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 budget.

Topics

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

March 23rd, 2011 / 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, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8)(b) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 15 petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the following reports of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group respecting its participation at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Southern Governors' Association, which was held in Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, August 27 to 30, 2010.

Public Safety and National Security
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the responsibility to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security entitled, “Report on Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director Richard Fadden's Remarks Regarding Alleged Foreign Influence of Canadian Politicians”.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage regarding the mandate and funding of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 28th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to Standing Order 92(3)(b) the committee hereby reports that it does not concur in the fifth report of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business and is of the opinion that Bill C-486, An Act respecting the negotiation and conclusion of treaties, should remain votable.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 92(3)(b) the report is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Monday, March 21, be concurred in.

For the first time in Canadian history, a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt. The Conservatives are breaking the rules to attack the ability of Parliament to function and to hold the government to account. It is breaking the rules to hide the cost of its ideological agenda. That Conservative regime expects members of Parliament to vote on legislation without knowing how much that legislation will cost Canadian taxpayers. It is fiscally irresponsible, negligent and fundamentally undemocratic.

Four months ago members of the finance committee ordered the Conservative government to provide documents detailing the cost of its crime legislation. We asked for the numbers and analyses behind 18 U.S.-style crime bills. Parliament has a right to this information, as you pointed out so clearly in your ruling, Mr. Speaker. As members of Parliament, we must have this information in order to do our jobs on behalf of Canadians.

Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how much this legislation will cost them. After all, they are the ones footing the bill. All members of Parliament have a fiduciary responsibility to Canadian citizens. When a constituent asks how much the legislation we just voted on will actually cost, we have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to answer that question.

We must do our homework and examine the government's books. We must ask the government questions about its assumptions so we know how it arrived at the numbers in its legislation and budget. We must determine whether the government's spending plan is sensible, realistic and reflects the priorities of Canadians.

All members of Parliament have this responsibility. That includes members from the Conservative Party on the government side. No member of Parliament should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. However, for four months the Conservative government, with the help of government MPs, has been stonewalling and hiding the information we need to do our jobs. For four months the Conservatives have ignored the democratic will of Parliament. For four months, they have refused—

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. government House leader on a point of order.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 924, 925, 926, 927, 928 and 933.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I do not hear a point of order from the government House leader. Is the minister rising to table some documents?

We have an interruption.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, His Excellency the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

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

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before the royal assent, the hon. member for Kings—Hants had the floor. I now recognize the hon. member for Kings—Hants so he may carry on with his remarks.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, all members of Parliament have the responsibility to hold the government to account. That includes Conservative members of Parliament as well. No member of Parliament should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. However, for four months the Conservative government, with the support of government MPs, has been stonewalling and hiding the information we need to do our jobs.

For four months, the Conservatives have ignored the democratic will of Parliament. For four months, they have refused to come clean and tell Canadian taxpayers how much they will have to spend to foot the bill for the Conservatives' U.S.-style prison agenda.

At first the government ignored the finance committee's order to produce the documents on how much the crime bills would cost. The government did not even so much as acknowledge the request before the deadline. Then on December 1, one full week after the deadline, the government gave its first response. In that response, the government said:

The issue of whether there are...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.

According to that Conservative regime, members of Parliament should not know how much legislation will cost before they have to vote on these pieces of legislation. For this denial of information to Parliament, the Conservatives' reason is cabinet confidence. This is a blatant falsehood. This is arrogance and deception personified by the government.

The Conservatives believe that members of Parliament should vote blindly, but the law is clear. As members of Parliament, we have a constitutional right to that information on how much the legislation will cost.

Therefore, on February 17, my hon. colleague, the member for Wascana, moved a motion in the House demanding that the government provide this information to the House. After three months of saying that it could not provide any information, the government then responded that afternoon with a few numbers. However, the information was incomplete. The government only provided information on five of the eighteen crime bills. There was no analysis, no information on how the government arrived at the few numbers that it did provide and there was nothing about how this legislation would affect the provinces and the cost to the provinces.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer reviewed the information that the government provided, up to and including February 17. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer had to say about the government's response, “The Government of Canada has not provided the finance committee with most of the information that it requested”.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer went on to say:

The data tabled by the GC, does not provide FINA (or the PBO) with analysis, key assumptions, drivers, and methodologies behind the figures presented. Further, basic statistics such as headcounts, annual inflows, unit costs per inmate, per full-time...employee, and per new cell construction have not been made available.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer went further. He said, “As requested in the FINA motion, the PBO is also unable to determine whether” the data tabled by the Government of Canada would indicate whether “the requisite monies have been indeed set aside in the Fiscal Planning Framework and whether the departmental Annual Reference Levels of the affected federal government departments have been adjusted to reflect the change in requirements”.

In this report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer also had some fundamental questions, which are of great importance to the House. He first asked, “Is the information requested by FINA relevant and necessary to parliamentary decision-making?” His answer was, “Yes. It is required for parliamentarians to fulfill fiduciary obligations under the Constitution”.

Mr. Page asked a second question: “Is it collected regularly by the Government of Canada?” His answer: “Yes. The information is collected, analyzed and challenged as part of the Government of Canada's expenditure management system”.

He asked a third question: “Does Parliament have the right to the information?” To this fundamental and important question, the Parliamentary Budget Officer answered: “Yes. The Parliament of Canada is under a constitutional obligation to review any information gathered during the EMS process that it views as necessary for the discharge of its fiduciary duty to the Canadian people to properly control public monies”.

Given the Conservative government's blatant disregard for Parliament, given its continued abuse of the system and the breaking of the rules in order to hide the costs of its U.S.-style prison agenda, given all of this, I rose in the House and brought the matter before the Speaker as a matter of privilege.

On March 9, the Speaker gave his historic ruling, finding a prima facie question of privilege. With his guidance, I then moved a motion asking the procedure and House affairs committee to investigate these actions by the government and provide the committee's recommendations to this House.

The committee heard from expert witnesses on the issue of Parliament's right to know how much this legislation will cost. The committee heard from the House of Commons law clerk and parliamentary counsel, Mr. Robert Walsh, who said very clearly that the costs associated with legislation before the House are not covered by cabinet confidence. In his testimony, Mr. Walsh said:

...the basic principle is that the House should receive whatever information it seeks for it to do its function in holding the government to account or, as you mentioned, in reviewing legislation.

He went on to say:

The decisions made by the House of Commons are only as good as the information members of Parliament have to help them make those decisions.

The current Prime Minister once said:

Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.

That was a rare moment of candour from the Conservative Prime Minister and one must wonder, based on the Prime Minister's own words, what incompetence and corruption the Conservative government is trying to hide under its cloak of secrecy today.

During its investigation, the committee also heard from Mr. Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council. Mr. Cappe told the committee that the government's decision to hide the information under cabinet confidence was “unjustified”. I will quote from the committee report. According to Mr. Cappe, “Once a bill has been introduced the costs of that bill cannot be considered a cabinet confidence and must be provided to parliamentarians to enable them to arrive at an informed opinion”.

The committee also heard from Mr. Alister Smith, the associate secretary at Treasury Board, who told the committee that under the Treasury Board guide to costing the government must analyze the fiscal impact of federal legislation on the provinces.

The committee heard that parliamentarians not only have the right to know how much federal legislation will cost the federal treasury, but we also have a right and a responsibility to know how much federal legislation will cost provincial governments.

On the afternoon of March 16, once again the Conservatives demonstrated their contempt for Parliament by providing over 700 pages of documents to the committee without giving committee members any time to examine the information before hearing from the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety.

It was a data dump on the committee 15 minutes before the ministers were to do their presentations. It was a publicity stunt aimed at convincing the public somehow that the government had finally come clean when, in fact, it had not come clean. It was a charade. It was another example of the government's disrespect for Parliament and another example of why Canadians cannot trust the government to tell them the truth, to give them the real facts and costs of its agenda.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer continued his work after the government dumped this data on the committee. The Parliamentary Budget Officer studied this massive binder and concluded, in a report to the committee, that:

There remain significant gaps between the information requested by parliamentarians and the documentation that was provided by the [government], which will limit the ability of parliamentarians to fulfill their fiduciary obligations.

Examining the grid in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report to the committee, it is clear that the government failed to provide three-quarters of the information that had been requested by the finance committee and, in fact, demanded by the Speaker's ruling.

With this, the committee concluded that:

1. that the government has failed to produce all the specific documents ordered to be produced by the Standing Committee on Finance and by the House of Commons;

2. that the government has not provided a reasonable excuse;

3. that the documents tabled in the House and in Committee do not satisfy the orders for production of documents; nor do they provide a reasonable excuse;

4. that this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions; and

5. that the government’s failure to produce documents constitutes a contempt of Parliament.

The lengths that the Conservative government has gone to hide the costs of its legislation show not only a contempt for this Parliament, but also a contempt for the people of Canada who chose this Parliament. The Conservatives are showing contempt for the Canadian taxpayer who has to foot the bill for these pieces of legislation.

I remind all members of this House, including members of the Conservative Party, that regardless of what party we represent, we all have an equally important fiduciary and constitutional responsibility to the people of Canada to demand that the government provide this information to the House of Commons.

I would remind this House, including the Conservative members, that in being complicit with the government and helping the government hide this information from Canadians, the Conservative members of Parliament are not doing their jobs. They are not standing up for Canadians. In fact, they are attacking the interests of Canadian taxpayers by not telling them how much this legislation will cost. They are not fulfilling perhaps the most important responsibility we have as members of Parliament, and that is to defend the democratic institutions that keep us free.

What I find troubling about the government is that at every turn we have a Prime Minister and a government that not only stymies Parliament and attacks this institution, but it attacks the public service, the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This is an historic decision by Parliament, by the committee, to find the government in contempt. It is the first time in the history of Canadian Parliament that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament. It is the first time in the history of the British parliamentary system that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament.

This is not a good moment in Canadian history. This is a sad moment in Canadian history. It is sad for our Parliament and for Canadian citizens.

At a time when Canada should be doing more to help a troubled world build a more peaceful and stable democratic world, it has never been more important that we defend these democratic institutions that keep us free here in Canada. We will lose our moral authority to make a difference in the world and help it achieve a more peaceful and democratic future if we do not passionately demonstrate the importance of those institutions here at home.

We fully expect that the House will concur with the findings of the committee and we hope that this will help Canadians understand the importance of defending these institutions. We hope that members of the Conservative Party will wake up and recognize their responsibilities and join with us today in standing up for the people who elect us and not defend a government that is once again shutting down this Parliament and denying us the right and responsibility we have to defend the interests of Canadians.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a true travesty that we are spending this time dealing with this motion today.

Last week was a constituency week when members of Parliament should have been in their ridings hearing from their constituents who sent them here to represent them, but instead there was a motion that required the procedure and House affairs committee to spend three days on hearings. During that time, we heard from multiple witnesses. Three ministers of the Crown appeared. With less than a day's notice, two of them appeared for a second time to answer the questions that were asked of them by committee members. Many other witnesses appeared. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in convening our procedure and House affairs committee last week.

At the end of those hearings, that opposition member and his coalition partners presented a motion to the committee. I want members to listen carefully to the motion, which read, “that they would not allow any summary of evidence to be presented in that report”, after two full days of hearings and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get those witnesses here, as well as all of the required material that was prepared for it. At the end of that time, they had the audacity to ask that no summary of evidence be included in, what they said could be a maximum, two-page report.

How can the member stand here and defend democracy when, at the end of a two-day hearing, he actually asked that no summary of evidence be included in the record? Then, because the opposition members had the majority, they could pass any motion they wanted to pass. Of course they would pass the motion. How can that be called democracy?