House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as you are aware, we gave notice that the NDP will be speaking this morning regarding the privilege motion that was brought forward by the member for Kings—Hants I believe on Monday of this week.

At the outset, it is troubling that we are having this debate on this motion, given the historical ruling you made--

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The member knows we are not having a debate on the motion. The motion has not been allowed yet.

We are on a point of order as to whether or not there is a question of privilege to be raised here. I think that is what the hon. member is making submissions on. I know he would not want to debate a motion since one has not been allowed at this point.

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for that correction.

The request for the finding of privilege that was brought by the member for Kings—Hants is troubling in that he had to do this on behalf of both the members of the finance committee, at least the opposition members of the finance committee, and all of us in the House. I say that in light of your ruling 11 months ago; a historical ruling by any standards in this House.

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, and I do not want you to feel that I am buttering you up, but the reality is that the ruling was also a historical ruling in any number of other legislatures that use the Westminster system of representation in Parliament. It was acknowledged as such in a number of other legislatures.

Therefore, it is very troubling, given the nature of the request for the finding of privilege or breach of privilege at that time on the issue of the Afghani detainee issue, that we are back here less than a year later on essentially the same issue.

The Conservative government of the day is claiming cabinet confidence and refusing to divulge information to the finance committee members that is clearly necessary for them to do their job. That is the essence of the privilege request.

I think it is important that we walk through what has happened here.

There were requests at the finance committee for two types of information. This goes back to November 17, 2010. I will quote from the committee minutes at that point and from the report issued by the committee and presented to the House the first week of February.

On November 17, the committee reported that:

The committee also orders that the Government of Canada provide the committee with electronic copies of the following: Five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates (2010-11 to 2014-15);

The response from the government, I have to say from discussing this with some of the members of the committee, was a bit surprising. It was an immediate verbal response at that time by members of the committee. I am not even sure that the government leadership was involved in this.

Subsequently, there was a response from the government as follows:

Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.

That was the first one.

We know that the cost of the government's prime legislation, if I can use that generic term, has been an ongoing debate in the House, in various committees of the House, and in the general public.

Again, it is crucial that we have this information in order to engage in the debate and the discussion around those issues, not only in the House but in the country as a whole.

Therefore, the committee asked the government, in effect, ordered the government, to produce information with regard to a series of crime bills. That is set out in the report from the finance committee.

The attempt on the part of the committee is obviously to make informed decisions on legislation that is before the House and to share that information with other committees. There is a whole series of bills that the committee set out in the order for information.

I will not quote all of the bills because it is in the report, but I will quote the information that members on the finance committee wanted with regard to those pieces of legislation before the House or those which have already been passed. They wanted to know:

--the incremental cost estimates broken down by Capital, Operations & Maintenance and Other categories;

For a government that touts its fiscal prudence, it is interesting to note that it is unwilling to give that information to other members of the House in order for them to make decisions based on facts and good economic planning. Economic planning or public policy cannot be done without the facts. They wanted the costs.

The committee wanted to know:

--the baseline departmental funding requirement excluding the impacts of the bills and Acts, broken down by Capital, Operations and Maintenance and Other categories;

Members also wanted to know:

--the total departmental Annual Reference Level (ARL), including all quasi-statutory and non-quasi-statutory items, including Capital, Operations and Maintenance and Other categories, including the incremental cost estimates;

Finally, the finance committee asked for:

--detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to costing.

Finance committee members are asking for information that we know is available because it is required under Treasury Board criteria. We know from past practice that it is available and it has been submitted to ministers. In most cases, these bills would have also been in front of cabinet.

The government's response to that was:

The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.

By claiming cabinet confidence, the government absolutely refused to provide the information to the committee.

As I said earlier, the report containing this information is before the House, before you, Mr. Speaker, and is the basis on which the request for finding a breach of privilege was brought before the House.

To digress for a moment, I would like to make this important point. Both of these issues, the estimates of what the savings are going to be to the private sector by the tax cuts and what the projection for profits for those corporations is going to be, are crucial to the country. This may be the defining issue in the next election.

This is not a periphery area that we are trying to get information on. It is essential that we have this information in order for Canadians to understand the issue. At a personal level, it is absolutely crucial for us as members of Parliament to have the information when we are voting on the budget, on monetary bills, and a number of public policy issues.

As justice critic for my party, I have been asking for this information from justice ministers and ministers of public safety for four years, and regularly I get two answers.

First, the cost analysis has not been done, and I have to wonder about the truthfulness of that answer. That may have been accurate earlier on when the government came into power in 2006, but that has not been the case since then. We know that these projection analyses have been done on the capital cost of the crime bills, and on the operation and maintenance costs.

Just last week our critic on public safety had some material leaked to him showing how many more employees were going to be hired by Corrections Canada. The government has that information.

The whole issue of crime legislation has been a centre point for the government. It has been a centre point for the Conservative Party before it was government. However, when we try to ascertain the facts as to what this will cost, how many additional prisoners we will have in custody, we are denied that information.

Again, this is not a peripheral issue here. It is a very basic one that is very much in public debate not only in the House but across the country. That debate has been both in this House and in committee. It has been narrowed down to a very narrow scope because we cannot get access to this information.

With regard to its history, as I have previously stated, we have had the refusal from the government. Of course, it is not the first time it has done this, as I have said earlier, because of your ruling. It is just vitally important that it is not allowed to get away with it.

Last night, as I was preparing some notes on this, I was thinking about how important information and knowledge is. We hear the cliché that knowledge is power. That is really what this is about. It is a very fundamental part of our democracy and, in particular, of the parliamentary system. We can go back hundreds of years and I will be making some reference to that.

Historically, over centuries, the theory and principle of the divine right of kings was undermined once people realized that because one was born to a certain family, it did not give that person divine powers to govern better than a person who was born a peasant. This allowed democracy to flourish.

Also, throughout the Renaissance period in particular, if we look at advancements such as the development of printing and the ability to communicate information and knowledge, we see a huge increase in the rate at which democracy came to the fore.

Governments, particularly in Europe but also true in other areas of the world, restrained the development and sharing of scientific fact and information as they feared it would undermine their control.

As a species, and I will move into Star Trek fairly soon if I continue on this way, we find ourselves seeking out information because we believe it enhances our lives as well as our lifestyles. For instance, we proved that the Earth was not flat by moving beyond the continent that we were on at the time.

All of that is the basis on which the Westminster system determined that parliamentarians have an absolute right to information.

We as a country developed and so did our democracy. For instance, we instituted the CBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, in an effort to share more information to help unify the country because it allowed us to know and understand more about each other.

We are doing the same thing in this generation with the Internet, which is now also used to share information, as our--

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Perhaps the hon. member could keep his remarks relevant to the point of order on the question of privilege that was raised. It is interesting to hear about the Westminster model and its impact on Canada. However, the point that we are dealing with is a question regarding these documents and what constitutes a cabinet confidence.

Perhaps the member could be more specific in his comments and deal with this point.

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is relevant that we understand where that came from. I will stop with the examples in that regard but it is fundamental to this democracy in Canada that we have access to these documents.

I will now go to the points you made in your ruling, Mr. Speaker, back on April 27 of last year. I will quote from that decision because when we look at what is going on here, there is absolutely no way that this confidence that is being claimed exists. As I finish, I will be talking specifically about the provisions within the Evidence Act and the Information Act to show even more extensively that this information has to be divulged to the Canadian people as a whole.

However, within the context of Parliament, you ruled at page 19 of the hard copy of that decision of April 27, that:

Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built. In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and in fact an obligation.

Embedded in our Constitution, parliamentary law and even in our Standing Orders, it is the source of our parliamentary system for which other processes and principles necessarily flow, and it is why that right is manifested in numerous procedures of the House, from the daily question period to the detailed examination by committees of estimates, to reviews of the accounts of Canada, to debate, amendments, and votes on legislation.

That is very pertinent to the request that was made by the finance committee.

You go on to say:

As I noted on December 10, 2009, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states at page 136:

By virtue of the Preamble and section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, Parliament has the ability to institute its own inquiries, to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents, rights which are fundamental to its proper functioning. These rights are as old as Parliament itself.

Mr. Speaker, at page 978 to 979, you state:

The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the type of papers likely to be requested, the only prerequisite is that the papers exist--in hard copy or electronic format--and that they are located in Canada....

No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of the power rooted in the House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.

If I can just digress for a second, that is very pertinent to what is being requested. We know from a number of things that the paper exists. There are some points that we expect the government will say, such as that there are some limits on this, but I will come back to that in a few minutes.

You go on further, Mr. Speaker, by quoting Bourinot's fourth edition at page 70, to state:

The Senate and House of Commons have the right, inherent in them as legislative bodies, to summon and compel the attendance of all persons, within the limits of their jurisdiction, as witnesses, and to order them to bring with them such papers and records as may be required for the purpose of an inquiry.

In the arguments presented, the Chair has heard this power described as unabridged, unconditional, unqualified, absolute and, furthermore, one which is limited only by the discretion of the House itself. However, this view is not shared by all and so it is a privilege whose limits have now been called into question.

Again, you were referring to the position that the government took at that point, under a national security argument, that we were not entitled to the documents that were being sought.

Mr. Speaker, you went on to say:

The government's view is that such an unqualified right does not exist for either House of Parliament or their committees.

That was the position the government took. Again, I just find it very troubling that it is taking that position again now. You went on to say:

The executor, the holder of the sensitive information sought by the House has competing obligations.

That was the argument it was making at that time. I will not go on because that argument had more to do with the issue of national security and that is not being raised in this one.

I want to go on because the claim for confidence that we got was a cabinet confidence as opposed a ministerial claim for confidence. I do not know if the government was trying to make a differentiation there.

Mr. Speaker, you went on in the same decision, to state:

...Bourinot’s Second Edition notes that even in instances where a minister refuses to provide documents that are requested, it is clear that it is still ultimately up to the House to determine whether grounds exist to withhold documents.

It is not in the minister's control and not in the cabinet's control. It is only here in this House that that decision can be made.

Mr. Speaker, you go on to quote Erskine May as an additional authority for that. Again, I want to emphasize the historical nature because it goes way back. There is no basis on which the government can be doing what it is doing at this point.

Mr. Speaker, you quote Erskine May stating:

...underlying the Bill of Rights [1689] is the privilege of both Houses to the exclusive cognizance of their own proceedings. Both Houses retain the right to be sole judge of the lawfulness of their own proceedings, and to settle—or depart from—their own codes of procedure. This is equally the case where the House in question is dealing with a matter which is finally decided by its sole authority, such as an order or resolution, or whether (like a bill) it is the joint concern of both Houses.

That power resides here in this chamber, or in the other House, but not in the hands of a minister or the cabinet, which is really what is being claimed at this point, if the short answer and short denial we got can be understood without any interpretation.

Mr. Speaker, you go on in that to look at other legislatures, Australia in particular, where it had made similar findings as to what you found in that decision.

Mr. Speaker, you ultimately concluded, at page 27 of the hard copy, that:

It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.

As has been noted earlier, procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.

The government is certainly not claiming that in this case.

You went on, Mr. Speaker, and drew the very definitive conclusion and made the decision that there was no authority to hold back those documents, that provisions had to be made for those to be released if we accepted the government on its face that they were national security documents.

Here we are talking about documents that are of a financial nature, information that is clearly available, as well as the information on the cost of the prisons and those related crime bills.

I also want to note that we have heard from the Liberal Party, both from the member for Kings—Hants and the member for Mississauga South, on this point and the official opposition is taking the same position. We are taking the same position and are asking you to uphold the decision you made last year, in this case.

I have the position taken by the Bloc Québécois in the arguments it made on March 18 of last year before your ruling, Mr. Speaker. Its position was that there was no basis for the government's claim and even less, if you look at that. However, I would draw to your attention the argument that was made at that point. You may want to consider that if the Bloc does not speak to this before you make your ruling.

I have one final point, which moves more into the legal area. There is a provision in the Canada Evidence Act, section 39, that sets out a procedure by which the government must exercise its right to claim cabinet confidence and under what circumstances. Then there is the Access to Information Act that sets out in section 69 where it cannot claim that under some circumstances. I will just deal with the criteria.

Normal procedure is for the Clerk of the Privy Council to certify which documents cabinet confidence can be claimed and where it applies. We do not know if that has been done here. For the two pieces of information we want, we got a bland denial. We do not know if the Clerk of the Privy Council, because we do not have that fact in front of us, has certified some of these documents as being within cabinet confidence.

Under the procedure set out in section of 39 of the Canada Evidence Act, the Clerk of the Privy Council is required to exclude from any claims of cabinet confidence discussion documents. It would be our position, based on the information that we are seeking, that it would fall into the category of discussion documents and, therefore, the confidence does not apply.

However, even if it does apply and the documents can somehow be construed as not being discussion documents, which I find hard to imagine as my mind is not quite that creative, although maybe the government is, subsection 69(1)(3) sets out that a claim of confidence is only applicable until a decision is made. In this case, it is quite clear that the decision around corporate tax breaks was made several years ago in the form of a budget. All of the crime bills have been tabled in the House and some have even passed. On all of that, a decision has been made in both cases.

I want to quote section 69 so it appears in Hansard. Subsection 69(1) sets out the fact that there is a double step. The right to access the rest of the act is all the authority one has, both as individuals and as individual members of this society, and we have to ask for information from the government.

Subsection 69(2) defines who fits into that category where information does not have to be given and the cabinet is part of that. It states:

Definition of “Council”

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “Council” means the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, committees of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Cabinet and committees of Cabinet.

Right now we have a claim by the government that it is a cabinet confidence. We do not know if any certification has been done under section 39. However, under section 69 of the Access to Information Act, the documents are only excluded if a decision has not been made, which brings us to subsection 69(3), which is an exception. It states:

(a) confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada that have been in existence for more than twenty years;

We are not claiming that. However, then it goes on to say, “discussion papers described in paragraph (1)(b)”, and there is a long description. Clearly the information we have sought, and was sought by the finance committee, would fit into that category.

It goes on to say in subparagraph 69(1)(3)(b)(i), “if the decisions to which the discussion papers relate have been made public”. I go back to my point made earlier. The tax breaks for the corporate world, particularly large corporations, were made in a budget in either 2007 or 2008. Those decisions are public because they have been implemented and the corporate world has been receiving those major tax breaks.

There is a second category that also says, in subparagraph 69(1)(3)(b)(ii), “where the decisions have not been made public, if four years have passed since the decisions were made”. There is no absolute claim to privilege on an ongoing basis. However, the section that is applicable here is subparagraph 69(1)(3)(b)(i,) which states that if the decisions have been made public, that information has to be made available to the public, including to this chamber.

I am setting out that information because I do not know what the government will argue. Up to this point, it has not come before us to make its argument. If the government tries to shelter under section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act and under section 69 of the information and privacy act, it does not hold water. There is just no basis for that.

In summary, what are we faced with? We are faced with a government that is clearly attempting to thwart the work of us as individual members of Parliament. It is again a significant underpinning for our democracy that members of Parliament have information of that nature, not only for the purposes of our role in this chamber and in committee, but in the general public so we can share that information with the general public. It is very much striking at the heart of our democracy.

I have cited the authority, as well as your ruling, Mr. Speaker, under the rules of the House, the practice that has grown up literally for more than 300 years. I have also cited the legislative authority with regard to cabinet confidentiality.

I would argue, Mr. Speaker, that it is absolutely imperative that you rule in favour of the request for finding a breach of privilege by the member for Kings—Hants. The message did not get through to the government 11 months ago. It is repeating the same misbehaviour, so it is absolutely crucial that the message go very clearly to the government that it is not allowed to take these kinds of undemocratic steps to thwart the work of individual members of Parliament and to thwart information getting out to the general public.

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened today to feel the obligation to rise to address comments with regard to the question of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants on February 7.

It is like the movie Groundhog Day. Anyone is familiar with that movie knows it was very successful. American actor Bill Murray relives the day over and over again until he learns his lesson.

It appears the government is reliving the same thing and forcing all other members of the House of Commons and Canadians to relive the same days we experienced back in 2009-10 with regard to a request from the special committee on Afghanistan for the production of documents from the government. The government resisted that. It took a question of privilege to be raised in the House. It took comments from many members of the House. It took considerable reflection and study on your part, Mr. Speaker, before you made a ruling that there was a prima facie case of privilege in that regard.

Yet, again, we are faced with the exact same situation today.

If I look at the timeline, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance tabled its 10th report on Monday, February 7. The member for Kings—Hants, pursuant to that report, raised the question of privilege of which we are now all aware.

I want to concur with the arguments raised by my colleague for Kings—Hants, as well as those raised by my colleagues from Mississauga South and Windsor—Tecumseh on the issue.

However, I wish to note a number of points. I also wish to address, in particular, the issues of cabinet confidence and the requests with regard to all the justice bills. It is important to do so, particularly with the time of events and the government's response to date to the committee's requests for the production of documents. We have not yet heard the government's response in the House with regard to the question of privilege.

On November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance passed a motion, ordering the Government of Canada to provide the committee with five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from the 2010-11 fiscal year until the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive. The November 17 motion also ordered the government to provide the committee with certain financial information pertaining to justice bills, which I will enumerate.

As all members in the House know, I am the justice critic for the official opposition. Therefore, all the information, all the documents requested through the motion of the finance committee have direct pertinence to the committee on justice and human rights. Those justice bills were Bill C-4, the youth criminal justice bill, Bill C-5, Bill C-16, Bill C-17, Bill C-21, Bill C-22, Bill C-23A, Bill C-23B, Bill C-39, Bill C-48, Bill C-50, Bill C-51, Bill C-52, Bill S-2, Bill S-6, Bill S-7, Bill S-9 and Bill S-10.

The motion specifically requested:

—detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to Costing.

Members are now aware, by the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, that the motion established a deadline of seven calendar days, which ended on November 24, 2010.

On November 24, Finance Canada replied to the committee, and I will read the department's response in its entirety because it is quite important, particularly to any Canadian and any member sitting in the House who takes his or her work as an elected official representing Canadians, a sacred duty in fact, to know the response. It said:

Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.

The department claimed it was not in a position to provide these documents to the committee because, according to the government, these documents were a cabinet confidence. That is the heart of the matter. Do the documents requested constitute a cabinet confidence and, if so, are they excluded from the rule of the House of Commons, the power and authority of Parliament, to require documents to be provided?

As the House knows, because it has been mentioned by others in the House who have commented on the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, the government has yet to speak to this issue. I understand that one of the parliamentary secretaries has said the government is taking note of all of members' comments in the House, relating to the issue of privilege, and will respond in due course.

On December 1, 2010, one full week after the deadline of November 24, 2010, the committee received a reply from Justice Canada regarding projected costs of the justice bills. I will read the response by Justice Canada in its entirety. It said:

The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.

That is interesting because in justice committee, of which I am a member, when we have repeatedly asked the minister for the cost analysis of a government bill before the committee, the minister has never stated that he could not give us that information because it is a matter of confidence. I would challenge members to check the transcripts of justice committee. What I did hear was he did not have the information with him or some befuddled answer that did not answer the question.

On December 7, 2010, after the government had refused to provide the information ordered by finance committee by the established deadline, the member for Kings—Hants provided the committee with written notice of a motion by which, if passed, the committee would draw the attention of the House to what appeared to be a breach of its privileges. That has been done. The committee adopted the motion and the member for Kings—Hants rose in the House to speak to the issue.

On December 10, the committee received an additional response from the Department of Finance Canada in answer to its motion ordering the production of documents relating to the projections regarding corporate taxes before profits.

In response, the department stated:

To the best of its knowledge, the Department of Finance has determined that [the] "series" or projections of corporate profits before taxes or the effective corporate income tax rates have never been previously disclosed. These projections are from a comprehensive economic and fiscal projection that constitutes a Cabinet confidence.

To reiterate, according to the second or additional response of the Department of Finance to the finance committee, the Department of Finance, acting on behalf of the government, claimed that these projections have never been previously disclosed and constitute a cabinet confidence.

As pointed out in this chamber before, but which bears repetition, I would suggest to any Canadian to Google the phrase, “Corporate tax profits before taxes”, and restrict their search to the domain of the Department of Finance Canada. That Canadian would get exactly two results: the HTML and PDF versions of “The Economic and Fiscal Update“ from November 2005. In that update, we find precisely the information that the Department of Justice, in its December 10 additional response to the finance committee, claimed had never previously been disclosed because it constituted a cabinet confidence. In fact, it was disclosed in the November 2005 economic and fiscal update that was issued by the previous government comprised of the Liberal Party of Canada's elected members of Parliament.

Therefore, the assertion on the part of the government, through its Department of Finance, justifying its refusal to obey, respect and act on the order of the finance committee to produce the documents is an outright fabrication.

The government department could have said that in the past the information had been released, but that the policy had been changed with a new interpretation of what constituted a cabinet confidence and, as a result, would not be releasing those documents to the finance committee. However, that was not the reason given by the department, by the government, for refusing to release that information. The reason given to the committee for not providing that information, that it is a cabinet confidence, is pure nonsense.

What is the state of legislation regarding cabinet confidence?

As mentioned, one can look to the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act, and one will find that the government does not have a leg to stand on, and in fact does not have two legs to stand on.

Any reasonable Canadian reading the pertinent sections of the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act would see that the two responses given by the Department of Finance and the response given by the Department of Justice are nonsense.

As I said, we know that in 2005 the previous government recognized that projections of corporate tax profits before taxes were not covered by cabinet confidence. Such projections are not considered a cabinet confidence when, as is the case with Finance Canada's revenue model, these projections are used by the department in a manner not exclusively related to cabinet operations.

What has changed between 2005 and 2010-11? On what grounds is the government now claiming that these projections constitute a cabinet confidence when there was no such assertion in the past and governments in the past have in fact provided and disclosed that information?

The costs of the justice bills are also important because the Department of Justice, as well, replied to the finance committee by claiming cabinet confidence as a justification for not releasing that information to the finance committee.

We know that due diligence would have required that cabinet consider the cost implications of each justice bill before making a decision to proceed with each bill. We know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.

Why do we know this? We know it because the Liberal Party of Canada has formed government in the past. We know that when we came power the government that preceded us, the one formed by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, had done that as well. So these are normal practices. These are practices of a prudent, diligent and competent government.

No diligent, prudent and competent government would consider an issue, whether amendments, or a justice bill bringing in new legislation to the Criminal Code or amending existing sections of the Criminal Code, because that constitutes government policy, would do so without informing itself of the cost of those changes.

That is what previous governments have done, because those previous governments, whatever their faults, have followed prudent, diligent and competent practices with regard to taking decisions on issues brought before cabinet.

As I said, we know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.

Now let us look at the legislation that deals with what is, or is not, cabinet confidence and whether or not something that falls into cabinet confidence can be accessible.

If one looks at section 69 of the Access to Information Act, it tells us that such analysis and background information is not, and I repeat, not, a cabinet confidence, if the cabinet decision to which the analysis relates has been made public.

A cost analysis of the implications of a justice bill should have been included, and I believe was included, in the memorandum to cabinet, as it is on each and every justice bill.

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:55 a.m.

An hon. member

So it is a cabinet document.

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

A memorandum to cabinet is a cabinet document. It is part of one. However, under the Access to Information Act, section 69 stipulates that once the decision to which those discussion documents relate is made public, those discussion documents are no longer cabinet confidences and can and should and must be released publicly when so requested.

Once the proposed justice bill that cabinet is considering and the Minister of Justice is proposing to government through cabinet to adopt as its official policy, to be brought forth in public through tabling in the House, and once cabinet approves the bill and the minister or a representative of the government rises in the House to table the bill and to move first reading, this cabinet decision will have been made public. Therefore, the discussion documents relating to the issue will no longer be cabinet confidences. That is the point.

If one looks at the Ethyl case, the federal court has been clear that this analysis and background information can be severed from a protected document and be disclosed. When legislation goes to cabinet for a decision before it is introduced in Parliament, those discussion documents are privileged.

The very act of introducing government legislation in Parliament is a public declaration of cabinet's decision to support the legislation and to inform the public through Parliament that this is the government's decision. At that point, those discussion documents are no longer covered by privilege and, therefore, when the Standing Committee on Finance adopted the motion ordering government to release the cost analysis of each and every justice bill, those bills had been introduced in the House and therefore were now public. The cabinet's decision was now public and the discussion papers, which included cost analysis, were no longer covered by cabinet privilege and no longer a cabinet confidence.

We already know through O'Brien and Bosc at page 137 that:

It is well established that Parliament has the right to order any and all documents to be laid before it which it believes are necessary for its information. …The power to call for persons, papers and records is absolute, but it is seldom exercised without consideration of the public interest.

Should the government argue that notwithstanding the fact that, one, its first argument for refusing to provide these documents relating specifically to the justice bills is a matter of cabinet confidence failed--

Standing Committee on Finance
Privilege

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am afraid the hon. member will have to resume her remarks another time. It being 11 o'clock, we will not proceed with statements by members.

Africa
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, on January 28, I had the opportunity to attend the 16th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My trip was to reaffirm our government's engagement with Africa.

I had many productive meetings with my counterparts at the summit. We discussed many issues that were of interest to both Canada and Africa, such as the Sudan referendum, the situation in the Ivory Coast, and issues regarding the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council reforms.

I also had a bilateral meeting with my Ethiopian counterpart and saw firsthand the many development projects that Canada, through CIDA, was engaged in. While there, I announced Canada's contribution of $18 million to the agricultural growth program in Ethiopia.

Our government views Africa as a partner on the international scene, a historical relationship that this government will continue to strengthen.

Mount Pearl Frosty Festival
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the Frosty Festival in Mount Pearl is not just one of the best winter carnivals in this country, it is also a prime example of the tremendous work being done by volunteers in the community.

This year is the 29th annual Frosty Festival, an outstanding fun-filled event that exudes the strong community spirit and pride of the people of the great city of Mount Pearl.

The talent and entertainment is incredible and the fun and friendship bring warmth during the winter. The adults and children who participate create memories and friendships that will last forever.

This year's schedule features over 50 separate events. There are visits to seniors homes, a costume skating party, a tailgate party, a film festival, hockey games, dinner theatre and Mount Pearl Idol. There truly is something for everyone at this year's Frosty Festival.

I ask members of the House to join with me in thanking chairperson Andrew Ledwell, his entire board of directors, the many volunteers and sponsors for their dedication and contribution to the Frosty Festival. They make Mount Pearl a great city.

Shipping Radioactive Waste
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is formally opposed to the issuing of a permit to Bruce Power Inc. to ship radioactive waste. The company plans on shipping over 1,600 tonnes of radioactive steel to Sweden via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The millions of Quebeckers who get their drinking water from the St. Lawrence and the communities along the seaway, including many in my riding of Verchères—Les Patriotes, have valid concerns.

As with the Trailbreaker project, which would reverse the flow of the oil pipeline between Montreal and Portland, Quebeckers are being asked to take on all the risks without getting anything out of the project.

By issuing this permit to Bruce Power, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has created a dangerous precedent in maritime transportation. The government must overturn this decision. Ontario made its energy choices, and it must take full responsibility for them.

Screening of Workers
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that people wanting to work with Canada's most vulnerable populations must be thoroughly screened. None of us would entrust the care of our children or failing parents to anyone whose background had not been thoroughly checked.

That is why vulnerable sector screening is now required for teachers, social workers, taxi drivers, daycare workers, sport coaches, and many more.

However, instead of supporting these people who are providing a valuable service to our community, the screening process is so under-resourced that all too many are losing their jobs and losing their interest in becoming volunteers.

In my office alone, I heard about someone who lost his job at a nursing home because his VS check took too long to meet the employer's needs. In another case, the provision of residential care for autistic children is on hold because of delays in processing. For some volunteers, the 120 days it now takes to get a reply means that the sports season is over before he or she is cleared to coach.

That is simply unacceptable. This is not rocket science. The backlog is due to a lack of resources. If the government is going to implement a new policy, it must provide the means to carry it out effectively. Canada's most vulnerable deserve nothing less.

James Pelehos
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, on January 1, 2011 Alberta lost one of its sports icons. Jim Pelehos, a local sports hero in Wetaskiwin, passed away at the age of 90 at his daughter's home.

Before living in Wetaskiwin, Jim was involved with the Saskatoon Elk's hockey club, the Humboldt Indians Junior hockey club, the New Westminster Royals hockey club, the Vancouver Minor Lacrosse Association, the New Westminster O'Keefe lacrosse club, the Edmonton Oil Kings hockey club and the Edmonton Oilers hockey team.

In 1992, Jim became involved with the Wetaskiwin Icemen Junior “B” hockey club, which he founded. He served on its board of directors for 18 years.

In 1986, Jim was named Wetaskiwin's Citizen of the Year. His outstanding contributions to the Icemen Junior “B” hockey club were recognized when he was awarded the president's award in 2000 and again in 2003. Jim was also a two-time recipient of the certificate of appreciation for his contributions to the community lottery board grant program.

I want to take a moment and honour the passing of Jim Pelehos, a great Albertan, a great man. He will be dearly missed by his friends, family and all who knew him.

Canada Winter Games
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, Halifax-Dartmouth is abuzz as the Canada Games kick off today. Athletes from across Canada gather in Nova Scotia to compete in 25 sports, to explore our beautiful province and to meet other young athletes and make lifelong friends. These will be fantastic games celebrating our best young athletes, but also celebrating Canada and featuring local culture and talent.

Congratulations to the organizers who have done a fabulous job preparing for these games. J.P. Deveau, a great Dartmouth boy, has worked tirelessly as chair of the board; and Chuck Bridges, vice-chair, and Chris Morrisey, the CEO, and their teams have ensured that these games will be fantastic now and will leave a great legacy for our community. A year ago, Canada was celebrating the Olympics, culminating in Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby's golden goal. Now we gather in Nova Scotia to cheer on our future Olympians.

Halifax is the place to be for the next two weeks. We will see people at the venues, at the oval, at Celebration Square and on the streets. Book tickets, get to the games. It is going to be rocking all the way through in Halifax for the Canada Games.