House of Commons Hansard #147 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I find it curious that the hon. member is complaining that there may have been thousands of dollars spent last week to make democracy and Parliament work, when in fact we are trying to determine the costs of billions of dollars of spending by the government. He is actually saying that we should not invest a few thousands of dollars to study bills that cost billions of dollars. That is absolutely ludicrous.

If he would take the time to actually read the report that was written by the researchers of the committee, he would find quite a thorough summary of evidence and testimony in that report. What he would find is that people like Mel Cappe, the former clerk of the Privy Council; Rob Walsh; Ned Franks; and, in fact, every witness, except the ministers of the Conservative government, agreed that the government was hiding behind a phony excuse and was using cabinet confidence when no cabinet confidence applies to the costs of legislation once it is tabled in the House.

If he read the report, the hon. member would also learn that he has a responsibility. When he is in his constituency over the next 36 days, I hope his constituents ask him why he did not demand that the government tell them, as taxpayers, the truth about the costs of the crime legislation.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments and the questions coming from the government members.

It is interesting to hear them suddenly concerned with costs of a meeting when they expressed no such concerns about costs of building many prisons across this country. This coming from a Conservative government that claims to care about the economy and about taxpayers' dollar.

When the Parliament of Canada clearly asked the government for documents, for four months it decided not to provide them. At the eleventh hour, we saw another barrage come from the minister.

What we are debating today is contempt of Parliament. For many Canadians not familiar with the procedures of this place, which can be arcane, I thought I would look up “contempt”, so that we could help folks, particularly the Conservatives, understand what it is they are being charged with by this Parliament.

A lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike. Open disrespect for a person or a thing. Open disrespect for what this Parliament stands for.

The principle role of Parliament is to hold the government to account, regardless of party affiliation. Conservatives should be as occupied with this question of costs in building new prisons as the opposition members are.

I can remember, Madam Speaker, and you will as well, somewhat fondly, the Conservative government filibustering a climate change bill that simply asked the government to report on its efforts on climate change. That is what the bill did. The Conservatives held it in committee for months, saying that a report needed to be costed, that they would not pass any bill that had not been properly costed. I remember it well because day after day they filibustered the committee trying to do its work in an effort to fight dangerous climate change.

Now we come to this, something that obviously costs money and the government has shown contempt, not just for the members of Parliament but for who we represent and for this very place. Why suddenly this concern for costs of a meeting when we are talking about billions of dollars and contempt for our very democracy?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, the hon. member points out the hypocrisy of the Conservative members on this issue.

In fact, if the government had simply answered the questions four months ago, there would not have been any costs required. Parliament would have been given the information needed for members to do their jobs.

It is the Conservative government that is responsible for any incidental costs associated with this process that we have had to go through over the last four months.

I could never have predicted four months ago when as a member of the House of Commons finance committee, I moved a motion. I fully expected the government to comply and respond to that motion.

The member also raises a very important issue. When we are talking about initiatives around climate change and the environment or on social investment for children or for early learning and child care, the government will always say it will cost too much, or when we are talking about building new prisons, I guess for their unreported criminals, the government refuses to give us the data and implies there is no cost.

What we have here is a government that will hide the cost for its narrow neo-conservative Republican U.S.-style criminal justice agenda and will embellish the costs of actions taken to avert climate change or invest in children.

That is the deliberate misuse of information and the twisting of information in the tradition of the Republicans in the U.S. to twist the facts and deny the public the truth. It shows disrespect for taxpayers and disrespect for citizens.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I did not catch the member's entire speech, but we had a discussion earlier today with regard to the tax credit for volunteer firefighters.

Although it is a sort of step in the right direction, and it has been something we have been advocating for quite some time, it certainly is not as fulsome and does not include as many firefighters as we would have included with a refundable tax credit.

Would my colleague like to comment, especially on those firefighters in rural communities who do not make a great deal of money, who are on a fixed income? Is it going to be of any benefit to them?

I know in Glace Bay there is a small honorarium paid to firefighters. They currently access the $1,000 exemption. I see where it is going to be of little help to those firefighters.

Could I get the member's comments, overall, on that provision?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives have failed to make this credit refundable. A Liberal government, as part of our rural Canada proposal for volunteer firefighters, would introduce a fully refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters.

This means that hard-working, low income Canadians, many of whom are juggling more than one part-time job just to pay the bills, will not be treated fairly by this Conservative plan. It means that many volunteer firefighters, who are low income Canadians in our small communities, will not benefit from the Conservative plan.

Can members imagine, and this speaks to values, a Conservative government that actually brings in an initiative that will discriminate against low income Canadians? That is what the government is all about.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

March 23rd, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member's time has elapsed.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I guess I should just point out right at the outset that this is what I dealt with all last week: a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of what he is supposed to talk about; a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of his time; and, I am sorry to say, a side of the table that just would not stay in the bounds of politeness. It was about as discouraging as it might get.

I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and I am happy to admit them. Long before politics I knew the member for Kings—Hants and found him to be a very honourable gentleman. This week he has tried my patience on that one, as to whether I really truly believe it at all any more.

The other mistake is I thought I had the best job in the world. I came here as a member of Parliament some seven years ago and I thought, “I can't believe how good this is. You're representing your people and it's just incredible”.

I got to be the chair of procedure and House affairs, a chair of a committee of the House, and I have been proud of it. I have been very proud of it. It is not often that a chair will get up on a fairly partisan issue that we are talking about here, but I got to see this first-hand last week from the end of the table, not from the side of the government, not from the side of the opposition, but from the side that had to watch it, much like the TV cameras had to watch it last week. I would like to give members my view of what we are talking about here.

So, the second mistake that I have made is I came here thinking this was the best job ever and that we really, truly could get along, and do great things and things that we are all proud of.

After two very long days looking at this issue last week, I am not certain I want to share with my grandkids what I did those two days here in Parliament. I am not sure I want to share with my grandchildren, and I am sorry I do not have any yet, but my future grandchildren what I saw from an abuse of, truly, the procedures.

The member for Kings—Hants, somewhere in his, I was going to say statement of facts but I would have to assume, then, there were facts in there, got up and said that it was about defending taxpayers and it was about defending the democratic systems.

I am happy to say I am the chair of a committee that does defend democratic systems. Last week when we attempted to do that, I saw every dirty trick and every rudeness. It was just over the top. I will explain some of them to members, and Madam Speaker, I know you have seen some of them. I know you have even seen how rude some of us can be even in this House. It was over the top.

I want to tell members that there is a group of people out there who really truly do watch us on TV. We were the only act in town last week. The only thing happening was the procedure and House affairs committee and so, many people watched it. I guess if we go by the CPAC channel, we watch and see what is going on. I have to tell members there are groupies, there is a group of people out there, and I said groupies, I guess maybe we should use that term, who sent emails. I have received emails from across this nation last week about the job of being the chair of the procedure and House affairs.

There were a lot of suggestions as to what we should do to some of the members, and I have to suggest that sometimes during some of those very long sessions last week, I thought some bad thoughts about what I should do to some of those members, too.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

John McKay

And they're all in your caucus.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

You can see, Madam Speaker, the heckling from the other side. It happened last week, too. It was that way, too. It just was.

Let us just talk a bit about what we attempted to do last week.

I do not sit on the committee for finance. As I shared with members, I chair a different committee. However, the report came to this House from the finance committee looking for information. That is what the report was about. The committee members felt they needed more information, so they moved a motion and asked the Speaker to find a case of privilege, saying that the information had not been delivered to them.

Maybe some members do not know this, so I will give them a bit of an education on what happens when a motion of privilege is moved. What we first get from the Speaker is a prima facie case, a legal term. I am not a lawyer but I understand it well enough to say that it means that the Speaker has found, on the surface, that someone else should look at the case. Therefore, the case was moved to our committee.

As a matter of convention, since I have been the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs the Speaker normally comes and explains to us how he arrived at his decision, the basis for his thought. We were not able to do that last week because, as many members know, it was not a week the House was sitting and so not all members were available to us. Thus the committee was not able to start in the way it would normally do with a study.

The other thing that was different last week, and I have already pointed this out, is that the member for Kings—Hants was there but not as a standard member of our committee. He does not usually sit on our committee.

I take pride in the fact that committee members get along. Our standard committee is made up of the whips of most of the parties and other more senior members of the other parties, including our own. I have found over the period of time I have been the chair that we have certainly been able to get along and maybe even accomplish the impossible every now and again, just by being able to get along, by not making issues partisan or over the top. It is not about trying to get that press clip on the evening news.

The committee seldom meets in public, and so it was really different to be before TV cameras all of last week and have to deal with them too, because I do find there is a difference. I will admit to being a bit at fault here also. When we know a TV camera is on us, we maybe act a little differently than usual. We might take the roundabout way to get to our point because we think it might make a nice clip on a website or on the evening news, instead of just working with the people across the table and getting to the facts and, as a member just said, defending taxpayers and democratic institutions. Instead of just working to do those two things, we chose to make a show of it. We chose to make it look like a circus at times, at other times like a daycare and at other times somewhat like warfare. It really went over the top.

The issue comes to the committee and we have to look at the whole thing to see if it really is a prima facie case and we spend a great deal of time looking for facts. The reason we hold these committee meetings is to look for facts. We call witnesses. At the beginning, we very co-operatively ask each party for a list of witnesses they would like to hear from. Each party hands in a list of people, including some experts on the system. Surprisingly enough, oftentimes the same name is on the lists provided by many of the parties.

The member for Kings—Hants mentioned Mel Cappe, an eminent former clerk of the Privy Council and a professor now at the University of Toronto. I would love to spend some time in his classroom. I really enjoyed listening to Mel Cappe while he was at committee. He is a very knowledgeable gentleman.

Rob Walsh, the House of Commons law clerk, often comes to our committee because we deal with those types of issues. He was probably on more than one witness list.

We are going to have a permanent name tag made for Ned Franks because he attends almost everything we study at the procedure and House affairs committee. He knows his constitutional law. He knows things about the House of Commons. He knows where all the bones are buried. We can pretty much ask Ned anything and he will have an opinion on it. We did find at committee that there certainly were times when Ned had two or three opinions. I mean no offence, because he would admit to it, but there were many times when after a case was made by one of the sides at the table, he would change his view and see that side.

Therefore, we all put together a witness list, including ministers such as the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety, who were both there on the first day of our study.

The member for Kings—Hants is correct that a lot of information was given. It is my understanding that some months ago, a document was given, a foolscap piece of paper, with a costing structure for all of the crime bills. It had some boxes on it and the numbers were filled in. It was fairly fulsome in what it was covering. That day, when the ministers came, they brought the supporting documents for that piece of paper. The member from Kings—Hants is correct that it was quite a show. There was a pretty good binder full of information.

My colleague said something like: “Holy, they looked like dogs that finally caught the car”. The committee did not know what to do with it, because there it was, all of the information. All of a sudden, they had the information they wanted. There it was. Then the committee said it was too much. They could not read it all. It was too much, and they complained they were only given 15 minutes to read it, which was not enough.

What did we do? We asked two very busy ministers, who were on their way to other things, to come back the next day so that we would have the time to read the documents and they could spend another hour with us and explain what was in the documents. That sounded fair.

I recognize ministers are very busy people. I know it was hard for the clerk and I, when scheduling the first witnesses and helping to set up the witness list in the first place, to get them together at the same time to do this. So we had ministers come back the next day because the members asked them for more information. It sounded great, and so we did have them back.

In-between their first and second appearances, we had a number of witnesses. We mentioned some of them, such as Mel Cappe. We had a lot of good, interesting questions about his theory on cabinet confidentiality and what information could be shared with committees, legislatures and members of Parliament so that we can make the right decisions when voting on legislation.

The member from Kings—Hants has just suggested this was what we were trying to do. I agree it was exactly what we were trying to do. We were trying to find a way for information to get into MPs' hands and therefore into their minds when looking at legislation, whether at the committee level or here in the House, so that we can do our proper due diligence. That was our “fiduciary responsibility”, I think was the term used.

Therefore, all of the committee's meetings, all of the show trial, was about answering whether the information was sufficient.

It was not sufficient when it was provided at committee, apparently. It was not sufficient when the document was tabled here in the House with a good amount of information. As I said, I was not a member of the finance committee and I do not know whether the numbers were what that committee wanted or not. However, the member from Kings—Hants has just said: “No, they weren't”.

We did not get there. We had done of all of that and had all of those witnesses and all of their testimony, then something happened that I have never seen before in my life in this whole place. Two things happened.

The night before the whole committee meeting started, there was an article in the newspaper about how the committee was going to find the government in contempt. I thought that was a little off and a bit of a predetermination of where we were going.

At the end, the very that minute that testimony stopped, a document came forward on how this was going to work out, with all of the conclusions reached by the committee, but without any evidence to prove what was said. It would only be two pages long and there were going to be five recommendations by the committee. The minute we stopped hearing the evidence, we were apparently going vote on the motion.

That is what happened in that committee. It was as blatant and over-the-top abuse of power as I have ever seen.

I have spoken a long time and I have got a little off my chest and am honestly feeling a little better.

The good thing is that the reason we have committees in this place is to do that type of investigative work. It is not to predetermine where we are going to be. I have to say to the member for Kings—Hants and the other members from his party who filled that committee on a temporary basis, it is not how we usually work. We would not think of ignoring the evidence and then just give a report. We take a summary of the evidence into account.

I move:

That the House do now proceed to the orders of the day.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.