House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Canadian Heritage
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Canadian Heritage
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, there is no such attack. Library and Archives Canada will certainly be able to continue meeting its commitments by using new technologies and other means, and those methods will be used by museums across the country.

Our government is investing more than ever before in terms of our national museums, small museums across the country. Library and Archives Canada is doing a fantastic job of digitizing things, working with smaller libraries, working with collections and archivists around the country to make sure that more of the collection is available to more Canadians than ever before, at lower cost.

They are getting the job done and we are working well together.

Parks Canada
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, after being shaken by the budget cuts in 2010, Parks Canada's Quebec Service Centre, which houses archeological and artifact restoration services, is now having to close its doors because of the latest federal budget cuts.

This is disastrous for Quebec's heritage. Not only will highly skilled workers lose their jobs, but thousands of items in Parks Canada's collection, including artifacts dating from the founding of Quebec City, will be sent to Ottawa.

How can the government justify these job losses and the fact that valuable heritage artifacts connected with Quebec's history are being sent to Ontario or elsewhere in Canada?

Parks Canada
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Parks Canada, like all other agencies and departments across government, is doing its part to address deficit reduction. Certainly our government has proven its commitment to the national parks system. In fact, no other government has done more to protect our natural spaces and our history and our historic sites than any government before us. We will continue to do that, and Parks Canada will continue to maintain programs and services across parks and sites, as we have done in the past.

Parks Canada
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

That concludes question period for today.

National Defence
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 5, 2012, by the member for Toronto Centre about statements made by the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and the Associate Minister of National Defence, regarding the proposed acquisition of F-35 fighter jets.

I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and the hon. members for Richmond—Arthabaska, Scarborough—Guildwood, Malpeque, and Saanich—Gulf Islands for their comments.

In raising this question of privilege, the member for Toronto Centre contended that an opinion attributed to two government departments in chapter 2 of the Auditor General's spring 2012 report to Parliament was at variance with statements the Prime Minister and certain ministers have made to the House on the same matter, namely that the government accepts all the recommendations and conclusions in the Auditor General's report. The part of the report that is in question reads as follows:

...National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada disagree with the conclusions set out in paragraphs 2.80 and 2.81.

Based on this, the member for Toronto Centre claimed that the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, as well as the Associate Minister of National Defence had presented “two completely different and contradictory versions of reality“ to the House. Noting that it is a fundamental obligation of the government to tell the House the truth, the member stated that the government seemed to be attempting to deliberately confuse the House.

With respect to the cost projections of the F-35 fighter jets, the hon. member for Toronto Centre also claimed that, if the government does indeed fully accept all of the Auditor General’s conclusions and recommendations, then it is, in fact, agreeing with the Auditor General’s assessment that “some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians” and thus that Parliament had been misled. He went further, alleging that ministers were aware of the facts and thus knew that what they were saying in the House was not true. In reply, the government House leader explained that the departmental responses to the Auditor General’s conclusions were those of the departmental officials, rather than the government itself. He said, “The position of the government is not the position taken by the officials in those departments.”

The charges being levelled against the Prime Minister and three ministers are serious. They go to the very essence of the need for clarity in our proceedings and the need to ensure that information provided to the House by the government is such that the ability of members to carry out their duty of holding the government to account is not diminished or impeded.

The issue of ministerial responsibility and accountability has also been raised by several members. The Chair would like to set aside this aspect of the matter immediately. As all members know, constitutional issues of this nature are not matters for parliamentary procedure, and they are well beyond the range of matters the Speaker can be asked to rule upon.

In reviewing the other arguments being advanced, it would seem that the Chair is being asked to ascertain whether what was said in the House was truthful. However, I must remind members that in such circumstances the Chair's role is clear and indeed very limited.

In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 510 it states:

The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.

There are in addition many relevant rulings from my predecessor Speaker Milliken, and I will quote from several of them. The first, from January 31, 2008, is found at pages 2434 and 2435 of Debates. In it, he stated:

Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. The same holds true with respect to the breadth of a minister’s answer to a question in the House: this is not for the Speaker to determine.

Again on February 26, 2004, at page 1076 of Debates, he confirmed:

As hon. members know, it is not the Speaker's role to adjudicate on matters of fact. This is something on which the House itself can form an opinion during debate.

The member for Toronto Centre himself acknowledged this parliamentary convention when he said, “While it is not for the Speaker to determine what is fact”.

So what then are the parameters of the Speaker’s role when faced with such allegations?

Speaker Milliken summed it up quite succinctly on April 21, 2005, when he said at page 5412 of Debates:

In the present case, I must determine whether the minister's responses in any way impeded members in the performance of their parliamentary duties and whether the remarks were intentionally misleading—

Then, on January 31, 2008, Speaker Milliken again had cause to state, at page 2435 of Debates:

As hon. members know, before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.

It has become accepted practice in this House that the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House: one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House.

It is with this very high threshold in mind that I have carefully reviewed all the interventions on this matter, as well as statements made to the House and replies given during oral questions by the Prime Minister and the various cabinet ministers involved.

With regard to the first argument advanced by the member for Toronto Centre, the Chair has difficulty accepting the view that because ministers are stating that they accept the findings and agree with the conclusions of the Auditor General, which include, in part, a statement written by the Auditor General relating that two departments disagree with him, that this in and of itself is evidence that these same ministers have deliberately misled the House and intended, in doing so, to impede members in the performance of their duties.

What the Chair has before it is a statement by the government House leader that, having taken into account the findings of the Auditor General, the government has decided that it rejects the position previously taken by officials as conveyed in the report. As I pointed out earlier, the minister has stated rather starkly that “the position of the government is not the position taken by the officials in those departments”. Accordingly, with respect to this aspect of the question, the Chair cannot find grounds for a prima facie finding of privilege.

The second argument made by the member for Toronto Centre was that because the government agreed with the Auditor General's assessment that “Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians”, this meant that the House was misled. He further claimed “...for a long time, the members of the executive council knew that what they were saying in the House of Commons was not true”.

In looking at this aspect of the question, the Chair must return to the words of the Auditor General himself, whose report states categorically in paragraph 2.80 that “Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians”. However, let us not forget the very high threshold required before there can be a finding of prima facie privilege. As I said a moment ago, it must be clearly established that in making the statement complained of, the member in question knew it was incorrect and intended to mislead the House in making it.

It is relevant to note, in reference to this latter point, that the Auditor General also says, in the very same paragraph of his report, and here I am repeating a passage the member for Toronto Centre himself read to the House:

Problems relating to development of the F-35 were not fully communicated to decision makers—meaning ministers—and risks presented to decision makers did not reflect the problems the JSF program was experiencing at the time. Full life-cycle costs were understated in the estimates provided to support the government's 2010 decision to buy the F-35.

Obviously, the Auditor General has raised concerns about the information provided. He is pointing out that in his opinion less than complete information was provided to ministers and to members.

On this point, drawing from a somewhat analogous case from 2004 found in Debates at page 1047 in reference to statements contained in a report of the Auditor General indicating that Parliament had been “misinformed” and “bypassed”, Speaker Milliken pointed out that no evidence had been produced to show that “departmental officials deliberately intended to deceive their superiors and so obstruct hon. members in the performance of their duties”.

Not only has the government House leader stated that the government agrees with the Auditor General in this respect, the minister has gone even further stating:

—as a government, as ministers, as a cabinet, we have a right and an expectation that the advice we receive is something on which we can rely. This is something that, in this case, the Auditor General made some findings on. We happen to agree with those findings in the end.

So, ultimately, the Chair has before it two clear statements: the first contained in the report of the Auditor General that some costs were not fully provided to ministers and members; and the second, by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons accepting the conclusions of the Auditor General.

In my view, no clear evidence has been presented beyond this and, thus, the Chair has no choice but to conclude that it cannot find that ministers knew or believed that what they were telling the House was not true or that it was intended to be misleading. In other words, the criteria of demonstrating that ministers knew their statements to the House were incorrect, and that they intended to mislead the House, has not been met.

Accordingly, bound as I am by the very narrow parameters that apply in these situations, and without any evidence that the House was deliberately mislead, I cannot arrive at a finding of prima facie privilege in this case.

The House will be aware, however, that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has, as part of its ongoing mandate, the responsibility to review and report on all reports to the Auditor General. The House knows that the committee is seized of the report that has given rise to this question of privilege and is at present proceeding with its examination of the report.

I remind the House that a determination that a breach of privilege is not prima facie at this time in no way interferes with the right of any hon. member to raise a new question of privilege should the committee arrive at findings that shed new light on this matter, or should other pertinent information become available.

I thank members for their attention.

Treaties
Routine Proceedings

May 7th, 2012 / 3:15 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the treaties entitled, “Amendment to the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund on the Reform of the Executive Board”, adopted by the Board of Governors on 15 December, 2010 and “Protocol Amending the Agreement on Government Procurement”, adopted at Geneva on March 30 by the parties to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement.

An explanatory memorandum is included with each treaty.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

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 38(6) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to six petitions.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114 I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 22nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the committees of the House. If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the 22nd report later today.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology in relation to the study on e-commerce in Canada.

Industry, Science and Technology
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present the NDP's supplementary recommendations with respect to the e-commerce report. The NDP believes that it is high time for the government to introduce a digital strategy that leaves no one behind and that makes it possible for all Canadians to participate in e-commerce no matter where they live or what their income.

We also wish to ensure that SMEs have the necessary knowledge to implement e-commerce and for consumers to be able to use it with ease. Our report also contains recommendations on regulating electronic and mobile payments, and ensuring that transactions are fair and transparent.

We also developed recommendations that take into account the cost of processing payments, which is prohibitive and therefore continues to undermine competitiveness. The last issue addressed by our recommendations is that of security and the digital culture.

Nitrate Reduction Act
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-421, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (nitrate reduction).

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from Davenport for seconding this bill.

Today it is my privilege to table a bill that is the product of a contest entitled “Create Your Canada”, which was designed to engage young people in the political process. I want to thank all of those who entered. I want to thank the judges, who were the staff at the Nanaimo Youth Services Association, who reviewed submissions and selected this bill.

This is an act introduced to maintain nitrate levels below the 2.9 milligram per litre in watercourses to protect fish, amphibians and their habitats. This would be achieved by providing tax incentives to farmers and other landowners who set aside a section of land around watercourses. This land will act as a vegetative buffer, naturally decreasing the amount that enters the water.

As the students noted, we have some of the best water quality in the world. The students wanted to develop measures to both protect the waters and the farmers.

I congratulate Brody Cormons, who is in Ottawa with his mom, Cindy, and the team from NDSS, Seamas Finnerty, Jack Freeman, Emily Jackobson, Naomi Jackson, Mei-San Lamoureux and Chris Tait. These students from Nanaimo—Cowichan decided to be active participants in our political process. I want to thank them very much for their interest and their hard work.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the 22nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier today, be concurred in.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.