrity, honesty or character are not in order. A Member will be requested to withdraw offensive remarks, allegations, or accusations of impropriety directed towards another Member.

Speaker Milliken went on to say:

This is why my ruling of November 14, 2010, at page 3779 of the Debates, I stressed that:

When speaking in the House, Members must remain ever cognizant of these fundamental rules. They exist to safeguard the reputation and dignity not only of the House itself but also that of all Members.

Furthermore, he noted on page 3778, I noted, as have other Speakers:

...that the privilege of freedom of speech that members enjoy confers responsibilities on those who are protected by it, and members must use great care in exercising their right to speak freely in the House.

My point is that the government is engaging in an exercise of coordinated attacks, not by individuals using their freedom of speech but by the executive branch.

This goes directly to the point by the member opposite. I attended the proceedings in Mexico for six days, as invited by the government, but circumstances required me to go back one day sooner on a 14 day conference, not halfway, as the minister fully knew. This was explained ahead of time to the government because I had a pre-scheduled meeting. The government did not see fit to give us notice that we would actually be attending in Cancun.

The government causes the problem and then seeks to exploit it in a pattern that speaks exactly to the rulings of Speaker Milliken. I have already referenced this on page 77 but I want to emphasize that the executive branch cannot interfere with the rights and privileges of members.

I will make submissions so that the member opposite is either not confused or does not try to confuse the facts. I did attend for two days longer than the minister in question and was there at approximately 37 different meetings. Members of the House stood and talked about the waste of taxpayer dollars and impugned my integrity in a deliberate pattern involving members without responsibility, but assigned to do so by the government.

The minister knew this was a 14-day conference and he knew that I had only left at noon on the second last day. In fact, I attended and saw him at the conference that morning. That is the part of the issue that we need the Speaker, on behalf of the House, to adjudicate today. If the House cannot protect us from an organized campaign on the part of the government that comes directly to our integrity to be able to speak in this place, then my freedom of speech and that of each hon. member is compromised.

Mr. Speaker, I will provide submissions showing how, on both the December 10 and 14, a variety of government members of the House did exactly that. They used information that I can demonstrate they knew full well was not an accurate representation, and they did it, using the voice of the executive branch. They organized the conference, they say that they attended the conference and they purported to give this House information that was official. That is the executive branch interfering with the understanding of the House and the interpretation of people elsewhere around my integrity in this case, but for any member of the House.

Similar attacks have been orchestrated on other members of the House. I want to ensure that the point is not lost. This is not an argument about what happened or what got done in terms of the climate change talks. I appreciate the proceedings may not include us when we are part of a Canadian delegation. However, back in this House, how can any member be intimidated and then not contradict the government or talk about its performance, when in fact the government shows repeatedly that it is prepared to indulge in these campaigns of undermining our ability to speak here?

Using the references I have cited, I believe this is fundamental.

Mr. Speaker, I would simply say that for both those comments on the Nagoya Conference and on Mexico, I look for your action and, if you do find a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make two brief contributions to this intervention, but before I do that I want to say that, at least from my perspective and I think the perspective of my friend from Parkdale—High Park, this intervention is being made not as government versus opposition versus government. It is actually referenced and focused on Parliament as an institution.

Some day, the men and women on that side of the House may be on this side of the House, and there is a distinction. The men and women on that side of the House are in government. My two remarks are focused on this.

Just as an individual member does not have, cannot have and should not be permitted to have a licence to malign another member under our rules, and everyone here understands that, should that occur in proceedings, which sometimes happens intentionally or inadvertently, the member who is purportedly maligned is able to get up and set the record straight and, hopefully, if a mistake was made, an apology occurs, et cetera.

However, in this case, I want you, Mr. Speaker, to take note that the question of privilege raised here is with reference to the government, not to a member, using its position in question period as a forum to allegedly malign or misinform.

Question period is intended to be an opportunity for the opposition parties or individual members to ask questions of the government. It is not to debate but to ask questions, to actually impose a procedural accountability. Recently, however, there have been many instances, and I will refer to one that happened two or three weeks ago, where, in question period, one of the ministers rose and responded to a question and referred directly to an individual member of the Bloc Québécois. I am not sure I even recall all of the elements of it but it was intended specifically to malign, in some way, a member of that political party in a way that had either zero relevance to the question raised or only marginal or indirect relevance. I thought that was grossly unfair and it happened on more than one occasion.

The one big point I am making is that, just as an individual member cannot be allowed to use freedom of speech in this House to malign, so cannot the government be allowed to use its position in question period to do the same types of things. If it can do that, if it is a free-for-all at question period, if the answers to questions can be totally irrelevant and, at the same time, malign another member, that is the same thing as saying that it is okay for the Crown to undermine a function of Parliament. It is a free-for-all for the government to go right ahead and undermine every member of the opposition it possibly can because that will fulfill its political objective. We cannot let the government do that.

Mr. Speaker, you and the other speakers will say, “If the House does not have confidence in the government, defeat it. We will have an election”. That might be possible today in this Parliament, but what if a government has a majority? Most of the time in this country, our government has had a majority in the House and the opposition members cannot defeat the government. Therefore, if this problem that we are trying to outline here continues to exist and maybe even grow, we will have a situation where the government, the Crown, in majority, has built itself the right in this House to undermine, to malign and actually disrupt and obstruct members of the opposition in doing their job of scrutinizing the government.

Sometimes men and women on this side of the House ask some very tough questions that are worded in some very sharp and pointed ways that offend the government. It is not personal, it is essentially opposition parties doing their job. However, to allow the government to do the same thing and undermine individuals can only end in undermining the functions of the House.

The complaint is on a member who says, “I have been maligned and I think I am being institutionally maligned by a government that has taken on as part of its function the business of gathering information, which, if stated in a certain way in question period or whenever the heck government members get the floor, can only result in the maligning and intimidation of a member of the opposition”. There is the implied threat that if the member gets up, the member will be attacked by one of the government's attack dogs and the entire federal government is working on this as part of its agenda. That is something that Parliament cannot allow. If it goes macro and becomes institutionalized in this place, our effectiveness as a Parliament on behalf of Canadians will be undermined.

I do not know exactly how you, Mr. Speaker, are going to be able to deal with this because it is perhaps a novel point. The question of members maligning other members intentionally or inadvertently arises from time to time and we can all collectively apologize and go to confession for that. However, when the government starts to do it, it is a new ball game and a different type of issue.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am not sure I need to hear anything more on this.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like the opportunity to make a brief intervention having heard from several of my colleagues across the floor.

Let me point out once again that the question before us is one of purported privilege. I would suggest quite strongly that there is nothing of the sort occurring. What we are hearing about is a member, quite frankly, whose feelings were hurt because members from the government side pointed out the fact that on a number of occasions he factually left Cancun and the latest environment summit. That seemed to hurt his feelings and he is raising a question of privilege to try to make comments that the government is somehow infringing upon his abilities to do his duty.

I would point out, particularly in response to the last intervention on the opposition side, that attacks from opposition members on government ministers happen regularly, not infrequently but regularly. When the member opposite says these are not personal in nature, I would point out one of many examples that happened recently.

For the record, when the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine called the Minister of National Defence a “slime” in her questions, she was forced to apologize by the Speaker and in her apology she used the term “slime” on several other occasions. This is a matter of decorum, not a matter of privilege.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would urge members to stick with the specific question that has been raised.

Does the hon. member for Mississauga South have something new to add?

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to specifically reference Standing Order 18. As we well know, it has to do with speaking disrespectfully against any member of the House.

Also, Standing Order 31 states, “The Speaker may order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order”. I raise it because I believe it was October 27, 2009, when the issue of maligning members of Parliament had infiltrated statements by members and on a number of occasions the Speaker cautioned members, to the point where he issued a letter to the House leaders of all parties warning them. Since that time, he has in fact asked members to sit down.

Finally, with regard to the importance of the issue, if we look at the December 14 Hansard, page 7248, the response of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the way it was presented was to set it up to make it look like it was very different. There may have been formal conference dates of 4 days, but in fact there were 14 days of meetings going on. It was selective information that the minister used to make that allegation.

Statement by Members
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank all hon. members for their interventions on this. It does sound to the Chair that what we have here is a dispute on the facts. The Chair does not rule on the accuracy of the statements passed.

I think both sides have had an opportunity to let the House know what their interpretation of the facts were and have made their views known. While members may have grievances and not agree with statements that members of any party may make about how things have occurred or what members have done, especially with this case on the participation at the conference at Cancun, I do not think the question meets the very high threshold for a question of privilege. I find it does not meet the test.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Royal Assent

4:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010.

The member for Scarborough--Guildwood argued that the Minister of International Cooperation and the parliamentary secretary to the minister deliberately attempted to mislead the House with respect to statements related to a funding proposal for KAIROS.

Page 13 of the 2nd edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada provides a practical definition of a breach of privilege. It states:

If someone improperly interferes with the parliamentary work of a Member of Parliament--i.e. any of the Member's activities that have a connection with a proceeding in Parliament--in such a case that is a matter involving parliamentary privilege. An offence against the authority of the House constitutes contempt.

I believe the matter that the member for Scarborough--Guildwood has brought to the House is not an issue of privilege but rather a debate as to the facts, which should be seen as a matter of debate.

As the member for Kootenay—Columbia, who was the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, stated on December 13, 2010, in responding to the matter of privilege raised by the member for Scarborough--Guildwood:

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention that at no time in the member's presentation did he make any assertion that the minister made any misleading statements.

The member for Kootenay--Columbia then corrected the record with respect to comments he made in the House and he apologized to the House. In his intervention the member for Scarborough--Guildwood stated that the Minister of International Cooperation and the parliamentary secretary said that KAIROS did not meet CIDA's recommended funding priorities. In support of that statement he referred to a response by the minister to an oral question of October 28, 2010, that: “After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards”.

The standards referred to in the minister's response are the government's standards, that is, cabinet standards, not CIDA's standards. The memorandum referred to reflects CIDA's advice to the government and the government is free to accept or reject the advice of the public service. This is a fundamental principle of a cabinet system of government. The public service recommends and ministers decide.

Decisions taken by the government are subject to debate in the House, which I believe is the thrust of the matter before the House. The member for Scarborough--Guildwood then turned to testimony made on December 9, 2010, before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

The proceedings of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development are matters for the committee to consider. This matter has not been reported to the House and as a result the House may not consider issues that have not been presented to it by a committee. This is supported by a December 7, 2006, Speaker's ruling, which states:

I have carefully reviewed the exchanges on this matter. In his answers during oral questions and in his responses when the present question of privilege was raised, the minister has consistently denied interfering with the potential witnesses in any way. As Speaker, I accept that. In the present case, it is clear that the member for Malpeque and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food disagree about the significance of the answers provided by the minister during oral questions. In the circumstances, in the view of the Chair, that is a topic properly dealt with as a matter of debate or during exchanges during oral questions. With regard to concerns about the actual appearance of the witnesses before the agriculture and agri-food committee, it will be up to the committee to examine such concerns in due course and take the action it judges appropriate. At the present time, based on the arguments presented, the Chair hesitates to intervene in the matter.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the Speaker's ruling of December 7, 2006, applies to the case currently before the House. The minister has stated in a response to the oral questions in the House that the proposal for KAIROS did not meet government priorities. Consequently, the issue around funding decisions for organizations by the government are matters for debate in the House.

At no time did the Minister of International Cooperation mislead the House. In fact, the minister was stating the government's position on the matter. Opposition parties are free to disagree with the government's decisions. Disagreements do not constitute matters of contempt.

Madam Speaker, I therefore submit that you find that this matter does not constitute a prima facie case of privilege.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Royal Assent

5 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I thank the parliamentary secretary for his advice on this matter.

On the same question of privilege, the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Royal Assent

5 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, on the matter of the alleged breach of privilege, I want to focus on one important but fortunately narrow point.

In her statements and remarks to Parliament about this particular issue, the Minister of International Cooperation led parliamentarians to believe that the KAIROS application was turned down on a particular basis. Whether it was her remarks in the House or her remarks at committee, which are part of the parliamentary record, her remarks led parliamentarians to believe that the KAIROS application did not fit with the criteria used by the government. When I say “government”, I refer to CIDA. I am not talking about the cabinet table. I am talking about the rest of government.

That had the effect of making the applicant, KAIROS, and it should have had the same effect on everyone else in this House and at the committee, believe that the KAIROS application was somehow deficient, that the denial of the application was administratively proper.

As things turn out, the parliamentary record now appears to show that there was not anything out of order in relation to the application at CIDA, that there was full compliance, and CIDA recommended approval. This has been confirmed, at least in part if not in totality, by the member who was the parliamentary secretary at the time this issue first arose

Members on the fact scenario here have been misled, and whether it was intentional or not, I do not know. However, this has misled members and undermined Parliament. It has actually caused Parliament to spend a whole lot of extra time on this because the question has come up time and time again. It is an issue for many people across the country.

We were allegedly so misled on this that we did not really understand that it was not anything about KAIROS, or about the process, it was simply the minister or ministers at the cabinet table who made a decision. And the decision may be politically arbitrary. I do not know, they are entitled to make those decisions in government, but an undocumented, arbitrary decision was the reason KAIROS did not get funding.

We could not have known that here because the minister, either here and/or at committee, told us all that the application just did not meet the criteria that existed at CIDA. That scenario of misinforming us, of misleading us, has caused us to spend a whole lot of time.

I want to make sure that you, Madam Speaker, and the speaker corps had a really good focus on this because I think the House has been misled. I think we have a smoking gun. It may or may not be a hanging offence, and we are not alleging that it is, but we are saying that it is a matter of privilege because the process and the words that caused us to be misled have not been properly addressed.

I am very hopeful that the minister will speak to the House about this and I am waiting to hear what she has to say.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Royal Assent

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, on the two days in which this has been debated, Monday and Tuesday, at the end of each session of debate, the parliamentary secretary has asked that the matter be reserved for the minister to respond in a full fashion. Today, the parliamentary secretary rather than the minister actually responded.

Unfortunately, we did not know the parliamentary secretary or anybody for that matter from the government side, whether it was Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, or the parliamentary secretary for CIDA or the minister, was going to respond today.

It would be useful for a full and fair discussion about this question of privilege that we ask you, Madam Speaker, to defer this matter for another day so we can read what the parliamentary secretary has said about this matter. What I heard in the latter part was his argument that this was debate. My friend from Scarborough—Rouge River has said that this is not a matter of debate. This is a question of whether the minister misled the House directly or whether it was the parliamentary secretary directly.

I suggest this be stood down for another day and that we be given another opportunity to read what the parliamentary secretary has said so we can respond in a more fulsome fashion.

Statements by Minister and Parliamentary Secretary regarding KAIROS
Privilege
Royal Assent

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I thank all hon. members for their comments and suggestions. The Chair will take this under advisement and come back, as necessary, in due course.