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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
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.
Points of Order February 10th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on February 6, 2014, by the hon. House leader for the official opposition, regarding the form of 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. House Leader for the Official Opposition for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue for their comments.
The opposition House leader claimed that a significant error had occurred in the tabling and the drafting of the bill, namely that there was contradictory information provided in the French and English versions of the summary of the bill. More specifically, he explained that the notion of exemption, though central to that section of the summary, was absent in the French version.
In claiming that the bill is, therefore, in imperfect form, the House Leader for the Official Opposition invoked House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which states on page 728 that:
In the past, the Speaker has directed that the order for second reading of certain bills be discharged, when it was discovered that they were not in their final form and were therefore not ready to be introduced.
As well, he noted that Standing Order 68(3) states that, “No bill may be introduced either in blank or in an imperfect shape” and asserted that the correction of errors on websites or through reprints of bills does not remedy such cases.
The hon. government House leader countered that the summary of a bill is not, in fact, considered to be a part of a bill and, thus, even grievous errors in the summary would not constitute grounds to find a bill to be in improper form. He cited precedents to demonstrate that previous Speakers had withdrawn bills only when they were not finalized or even drafted, and he noted that, on May 17, 1956, Speaker Beaudoin determined that a bill has to have blanks to be considered to be in imperfect form.
The hon. government House leader also noted that the wording was correct in both the version now before the House and in the version found on the Internet.
In drawing the attention of the House to the inconsistency found in the summary of the advance copy of the bill, the Opposition House Leader has reminded us all of the importance of proper drafting. This is recognized in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, on page 720, which states:
The enactment of a statute by Parliament is the final step in a long process that starts with the proposal, preparation and drafting of a bill. The drafting of a bill is a vital stage in this process—one which challenges the decision makers and drafters to take carefully into account certain constraints, since a failure to abide by these may have negative consequences in relation to the eventual interpretation and application of the law and to the proper functioning of the legislative process.
It is therefore comforting to know that members take their responsibility seriously and scrutinize the bills that come before the House.
Having said that, I must inform the House that in the official version of the bill, the one printed and found on our website, the concept of exemption has not been omitted. In other words, the inconsistency the opposition House leader noticed has been caught and corrected in the version of which the House is officially seized. On that basis, it would seem that the issue has been resolved.
But, I also want to take the time to add that the summary of a bill is not, per se, considered part of a bill. This is quite clear in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, on page 733:
The summary is a comprehensive and usually brief recapitulation of the substance of a bill. It offers “a clear, factual, non-partisan summary of the purpose of the bill and its main provisions”. The purpose of the summary is to contribute to a better understanding of the contents of the bill, of which it is not a part.
In addition, procedural authorities and precedents have provided us with a clear understanding of what constitutes an incomplete bill. O'Brien and Bosc, on page 728, states:
A bill in blank or in an imperfect shape is a bill which has only a title, or the drafting of which has not been completed.
In the present circumstances, the Chair is satisfied that Bill C-23, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to certain acts, is in proper form.
I thank all hon. members for their attention and I trust the references provided will assist members as they proceed to study the bill as it wends its way through the legislative process.
Privilege January 28th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the member for Terrebonne—Blainville on December 9.
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 parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for their interventions on the matter.
The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville has shared with the House her view that a letter widely distributed by Senator Dagenais has unjustly impugned her character and reputation. She also decried what she described as the belittling, sexist, misogynistic, personal, and hostile tone of the letter. Finally, citing House of Commons Procedure and Practice, she called on me to find a prima facie question of privilege on the grounds that this attack on her reputation constituted an impediment to her ability to perform her parliamentary functions.
The Chair is of course cognizant that these sorts of communications, whatever their origin, always have the potential to be hurtful and damaging, but the Chair is also obliged to access such situations in the light of parliamentary precedent.
O'Brien and Bosc, at page 109, contains a passage that illustrates that a direct link must exist between the situation giving rise to the complaint and the ability of members to perform their parliamentary functions:
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 some cases where prima facie privilege has not been found, the rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary functions of the Member were directly involved.
In the current case, the member herself cited a ruling by Speaker Fraser that stresses the importance of the link to the performance of parliamentary functions and distinguishes between statements made in the House and statements made outside. Clearly, the communication which has given rise to this situation did not occur on the floor of the House, and so the normal channels remain available to the member.
Speaker Milliken, in a ruling given in February 2009, said as much. There are, in fact, many Speakers’ rulings in a similar vein, as has been noted.
Without minimizing the seriousness of the complaint or dismissing the response by the hon. member, it is difficult for the Chair to determine, given the nature of what has occurred, that the member is unable to carry out her parliamentary duties as a result. Accordingly, the Chair must conclude that there is no prima facie question of privilege.
That being said, as the member herself has pointed out, she has the same recourse as any other citizen faced with attacks on her reputation or attacks she considers defamatory. That is a decision she will have to make. In the meantime, the Chair is constrained by the many precedents that establish that a direct link with parliamentary functions is essential in such cases.
I thank the House for its attention.
Points of Order January 28th, 2014
On December 9, 2013, the House leader of the official opposition raised various issues relating to question period. Other members from all parties in the House have from time to time voiced similar concerns. In view of the desire for clarification regarding the rules and practices governing the conduct of question period, I undertook to return to the House and I would like to take a few minutes now to address the principles that govern this proceeding.
A good place to start is Chapter 11 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which describes the evolution of question period from an historical perspective. What is immediately apparent is that the practice of members posing oral questions to the government has been a part of our daily proceedings since before Confederation. The longevity and staying power of this practice flows from the very principles that underpin our system of parliamentary democracy.
As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states at page 491:
The right to seek information from the Ministry of the day and the right to hold that Ministry accountable are recognized as two of the fundamental principles of parliamentary government. Members exercise these rights principally by asking questions in the House. The importance of questions within the parliamentary system cannot be overemphasized and the search for or clarification of information through questioning is a vital aspect of the duties undertaken by individual Members.
That is not to say that it is only recently that the conduct of question period has become a topic of public debate. On the contrary, virtually every Speaker at one time or another has had something to say about question period.
In the 1870s, for example, when question period was still in its infancy, Speaker Anglin declared that members ought to confine themselves to seeking information from the government and that it was not appropriate to "proceed to descant on the conduct of the Government" . By the 1940s, Speaker Glen was pointing to the need for questions to be brief and that these "must not be prefaced by any argument". It was always understood, of course, that questions were to relate to matters that were "urgent and important". Other guidelines came and went, depending on the times.
In the early 1960s, Speaker McNaughton unsuccessfully tried to enforce several long-standing unwritten rules regarding the content of questions.
In 1964 a report by a special committee set out certain guidelines respecting questions and went so far as to say that “answers to questions should be as brief as possible, should deal with the matter raised, and should not provoke debate”.
In the 1970s, O'Brien and Bosc tell us at page 495, question period became “an increasingly open forum where questions of every description could be asked”, this despite Speaker Jerome having identified several principles underlying QP and issuing guidelines for its conduct. Many attributed these developments to the advent of the television era, but whatever the cause, this trend to a more freewheeling question period continued unabated by a statement made by Speaker Bosley in the mid-1980s aimed at curtailing the lack of discipline.
A simple review of the section entitled “Principles and Guidelines for Oral Questions”, found at pages 501 to 504 of O'Brien and Bosc, shows just how many of these “guidelines” have fallen into disuse, some fairly recently. Throughout all these changes, one thing remains clear: the Speaker, as the servant of the House, can enforce only those practices and guidelines the House is willing to have enforced. Very often the particular circumstances of the moment dictate how far the Speaker can go without unduly limiting the freedom of speech of members.
But when content causes disorder, the Speaker must step in, all the while acting within the confines of our rules and practices. This is particularly necessary given that this House is one of the few Westminster-style deliberative assemblies where neither the question nor the topic of the question need be submitted beforehand. While this certainly makes for a lively and much watched parliamentary exercise, it does little to make the Speaker’s job any easier.
The main purpose of question period is undoubtedly the opportunity it provides to the legislative branch to seek information from the executive and to hold the government to account. This opportunity is particularly important for the opposition parties. We all recognize that the opposition has the right and, indeed the duty, to question the conduct of the government, and every effort must be made in the enforcement of our rules to safeguard that right. But the government can only be held to account for matters that fall within its administrative responsibilities.
For example, that is why my predecessors and I have frequently ruled out of order questions regarding election expenses. Elections Canada is an independent, non-partisan agency of Parliament. While in a technical sense there is a government minister responsible for Elections Canada—the minister transmits the agency's estimates, for example—the fact remains that the Chief Electoral Officer reports to the House through the Speaker. As Speaker Milliken noted in a ruling given on October 22, 2007, at page 209 of Debates, it is difficult to ask questions about Elections Canada to the government unless there is a link to the administrative responsibilities of the government—a link such as questions about changes to the law respecting Elections Canada, for example.
It is for similar reasons that questions that concern internal party matters or party expenses or that refer to proceedings in the Senate or the actions of senators, or indeed of other members, risk being ruled out of order. On the latter point, as Speaker Milliken stated in a ruling on June 14, 2010, found in Debates at page 3778, “...the use of [...] preambles to questions to attack other members does not provide those targeted with an opportunity to respond or deal directly with such attacks.” Thus, unless a link to the administrative responsibilities of the government can be established early in the question to justify them, such questions can be and indeed have been ruled out of order by successive Speakers. I discovered this myself once, when in my early days in the opposition a question of mine was ruled out of order by Speaker Milliken.
As always, however, the Speaker faces many challenges in applying the rules the House has set out. Any time a speaker rules a question out of order, the member concerned will claim a legitimate reason for asking it: will claim that it is in the public interest, will claim it is something that Canadians have a right to know, will claim that there is no longer a distinction between acting as party leader and leading the party in the House, and the list goes on.
But the Speaker must adhere to the longstanding principle that question period is intended to hold the government to account. I have to look at whether the matter concerns a government department, or a minister who is exercising ministerial functions, as a minister of the Crown, and not just as a political figure or as a member of a political party. The Speaker must ask whether the question was actually touching upon those types of government responsibilities, or whether it was about elections or party finances or some other subject unrelated to the actual administrative responsibilities of the government.
These principles apply to everyone who gets an opportunity to pose questions in question period, including backbench members of the governing party. Indeed, because the fundamental purpose of question period is to provide a forum for the legislative branch to hold the executive to account, it is meant to be an opportunity—for those government members fortunate enough to get the floor—to ask probing questions of the government on matters that fall within its administrative responsibilities. That said, it is not surprising to hear what might be called “friendly” questions from these members, since they are, after all, supporters of the government.
However, lately we have witnessed a growing trend: we hear preambles to questions that go on at some length to criticize the position, statements, or actions of other parties, members from other parties, and in some cases even private citizens before concluding with a brief question about the government's policies.
What we have, therefore, is an example of a hybrid question, one in which the preamble is on a subject that has nothing to do with the administrative responsibility of the government but which concludes in the final five or ten seconds with a query that in a technical sense manages to relate to the government's administrative responsibilities.
The House needs to ask itself if, taken as a whole, such a question—a lengthy preamble and a desultory query—can reasonably be assumed by a listener to respect the principles that govern question period. I would submit that it is because this formulation is actually about other parties and their positions, not about the government, that I have had to rule such questions out of order from time to time.
To complicate matters, as I said on December 1, 2011, (Debates, p. 3875), the Speaker is called upon to make decisions about the admissibility of questions on the fly. In that regard, since members have very little time to pose their questions and the Chair has even less time to make decisions about their admissibility, it would be helpful if the link to the administrative responsibility of the government were made as quickly as possible.
Accordingly, these kinds of questions will continue to risk being ruled out of order and members should take care to establish the link to government responsibility as quickly as possible.
With this approach in mind, let me turn now to the issue of answers to questions.
There has been much discussion recently about the nature of answers during question period, with calls for the Speaker to somehow intervene, citing practices in other countries.
It is true that there may be slight differences in the way question period is managed elsewhere due to each country's unique set of traditions, but it is equally without doubt a widespread practice and tradition in Westminster-style parliament that the Chair does not judge the quality or relevance of answers.
For instance, it states on page 565 in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, third edition, that:
While Ministers are required to “address” the question asked in their replies, whether the reply provided actually “answers” the question asked is a subjective judgment. It is no part of the Speaker's role to make such a judgment.
In South Africa, a similar practice prevails and, according to the National Assembly Guide to Procedure, 2004, on page 211, “the Chair regulates the proceedings in the House, (but) it is not possible for the Chair to dictate to Ministers how they should reply to questions”.
In the United Kingdom, Erskine May's Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 24th edition, at page 356 states:
The Speaker's responsibility in regard to questions is limited to their compliance with the rules of the House. Responsibility in other respects rests with the Member who proposes to ask the question, and responsibility for answers rests with Ministers.
Each parliament has its own traditions. 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. For me to deviate from this long-standing practice would require an invitation from the House, probably stemming from a review of our rules by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Given the widespread concern and commentary about question period, all members may want to consider how the House can improve things so that observers can at least agree that question period presents an exchange of views and provides some information. The onus is on all members to raise the quality of both questions and answers.
While the framework, mechanisms, and procedures associated with question period have evolved with time, its raison d'être and core principles have remained intact. All members, both in government and in opposition, need to ask themselves: Is question period a forum that Canadians can look at and conclude that it constitutes a proper use of members' time?
The principle of responsible government is that the government has to provide an accounting for where the money goes and to provide reasons for why decisions are made. In the Chair’s view, it takes a partnership between the opposition and the government to demonstrate a willingness to elevate the tone, elevate the substance, and make sure that question period is being used to do the job that we were elected to do, which is to represent our constituents, advance ideas, and hold the government to account.
In conclusion, I will continue to rule questions out of order that do not establish a direct link to the administrative responsibilities of the government. In the same sense, so-called hybrid questions will also continue to risk being ruled out of order when this link is not quickly demonstrated. Members should take care when formulating their questions and establish this link as soon as possible in posing their questions to ensure that the Chair does not rule what may be a legitimate question out of order.
The onus is on all members to raise the quality of questions and answers during question period. The Chair notes with interest that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been instructed to undertake a review of the Standing Orders. As the servant to the House, the Chair will endeavour to implement any changes to the Standing Orders or to question period that the House chooses to adopt.
I thank all hon. members for their attention to this important matter.
Privilege October 30th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 17, 2013 by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay regarding alleged misleading statements made by the Prime Minister during oral questions on June 5, 2013.
I would like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for raising this matter, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the member for Winnipeg North, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska and the member for Avalon for their comments.
In raising this question of privilege, the member for Timmins—James Bay claimed that answers given by the Prime Minister during question period on June 5 with respect to a financial transaction between his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy completely contradicted information later revealed in July through a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation.
The hon. member focused on the Prime Minister's June 5 assertion to this House that decisions regarding the transaction
....were not communicated to me or to members of my office.
He concluded that the discrepancy meant either that staff in the Prime Minister's office withheld information from him and knowingly allowed him to respond to questions in the House with false information, even perhaps without his knowledge, or that the Prime Minister chose to ignore the truth.
This, he said, was evidence enough for a finding by the Speaker that a prima facie breach of privilege had occurred. He likened the present situation to one faced by Speaker Jerome on December 6, 1978 after it had been ascertained that a former RCMP commissioner had deliberately misled a minister, who then provided the incorrect information to a member, thus impeding him in the performance of his duties.
The member for Timmins—James Bay then referred to my ruling of May 7, 2012, in which I reiterated the three conditions that need to be established when alleging that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House. In doing so, he acknowledged that only one of the three conditions had been met, namely that the statement in question was known to be misleading. He then stated that further study was required in order to determine whether the other two conditions had been met, namely whether the Prime Minister knew at the time that what he told the House was incorrect, and that in making the remarks the Prime Minister intended to mislead the House.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons countered that the Prime Minister had, in fact, indicated both inside and outside the House that he had answered questions based on the information he had at the time. The government House leader then recalled the long-standing practice in this House of accepting the word of a member.
Furthermore, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the ruling of Speaker Jerome, as cited by the member for Timmins—James Bay was not instructive in the present case as that finding of prima facie privilege was firmly based on an admission by an official that he had deliberately misled a minister. He concluded that, since no answers provided in the House were known at the time to be incorrect, there was no intention on the part of the Prime Minister to mislead the House.
The importance of this issue for members individually and collectively cannot be overstated, as it speaks to the very privileges upon which our parliamentary system is founded. Members frequently have risen in this House to defend their need, and indeed their right, to be provided with accurate and truthful information in order to fulfill their parliamentary obligations, and Speakers have frequently underscored the need for clarity and accuracy as well.
That being said, many of my predecessors in the chair have reminded the House that in most instances, claims related to disputed facts are not grounds for prima facie findings of privilege.
As Speaker Fraser indicated on December 4, 1986, at page 1792 of Debates:
Differences of opinion with respect to fact and details are not infrequent in the House and do not necessarily constitute a breach of privilege.
As stated in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 510:
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.
More recently, Speaker Milliken expanded on this and the role of the Chair in such instances when on January 31, 2008, at page 2435 of House of Commons Debates, 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.
While the Speaker might not be tasked with assessing the content of replies with respect to the their accuracy or appropriateness, the Chair does, however, have an important if strictly limited role when it is alleged that the House has been misled. In this particular instance, the matter centres on allegations of the House being deliberately misled, so certain precedents and practices are germane to the case. As the member for Timmins—James Bay and the government House leader have both indicated, my ruling of May 7, 2012, is of particular relevance. At that time, at page 7650 of the Debates, I stated:
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.
Maingot's second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, at page 234, lends further support to this assertion, indicating that:
…before the House will be permitted by the Speaker to embark on a debate in such circumstances [it must be demonstrated] that a Member of the House of Commons was intentionally misled or an admission of facts that leads naturally to the conclusion that a Member was intentionally misled, and a direct relationship between the misleading information and a proceeding in Parliament, is necessary.
Coupled with this is the time-honoured tradition of accepting a member's word in the House. Many of my predecessors have reiterated that principle over the years, just as Speaker Sauvé did on May 27, 1982, when she explained, at page 17823 of Debates, that:
I cannot attach greater credibility to the word of one hon. member over another. The Speaker cannot interpret statements made by hon. members which must be accepted at face value. The hon. member [...] claims he had been misled. I accept that. He claims he has been deliberately misled. I accept that too, but as an assertion, not as a fact upon which I could find privilege; because the minister, who has the same right to have his word accepted in this House, says there is no attempt to mislead, deliberately or otherwise, and I accept that, too.
To uphold these conditions and practices, as the Chair must do, the threshold of proof is high. It should be no surprise then that in the rare instances when prima facie has been found, little or no doubt was left as to the validity of the claim made. The ruling of December 6, 1978, in which Speaker Jerome found that a prima facie contempt of the House existed, rested on the official's own admission that the minister had been deliberately misled, and it was on that basis that Speaker Jerome stated in the Journals of December 6, 1978, at page 1857:
I can interpret that testimony in no other way than meaning that a deliberate attempt was made to obstruct the member in the performance of his duties and, consequently, to obstruct the House itself.
This precedent stands in contrast to most others. Among them, and perhaps more analogous to the issue now before the House, is Speaker Milliken's ruling of February 25, 2004, where he concluded at page 1047 of House of Commons Debates that there was no prima facie breach of privilege since:
...no evidence has been brought forth to show that…department officials deliberately intended to deceive their superiors and so obstruct hon. members in the performance of their duties.
The Chair has carefully reviewed the evidence brought forward, as well as what was said in the House, searching for evidence that the conditions laid out in my ruling of May 2012, and in Speaker Milliken's ruling of February 2011 that informed it, have been met. The Chair has not found that evidence. The member for Timmins—James Bay himself doubted that all enumerated conditions for finding a prima facie privilege have materialized when he conceded:
The other two elements, however, do need to be clarified, and this is the reason I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to find that there is a prima facie case so that the issue could be studied at greater depth by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
He cast further doubt when he asked, “Did the Prime Minister know at the time that the statements he gave to the House were misleading?” and “Did the Prime Minister intend to mislead the House?”
By his own admission, neither question can be answered with certainty.
These same doubts were echoed by the House Leader of the Official Opposition and the member for Winnipeg North. That the Prime Minister has acknowledged that he did not himself have full information when he provided an answer during question period last June 5 does not lead the Chair to conclude that the two missing conditions have been met. Nor is it appropriate for the Chair to speculate on whether the Prime Minister ought to have known of Mr. Wright's actions or been told of them by the individuals in his office who are now said to have known about them.
The Chair understands that members have strong views on both sides of this very public and evolving issue, but I must remind the House that the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one.
Based on accepted practices, precedents and usages, as well as a thorough scouring of the evidence presented and statements made in the House, the Chair cannot, in the current circumstances, find evidence that the Prime Minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that he deliberately provided incorrect information, that he believed his statements to be misleading or that he intended them to be misleading.
Accordingly, the Chair can find no valid procedural grounds for finding a prima facie case of privilege at this time.
I thank honourable members for their attention.
Point of Order October 17th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition regarding Government Motion No. 2 that is standing on the order paper in the name of the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
The opposition House leader argued that the motion, in calling for the House to reinstate government bills and re-adopt several orders of reference, with or without changes, from the previous session, and in calling for the adoption of new orders of reference with regard to the management of business in the current session, both in the House and in committee, constitutes a series of distinct proposals that require separate debates and separate votes. He then asked the Chair to divide the motion to allow for this.
For his part, the government House leader stated that in his view the motion represented a balanced attempt to ensure that everyone's business from the last session could be preserved. But he stressed that the motion's broad purpose was also to more generally arrange business in the House and its committees this autumn.
As has been alluded to, this is not the first time the House is confronted with a situation of this kind.
O’Brien and Bosc, at pages 562-3, explains that:
When a complicated motion comes before the House (for example, a motion containing two or more parts each capable of standing on its own), the Speaker has the authority to modify it in order to facilitate decision-making in the House. When any member objects to a motion containing two or more distinct propositions, he or she may request that the motion be divided and that each proposition be debated and voted on separately. The final decision, however, rests with the Chair.
While previous speakers have been faced with similar requests to divide motions, they have seldom done so, something Speaker Milliken, on October 4, 2002, at page 299 of Debates, remarked upon when he stated that “the Chair must exercise every caution before intervening in the deliberations of the House”. In that instance, Speaker Milliken did in fact determine that a motion contained three different proposals. In that case, the broad purpose of the motion was the “resumption and continuation of the business of the House begun in the previous Session of Parliament”. Accordingly, Speaker Milliken took the view that the first two proposals, which dealt with the reinstatement of business from a previous session, should be debated together but each get a separate vote. The third proposal, which concerned travel by the Standing Committee on Finance and was not found to be “strictly speaking, a matter of reinstating unfinished business”, became a separate motion. In making this decision to allow a separate debate, Speaker Milliken also stated, “Our usual practice is to adopt travel motions on a case-by-case basis.”
While government Motion No. 2 is similar to the 2002 motion, it is not identical. In adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair must always be mindful to approach each new case with a fresh eye, taking into account the particular circumstances of the situation at hand. Often, there is little in the way of guidance for the speaker and a strict compliance with precedent is not always appropriate.
In this case, the Chair is acutely aware, as is stated at page 562 of O’Brien and Bosc, that to divide a motion is rare and that “only in exceptional circumstances should the Chair make this decision on its own initiative.”
At the same time, the Chair has listened very carefully to the interventions made on the nature of government Motion No. 2 and on the particular parts of it that have given rise to objections on the part of the opposition House leader. I have noted that he reserved his strongest objections for part (a) of the motion, which deals with the reinstatement of government bills, and indeed indicated that his party “supports” the other aspects of the motion.
In view of this unique set of circumstances, the Chair does not feel the very high threshold required for dividing the motion has been met and accordingly, I will allow the motion to be debated as a whole. However, the Chair understands the arguments raised by the opposition House leader as they relate to the very broad blanket provisions contained in part (a) of the motion. In that regard, I am directing that a separate vote be held on that part of government Motion No. 2. In proceeding in this manner, I trust that members will have satisfactory and practical means to express their views through debate, amendment and voting on the propositions contained in government Motion No. 2.
I thank all members for their attention.
I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by nine minutes.
The Chair has notice of a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.