House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, after spending 27 months in a Spanish prison waiting for a chance to clear his name, Philip Halliday was recently able to have a visit from his family. Although his wife and sons were glad to finally see him, they were appalled by his physical condition. He suffers from liver and kidney problems and requires medical attention.

The minister was quick to claim credit for the return of Hank Tepper to New Brunswick. Will she now finally take action to bring Philip Halliday home to his family in Digby?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Calgary—Nose Hill
Alberta

Conservative

Diane Ablonczy Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, we are paying very close attention to Mr. Halliday's case. We know how difficult this situation is for him and his family. I have contacted the Spanish minister of foreign affairs to advocate on Mr. Halliday's behalf. Our ambassador in Spain is engaged with local authorities as well. Our government is also in contact with prison officials to ensure that Mr. Halliday's medical needs are being met.

The Government of Canada cannot exempt Canadians from legal processes nor interfere in the judicial proceedings in other countries. However, we will continue to press for a timely and transparent trial for Mr. Halliday.

Health
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, since February 15, the drug shortage has deprived Canadians of essential care. This morning, in committee, representatives from Health Canada stated that the drug approval process falls under federal jurisdiction. Yet, the Conservatives completely neglect this issue. The Conservatives have asked the provinces to diversify their supply sources.

How are they supposed to do this when they are given but one choice? If nothing is done, doctors will still have their hands tied, the shortage will continue and patients will again be the ones to suffer.

Does the minister have a credible plan instead of passing the buck to the provinces and industry?

Health
Oral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, as we have said all along, the shortage results from a decision by the provinces and territories to sole source drug contracts. Our role is to ensure that the drugs are safe before they enter the market. We are working around the clock to address this issue by identifying new suppliers for the provinces and territories, fast-tracking approvals and providing access to the national emergency stockpile system.

Going forward, we are encouraging the provinces and the territories to ensure that the decision of one drug maker will not seriously disrupt our—

Health
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans.

Arts and Culture
Oral Questions

April 3rd, 2012 / 3 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government is focused on jobs, growth and Canada's long-term prosperity.

In the next phase of our economic action plan, our government must have a plan to help the arts and culture.

In the next phase of our economic action plan, our government must have a plan for the economy that includes arts and culture.

Could the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages please tell this House how our steadfast support for the arts and culture will help keep our economy on track?

Arts and Culture
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans for his fantastic work in support of the arts. We believe that a strong economy will lead to a strong arts sector and budget 2012 speaks to that, as did our previous budgets.

Eric Dubeau, co-president of the Canadian Arts Coalition, said, “This budget is encouraging for the arts and culture community. We feel the government has heard us regarding the importance of arts and culture for the economy and the creation of jobs”.

Simon Brault, president of Culture Montréal and the vice-chair of the Canada Council for the Arts said, “This budget is a clear signal of support for the arts. Canadians are incredibly proud of our artists and what they create in this...”—

Arts and Culture
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Agriculture
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, for years, genetically engineered animals have been propped up as another solution to what ails the agriculture industry. The developers of GE animals have been happy to sell an idea, take their subsidy but never really develop a business case.

After 13 years in the development stage, Ontario Pork has decided to drop the enviropig program. Farmers do not want this pig and the public has no appetite for this meat.

At a time when the government is cutting inspection staff at CFIA and when farmers and agricultural employers are struggling, will the government finally stop accepting requests to approve GM fish and food animals?

Agriculture
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to explain to the gentleman across that Canadian food is safe. There are rigorous scientific protocols that must be met on anything to do with genetic modification and, of course, the enviropig passed all of those. With the proponent backing out from the deal, those animals will be euthanized and we will continue to move on.

Firearms Registry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, despite the fact that Quebeckers spent $250 million to implement the firearms registry, and even though this registry was implemented in collaboration with Quebec and the provinces, this government wants to destroy the data.

The Quebec government has even filed an injunction to recover its data. Moreover, according to Quebec's Minister of Justice, the federal government has exceeded its jurisdiction.

Will the Minister of Public Safety listen to reason and transfer the data to the government of Quebec, which has already paid its fair share?

Firearms Registry
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Beauce
Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, we respect the Canadian Constitution and our areas of constitutional jurisdiction. By abolishing the registry, we are respecting the Constitution.

We have promised Canadians that we would abolish this registry. We are going to keep our word and the registry will be abolished. It is up to the provinces, within their area of jurisdiction, to do what they want, but they should not count on us to transfer useless, inaccurate and outdated data.

Question Q-410—Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 28, 2012, by the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie concerning the government’s response to written question Q-410.

I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter and the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his intervention.

For the benefit of members, the Chair would like to review the events that led to this question of privilege.

On March 14, 2012, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie rose on a point of order to argue that the government's reply to her written question No. 410, which had been tabled in the House by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on March 12, 2012 and can be found at page 6088 in Debates, was insufficient. She stated that the reply did not fully answer all the questions and did not contain the detailed information she had requested.

Noting that the response stated more information would be forthcoming and that there were only two days remaining before the expiry of the 45-day limit for a response to her question, the hon. member asked if the government would be providing a more complete response before the expiry of the time limit. The parliamentary secretary replied that the government had already responded within the appropriate time, that the answer was self-explanatory and that additional information would be forthcoming.

In raising a question of privilege on March 28, 2012, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie again argued that the answer provided by the government was, by its own admission, incomplete. Noting that the response did not address the specific sub-questions she had submitted, she added that the government had failed to provide any additional information by the expiry of the deadline on March 16, 2012. She also took exception to the March 14 statement of the parliamentary secretary that more information would be provided by the government in the future, insisting that she was not interested in additional “talking points”, but rather specific answers to her specific questions.

Stating that “written questions are one of the tools that Canadians, via their elected representatives, can use to force the government to be accountable”, the hon. member claimed that the government's refusal to answer the question constituted a violation of her rights as a member and impeded her in her ability to perform her duties. She therefore requested that the Speaker find a prima facie question of privilege.

Before I address the specific points raised by the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, it may be of some assistance for the Chair to provide a brief overview of our procedures with regard to written questions by looking at how they have evolved in the text of the rule governing them, current Standing Order 39.

Since the time of Confederation, the Standing Orders have contained provisions allowing members to pose written questions to the government. Over the years, the rules and practices dealing with such things as the number, content, and time and methods of responding to questions have been reviewed and modified. For example, prior to 1986, there was no limit to the number of written questions that a member could place on the Order Paper and Notice Paper: it was not unusual for some members to submit tens, and in one case, hundreds of written questions.

In 1986 the House adopted changes to limit to four the number of questions a member could have on the order paper at any one time, and to codify the right of members to request that the ministry respond to their questions within 45 days.

In 2001, the House further amended the Standing Orders to provide that if a question was not responded to within the requested 45 days, the matter of the failure of the ministry to respond would be deemed referred to a standing committee for study.

It should also be noted that since the change limiting the number of questions a member can have on the order paper, there has been a notable increase in the length of the questions submitted. As noted on various occasions by government spokespersons, the length of questions can, in turn, have an impact on the ability to provide an answer within the 45-day limit and may require considerable resources.

I think all members would agree that order paper questions are a very important tool for members seeking detailed, lengthy or technical information that helps them carry out their duties. As is noted in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 520:

Given that the purpose of a written question is to seek and receive a precise, detailed answer, it is incumbent on a Member submitting a question for the Notice Paper “to ensure that it is formulated carefully enough to elicit the precise information sought”.

And further, at page 522:

The guidelines that apply to the form and content of written questions are also applicable to the answers provided by the government. As such, no argument or opinion is to be given and only the information needed to respond to the question is to be provided in an effort to maintain the process of written questions as an exchange of information rather than an opportunity for debate.

In the case before us, I can appreciate the member’s frustration with the reply provided. That said, the authorities are clear: the Speaker's role in such matters is extremely limited.

As pointed out by the government House leader, House procedure in these matters is clearly explained in O'Brien and Bosc, page 522 which states:

There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.

As my predecessor, Speaker Milliken declared in a ruling, delivered on February 8, 2005, page 3234 of Debates:

Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.

O’Brien and Bosc, at page 522, states:

As with oral questions, it is acceptable for the government, in responding to a written question, to indicate to the House that it cannot supply an answer.

Then at pages 522 and 523 it summarizes how the Chair is guided by precedent in these cases, stating:

...on several occasions, Members have raised questions of privilege in the House regarding the accuracy of information contained in responses to written questions; in none of these cases was the matter found to be a prima facie breach of privilege. The Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine whether or not the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate...

To that quote, I might add the word “complete”.

The hon. government House leader and the hon. parliamentary secretary have both indicated that the government intends to present further material with respect to the member's question in the future. This is consistent with our practice as one can confirm on page 522 of O'Brien and Bosc, which states:

On occasion, the government has supplied supplementary...replies to questions already answered.

The original response to Question No. 410 tells us that this is how the government intends to proceed in this case, just as we have recently seen the government provide such supplementary responses to other questions.

Accordingly, I must conclude that the government has complied with the requirements of the Standing Order and therefore I cannot find a prima facie question of privilege.

However, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie clearly feels aggrieved by the insufficiency of the response she received. I would therefore invite her to raise her concerns about our practice with regard to written questions with the Standing Committee and Procedure and House Affairs as that committee continues with its study of the Standing Orders. Indeed, as your Speaker, in light of the various complaints that have been voiced in the chamber with regard to written questions, from both sides of the House, I would encourage the committee to look closely at our current rules and to assess whether improvements can be made to our current practice to better serve the needs of the House and its members.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue reading comments from Canadians. I should note that I have had some folks say the NDP is taking this time and what are Canadians gaining for that? Hundreds of Canadians have been able to express their points of view directly on the floor of the House of Commons, through Twitter, Facebook, emails, faxes and letters.

The alternative would have been 24 members of Parliament from the Conservative Party reading and rereading the Prime Minister's Office talking points. There is no doubt that Canadians gain when their comments go directly to the floor of the House of Commons. I do not think Canadians would have gained to have 24 interventions from 24 Conservative MPs reading identical presentations.

Though we are getting a flood of responses from across the country, unfortunately, there is no way I am going to be able to read all of them. As I mentioned this morning, at about 4:35 this afternoon I will be offering an amendment and then I will be sitting down. I thank my Conservative colleagues for applauding my sitting down, but of course in the meantime we will continue to ensure that over the course of the 13 hours of debate, I guess it will be 14 by the time we finish--