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Conservative MP for Regina—Qu'Appelle (Saskatchewan)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 53.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Points of Order May 8th, 2014
I appreciate the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier raising the issue. As she and the government House leader mentioned, the principle of communicating in both official languages is well-established in this chamber. As the government House leader alluded to, there are certain protocols that are adhered to in terms of what the pages will distribute on people's desks. This does not mean that members are not free to distribute things on their own if the goal is to notify members of events or keep them aware of what a member may be doing.
The advantage to the member of providing that in both official languages is that more members will be able to understand and appreciate either the notice of event or the work that he or she is doing. Therefore, the member in question may have failed to do that and may have missed an opportunity to communicate with francophone members of the important work he may have been doing on a particular file.
I do not know that it is something for the Chair to intervene on. If a member does not want to look at the material, he or she is free to not do so. However, I think it is important that members work within the established protocols for distributing materials on people's desks, especially since there can be a lot of them and it can accumulate quite quickly. It would be advantageous to all members in the House to remember that.
Some members speak only one of the official languages. It makes more sense for members to distribute copies in both official languages of their notice of event or whatever they want to communicate. This is an important principle. Members who use only one of the official languages are missing an opportunity to communicate with their colleagues.
I do not want to rule on this, but I think it is an important principle for members.
Points of Order May 7th, 2014
Before addressing the selection and grouping of report stage motions for Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts, I would like to address the point of order raised on May 6, 2014, by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for raising this matter as well as the Government Leader in the House, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and the members for Toronto—Danforth, Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, and Winnipeg North for their comments.
The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised concerns that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs adopted a motion requiring all remaining questions necessary to dispose of its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill to be put by a specified time, effectively creating a deadline for the debate to end. She argued that this motion contradicts an earlier committee order adopted on October 29, 2013, which gives members from non-recognized parties the ability to speak to their suggested amendments to bills before they are voted on by the committee. Because of the imposed deadline, the member's opportunity to speak to her amendments was interfered with, pursuant to the committee order of October 29, 2013. As such, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands suggested that substantive amendments, even if already voted on by the committee, should be selected for consideration at report stage. Several members rose in support of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands' point of order.
The government House leader made two central points in response. First, he reminded the House that at report stage the Speaker's authority to select report stage amendments is limited to determining whether they were presented, or could have been presented at committee. Second, he pointed out that the deadline adopted by the committee affected all members the same way, so it is inaccurate to claim that members from unrecognized parties and independents were particularly penalized in this regard.
In examining the matter, it is useful to remind the House of the power of the Speaker to select amendments at report stage. To place the matter in its proper context, it is helpful to refer to the March 21, 2001, statement by Speaker Milliken, found at page 1991 of the Debates, which establishes the guidelines upon which I rely to discharge my responsibility to select amendments at report stage. Speaker Milliken was clear in his intent when he urged:
…all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work the committee has done…
These principles are also reflected in the interpretive notes attached to Standing Orders 76(5) and 76.1(5). House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, further expands on these principles, explaining at pages 783 and 784 that:
…the Speaker will normally only select motions in amendment that could not have been presented in committee.
I would remind all members that the guidelines for selection specify whether amendments could have been presented in committee and whether they were defeated in committee. In the case of the committee's consideration of Bill C-23, all members of the committee, as well as any interested independent member, were given the opportunity to present their amendments at committee, and a certain number of these amendments were defeated. The hon. member is now asking the Chair, in exercising its powers of selection, to evaluate whether the consideration afforded such amendments in committee was sufficient.
It is evident that the committee chose to handle its consideration of Bill C-23 in a particular way. A motion setting out the process to be followed was proposed, debated, and ultimately agreed to. Just as the opportunity to present and speak to amendments was decided by way of a committee motion, the deadline by which debate would end likewise was decided by a committee motion. Such decisions are the exclusive responsibility of the committee. I do not believe that it is for the Chair to second-guess how committees choose to manage their business.
The hon. member has asked that I select motions for consideration at report stage because she was not able to debate them in committee. In doing so, she referred to a ruling I gave on December 12, 2012, whereby I noted that I would continue to select motions from independent members at report stage until such time as a satisfactory method was found for them to participate in the clause-by-clause consideration at committee. I understand that the hon. member found unsatisfactory the opportunities afforded to her at the procedure and House affairs committee in relation to Bill C-23. Other members of the committee echoed they too were not satisfied that certain amendments were not debated once the committee's self-imposed deadline was reached. That said, it remains clear to me that the committee considered and voted on all amendments she is asking me to select.
In 2006, Speaker Milliken dealt with a somewhat analogous situation in relation to Bill C-24, the Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act.
On November 6, 2006, the hon. member for Burnaby-New Westminster raised a point of order regarding the decision of the Standing Committee on International Trade to limit debate and set a strict deadline by which point debate would end.
Though the situation was different insofar as he was a member of the committee concerned, I believe Speaker Milliken's response, found on page 4756 of Debates, was instructive:
I do think that committees are masters of their own procedure. They are entitled to make provisions in adopting orders in the committee that govern the way they are going to conduct their business...The committee is allowed to make amendments to the bill. The committee has imposed rules on how those amendments will be dealt with in the committee and how members will be able to address the issues raised by the amendments. It seems to me that [it] is entirely within the jurisdiction of the committee and indeed [it] is [a] quite normal exercise of its powers.
When the bill was taken up at report stage, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster submitted a large number of the amendments that had been defeated in committee, and asked the Chair to select them on the basis that they had not been debated in committee.
In a ruling I gave as Acting Speaker on November 21, 2006, found on page 5125 of Debates, I declined to do so, reminding the House that:
...the Chair selects motions which further amend an amendment adopted by a committee, motions which make consequential changes based on an amendment adopted by a committee and motions which delete a clause. Aside from this, the Chair is loath to select motions unless a member makes a compelling argument for selection based on the exceptional significance of the amendment.
As far as the Chair is concerned, in keeping with past precedents, I cannot see how the imposition of a deadline for the end of the debate could constitute a justifiable argument for the selection of amendments at report stage that were already presented and defeated in committee.
Points of Order May 2nd, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Malpeque on April 9, 2014, concerning amendments contained in the Third Report from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-483, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (escorted temporary absence), presented in the House on April 2, 2014.
I would like to thank the member for Malpeque for having raised this important matter. I would also like to thank the government House leader and the House Leader of the Official Opposition for their contributions.
In raising his point of order, the member for Malpeque argued that the amendments adopted by the committee had significantly altered the intent of the bill and that these amendments were not in keeping with the principle of the bill as adopted at second reading. In making his argument, the member referred to the second reading debate, during which the sponsor of the bill had indicated its intent as being to provide the National Parole Board of Canada with the authority to grant or cancel escorted temporary absences for offenders convicted of first or second degree murder. The member asserted that the bill’s main purpose was to remove the ability of institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences for such offenders.
It was the member's contention that the amendments adopted by the committee, specifically in allowing institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences once the Parole Board had granted an initial absence, were contrary to the principle of the bill. The member is asking the Chair to declare the amendments in question null and void and to direct that they no longer form part of the bill. The House Leader of the Official Opposition rose in support of the member's point of order.
In his intervention, the government House leader contended that the amendments in question were both consistent with the principle of the bill and within its scope. Several procedural authorities were cited to bolster this opinion. He also noted that the chair of the standing committee had ruled that the amendments were in order and that this ruling should be respected.
The government House leader pointed out that the intent of the bill was to involve the National Parole Board of Canada in granting the escorted temporary absences, which would, in turn, involve the victims by providing them with an opportunity to participate in the hearings during such a process. The new provision, in his view, meets that requirement.
Before addressing the particulars of this point of order, I would like to remind the House of the Speaker’s authority in dealing with a report on a bill containing inadmissible amendments. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 775:
The admissibility of...amendments...may therefore be challenged on procedural grounds when the House resumes its consideration of the bill at report stage. The admissibility of the amendments is then determined by the Speaker of the House, whether in response to a point of order or on his or her own initiative.
I have examined the third report of the standing committee, as well as Bill C-483, both in its first reading version and in the reprint containing the committee's amendments. The intent of Bill C-483, as stated in the summary to the first reading copy of the bill, is as follows:
This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to limit the authority of the institutional head to authorize the escorted temporary absence of an offender convicted of first or second degree murder.
The amendment to clause 1 of the bill restructures the bill so that the provisions with regard to the National Parole Board of Canada are removed and later inserted in the subsequent new clause 1.1.
New clause 1.1 of the bill provides that the National Parole Board of Canada is involved in the granting of the initial escorted temporary absence. This process would be very similar to the original provisions previously contained in clause 1. The key difference is a new paragraph that the amendment also added, which provides that:
If the Parole Board of Canada authorizes the temporary absence of an inmate under subsection (1) for community service, family contact, including parental responsibilities, or personal development for rehabilitative purposes and the temporary absence is not cancelled because the inmate has breached a condition, the institutional head may authorize that inmate’s subsequent temporary absences with escort...
This would mean that once the authority is granted by the National Parole Board of Canada for an escorted temporary absence, it remains in place unless it is cancelled. The institutional head may grant subsequent escorted temporary absences only if the original authority from the National Parole Board remains in place. If conditions are breached and the absence is cancelled, authority must be sought anew from the National Parole Board of Canada.
This appears to me to limit the authority of the institutional head in this regard. Escorted temporary absences must still be authorized by the National Parole Board of Canada. What appears to be different in this new provision is the frequency with which authorization must be sought. I can see nothing in the bill as amended by the committee which would alter the aims and intent of the bill, namely the limiting of the power of institutional heads to grant escorted temporary absences and providing a role for the National Parole Board in the granting of such absences. Therefore, I find that the amendments adopted by the committee are indeed in keeping with the scope and principle of the bill as adopted at second reading and are, therefore, admissible.
Accordingly, the House may proceed with its study of the bill as reported from the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
I thank the House for its attention.
Points of Order May 1st, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 10, 2014, by the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert, regarding the admissibility of an amendment adopted by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for Bill C-30, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act and to provide for other measures and reported to the House on April 8, 2014.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert for having raised this matter, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for their comments.
The member for Edmonton—St. Albert claimed that an amendment adopted by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in relation to Bill C-30 is inadmissible, because it aims to amend a section of the Canada Transportation Act that is not contained in the bill. He argued that, in so doing, the committee had exceeded its authority and went beyond the scope of the bill that had been referred to it.
On April 28, 2014, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons countered the points made by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. He asserted that the amendment in question was relevant and consistent with the subject matter of the bill, and respected the rules and usual practices of the House. He explained that the amendment aimed to modify the Canada Transportation Act, which is under consideration in Bill C-30. He also reminded the House that the amendment was considered without procedural objection and was adopted by a recorded vote without dissent.
In a Speaker’s ruling delivered on April 28, 1992, which can be found at page 9801 of Debates, Speaker Fraser explained the restrictions faced by committees when considering amendments to a bill. He said:
As the House knows, the Speaker does not intervene on matters upon which committees are competent to take decisions. However, in cases where a committee has exceeded its authority, particularly in relation to bills, the Speaker has been called upon to deal with such matters after a report has been presented to the House.
In relation to the Speaker’s authority with respect to amendments adopted in committee, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 775 states:
The admissibility of those amendments, and of any other amendments made by a committee, may therefore be challenged on procedural grounds when the House resumes its consideration of the bill at report stage. The admissibility of the amendments is then determined by the Speaker of the House, whether in response to a point of order or on his or her own initiative.
I have reviewed the amendments adopted by the committee, and particularly the amendment that gave rise to this point of order, which created the new clause 5.1 in the bill. It amends section 116 of the Canada Transportation Act, a section that was not originally amended by the bill, to provide an additional power to the Canada Transportation Agency.
The parliamentary secretary referred to several procedural authorities to support his arguments. Most notably, and helpfully, he quoted from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 766 on the issues of scope and relevance. However, in the same paragraph that he quoted from, a critical element went unmentioned. At pages 766 to 767, it also reads:
In the case of a bill referred to a committee after second reading, an amendment is inadmissible if it proposes to amend a statute that is not before the committee or a section of the parent Act, unless the latter is specifically amended by a clause of the bill.
This is sometimes referred to as the parent act rule.
The Chair has no difficulty agreeing with the parliamentary secretary that the amendment is relevant to the subject matter of the bill. Indeed, as a fellow Saskatchewan MP who represents a large number of grain producers, I can certainly agree on the importance of this issue. As Speaker, however, not only can I not simply act according to my personal beliefs, I must respect House of Commons precedents which, in the case before us, are only too clear. Relevance is not the only test to be applied in judging admissibility. As the amendment in question reaches back into the parent act to modify a section of the act originally untouched by the bill as passed at second reading, long-standing practice leaves the Chair no choice: the amendment and those consequential to it are inadmissible.
The procedural jurisprudence is clear. I am therefore obliged to rule that the amendment, and the two other consequential amendments adopted by the committee, are null and void and no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House. In addition, I am directing that the bill be reprinted without these amendments.
Let me close by recalling how the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has reminded the House that this bill enjoyed all-party support at second reading and that the specific measures this ruling addresses were unanimously agreed to in committee. In light of that, the Chair would be remiss if I did not, in turn, remind the House that, should there still be a clear will on the part of all parties in the House to effect these changes in the law, there are several very simple and straightforward procedural options available.
I thank honourable members for their attention.
Privilege April 30th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 10, 2014, by the House Leader of the Official Opposition regarding alleged misleading statements made by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform during oral questions.
I would like to thank the House Leader of the Official Opposition for raising this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their comments.
The House Leader of the Official Opposition claimed that the Minister of State for Democratic Reform had deliberately misled the House when, in providing answers during question period on April 2, 2014, with respect to why voter information cards were being removed as possible forms of identification for voters, he stated that, “There are regular reports of people receiving multiple cards and using them to vote multiple times”. The House Leader of the Official Opposition alleged that this was an answer based on reports that the minister of state knew made no such claim as evidenced by the minister altering his response the following day when he spoke only of “[...] cases where people received multiple voter information cards”. This, argued the opposition House leader, constituted ample proof that the minister of state offered misleading statements to the House knowingly and with the intent to mislead members.
The Minister of State for Democratic Reform countered those allegations, citing examples from the Elections Canada website of voters having received multiple voter information cards and voting multiple times. These he offered as proof of the accuracy of his original comments.
In raising this issue, the House Leader of the Official Opposition has again asked the Chair to determine the degree of accuracy or truthfulness of an answer to see if, on the face of it, it constitutes an instance in which the House was misled.
Members must recognize that there are limits as to what the Chair is authorized to do in this respect. As I reminded the House as recently as January 28, 2014, at page 2204 of Debates:
Successive speakers in our House have maintained our tradition of not intervening in respect of answers to questions, and I do not intend to change that.
As Speaker Milliken stated on December 6, 2004, at page 2319 of the House of Commons Debates:
Disagreements about facts and how the facts should be interpreted form the basis of debate in this place.
Thus, it is not sufficient for members to simply make allegations based on their perceptions of what is or is not factually correct. Members must recognize and accept the existence of differences of fact and interpretation, which have always been a part of the normal cut and thrust of debate and question period.
As Speaker Jerome put it so well on June 4, 1975, at page 6431 of Debates:
...a dispute as to facts, a dispute as to opinions and a dispute as to conclusions to be drawn from an allegation of fact is a matter of debate and not a question of privilege.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 145, goes further when it recognizes that:
In the vast majority of cases, the Chair decides that a prima facie case of privilege has not been made.
Given this last citation, the Chair finds itself in the position of having to point out to the House Leader of the Official Opposition that in citing certain cases as precedents, he may have left an erroneous impression about the frequency of such incidents. In fact, most if not all of the precedents referred to were simply disputes as to fact, as is overwhelmingly the case.
The Chair has carefully considered the current case and the usual wisdom prevails here as well. There is no evidence to suggest that this situation is anything more than a dispute as to facts or that the opposition House leader has in any way been impeded in the performance of his duties as a parliamentarian.
Thus, I cannot conclude that this qualifies as a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank honourable members for their attention.
Privilege April 9th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 31, 2014, by the hon. member for Victoria regarding statements made in the House by the Minister of State for Finance during debate on an official opposition motion on December 9, 2013, regarding the New Democratic Party's proposal to phase in increases to basic pension benefits under the Canada and Quebec pension plans.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Victoria for having raised this matter, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition and the hon. member for Winnipeg North for their comments.
The member for Victoria claimed that documents recently obtained through an access to information request had revealed that the Minister of State for Finance had deliberately and repeatedly misled the House by providing misleading numbers and deliberately drawing false conclusions with respect to his party's plan for CPP reform.
The Minister of State for Finance, he suggested, had knowingly cited information about potential job losses from a Department of Finance study, which he linked to the NDP's plan for pension reform, even though the study itself did not do so and even though the finance study was based on a different basic assumption than that of the NDP plan.
As a result, the member for Victoria concluded that the three conditions for establishing that a case of contempt for misleading the House had been met, since the statements by the were misleading, he knew when he made the Minister of State for Finance statements that they were incorrect, and, finally, that he had intended to mislead the House.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that, given the existence of many studies by many organizations on this matter, with the Minister of State for Finance having used numbers prepared by the Department of Finance, the conclusions to be drawn are bound to vary. He also stated that:
The hon. member for Victoria was at pains to point out that the finance department's analysis covered a one-year implementation window, not his seven-year phase-in period. In fact, the Department of Finance uses one year as a simplifying assumption adopted to compare the economic impact of various CPP expansion proposals.
Thus, he felt that this was nothing more than a matter of debate and perspective.
At page 145 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, it is stated:
If the question of privilege involves a disagreement between two (or more) Members as to facts, the Speaker typically rules that such a dispute does not prevent Members from fulfilling their parliamentary functions nor does such a disagreement breach the collective privileges of the House.
The member for Victoria was clear that this was not a matter of whether the studies in question are accurate, but whether the minister of state misrepresented the studies he cited. In fact, he spoke to the importance of accuracy of information brought forward in the House when he stated:
Mr. Speaker, members need to be certain that they are receiving the information they need to adequately represent voters, and they must be able to have confidence in the information provided, especially when it is provided by ministers and ministers of state.
As has been suggested, the information shared in this House does hold extraordinary value as it forms the basis upon which decisions are made in the House. As Speaker Milliken reminded the House on December 6, 2004, on page 2319 of the Debates:
Disagreements about facts and how the facts should be interpreted form the basis of debate in this place.
It is not surprising, then, that the threshold in determining that a member has deliberately misled the House is purposely high. The member for Victoria referred to the three-part test, which I most recently reiterated on March 3, 2014, at page 3430 of the Debates:
...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.
He then argued that the situation at issue fulfills the three conditions that must be met in order for the Chair to find that there is appearance of contempt for deliberately misleading the House.
The Chair has thoroughly reviewed the relevant information provided with this in mind, and it is clear to me that there is no parallel to be drawn between the present case and the cases from February 1, 2002, and March 3, 2014, as has been suggested, nor has the three-part test been met.
Instead, the Chair has before it two interpretations of the issue. On the one hand, the member for Victoria has explained that he believes the statements of the Minister of State for Finance are deliberately misleading because the minister improperly claimed that a Department of Finance study referred to potential job losses due to the NDP pension reform proposal. On the other hand, the parliamentary secretary rejects that characterization, arguing that the minister believes he is justified in linking the finance department report and the NDP pension proposal. Thus, I can only conclude that the Chair is confronted with a matter of debate on a dispute as to the facts in this case.
It should be noted that in my ruling of March 3, 2014, I reminded the House of Speaker Parent’s ruling on October 19, 2000, at page 9247 of the Debates, which states:
Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.
For all these reasons, I cannot conclude that this qualifies as a prima facie question of privilege. I thank hon. members for their attention.
Privilege April 3rd, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 27, 2014, by the member for Avalon, regarding the government’s response to written Question No. 176.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Avalon for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and the hon. Minister of State for their interventions.
In raising the matter, the member for Avalon explained that the government's response to written Question No. 176, tabled on March 6, 2014, regarding projects approved in Avalon by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency constituted a different answer than those previously supplied to similar questions.
The member stated that the accuracy of the information provided was not the issue; rather, he contended that by changing the departmental process by which information was gathered and responses made, the minister was obstructing the release of information and thereby infringing on the member’s ability to carry out his parliamentary functions.
In responding to the member’s claim, the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that, in fact, an answer had been provided, but without the amount of detail or exact information that the member sought. Thus, he felt that the complaint was actually a debate over the adequacy of the response. For his part, the Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency explained in greater detail the response preparation process followed by his department over the past several years in responding to questions from the member for Avalon.
The Chair has been asked on many occasions to weigh in on issues with respect to written questions. Through these questions of privilege, the Chair has had the opportunity to confirm for all members the role of the Chair in this regard, as well as the practices and principles that govern written questions. Some of these bear repeating today.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 522:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.
On February 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken, at page 3234 of Debates, made a similar point:
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.
On April 3, 2012, in my ruling on another question raised with respect to the government’s response to a written question, I reaffirmed this practice.
The Chair understands that the member is not asking for a judgment on the accuracy of the answer provided. However, he is asking the Chair to judge the actions of the minister and the effect these have had on his ability to function as a member of Parliament. To do so would require the Chair to judge not only the content of answers provided, but also to delve into internal departmental processes past and present. Regardless of whether the department's internal processes on written questions have changed or not, it remains beyond the role of the Chair to undertake an investigation into any such matter or to render any judgment on it.
The Chair’s role is limited to assessing the evidence presented in order to determine whether there has been interference in a member’s ability to perform his or her parliamentary duties. In the present circumstances, the Chair can find no evidence to suggest that the member has been unable to perform his duties.
I therefore cannot find grounds to rule this matter to be a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank the House for its attention.
The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is rising.
Privilege March 27th, 2014
I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 24, 2014, by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine regarding recent advertisements issued by the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.
I would like to thank the hon. member for raising the question, as well as the hon. House leader of the official opposition and the hon. members for Beauséjour and for Westmount—Ville-Marie for their interventions on this matter.
On March 24, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine explained that, recently, advertisements were published in local newspapers by the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie inviting readers to meet with him at a public discussion of their concerns. She noted that the invitation covered not only his riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie but also her riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and the riding of Montreal West. The member went on to contend that this invitation was an implicit attempt by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie to present himself as the member of Parliament for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Montreal West, and that the advertisement interfered with her work as the member of Parliament in her riding. Furthermore, she argued that she viewed the advertisement as a means to target future voters, which breaches House rules prohibiting the use of House resources for election purposes.
In response, the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie questioned the member's claim that he had misrepresented himself to others, noting that, in fact, the newspaper in question, the NDG Free Press, is distributed in both ridings and he had very clearly indicated in the advertisement which riding he represents. He also held that, since that since their ridings are adjacent and therefore share common preoccupations, it was entirely acceptable to invite all citizens to discuss common priorities.
As all members know, to declare a matter to be a prima facie case of privilege, it is essential to demonstrate precisely how a member has been prevented from fulfilling his or her parliamentary duties.
O’Brien and Bosc states at page 109 that:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member’s claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
A Speaker Milliken ruling from 2004 has been touted as a relevant precedent in this case. On closer examination, however, members will find that Speaker Milliken's decision in that case hinged on an issue of false misrepresentation.
In this case, however, I have carefully reviewed the advertisement in question and I see that the advertisement makes perfectly clear that the invitation is being issued by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. Indeed, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine herself acknowledged that the member for Westmount Ville-Marie did not actually misrepresent himself as the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
She also stated that:
Working on community relations in one’s own riding and outside of it is certainly part of a political representative’s job.
Members and indeed all Canadians will recognize the truth and significance of that statement, as did the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie when he stated that:
...the interests of our constituents should be our common priority.
The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine will know that it is not at all unusual for members not only to communicate with but also to visit the constituents of their colleagues. For example, just a few weeks ago, her colleague the member for Welland happened to visit the town of Raymore in my own constituency of Regina—Qu'Appelle, where he participated in a town hall meeting with local citizens.
This speaks to members' attempts to work within, beyond and across riding boundaries for the greater good.
It therefore does not seem reasonable to suggest that merely placing an advertisement inviting readers—some of whom happen to live in a different constituency—to meet a member of Parliament is infringing the rules and somehow ought to constitute a matter of privilege.
The Chair could not find any evidence to suggest that any misrepresentations were made, any truths distorted or any potential confusion created in the minds of voters and absent such evidence, I cannot conclude that the ability of the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has somehow been infringed upon
For these reasons, I cannot conclude that this matter constitutes a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank the House for its attention.
Privilege March 3rd, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 25, 2014, by the House leader of the official opposition regarding statements made in the House by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
I would like to thank the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House and the hon. members for Winnipeg North and Kingston and the Islands for their comments.
I also want to acknowledge the statements made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
In raising this matter, the hon. House leader of the official opposition claimed that the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville had deliberately misled the House on February 6, 2014, during debate on Bill C-23, the fair elections act, when he stated that he had witnessed evidence of voter fraud firsthand. He further argued that the matter was not resolved by the statements made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville on February 24 and 25, where he admitted that, contrary to his original claim, he had not actually witnessed what he had originally claimed to have witnessed. In his view, this was not a simple case of someone misspeaking; he argued rather that it was a case where the member deliberately chose to take something he knew not to be true and present it as eyewitness evidence—something so egregious, it constituted contempt.
The hon. leader of the government in the House noted that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville had fulfilled his obligation to correct the record so that no inaccuracies persisted. He suggested that in and of itself this should be sufficient to “...rebut any concern that there has been a contempt”.
This incident highlights the primordial importance of accuracy and truthfulness in our deliberations. All members bear a responsibility, individually and collectively, to select the words they use very carefully and to be ever mindful of the serious consequences that can result when this responsibility is forgotten.
In calling on the Chair to arrive at a finding of prima facie in this case, the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition cited my ruling of May 7, 2012, where at page 7650 of the Debates, I reminded the House that, before finding that a member had deliberately misled the House, three conditions had to be met:
...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 in the statement, the member intended to mislead the house.
Arguing all three of these conditions had been met, he concluded that a breach of privilege had occurred.
It was with these criteria in mind that I undertook a thorough review of all relevant statements made in the House on this matter, focusing particularly, of course, on the statements made by the hon. for Mississauga—Streetsville.
Originally, on February 6, he stated:
I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
Later that day, he added, “I will relate...something I have actually seen.”
It was only on February 24 that he rose to state:
...on February 6...I made a statement...that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed...[fraudulent activity]...and want the record to properly show that.
On February 25, he returned to the House, characterized his February 6 statement as “an error on my part” and apologized “to all Canadians and to all members of the House”, adding that, “It was never my intention, in any way, to mislead the House”. The Chair takes due note that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has admitted that his February 6 statement was not true and that he has apologized for his mistake.
As was noted by the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, we all recognize that there is an enduring practice here of giving members the benefit of the doubt when the accuracy of their statements is challenged. It is often the case that questions of privilege raised on such matters are found to be disputes as to facts rather than prima facie questions of privilege, primarily due to the high threshold of evidence that the House expects.
Speaker Parent stated on page 9247 of Debates on October 19, 2000:
Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.
From what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville and other members have revealed, it is quite clear that the House has been provided with two narratives that are contradictory statements. At the same time, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated that he had no intention of misleading the House.
Speaker Milliken was faced with a similar set of circumstances in February 2002 when the then Minister of National Defence, Art Eggleton, provided contradictory information to the House. In ruling on a question of privilege raised about the contradiction, Speaker Milliken stated on February 1, at page 8581 of Debates:
I am prepared, as I must be, to accept the minister’s assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House.
In keeping with that precedent, I am prepared to accord the same courtesy to the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
At the same time, the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members, who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
Accordingly, in keeping with the precedent cited earlier in which Speaker Milliken indicated that the matter merited “...further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”, I am prepared in this case for the same reason to allow the matter to be put to the House.
I therefore invite the hon. House leader of the official opposition to move the traditional motion at this time.
Privilege March 3rd, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 6, 2014, by the member for Sherbrooke regarding a technical briefing offered by the Minister of State in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the hon. House leader for the official opposition, and the members for Ottawa—Vanier, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and York South—Weston for their interventions.
The member for Sherbrooke explained that, at the technical briefing he attended on Tuesday, February 4 on Bill C-23, the interpretation provided was often inadequate and, as he described it, “[a]t times, there was little or no interpretation or it was of poor quality.” This, he felt, had the effect of preventing parliamentarians from participating fully in subsequent debate on the bill.
The member went on to note that the protection of official languages in the House is fundamental to ensuring equality among all members.
For his part, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform recognized that no professional interpreters were present for the briefing, but claimed that parliamentarians had been provided all information in both official languages, including the presentation, information sheets, press releases, and the bill itself.
As has been pointed out by the member for Sherbrooke, the guarantee of access to and use of both official languages in parliamentary proceedings, in the record-keeping of those proceedings and in legislation is no less than a constitutional requirement—a cornerstone of our parliamentary system. As your Speaker, it remains one of my principal responsibilities to ensure that members are not impeded in their ability to carry out their parliamentary functions and that their rights and privileges are safeguarded.
In the case of official languages, the House has a long-standing practice of ensuring the availability of professional interpreters during House and committee proceedings. Indeed, this practice extends to many other activities, such as caucus meetings, briefings or any number of parliamentary activities and events. In such cases, if interpreters are not present, the activity is delayed until they arrive, or, if they are not available, the activity is rescheduled. Likewise, if a technical problem arises with the equipment, proceedings are suspended until the issue is resolved. Members will be familiar with this as it has sometimes happened here in the House.
To the Chair's knowledge, during government-sponsored activities, similar norms are observed. This is illustrated in a case brought to the attention of the House on October 23, 2013, when a technical briefing on a budget implementation bill was organized but cancelled when it became apparent that no simultaneous interpretation was available. In the Debates for that date, at page 303, the government House leader apologized to the House, and stated that:
...arrangements have been made to reschedule this meeting and to hold it properly in both official languages with that capacity available for everyone. It is certainly the expectation of this government that all business be properly conducted in both official languages.
Clearly, in that case, the government viewed the absence of professional simultaneous interpreters as a serious matter.
When a situation is brought to the Chair’s attention, it must be assessed within the somewhat narrow confines of parliamentary procedure and precedents. In this case, the member for Sherbrooke is asking the Chair to find that problems with interpretation prevented members from being able to access departmental information and that this constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
To arrive at such a conclusion, the Chair must assess whether the member has been obstructed in the discharge of his responsibilities in direct relation to proceedings in Parliament.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition, at page 109, states:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
In addition, at page 111, it indicates that:
A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means. In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect the incident or event had on the Member’s ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary responsibilities.
The question before the Chair is simple: does attending a departmental briefing that was delivered without full interpretation meet that litmus test? Speaker Parent's ruling of October 9, 1997, is very instructive, when he states at page 688 of the Debates:
...activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
Today's case is analogous in that, whether a member is seeking information in order to prepare a question or to participate in debate on a bill, the same fundamental definitions and principles apply. Whether a member who is preparing to participate in proceedings—whether through a technical briefing or some other means—is not participating in the proceedings themselves. While such preparation is no doubt important, it remains ancillary to, rather than part of, Parliament's proceedings.
Furthermore, in this case a government department is responsible for the situation which the member decries. On this point, Speaker Bosley stated on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
My own ruling of February 7, 2013, reached the same conclusion, when at page 13869 of Debates, I stated:
It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
The Chair must respect the strict confines of parliamentary privilege in reaching its decision. Therefore, while it appears that the hon. member for Sherbrooke has a legitimate grievance, the Chair cannot conclude that this situation constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
That being said, this decision does not diminish members’ need for full and equal access to information about legislation nor does it discount the value placed on the provision of such information in both official languages.
While I cannot provide the member for Sherbrooke a privilege-based parliamentary remedy to his grievance, he may wish to explore other means at his disposal by direct discussions with the minister or raising the matter with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I thank the House for its attention.