House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

CBC/Radio-Canada
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, we will honour our campaign commitment to CBC/Radio-Canada in a way that the Liberals did not.

This was the Liberal record on the CBC. The Globe and Mail said, “The Liberal Party policy toward the CBC: gut it, kick it in the teeth, leave it hanging from a thread”.

The Montreal Gazette said this about the Liberals and the CBC, “The CBC has become a battered, unloved, friendless institution...under Heritage Minister Sheila Copps...”.

This is what the Toronto Star said, “...the CBC has been treated shabbily...” by the Liberal government, “...downsized, underfunded, abandoned...”.

We have our policy. The Liberals have their record. I will live with our record.

Highway Safety
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it has come to light that many Canadian truckers are being forced by their employers to falsify their log books. The companies get away with this because there is insufficient enforcement of federal regulations. Ottawa should be working with the provinces to enforce these rules but this is not happening.

Will the government improve enforcement or will it continue to turn a blind eye to the dangers on Canadian roads?

Highway Safety
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon
B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I invite the hon. member to the real world where we do work closely with both the provinces and the territories. In fact, we have a committee of senior level bureaucrats who work together under the direction of the ministers. After a meeting we had in Atlantic Canada earlier this fall, we again tasked our officials to work together on areas of concern, like trucking.

We should be very clear that truckers are expected to keep regular hours under regulatory supervision. They must keep log books under supervision. Failure to do so is a criminal offence, so I urge them to do that. The RCMP and other enforcement agencies have the power to enforce that because it is the law.

Highway Safety
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The Chair has received a notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and I will hear his submission now.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as indicated in the letter I sent to you earlier today, I stand in this House to raise a question of privilege both for myself, as an individual member of Parliament, and for all other members of Parliament as well.

My question of privilege arises from the estimates tabled today in the House by the Treasury Board President. In an article by reporter, David Akin, who is part of the parliamentary bureau and the QMI Agency, that appeared on a web site earlier than the time the estimates were tabled in this House, it is clear that Mr. Akin had specific knowledge of what was in those estimates.

I would draw your attention specifically to the fact that in both the written article and in what was up on Mr. Akin's blog on his site as of 9 o'clock this morning, the estimates not being tabled in this House until after 10 o'clock this morning, Mr. Akin says:

The government's spending plan, to be tabled today, shows that the [Prime Minister] plans to write cheques for at least $250.8 billion in 2011-2012.

On page 7 of the main estimates that were tabled today, in the table titled “Comparison of Main Estimates”, it says that the total net expenditures of the Government of Canada for 2011-12 is estimated to be $250.8 billion, which is exactly the same figure that Mr. Akin had in his article before the estimates were tabled here.

Mr. Akin has a number of postings on Twitter, a social media network, and one was posted about an hour before 10 o'clock this morning, before the House was sitting and before the estimates were tabled. The posting reads, “Govt will table spending plan for FY 2010 today: Total $250 billion, about $10 billion less than this year”.

With the facts I have provided in two different formats, there is no doubt that the journalist had knowledge of what was in the estimates before they were tabled in this House.

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of our privileges as members of Parliament, you have ruled on a number of occasions that, both individually and collectively, we have an absolute right to expect the government of the day to provide information, whether it be on a bill or, as in this case, the estimates, to this House before they are provided any place else.

Just to headline this, Mr. Speaker, I will quote you on a couple of occasions when you have said this more explicitly. The basic concept is that if we are to do our jobs and we are to perform our responsibilities as members of Parliament, we need to be able to respond to inquiries based on the knowledge that is tabled in this House, whether those come from the media, from particular sectors of the economy, society or individual constituents. We need to be in a position to present responses but we cannot do that if material is getting out into the public, in this case in the form of a journalist, without us seeing that in advance. We have no ability to respond and in fact we cannot do our jobs.

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw your attention to at least two decisions that you made in the past on this topic. A question of privilege was raised on October 27, 2009 by the Bloc member for Joliette concerning the Minister of Public Safety giving out material in the form of a bill. It was clear that the information, once tabled in the House so that the rest of us could see it as members of Parliament, had gotten out to members of the media in advance by at least 24 hours and perhaps as much as 48 hours in that case. That involved the bill to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

After hearing arguments from a number of members of Parliament, other than on the government side, claiming that their privileges had been breached, you said this, Mr. Speaker, as you were drawing your conclusion and rendering your recommendation. You were talking about where the convention came from and why we have this privilege as members of Parliament and you said this near the end of your decision:

The purpose of the convention is also to ensure that members are not impeded in their work by being denied information that others have been given.

You were very clear and explicit, Mr. Speaker. The minister had argued that very little time had elapsed in terms of the bill being put on notice and tabled in the House and you said you recognized that, but went on to say that was not the issue. The issue was the ability of members of Parliament having that information so that we could do our job. By not doing that and giving it out in advance to the media in that case, you were clearly making the determination that a prima facie case had been made for privilege.

Mr. Speaker, in that case your decision in that regard and the recommendation from the member who had moved the motion was to send it to the proper committee and you in fact ordered that. You went on to say:

To deny to members information concerning business that is about to come before the House--

Which is the same that we have with the estimates:

—while at the same time providing such information to media that will likely be questioning members about that business, is a situation that the Chair cannot condone.

When the committee reported, it said this:

The Committee believes that the protocol of the Department of Justice whereby no briefings or briefing materials should be provided with respect to a bill on notice until its introduction in the House of Commons should be adopted as a standard policy by all government departments. We believe that such a policy is respectful of the House of Commons and its members. It recognizes the legislative role of Parliament, and is consistent with parliamentary privilege and the conventions of Parliament.

That decision was in the spring of 2001.

One of the arguments will be, I will anticipate, that was about a bill and whether the convention also applies to the estimates. I want to draw to the House's attention in that regard and argue by analogy that it is the same as what we have here. This was a decision by Speaker Jerome on July 25, 1975, on page 7940 of Hansard.

The factual situation in that case was that a newspaper had printed an article alleging that there had been a leak of the budget, that a member of Parliament had given that information to a business person, presumably the concept being that the business person benefited financially. The issue that came before the House on a motion of privilege was that the member of Parliament first denied he had done that, claimed privilege on the basis that the article had, in effect, slandered him and asked that the matter be sent to committee so it could be investigated, in effect his mechanism for clearing his name.

Speaker Jerome in that case said yes, the leak in itself, which is what we have here with information being given, is in the form of a leak to Mr. Akin. The very fact of that is what creates the privilege.

Speaker Jerome said this, noting that the member stood in his place and denied the accuracy of the article:

Therefore, what is at issue is an alleged use of a national newspaper to accuse, falsely, a member of a misuse of his privileges as a member of this House.

He went on to say:

Certainly there has been a disposition on all sides of the House to say that, if there is a suggestion that such a thing has taken place, it is a fundamental interference with the rights of every member of the House of Commons to operate freely and perform his functions freely. If that question exists in general terms--and in the circumstances which are before me I can scarcely decide otherwise--I cannot see in any way that the Chair ought to interpose itself, from a procedural point of view, and prevent the House having an opportunity to take a decision in respect of the matter. I do stress, that it is, in the final analysis, a decision of this House--

As it would be here.

--which will say whether or not the matter goes to the committee on privileges and elections where the matters that have been discussed and raised by almost all members who have participated can be dealt with.

I believe, by analogy, that is the situation we are faced with here. We have had a leak. We have had information, whether intentionally or unintentionally, given to a member of the media. That interferes with our ability to do our job, and in order to be able to respond in an intelligent, meaningful way to any enquiries about the estimates.

So, similar to what Speaker Jerome found, that there was a breach of privilege there, it did go on, as I am sure you may be aware, Mr. Speaker, to the committee for review and decision. I have not been able to find the outcome of that. The point being, in that situation which I argue is very analogous to the situation we have before us today, there was a finding of prima facie breach of privilege.

If you do so find in this case, Mr. Speaker, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion to have this matter referred to the appropriate committee.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 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 thank my hon. colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for his intervention. I apologize to my friend because I was absent for the first few moments of his intervention, but I think I caught the gist of what he was saying.

I would like to point out a couple of inconsistencies, and that is simply this. The analogy that the member was trying to draw between what happened with the estimates today and a government bill is really not relevant. As the member should know, the difference between a bill on notice and the main estimates is that the main estimates are a message from the government, delivered by the Governor General. There is quite a distinction between the two.

The other thing I would point out, quite frankly, is the media article that he is referring to does not give any details of the main estimates. That is what I think is the distinction that the Speaker needs to take into account, as does my hon. colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh. There were no details whatsoever given about the main estimates in the article mentioned.

Since the intervention was made just a few moments ago, even though I believe the two points that I have just given you, Mr. Speaker, are salient and relevant, I would ask you, in your consideration, to allow the government to make a more detailed response at our earliest opportunity.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary . I will certainly take the matter under advisement and will await comments from the hon. member before rendering a decision.

If the hon. member for Winnipeg North is rising on the same point, I will hear him now.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, on the same question of privilege, I do believe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has missed a very important point. It is important for us to make a very clear generalization.

It is indeed privileged information. It is part of the parliamentary tradition, I suspect, not only of this chamber but other chambers within the Commonwealth, that there is an anticipation that some documents will be kept in confidence. Then after being released to the legislative chamber or, in this case the House of Commons, they can be released to the public.

In previous Speaker's rulings in the Manitoba legislature often reference is made to decisions that Speakers in the House of Commons have made. I will suggest that this quite serious if it is proven to be true. When a member of the media is posting blogs saying, “Here is how much money, $250 billion, that is to be spent”, and then one hour later the government makes that announcement, that tells me that the government did release, if the allegation proves to be true, the information to one or possibly other individuals.

The releasing of budgetary numbers has a fairly significant ramification to Canada's economy. If people have knowledge in advance in terms of expenditures of government, that can have an impact on stock markets, not to mention other things. It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the government to ensure that they are keeping documents or numbers in confidence until they are brought forward in the proper fashion inside the House of Commons.

I would suggest that it would be advisable for us to look into what is being proposed or suggested as a very serious allegation from my New Democratic colleague, and if it is proven to be true that someone did have advance knowledge before the House knew about it, then there is a responsibility for the House to take some sort of action, because once again we will have seen a government being sloppy with what it is supposed to be doing in terms of respecting the importance of this chamber.

I take it very seriously. I applaud the member for bringing it forward. We appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to look into the matter with the blogger in particular and any other individuals who might have been involved in what appears to be the possibility of leaking information prior to it being tabled in the House, because that would ultimately be a privilege that has been denied to members to have that information before it is circulated through the media and the public as a whole. As I said, the long-term ramifications of leaking this kind of information is fairly significant.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was here just a few moments ago when our NDP colleague mentioned a possible leak. Like all the members of the House who are rising to speak, I have no reason not to believe the hon. member. The facts, if they prove to be true, are rather troubling. I have been a member of this House for only a short time, and during the last session, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar leaked, from her office over the Internet, some prebudget consultations we had had. We spoke out passionately against the situation.

I have been a member of another parliament, the Quebec National Assembly, and I have also worked in the public service, in the Quebec finance department. I know how careful a government or a minister must be when it comes to certain publications, particularly budget speeches and estimates. This is not a one-page document. It is a huge document that was allegedly released before it was even tabled in the House.

There was an instance when a Liberal Party finance minister in Quebec, Gérard D. Levesque, unexpectedly had to read out a version of the budget speech one evening. If my memory serves correctly, it was a Thursday evening, but the budget was supposed to be read the following week. Why? Because moments before, photos of photocopies had been accidentally lost. There was a possibility that the information could be made public the following morning. At the time, the minister took responsibility and read his budget speech a week early.

Today, a document containing all the Canadian government's spending information may have been leaked. That is significant. A member said that it could affect the budget, the stock market and the decisions of people who know things before others do. Parliamentarians must be given this information, in a transparent way, before or at the same time as the rest of the population.

We do not even know when the budget will be tabled. The Conservatives are being smart alecks and saying that it will be soon, maybe the 22nd or 24th of March, depending on the weather and the direction of the wind. This government should act responsibly and tell the people and parliamentarians when the budget will be tabled. When estimates are tabled, the government needs to make sure nothing is leaked. When there are leaks of this kind, the minister responsible should resign. When it comes to budget estimates or the budget itself, the question should then be whether or not a leak means that the government should resign.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to add one additional point.

First, I very much respect the member from Windsor—Tecumseh for bringing this to the attention of the House. I subscribe to his argument and support his request.

I am concerned that the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader somehow dismissed the matter simply because there was no reference to the estimates themselves, but just some numbers.

I apologize that I could not get to a copy of O'Brien and Bosc quick enough, but if you seek it, Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that something as simple as a committee report tabled in the House is subject to the same rules. It cannot be disclosed. To look even further, you will find that even if the committee was not meeting in camera, if it was in public session and dealt with a report, the contents of that report cannot be disclosed prior to tabling in the House.

This is how careful Parliament has been over the years to protect the privileges of parliamentarians. Not even things that are obviously in the public domain should be used in a fashion which would pre-empt the matter of having to table in the House before it could be used.

The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has trivialized the matter. It is not a matter of the importance or whether it was used or not. The issue is the privileges and rights of parliamentarians must be protected to the greatest extent possible.

Main Estimates
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The parliamentary secretary said that he would be returning to the House in due course, so we will hear from him when he is ready to make submission on this point.

In the meantime, we will consider the matter closed for the time being.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-42. This is an important bill. The member for Western Arctic has done a terrific job in bringing some of our issues and our concerns to the forefront.

I will spend a bit of my time talking about Canada-U.S. relations and what has happened in a general sense, because it is connected to the bill.

The bill would allow the private information of Canadians to be given to the Americans when they fly through U.S. airspace. We see this as an erosion of civil liberties. The use of this kind of information over the last several years has shown a lack of accountability.

The first case I witnessed was when I was in Washington, D.C. in 2003. The U.S. decided it would unilaterally bring in the NSEERS program, a program that tiered Canadian citizenship. Despite being a Canadian citizenship, if an individual originally came from one of five destinations, that individual would be fingerprinted and photographed. This program later turned into U.S. visits.

I asked the Liberal government at that time if it was going to object to this tiering of Canadian citizens because it was going to create complications, like the ones we are now seeing at the border. The government did not even challenge that, which was very disappointing. We have not yet had a prime minister who will challenge that.

The U.S. patriot act jeopardizes the privacy of Canadians. I fought a campaign a number of years ago when the Paul Martin administration decided to outsource the census to Lockheed Martin, an arms manufacturer. Lo and behold its data assembly was in the United States, so under the U.S. patriot act all Canadian information was accessible.

Under the patriot act, a law enforcement agency in the United States, primarily the FBI or the CIA, can demand private information from any company about its employees. It is interesting to note that, under the act, the company is not allowed to inform the individual concerned or the other companies from which the agency gets the information.

All of our census information would have been exposed and at risk. Thankfully, after a good strong campaign, we were able to get the government to amend the contract to ensure that data assembly stayed in Canada. Lockheed Martin won the contract, but the data assembly and maintenance had to be done in Canada, and it was for that time period.

Why is this important? The private information that we give up, such as our credit card numbers, our phone numbers, a whole series of things that we give up when a trip is booked with a travel agent, will be exposed if Bill C-42 is passed.

The government has not pushed back on these issues. It has just rolled over for the Americans. The Conservatives assume that if we push back on this issue, that will affect trade and commerce at the border. The reality is, as we have succumbed to more of these elements, the problems at the border have become worse.

The Conservative government's policies have been atrocious when dealing with the image that Americans have about our Canadian system. The government's position on immigration and its cracking down on crime agenda, as well as a whole series of other things, hyperactivates those elements for its political stock base, basically the mediators in the Conservative Party. This blends in with the American rhetoric we have heard out of Washington from American politicians about the northern border not being safe and being more dangerous than the Mexican border.

We have fed into that negativity. Programs and greater barriers have not necessarily improved things. In my opinion, the data we will provide will create other administrative barriers.

The Conservatives tell us that they are working closely with the United States. We know they have been having private secret meetings. They have signed other protocols that have not worked and they have fed into the American way of thinking that our border is not safe.

I remember when we had the longest border in the world without a military presence. Now the Coast Guard is patrolling the Great Lakes in gun boats. Coast Guard members use the Browning machine gun that fires hundreds of bullets per minute. This reinforces the image of hordes of Canadians scooting into the United States for illegal activities. We agreed to that program. I fought a campaign in the U.S. to raise awareness of the fact that we did not need those guns. Now they are sometimes stored.

Then we saw most recently, and this is a good example of how we feed into their system, how they try to spin these programs as being successes. The one that I am going to talk about a bit is the shiprider program. This is a program where an American pursuing a Canadian can enter Canadian waters and arrest that person; and, likewise, we can do the same.

Interestingly enough, when we signed this agreement, we allowed U.S. federal, state, municipal and coast guard persons to make that arrest in the U.S. However, on the Canadian side, we just have the RCMP. We have basically told the United States, and this is from the comments I get back from Americans, that because our CBSA officers cannot make similar arrests to its American counterparts, we have just admitted that we have a weaker system, that the weaker system needs more attention, and that weaker system has more problems than is being admitted.

Then we see these Americans, like the one from North Carolina, talking about how once again Canada's border is more dangerous than the Mexican border. Meanwhile on the Mexican border, they have lost control in certain jurisdictions because of the drug lords and they have a serious problem where thousands of people are entering and exiting per day. Now we have Canada being considered similar to that element. That is what is fundamentally wrong with not pushing back on these matters.

Not pushing back on this one is really critical, as well, because it gives up our privacy and it adds more barriers and more administrative problems than there have ever been before. That is going to lead to less trade, that is going to lead to more problems, and that is going to lead to a series of other administrative problems.

What is interesting is that when the Americans introduce legislation, and we agree to legislation like this, they will have the opportunity to change it for other data in the regulations. They will have the opportunity to open it up to other types of information. That is one of the reasons we oppose this. There is no set of based rules that people will know for sure.

As with the patriot act, we do not have any details. Is the information going to be shared further? Is it going to be scrubbed? When we have different information and it is wrong, how is it going to be used? One only has to bring up the case of Maher Arar where we saw the Canadian RCMP provide misinformation about a Canadian citizen who was in the United States, who was then sent abroad to Syria and tortured, and we then had to have a public inquiry.

So these things are real. They are not fantasy. These are actual cases that have taken place and are going to continue to be possible because we are giving up this type of a system without having the proper accountability. We have not even written in the measures to be able to change this. That is one of the things that gives us a disturbing sense of the government and its handling of U.S.-Canada relations and its secret meetings.

We do not have a playbook. All we hear from the government on the Canadian side is that our immigration system is problematic and our laws in this country are not tough enough on people. Then when we negotiate with the Americans, they know the type of rhetoric that has been used here and they fuel it for their own purpose.

When we are talking to the United States, are we looking at our immigration system being changed? It has often been said that some of the 9/11 terrorists came from Canada. We have heard those statements from Hillary Clinton. We have heard them from Janet Napolitano. Even if they were to retract them after much attention because they are not fact based, it still would not matter. The impression has been left that we are weak and that we do not stand up for ourselves.

When we have an issue like this bill, Bill C-42, that is not exact, it again proves and reinforces that we just roll over immediately. That is a real difficulty that we have with regard to our approach with the United States. It has to be tougher. We must have more expectations and measurables.

When we talk to industry and other types of organizations, they tell us the border is getting thicker, and it is getting thicker because of the government's policy. When we look at places like Windsor, Ontario, which is the busiest border and we are adding capacity, where the CBSA is being moved out of for crass political reasons, again, that shows the U.S. that we are going to be weak. This is going to lead to more problems, not solutions.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for his presentation on Bill C-42.

We have not heard any representations from the government on this during the last couple of days. I would be very interested to see a government member stand and speak to this bill, so that we could actually ask some questions.

I believe it was the lone Liberal who spoke to the bill who spoke about how some amendments were made, and one of them was a two-year review. I had to ask her a question about what we were going to find out from a two-year review when we are the ones giving the information to the Americans. What we want to know is, if they are going to review it, what are they going to do with the information?

All our review is going to show is that we gave them X amount of data. However, we will have no idea what they did with that data. If members think for one moment that the Americans are going to answer the questions and tell us what they did with the data, and what the result was of turning it over, they have to be dreaming.

I think this review is basically dead in the water. It is just a way for the Liberals to roll over and support the government, and at least have some explanation for their support base as to why they did it.

I do not know why the Liberals are not asking more questions. I do not know why the Bloc is not asking more questions. There are a lot of questions that should be answered before we pass this legislation.

I wonder if the member has any further comments about this issue.

Strengthening Aviation Security Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. It is like grabbing a cloud. It is just going to slip away from us.

A two-year review will be meaningless because we do not have the power in the act as it stands now and we do not have the capability to demand the answers about how that information will be used, when it was used, where it was dispersed, and all those things. It is not included in the act. We will have that problem.

It is unfortunate that there is not a greater debate in the House of Commons about this. Later on, if there are situations where citizens are going to be affected, potentially having an interruption of travel or of their lives, as with the extreme case with Maher Arar, there is not going to be any accountability. There will be no recourse and no expectation.

This is what is truly unfortunate about this debate, that we are not even putting that on the record. It is sad that nobody else is engaging on this. I think airline travellers across Canada should be alarmed that both the government and the Liberal Party are allowing this to pass through the House of Commons, basically without any type of oversight whatsoever. The oversight will come from those in the U.S. who want to use Canadians' personal information for whatever benefit they want. That will be the result.