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Track John

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is tax.

Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest (New Brunswick)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 56.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Privilege March 28th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, I wish to join the debate on the matter raised by the member of Parliament for Langley regarding speaking rights in the House. I am going to turn to a number of reference documents, so if the House will bear with me, I will try not to sound or look too much like a professor flipping through volumes quickly.

From O'Brien and Bosc, we begin with:

Members are expected to show respect for one another and for viewpoints differing from their own; offensive or rude behaviour or language is not tolerated. Emotions are to be expressed verbally rather than acted out; opinions are to be expressed with civility and freely, without fear of punishment or reprisal. Freedom of speech is one of the most important privileges enjoyed by Members of Parliament.

I will turn now to some of these privileges.

O'Brien and Bosc, on page 60, states:

The classic definition of parliamentary privilege is found in Erskine May's Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament:

Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively...and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals.

....The rights and immunities accorded to Members individually are generally categorized under the following headings:

The first is freedom of speech.

Page 212 reads:

Members sit in the House of Commons to serve as representatives of the people who have elected them to that office.....

The member of parliament represents his constituency through service in the House of Commons.

Later we find:

The privileges of the Commons are designed to safeguard the rights of each and every elector. For example, the privilege of freedom of speech is secured to Members not for their personal benefit, but to enable them to discharge their functions of representing their constituents without fear

It goes on.

Privilege essentially belongs to the House as a whole; individual Members cannot claim privilege insofar as any denial of their rights, or threat made to them, would impede the functioning of the House.

I would put to the House that this is where we are.

I would like to turn next to a report that really is the genesis of the S. O. 31, or the member's statement. It is the third report of the special committee that dates back to 1982. There is one paragraph I will draw your attention to, sir, and I quote it, although I will jump through it and not read the whole thing. This is effectively what it says:

Under the new recommended procedure the 15 minutes preceding the question period will be reserved for raise matters of concern for the purpose of place them on the record.... Every Member recognized by the Chair would be given a maximum of one minute

I will just highlight. It is members that are “recognized by the Chair”. That is to say, you, Mr. Speaker.

Later we see, in debates, that the hon. Yvon Pinard, and I think this captures the intention of this reform, stated:

I hope that the Chair, mindful of the intent of the committee report, will recognize Hon. Members without any regard for party affiliation and that the time available will be equally distributed between both sides of the House.

Then if we turn quickly to page 423 of O'Brien and Bosc, just to summarize where we are at today, 30 years later:

The opportunity to speak during Statements by Members is allocated to private Members of all parties. In according Members the opportunity to participate in this period, the Chair is guided by lists provided by the Whips of the various parties and attempts to recognize those Members supporting the government and those Members in opposition on an equitable basis.

Others who have gone before me, in particular the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, have given a good overview of how those rules are to be interpreted today. However, my point to you, Mr. Speaker, is that rules and conventions cannot trump parliamentary privilege. That is to say that whether the situation in which we find ourselves today evolved to where it is or was actually passed and can be found in the Standing Orders is irrelevant, simply because anything that comes along that blocks or impedes members from acting on their rights ought to be placed out of order. Blocking any MP from delivering a statement, known as an S. O. 31, is a violation of a privilege or right.

You, Mr. Speaker, recognize MPs. You do not do so through any other authority or any other institution. We have heard the analogy to a hockey game and who decides who plays and who does not, but I put it to you that the decision was made by voters. They chose who would be on the ice in this House of Commons.

If we were to accept the analogy and that the Speaker does not decide, and I urge you not to, it would mean that the Speaker does not have the ultimate authority to recognize members. That actually goes against the entire set of rules, laws and institutions that govern this House.

What is being proposed by that flawed analogy is that in addition to removing the right of MPs to speak, your authority is extinguished. It suggests that there is a higher authority. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you are prepared to yield this ground.

Earlier, one of my hon. colleagues in the House further expanded on this analogy and likened this to a house league, saying that we all ought to have equal time on the ice. That is an apt analogy.

I will go in a different direction, which I think is a better one. I view this Parliament as the NHL, the top league in terms of law-making in this country, and the government is the Stanley Cup champion. It wins, in large part, through team discipline.

Parties have great authority and great powers. They can rotate members in and off committees. The whip can cajole and intimidate. Ultimately, these teams can decide who will sit on the team and who will not. However, the teams do not decide who is able to speak in this House.

I believe that there are limits that have been crossed that involve removing speaking rights and that suddenly now involve veto rights over who is able to be recognized as a member of Parliament.

Earlier today we heard from the opposition House leader. He very nearly missed the point. His focus was on decorum. That is something I think all members of Parliament would like to see improved. Let us not forget that even the opposition party has begun to move into territory where S. O. 31s are being used by the opposition similarly. The opposition whip picks and chooses who will speak. I believe that one out of every five is used in this manner.

The point that was nearly missed, and the House leader came through on the end, was that in addition to decorum, this also involves our democratic principles. If the Speaker reinforces the authority of members of Parliament by reaffirming their right to speak and the Speaker's right to recognize them, we will together strengthen democracy in this chamber and the power of representation. In turn, I believe, decorum will be improved. This brings me to my final point.

Mr. Speaker, your review of the S. O. 31 and how it is governed will logically take you into another area, and that involves question period and how you recognize members.

There is a wonderful daily spectacle in Westminster of MPs bobbing up and down hoping to catch the Speaker's attention. The Speaker uses a combination of judgment and skill to select members to speak, and that could include party affiliation, the region the member comes from, the rural-urban balance, gender and ethnicity. These are the balls the Speaker must juggle in determining who will be recognized. On that, I would like to recite few lines from a book called, How Parliament Works, 6th edition, authored by Rogers and Walters. On the Speaker's power of the chamber, on page 50, it says:

First...there is the power to call MPs to speak in a debate or to ask a question, described by Speaker Thomas as his most potent weapon. [Of course] Speakers strive to be fair to every MP....

Later, regarding questions in the commons, it states on page 337, that question period is:

—one of the main opportunities for back-bench MPs on all sides of the House to pursue and expose issues, and to get the government of the day to put information on the public record. The very existence of parliamentary questions, and the opportunities that they provide for the representatives of the people to question the government of the day, are of constitutional importance. Their effectiveness has always been down to the tenacity and skill of individual MPs; but whether the system can survive the strains that are now being put upon it is also in the hands of MPs generally.

I feel like that last line is perhaps foreshadowing the decision that you face here, Mr. Speaker.

On that note, as I ask you to expand your review of this question to not just consider S. O. 31s but questions in the House, I would remind you again, sir, that rules and convention cannot trump a parliamentary privilege, a right. What we have seen over the last 30 years has all happened very slowly. To use an analogy, it is a bit like a frog in a pot of water: if we toss a frog in hot water, it will quickly recoil and jump out, but if we slowly increase the heat, the frog will not jump out. Instead, the increasing heat will eventually kill it.

As I said, Mr. Speaker, I propose that your review go further and that you are guided both by your judgment and authority on these questions and yield to no one.

Succession to the Throne March 28th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian crown plays an integral part in Canada's unique history and is central to our institutions of government. We have always lived under a crown, whether under the French crown originally or today under the English crown.

The crown has helped make Canada one of the most stable and enduring democracies on earth. Canadians have a deep and historic connection with our royal family. Can the Minister of Justice please inform this House of the effects that Bill C-53 would have on the line of succession?

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act March 26th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise and speak at second reading of Bill C-461, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act (disclosure of information) or, as the bill's short title makes clear, the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act.

I would like to respond to some of the criticism I have heard tonight. The bill would actually bring the CBC in line with other crown corporations. Exemptions that exist for the CBC that have been abused would be eliminated.

There are many reasons to support the bill. I would like to take a moment to highlight some of mine. As someone who has used Canada's access to information laws to review government spending, I am already familiar with the importance of such laws to get at information either that governments may report to the public out of context or, at worst, that they wish to hide.

These laws are important because they hold governments accountable. How exactly does this happen? When decisions are subject to review, individuals throughout the public service are much more likely to follow rules and reflect on how tax money is spent. When they do not, the results cannot be quietly locked away safe from public review. For this reason, sunshine in government is a useful disinfectant for unscrupulous behaviour.

Let us look at the bill's specific reforms. First and importantly, as the bill's name suggests, it would bring greater accountability to the CBC. I believe it is the duty of government to be transparent and open. Canadians need to know that when household income is taken away from them in taxes it is being put to good use. Yet a problem currently exists. There is a loophole in the Access to Information Act, which was created for the CBC, whereby this news, culture and entertainment company can refuse to release any documents it believes are inadmissible.

Aside from going through the courts, there is no adequate oversight review. This loophole has been exploited by the CBC to refuse replying to information requests. Specifically, the act currently states that:

This Act does not apply to any information that is under the control of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that relates to its journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than information that relates to its general administration.

This means the CBC is not required to provide any transparency except for information about its general administration. However in turn, it is expected, actually required, to report on what is covered. Yet the CBC has erroneously applied its exemption broadly and at times refused to provide information that it is obliged to, in my opinion. It has used that clause to delay or deny the provision of information even to the Information Commissioner, whose job it is to determine whether or not Canadians have a right to access requested information.

In this case, the matter went to the court. Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal agreed that CBC was wrong to withhold certain documents from the Information Commissioner. The courts also found that the wording of that section of the Access to Information Act is less clear than it could be and “a recipe for controversy”, which is exactly what it delivered.

The sponsor of this bill is responding to a flaw in the current law as identified by the courts. The Information Commissioner is correctly asking that greater onus be placed on the CBC to demonstrate that it could actually be harmed by releasing certain exempted documents, and the public interest should be weighed in each decision.

The NDP member for Halifax just stated that we are actually already on the same page as other countries, but that is not quite accurate. Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom all allow independent bodies to review documents held by their public broadcasters. I believe it is time Canada did the same, because right now under the law, it is the CBC that acts as judge and jury in these cases. If people want to appeal, they have to go to the courts, which is expensive and time consuming. However, neither the commissioner nor any other taxpayer should be forced to go to the Federal Court to resolve disputes.

Bill C-461 would redefine the exemption clause for the CBC with what is called an injury test. This means that unless disclosing the information could reasonably be expected to prejudice CBC journalistic, creative or programing independence, the information could not be withheld. Also, in line with other areas of the federal government, the CBC would not decide what is covered and what is not.

Explicitly giving an officer of Parliament, in this case the Information Commissioner, the authority to adjudicate whether or not this injury test is met is wise public policy because it would ensure that an independent third party ruled on what could or could not be made available to the public. This would help avoid the possibility of lengthy litigation processes that could result in further information being effectively denied through delay.

In effect, what both the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and the member for Halifax are stating today is that they do not trust the Information Commissioner to resolve these disputes; yet the Information Commissioner looks at all sorts of confidential government documents and in those cases is trusted to decide what is to be released and what is not to be released.

I believe this clause would not expose media sources to prying eyes or impact the CBC's independence, and frankly, we do not want it to.

If anyone argues the CBC should be exempt, as I have heard tonight, I would ask why others should not be exempt. I ask that rhetorically, because I do not believe federal government agencies should be exempt from oversight. Supporters of the CBC, of which there are many, might believe the mother corporation is in a unique position compared to other crown corporations, but it is not. At the end of the day it spends public dollars, and Parliament must hold all such agencies, departments and crown corporations accountable without fear or favour.

Second, the bill would amend the Privacy Act to allow for the public disclosure of specific salaries and responsibilities of anybody who earns more than $188,600 from the federal government.

Nova Scotia and Ontario require the disclosure of the name, salary and job title of anybody making $100,000 or more from the respective provincial governments. These sunshine lists hold those governments accountable for the salaries given to the top bureaucrats, civil servants and anybody else who earns six figures or more per year from the government. Manitoba, incidentally, sets its transparency level at a mere $50,000.

My own province of New Brunswick has a disclosure limit at $60,000. What is more, employees receiving in excess of $10,000 in retirement are subject to public disclosure. These numbers are reported annually, and this has been a good thing for taxpayers and open government.

Right now the legislation of the Government of Canada only allows for the disclosure of a very broad, very vague and almost entirely unhelpful salary range.

As my hon. colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, found out, the salary range for the current CEO of CBC is somewhere between $358,400 and $422,000. However in addition, generous bonuses can be paid to the CBC president and other civil servants. At most, bonuses in the federal system can reach 39% of the basic salary, yet taxpayers have no idea if a bonus was paid or what amount was paid.

I will note that, again, when my hon. colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe set his threshold level on behalf of the government he could not even bring himself to tell us what that level would be, so let me tell the House. If we were to go with the top end, as the government is proposing, it would mean a disclosure level at about $444,000, which is a level that would effectively neuter this legislation.

All my colleagues in the House, as well as other places, are required to disclose their salaries. They are public knowledge, and rightfully so. I believe the amount in this legislation is set too high. Instead, it should start at the rate of pay for members of Parliament, which is currently $157,731, an amount incidentally that has MPs already in the top 2% of all Canadian income earners. This figure is well higher than the minimum limits we see in provinces with sunshine laws.

With the passage of the bill, Canadians would be able to shed new light into some of the currently dark corners in the civil service. This is not to suggest something untoward is happening in the corners that are exempt from public oversight, but the fact is that we do not know. We and all taxpayers have a right as citizens to ask and receive answers. Taxpayers are, after all, the ones footing the bills. I hope no person elected to this chamber will argue that some areas of government ought to be exempt from accountability.

That is why I will be supporting Bill C-461, and that is why I hope my hon. colleagues will do the same.

Wrestling March 25th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the sport of wrestling has been with us for much of human history. Wrestling was part of the original Olympic games dating back to 708 B.C., and it was a major competition when the modern-day games began in 1896.

The appeal of the sport spans tens of hundreds of years. Wrestling represents the very best of competition, as it pits two opponents in a struggle to prove their agility, strength and tenacity. However, the recent trend of the Olympics has been to encourage sports in which a winner is chosen by judges who assign points based on an opaque system of preferences. Audience members can agree with the judges' decisions or be confused by their choices.

This is not so with wrestling. Everybody understands that once the other wrestler is pinned on the mat, there is an indisputable winner. This is why there are wrestling clubs throughout my riding, my province and our nation.

I am proud of this tradition that dates back to ancient Greece. Therefore, I am disappointed in the International Olympic Committee's decision to take wrestling out of the games. To eliminate wrestling from the Olympics is trendy, snobbish and wrong. The decision should be reversed.

Natural Resources March 21st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, the Irving refinery is a key employer of highly paid workers in New Brunswick. I am proud to say I support a pipeline from Alberta to Saint John to support jobs and economic prosperity.

The Minister of Natural Resources recently visited the Saint John refinery and expressed our government's support for this pipeline. On the other hand, the NDP leader recently made unclear and contradictory remarks about the pipeline.

Could the Minister of Natural Resources update this House on our government's position on the west-east pipeline to Saint John?

National Flag of Canada Day February 15th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, today marks the 48th anniversary of Canada's national flag, our distinctive red and white maple leaf. On this day in 1965, it was raised over Parliament Hill and hundreds of communities across Canada.

Our flag, and all it represents, is cherished by Canadians and admired by people in every corner of the world as a symbol of freedom, democracy and human rights.

The National Flag of Canada Day provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on what it means to be Canadian and to acknowledge the people, accomplishments, history, institutions and values that have helped shape our national identity.

As we approach Canada's 150th birthday in 2017, let us continue to celebrate all the things that make Canada a united, strong and free country, the country we enjoy living in today. I encourage Canadians to join together to celebrate this treasured national symbol on National Flag of Canada Day, today and every day.

Citizenship and Immigration February 6th, 2013

Mr. Speaker, hold that change in government.

The NDP and Liberals have chosen to ignore the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association, victims organizations, immigration lawyers and experts and have voted against the faster removal of foreign criminals act. They are voting to allow foreign nationals who break the law to remain in Canada.

With the final vote on this bill taking place tonight, can the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism please update this House on our government's commitment to protect the safety and security of Canadians?

Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada February 1st, 2013

Mr. Speaker, yesterday's news on economic growth is another indication that Canada is on the right track and that our government's economic action plan is working. With over 900,000 net new jobs created since July 2009, Canada has seen a better recovery than other G7 nations. We will continue with our plan to create jobs and foster growth and long-term prosperity.

Unfortunately, the leader of the NDP and his party do not share these same priorities. Their priority is a $21-billion carbon tax that would hurt the economy and hurt Canadian families. Canadians do not want to pay more for their gas, groceries, and electricity. They reject the NDP's hidden tax scheme.

When will the NDP leader come clean and admit that his $21 billion carbon tax would hurt Canada's strong economic growth and raise the cost of all goods and services consumed by Canadians?

The Economy December 11th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, it is easy to overlook the role that sound public policy has in building a strong economy. Our government is focused on job creation, growth and long-term prosperity. Since July 2009, Canada has created nearly 900,000 net new jobs, the strongest growth record in the G7.

This did not happen by accident and despite ongoing global economic turbulence, Standard and Poor's today reaffirmed Canada's AAA credit rating, joining Moody's and Fitch by again giving our country a top score.

Could the Minister of Finance update the House on our economic record?

Clarity Act November 5th, 2012

Mr. Speaker, Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot

On this day, in 1605, Guy Fawkes was apprehended trying to blow up Parliament and the sovereign. It was an act for which he paid a gory price.

We have a metaphoric and modern-day Guy Fawkes. The Bloc Québécois, and, it would seem, the NDP, attempt to undermine the lawful order of this realm by removing essential elements of the Clarity Act, which provides a rigorous process should any province wish to secede from our nation; namely, a clear referendum question and the need to achieve a decisive majority vote.

They say that history often repeats itself and, in today's case, the schemers will be exposed in this House or foiled.

However, luckily for them, they will meet their demise at the ballot box and not on the scaffold.

God save Canada.