- On the Parliament site
Last in Parliament September 2008, as Conservative MP for Edmonton—Sherwood Park (Alberta)
Won his last election, in 2006, with 63.97% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Privilege June 20th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, the chair at this point made a decision that, even though I was going to speak, and I do not know how he knew what I was going to say and say something that he did not like, he was going to shut me off. He said and, again, I quote:
--for the third time, I have to tell you that you are discussing matters which are not relevant to the motion.
All I was doing was trying to get him to give me the privilege of being able to speak and to give me an assurance that he would not do to me what he did to the others before. Mr. Speaker, you can read the record from that committee to find out what I am talking about.
The chair said I was discussing matters which were not relevant to the motion and he gave another member the floor. I was not permitted to address the issue. I was not permitted to actually say anything. I do not know how he knew that what I was going to say was not going to be relevant. He just assumed that, I presume, because I happen to be a member of the governing party, which is in a minority in numbers in this place. He decided that he would just rule. Therefore, as a result of that, I was not able to address the issues.
I also want to point out to you, Mr. Speaker, and this is very important, that the chair of the committee took it upon himself to shut down debate in the committee. He was not able to do this within the rules. He did it outside the rules because, as you have said numerous times and until the rules are changed, the rules are that committees are masters of their own proceedings.
Committees have a lot of latitude with respect to their procedures, but I submit, not with respect to their mandates. They do not have that and so the motion that we are talking about here, of course in committee, directly impedes that mandate.
Notwithstanding that in the committee there had never been a motion that limited the length of speeches, he took it upon himself, without such a motion, to limit the length of speeches.
That is a direct violation of my rights, my ability as a member of Parliament, to speak in committee or in the House. I would like to point out that in this particular committee no routine motion has ever been put which limited the number of speakers or length of speeches on these committees.
I have observed that whenever we are debating an issue here in the House, every time somebody is finished with their intervention, the Speaker says, “Resuming debate”. If no one stands, the Speaker usually says, “Resuming debate”, and if someone stands up, and the time limit in the House has not yet been reached, then the member has the freedom to speak.
The chair of this committee does not even follow those elementary procedures of a democratic debate. He just simply says, “Time's up”. Even though it is not part of my privilege, although it leads into it, the reason that I am raising this is because now my ability to bring my thoughts to the committee have in fact been ended.
Yesterday, without any further notice, he just said he was calling the vote and even though other members were saying, “debate”, he refused to recognize them. He does not have the right to do that.
As I said, even in this House, the Speaker says, “Resuming debate”, and if someone rises they are given the opportunity to debate. It is only when no one rises that the Speaker asks, “Is the House ready for the question?”
The chair of this committee failed to do that. He did not ask if there was any further debate. In fact, there were a number of members who still wanted to speak. They were not given the right to speak because he shut it off and conducted the vote, which he knew would go that way.
It is not an impartial chair and it is one that has substantially reduced the right and the privileges of members to conduct a free and open debate.
I would like to say that, because the motion had never been carried, the chair is totally out of order. I would like to appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that I have a prima facie case of breach of privileges. If you so rule, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion, so that it would go to the procedure and house affairs committee where these things go.
Privilege June 20th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, after the good wishes expressed by several of the members to each other and to all, I would like to reflect that and do the same for all of my colleagues. Meanwhile, I do need to continue with the grievance that I have.
Before I read into the record some of the actual words that occurred at committee, I want to make it very clear that my question of privilege this morning has to do with my freedom of speech, my ability to express myself on issues.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a substitute member on the ethics committee last Tuesday when this particular incident happened.
I want to point out to you, Mr. Speaker, on page 71 of Marleau and Montpetit, there are these words:
By far, the most important right accorded to Members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings. It has been described as:
...a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.
Further to this point, I would refer you to a ruling by Speaker Fraser on May 5, 1987:
The privileges of a member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.
My contention is that the actions of the chair impeded me from debating the motion and from convincing my colleagues on the committee why this motion should be out of order. The chair's obstructionist tactics caused the committee to descend into disorder to the point where I was not able to participate in the debate.
I believe it is important, in that context, to point out that when the chair finally gave me the floor to address the issue that was before the committee, I got to speak four words before he interrupted me, four words. What were those offensive words that caused him to interrupt me? When he said I had the floor, I said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman”, four words, and then he interrupted me. He was on such a roll of interrupting members who were speaking that it just seemed natural for him, when I opened my mouth, to interrupt me. Admittedly, what he said was nothing to do with my debate. It was a procedural thing, but he interrupted me after that. Then he said again, “You have the floor, if you wish”. Well, I guess I wished, because I had asked to be on the speaking list and he had recognized me. Then I said again, “Thank you”.
It is important in the context of this debate to hear what I said at the committee. That is why I want this in the parliamentary record. This is a quotation from the record of the committee of what I said:
Mr. Chair, you know that over the years you and I have worked together in many different venues, different committees and different functions. I would like to say that for the most part in those years I have had a good, healthy respect for you. Before I go into the topic of the debate today, I'd like to make a little comment here.
Mr. Speaker, I then went on to say:
I've observed that I've been here as long as you have and some of the other members around the table that in the House the Speaker gives wide latitude on giving individual members the freedom to make their speeches without interruption. It's really very wide. Even if someone stands up on relevance on a point of order, almost always the Speaker returns it to the member speaking and just gives him a little chastisement but lets him make his speech--
The reason I said that was that I observed that the chair was always interrupting members when they spoke. I wanted him to give me some kind of commitment that I would be able to make my point without being interrupted and cut off. That is why I was doing this. Interestingly, at that point he cut me off. All I was asking was that I would not be cut off and with that, he did.
There is a switcher in committees who turns the mics on and off. The switcher usually sits just behind the chair. In this particular instance that was also the case. The chairman of the committee turned around and motioned the switcher to switch my mic off. All he had to do was interrupt me. I am used to stopping. In fact, I have this cute little saying “don't talk while I'm interrupting” and it is totally meant in fun. When I was young I was taught that when someone else is speaking, one does not interrupt. All the chair had to do was say, “order” or whatever, and I would have stopped speaking, as I did earlier today when we approached members' statements and Mr. Speaker, you said you were going to cut my mic off right when I was talking about that. It was a bit of a humorous moment. The chair interrupted me and gave me quite a long lecture, actually longer than the speech that I had made at that point. He once again returned the floor to me at which time I said two sentences before my mic was clicked off once again. This is a direct quotation of what I said:
I have a couple of things, Mr. Chairman, that I would really like to have on the record. This means that I'm asking you, please, to not shut off my mic while I'm speaking. As an MP, who is--
I was going to go on to say, “I have the privilege of expressing myself”. I wanted to cut off his tendency to not allow anybody to speak. I was appealing for that and I wanted to get even just the warmest, fuzziest commitment from the chair of the committee that he would allow me to speak. He could have even gone on to say that as long as I was in order and all that, which I already know, but he did not say that. Instead, he cut me off and said “Mr. Epp, order”. I stopped talking because he was now going to speak. Then he gave another lecture about how he is the master of the committee. I want to quote a bit from that. He said:
I encourage you, this is the second time now, and this is giving latitude just like the Speaker does. I want you now to move to your contribution to the debate on these motions and whether it will assist members in deciding whether any or all of these motions or amendments should be adopted.
I had a very important point that I wanted to make. When we are in committee, or even in the House, what is the purpose of our words? I sometimes kid with my grandkids that grandpa works in the word factory, that every day we get a quota and we are not allowed to go home until we have met our quota. It is just a bit of humour with my grandkids. We use words in this place. I understand in my limited knowledge of the French language that “parler” means “to speak” and this is Parliament. We are here to speak. We are here to debate. We are here to persuade with our words. That is the purpose of this place. As the Standing Orders say, and as the comments which I quoted earlier say, this is a fundamental privilege.
When we have an issue before the House on which we want to persuade someone, it is also important that votes be conducted fairly. I wanted to get this on the record. I was interrupted. Then I said, “I want to point out that when we come to take a vote on this motion then the chair, I believe, should originally be impartial”. The reason I use the word “original” is if there is a tie vote, then of course the chair of the committee has to break the tie just as the Speaker does here. I wanted an assurance that it was understood and I wanted this on the record.
What the chair did on this particular occasion was, because there was a motion on the floor and there were not enough Liberal committee members present, the chair did not call the meeting to order on time. In fact, he delayed the meeting for seven minutes until Liberal members dragged themselves in there. He finally called the committee to order.
The chair was not impartial at the beginning of the meeting. He should have started the meeting on time as was scheduled, but he chose not to do so. There was quorum. We had sufficient members. The obvious reason was that the chair wanted to wait until there were enough members present to win the vote the way he wanted before he was called upon to break a tie. I was going to point that out.
I also want to point out that later on one of the Liberal members left. Members of the Conservative Party are here after all to persuade Parliament and to make sure that the vote on this motion does not carry because it is clearly out of order and beyond the mandate of this committee. We have to persuade, but also when the vote is conducted, it has to be a fair vote.
We want that vote to be defeated on high principle, that the committee is out of order in actually even addressing this issue. It is beyond its mandate. Parliament has not given it that mandate. The House of Commons has not given it that mandate. Members have taken it on themselves.
Through the tyranny of the majority on the committee, minority parties are in majority there, it has moved a motion that is out of order and you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that it cannot be considered by you until the committee presents its report, but that is what we find offensive. What they are trying to do with this motion, that is out of order, is trying to achieve a goal that they could not do if it were ever ruled in advance. That is the thing that is very--
Privilege June 20th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, I have been around here as long as some of the older members. In fact, of all the members of Parliament, I have some pride in stating there are only now four members of Parliament who are older than I am, although some have been here longer because they started at a much younger age.
In all my years here I have gained a bit of a reputation of being a substitute. I often go into different committees for different people and so I have observed many different committees working over the years. In fact, I am so frequently at other committees that I got a permanent nameplate made for myself so they do not have to hand write one.
I have seen different chairs operating over the years and it has been a real privilege to observe that. But occasionally, we see things that do not seem quite up to par.
I remember, in an earlier Parliament, where a chair obviously breached a fundamental rule of democracy. That was an occasion, about 10 or 12 years ago, where the chair, when we were going through a bill clause by clause, asked, “Shall clause, whatever the number was, pass?” Nobody said anything except me. I said, “No”. He said, “Carried”.
So, I raised a question of privilege or point of order in the House, and I pointed that out because chairs of committees are not infallible. When it comes to something like that, I think that they have to be challenged. I did that and there again, you said, Mr. Speaker, that the committee was the master of its own fate. That is fine, but that is a fundamental violation of democracy.
I have another one that happened last Tuesday when I was, as usual, substituting in this committee for one of my members who had other duties. When I was in the seat as a substitute, I allowed the regular members of the committee to carry the debate because I am not one who usually intrudes into other people's work. I was there to help and to serve. I put my name on the speaker's list, but I dutifully awaited my turn.
Observing the way the committee meeting was going, I saw the chair, over and over again, cut off the mike. He turned around in his chair to signal the switcher to turn off the mike. My colleagues were busily making points with respect to the issue that was being debated and when the chair, and I will say this gently, heard things that he did not like, he cut them off. It was not that they were out of order or that they were repeating, but he cut them off.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think that it is important for you to hear my first intervention. I am going to read this into the record of the House, even though it is from the committee, because he finally gave me the floor, and then I--
Points of Order June 20th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, before I begin my question of privilege, I would like clarification based on the ruling that you just made. Is it then now going to be acceptable for a committee, within its own power, to establish its own mandate, its own terms of reference? I was of the opinion that it was done by the House of Commons and that individual committees do not have this power. It seems to me that your ruling might bring us to that, so I would like clarification on that.
Petitions June 19th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, once again I have a whole handful of petitions. These are in support of Bill C-484, the unborn victims of crime act.
The 1,523 people who signed this particular group of petitions are pretty well all from Markham and Scarborough. They support the legislation. They want Parliament to enact legislation that recognizes it is just wrong to force upon a pregnant woman the death or injury of her unborn child and that this is a violation of a woman's right to protect and give life to her child.
The petitioners urge that the legislation be passed. Of course I am delighted to present their petition in the House on their behalf.
Petitions June 16th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present again over 1,100 new names on a petition in support of the unborn victims of crime act.
These signatures come from right across the country and just a short sample: Fort St. John, British Columbia; Clarenville, Newfoundland and Labrador; Thunder Bay; and Ste-Agathe, Quebec.
These petitioners recognize that to force upon a woman the termination of her pregnancy through the death of her unborn child is the most grievous of violations of her reproductive freedoms.
Canada Elections Act June 16th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as the member spoke and one thing that struck me was the apparent hypocrisy of his crying against the way that political parties collect money.
I personally believe that all money contributed to political parties should be from individuals who give of their own free accord.
I guess I should not say this because it is a dreadful thing to say publicly, but I have contributed a lot of money to the NDP, which I am sure the member is happy about, but I did so under coercion. I always had a job where I had compulsory union membership and the unions always supported the NDP with my money. I had no say in it.
I remember one time challenging one of the union bosses on this. I asked him why I had to contribute money to a political party that I was campaigning against. He said that it had been done democratically, that a convention was held and that through a vote it was decided that $100,000 would be given to the provincial NDP and $150,000 to the federal NDP. The union bosses just had a convention among themselves and decided that was how they would spend my money.
I would like the member's reaction to that particular scene.
Canadian Multiculturalism Act June 16th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, perhaps we have seen the clock go faster than usual and I am sure that you would find unanimous consent to see it as 12 o'clock.
Canada Elections Act June 13th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, I have one very brief question. The member says he is against it. Is he actually going to show up and vote against it?
Petitions June 13th, 2008
Mr. Speaker, I have another 598 signatures of petitioners mostly from Quebec.
The petitioners trust that the wording of the bill is accurate when it says that it specifically does not apply to elective abortion and that it is meant totally and entirely to protect a pregnant woman and the child that she was wants from an assailant, a third party, who would come with a knife or a gun and would attack her and take away both her choice and the life of the child she wants.
The petitioners are pleading with Parliament to pass Bill C-484.