House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prorogation.

Topics

Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As the chair of the veterans affairs committee, I just wanted to assure the House that over a period of almost a year there was work done on the review of the new veterans charter. We passed that in order to ensure it was tabled in the House prior to the House rising because of the importance of the work for veterans. All routine motions were done at the end and the title was left in those routine motions to be covered by the clerk.

Provision of Information to Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan--Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair is now prepared to make a statement regarding the question of privilege pertaining to documents on the treatment of Afghan detainees in response to interventions by the hon. member for St. John's East, the hon. government House leader, the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Joliette, and the hon. member for Vancouver East.

As hon. members will recall, on April 27, 2010, the Chair provided the House with a detailed ruling on the questions of privilege raised concerning the Order of the House of December 10, 2009, pertaining to documents on the treatment of Afghan detainees. Having carefully considered all sides of this complex issue, I made the determination that there was, in fact, a prima facie question of privilege related to the failure of the government to produce the documents as required by the House Order.

However, rather than immediately proceeding to the next step for dealing with a question of privilege, as is normally the case, that is allowing a member to move a motion related to the matter, I opted to defer such action in favour of giving all parties two weeks to work together to reach a compromise.

On Tuesday, May 11, following a request from all parties, an extension to Friday, May 14 was granted.

On May 14, the Minister of Justice announced that an agreement in principle had been reached between the parties and proceeded to table the agreement. In doing so he stated:

All parties agree that the details of this proposal will be further outlined in a memorandum of understanding signed by all party leaders.

Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to table that, in both official languages, and indicate to you that it is the agreement between the members that the memorandum of understanding would be in place by May 31, 2010.

This can be found in Debates, p. 2848.

On May 31, the Minister of Justice again rose in the House, this time to indicate that more time was required to finalize the memorandum of understanding. No date was given for the completion of discussions or for the tabling of a signed final document.

On June 15, the government House leader made a statement indicating that the government, together with the official opposition and the Bloc Québécois, had arrived at an agreement. Yesterday, that agreement, duly signed by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Bloc Québécois, was tabled in the House by the government House leader.

When, on April 27, 2010, the Chair enjoined the parties to find a solution to the impasse in which the House found itself at that time, I stated: “...the Chair believes that the House ought to make one further effort to arrive at an interest-based solution....”

Later, in the same ruling, I expressed my hope for a compromise which prompted me to grant members additional time in which to find a resolution to the imbroglio.

The memorandum of understanding tabled by the government House leader makes it apparent to the Chair that a resolution has indeed been found. A consensus has been reached between the government and two of the opposition parties. The Chair notes, in particular and most significantly, that the party whose motion gave rise to the House order of December 10, 2009, is a signatory to the agreement.

In considering this matter, the Chair has taken great care to assess whether the existence of this consensus satisfies the broad conditions that were imposed on the parties in the ruling of April 27.

I must stress that it is not for the Chair to examine the details of the agreement or to compare it to the agreement in principle tabled on May 14. I am responding to the interventions that have been made on behalf of an overwhelming majority of members who have stated that they are satisfied with the consensus agreement that has been tabled.

The Chair can only conclude, therefore, that the requirements of the ruling of April 27, 2010, have indeed been met and, accordingly, I will not call on the hon. member for St. John's East to move a motion at this time.

Instead, the Chair will allow time for the processes and mechanisms described in the agreement to be implemented. Should circumstances change, members will no doubt ensure that the Chair will again be seized of the matter, but for now I will consider the matter closed.

I wish to thank the parties for taking the time required to arrive at this understanding, which is in keeping with the best traditions of this place, and I thank the House for its attention.

I have another ruling.

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on June 10, 2010 by the hon. member for Mississauga South concerning the admissibility of a third report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates which was presented to the House earlier that day.

I would like to thank the member for Mississauga South for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and the member for Eglinton—Lawrence for his comments.

In his remarks, the member for Mississauga South explained that the subject matter of the third report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates was based on a study of claims that the member for Scarborough—Rouge River was actively lobbying the Government of Canada while sitting as a member of Parliament. He argued that the authority to look into any claims related to the Conflict of Interest Code or the conduct of members of Parliament lay with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii) and not the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

He claimed that the committee had strayed beyond its mandate and that the report was therefore out of order.

The member also complained that the dissenting opinion to the report, which he understood had been submitted by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, had not been appended to the report and so rendered the report incomplete.

Let me deal with this matter immediately. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a) such appendices to reports must be proposed by committee members only. As the member for Scarborough--Rouge River is not a member of the committee, his dissenting opinion could not be appended to the report. This in no way invalidates the report nor does it render it incomplete.

Now, let us turn to what I see as the central question the Chair faces: whether the report in question is procedurally invalid by virtue of the committee having undertaken to study and report on a matter that is beyond its mandate as prescribed by the House.

That committees are empowered to deal with issues delegated to it by the House is indisputable. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states at page 985:

Like all other powers of standing committees, the power to report is limited to issues that fall within their mandate or that have been specifically assigned to them by the House. Every report must identify the authority under which it is presented.

The member for Eglinton—Lawrence was correct when he stated that even though committees are masters of their own agenda and they can do what they wish, they have been created by the House and must reflect the intent of the House in carrying out their work.

Limitations on committees are again spelled out in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states at page 1048:

These freedoms are not, however, total or absolute. First, it is useful to bear in mind that committees are creatures of the House. This means that they have no independent existence and are not permitted to take action unless they have been authorized/empowered to do so by the House.

It continues to read:

...committees are free to organize their proceedings as they see fit provided that their studies and the motions and reports they adopt comply with the orders of reference and instructions issued by the House.

The text further emphasizes that orders of reference, instructions, the standing orders and rulings by the Speaker take precedence over any rules a committee may adopt.

In other words, while the actual decision to proceed with a study may be taken according to established committee procedures, the fact remains that no committee can simply usurp the powers of another. Rather, a committee must seek the authority from the House to widen an order of reference. Beauchesne's 6th edition, on page 233, citation 831(3) states:

When it has been thought desirable to do so, the House has enlarged the Order of Reference of a committee by means of an instruction.

Objections to committees acting beyond their mandate are nothing new. For example, on May 15, 2008—see debates, page 5924—during the 39th Parliament, the Chair determined that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics went beyond the committee’s mandate and thus was out of order. An identical conclusion was reached in relation to the second report of the Standing Committee on Finance when I ruled that report out of order on April 2, 2009—see debates, pages 2301-2.

In that ruling, I acknowledged that

...the House has taken great care to define and differentiate the responsibilities of its committees, particularly where there might at first glance appear to be overlapping jurisdictions.

In the case before us, I have carefully reviewed Standing Order 108 (3)(c), which delineates the powers of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

It is clear to the Chair that the House did not grant that committee the authority to study issues related to lobbying. The member for Mississauga South is right in his assertion that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii), has been given the necessary authority to look into any claims related to the Conflict of Interest Code or the Conduct of Members of Parliament. Authority for considering other issues related to lobbying have been conferred upon the Standing Committee on Information, Privacy and Ethics, including examination of reports from the Commissioner of Lobbying.

Therefore, for those reasons I must conclude that the third report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates is out of order. Accordingly, I rule that the report be deemed withdrawn. Furthermore, with regard to the motion on the order paper standing in the name of the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, I am ordering that this motion for concurrence in the third report be deemed withdrawn and that no further proceedings may take place in relation to this report.

In conjunction with this, I will reiterate an important message contained in my ruling on April 2, 2009, when I stated:

While it is true that the House has given its committees broad mandates and significant powers, with such power and authority comes the responsibility of committees to respect their mandates and not exceed the limits of their authority.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

First, I would like to apologize for almost interrupting you earlier when you were beginning to read your second ruling.

On behalf of the chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, the member for Don Valley East, I request the unanimous consent of the House for permission to table a report from this committee.

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord have the unanimous consent of the House to table this report?

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in relation to its study of the financing of renewable energy projects by the government.

By this report, the committee wants to draw the attention of the House to a potential breach of its privilege and/or a possible case of contempt of Parliament and recommends that it take the measures it deems appropriate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for York West had the floor and there are three minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for York West.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to get on with the work of the day.

When the minister emerged from his caucus meeting yesterday, brows furrowed and fists clenched, his language indicated a need for a crisis. My approach, which I think is the Liberal approach, would have been one of thoughtful consideration rather than a crisis triage.

While it seems as though the government enjoys a crisis, I fear that passing legislation without thinking about the real consequences is irresponsible, dangerous and ill-advised. The worst part is that it is totally unnecessary.

We could have used those extra 63 days that the government stripped away. We could have looked at the bill and there would have been no need to split anything. We could have passed a comprehensive bill dealing with the issue once and for all. Instead, we are solving problems piecemeal, one piece at a time. That is the result of a government that practices short-term politics without considering the larger issues and consequences of its actions, as clearly we have seen with regard to the G8 and G20 summits. That is the difference between the Conservative government and its Liberal predecessor.

I will stand today and vote in favour of the motion because I have no alternative. Every time a new scandal befalls the government, we face the threat of another period of prorogation.

Most recently, the current Minister of Veterans Affairs was accused by the former minister of veterans affairs of political interference and of using the public purse for partisan gains in New Brunswick. As this issue continues to develop, can we expect that the Prime Minister will pull the plug and hide the truth? I will bet he is very glad that today the House is adjourning.

The Prime Minister's abuses of power must be curtailed. The government cannot be permitted to continue to disregard the long-term consequences of its actions. The Liberal motion would do just that, while still permitting the leader of the government to use certain traditional management measures.

In essence, the Prime Minister has shown by his actions that he is not capable of acting in a responsible manner. The House, not unlike the parent of a difficult child, now must take corrective action to ensure that the inappropriate behaviour stops once and for all.

I will be voting to support this motion and I would encourage all responsible parliamentarians to do the very same thing.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague said that she supports this motion which calls for the formation of another special committee to study prorogation.

She should be aware that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been studying this issue for the last number of months. It has already heard from many witnesses, experts and constitutional scholars who have warned us to be cautious in making any changes. In fact, they are urging us not to make changes. Many of them have spoken out against imposing new rules.

The real question for me is why my colleague would not trust the work of her colleagues who serve on the procedure and House affairs committee. The deputy whip, the whip and the deputy House leader all serve on that committee. Is she indicating that she does not trust the work of the procedure and House affairs committee, which is already studying this issue, and particularly the three members from her own caucus who serve on that committee?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am certainly not second-guessing the hon. member's intent or the work that is being done on that important committee.

We need to look at it in the broader sense. We are functioning under rules that have been in place for a very long time. Up until now they have worked quite well. Broadening the debate on other issues, such as shutting down committees, the issue of who appears before committees, whether it is a minister or his or her staff, maybe it is time to look at a few of those rules. All people are accountable no matter who they are, whether they are the ministers' staff or PMO staff. Their having to run around trying to avoid being served summonses does not do well for Parliament as a whole.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I will go further than my colleague did a minute ago.

We just heard an answer that suggests amending today's motion again. Earlier this morning the Liberals had to scramble around and amend their motion so that it might fit something they are trying to do, because how it was originally written did not work. Now the member wants to expand it further to include an examination of how committees can call witnesses.

As my colleague has already said, we have had up to 16 witnesses at the procedure and House affairs committee, many of them scholars on constitutional law and prorogation.

Could she tell us how she disagrees with Professor Russell, Professor Pelletier, Professor Mendes or Professor Franks and all the information that they have shared with the procedure and House affairs committee on how to deal with prorogation? Could she tell us why she disagrees with her own whip, deputy whip and deputy House leader and the hard work they have been doing on that committee?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, what I disagree with is the abuse of prorogation. Prorogation was supposed to be used for when a government's agenda had run out. Clearly, the Prime Minister has used prorogation as an opportunity to run away from the difficult issues that he was facing.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the Liberal Party for its motion today on this opposition day. However, with praise comes criticism. I am in complete agreement with the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Furthermore, as the deputy chair of that same committee, when I read this motion I wondered what difference another special committee would make to the whole issue of prorogation.

At the Liberals' suggestion, we have been studying this issue in committee for a number of weeks. We have heard 16 witnesses: academics, select and well-known people. We are in the last hours of this parliamentary session, but I am convinced, if it is the will of the committee—committees are masters of their own proceedings—that a report on prorogation will be prepared by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The subject is interesting but the suggestion of establishing a special committee does not strike me as being the right approach. Once again, the Liberals are masters of their own proceedings and they must make their own decisions.

As for prorogation, I would point out that the Conservatives have indeed used this parliamentary tool excessively, specifically, twice in the past two years, once at the end of 2008 and again at the end of 2009. Furthermore, it is becoming clear that the Conservative Prime Minister uses prorogation as soon as things heat up or get out of hand, as soon as he thinks his minority could be overturned.

Two events in particular have convinced me. I would remind the House of the coalition talks that were taking place at the end of 2008. It would have been a coalition between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, supported by the Bloc. Incidentally, I want to set the record straight: the Bloc was not part of the coalition; it merely supported the Liberal-NDP coalition.

What was the Prime Minister's reaction? Instead of facing a vote of confidence on his lack of leadership, he suddenly decided to use prorogation. That was the first event. A year later, almost to the day, this government felt caught in a ever-tightening vise, and did not want to face the consequences of the fact that it knew about the allegations of torture in Afghan prisons and that it had clearly violated various international conventions, including the Geneva convention. This government refused to hand over documents and once again refused to face the music, so it decided to use prorogation again on December 30, 2009. What is interesting is that it announced prorogation the very next day on all the television and radio stations, and in all the newspapers.

As we all know, December 30 is the day before New Year's Eve and all of its festivities in Quebec and Canada. Let us look at what the Conservative government did on December 30, when the public was busy preparing for their New Year's Eve parties, doing their shopping or calling family members to make sure everyone would be there to ring in the New Year. On December 30, like hypocrites, the Conservatives prorogued Parliament yet again.

Who was the spokesperson we saw all over the news? Dimitri Soudas. He was a press secretary at the time; his work had not yet gotten him promoted to the Prime Minister's communications director. This is the same Dimitri Soudas who is literally hiding and refuses to account for his decisions before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, where my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant does an excellent job on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. All of the committee members do a good job, except the Conservatives.

Dimitri Soudas is hiding and refuses to face the music. A bailiff has tried to serve him with an order to appear—a subpoena—before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, but he is nowhere to be found. He is somewhere in the Langevin Building, on the other side of Wellington. The bailiff knows he is there, but he is well hidden. They make calls to see if he is there, and he is, but he refuses to come out for his subpoena. In Ontario, subpoenas must be delivered by hand, but that is not the case in Quebec, where an adult can sign the acknowledgment of receipt for the subpoena.

This same Dimitri Soudas was not hiding on December 30. He was proud to announce prorogation on behalf of the Prime Minister. We must not forget the real reason for the prorogation. The Conservatives did not want to face the music and release the secret Afghan detainee documents. The Speaker had to issue a ruling to force the parties to negotiate an agreement, which was reached after seven weeks of negotiations. The process was difficult, but three parties came to an agreement. The NDP decided not to participate, and too bad for them. They will not have access to any documents and will not see any documents.

What does the Conservative government do when it feels threatened, when it feels that it could lose power or that the opposition agrees on certain principles? The opposition parties have different view, and that is the beauty of democracy. We have different opinions, but we can agree on principles. Democracy, openness and transparency are principles the opposition parties share, despite their differences. I do not expect the Liberals to like me as a parliamentarian, but I do expect them to respect me. That is the difference. These are matters of principle on which we have agreed.

When the Conservatives were in opposition in the days of the Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien governments, they used to brag. I have been a member of the House since 1993. The Reformers, who became Alliance members, then Conservatives, used to say they were the champions of transparency, the Mr. Cleans of transparency. But the Conservative government excels at hiding things and being hypocritical.

That is why we think this is a good topic, even though the motion was the wrong vehicle for raising it. The rules on prorogation need to be tightened so that prorogation is not used willy-nilly, for every possible reason. The only way to do that is to develop mechanisms that would prevent the Prime Minister from doing whatever he wants. We have to set guidelines. That is all I have to say for the time being.