- His favourite word was question.
Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario)
Won his last election, in 2008, with 39.15% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Speaker of the House of Commons March 25th, 2011
Before I begin my personal remarks, I would like to join the other hon. members in recognizing the presence here today of the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île. Welcome. It is a pleasure to see you.
I am honoured by the very kind comments that so many colleagues have made today.
I would like to thank you for your remarks. It has always been a pleasure for me to be here in the House. I have been grateful for this opportunity since I was elected by the voters in Kingston and the Islands in 1988.
I have really enjoyed being their representative in this House. I am honoured to have been able to do it for so long and so consistently, in the sense that they kept re-electing me. I have appreciated that support immensely. I am very pleased and honoured to have been the member of Parliament for such a great constituency, which is obviously Canada's first capital. It has been a privilege to serve my community of Kingston. I must say that I look forward to spending a little more time there, if there is a dissolution shortly.
I would also like to express my profound thanks to the Clerk of the House, as well as her predecessor, Bill Corbett, and his staff.
The Speaker must work with the Clerk all the times to arrange things in the House and to receive notices regarding things that happen here. The Clerk also acts as the Speaker's advisor.
Throughout, the Clerk and her officials have been very, very supportive and very, very helpful. Obviously, if I have been getting some credit for some successful decisions in the House, a lot of the credit goes to the table officers who do the work in preparing these things. I do not claim to do all that research myself. It is great.
I also want to say how much I appreciate the support of my fellow Chair occupants.
As Deputy Speakers, I have worked with: Bob Kilger; the current Minister of Transport; and Bill Blaikie. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is the current Deputy Speaker. We have had a very interesting association among the whole group of us in a way.
The Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole: Réginald Bélair; the hon. members for Hull—Aylmer and Ottawa—Orléans; and, currently, the hon. member for Victoria. I have enjoyed working with all of them.
Finally, the Assistant Deputy Chairs of Committees of the Whole: Eleni Bakopanos; Betty Hinton; Jean Augustine; and, currently, the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. I thank them all for their assistance. As a team, in each case, I think we have worked very well together.
I would like to also thank all of the dedicated staff in my Kingston office who have worked hard to keep the constituents of Kingston and the Islands happy.
Once I became Speaker, the number of days I could spend there during the week diminished somewhat, so I have not had as many appointments in the last 10 years as I did in the years before that, but they have seen a lot of constituents and dealt with a lot of the issues and helped out.
The staff in the office here in Ottawa have also been very helpful, particularly in the Speaker's office, in assisting me in this role in helping arrange all the trips and the visiting delegations and the meetings with officials that I get to do on behalf of the House. I appreciate their help very, very much.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for mentioning my old friend, Jerry Yanover. We were in high school together. I am sure he would have loved to be here today if he were still around.
I would like to thank my family, my five sisters, my brother, some of whom are here today, their spouses, their children, all of whom have helped me, and my mother. I am looking forward to again having a little more time to spend with them at the cottage when we get a break this summer. That will work out well.
I want to also thank all of you for having elected me so frequently as Speaker in this House. It has been a singular honour to serve in this position. I am always delighted with the support that I get during the elections, and of course elections are a real pain in the neck for Speakers, you have two every time. However, having been voted in, I do then have the pleasure of working with each one of the members.
It has always been a pleasure for me to have meetings and discussions with you and to receive little messages from time to time. I really appreciate the support you have given me and your good-naturedness. I also really appreciate the remarks you have made today.
Perhaps I could just end by telling a little story.
Toward the end of her long reign, Queen Elizabeth I, in an address to her subjects, said these words:
--though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves.
When you elected me to this job, you raised me high in this House, but what has been the wonderful part about it is the affection and the respect that you have showered upon me since my first election.
Thank you very much, my dear friends.
Privilege March 25th, 2011
Order, please. I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 10, 2011, by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development concerning an alleged sit-in at his Parliament Hill office.
In raising this question of privilege, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development explained that on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the member for Churchill arrived at his office, uninvited and accompanied by a group of the Sayisi Dene and media representatives, pressing his staff for an immediate meeting despite his absence. In his view, this constituted a protest and a sit-in. Characterizing the incident as a serious breach of trust and a serious matter from a security standpoint, the minister expressed concern that his employees were made uncomfortable and prevented from doing their work.
The member for Churchill countered that the visit was simply an attempt to obtain a meeting with the minister and not an orchestrated event with the intention of obstructing the work of the minister's office.
As all hon. members will recall, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 108 states:
Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.
It also notes, on the same page, that:
Over the years, members have regularly brought to the attention of the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede, interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some business with them or the House.
In the case before us, the Chair is being asked to determine whether the unauthorized presence in the minister's office of the member for Churchill, a delegation of the Sayisi Dene and the media was tantamount to intimidation or obstruction of the minister's staff. To assist me, I reviewed the report on this matter prepared by House of Commons security, who attended the scene after being called upon for assistance by the minister's staff. It is clear to the Chair from the submissions, as well as the security report, that those occupying the minister's office were uninvited and did not have proper authorization to be there. As well, the Chair believes that the minister's staff was indeed uncomfortable, though they appeared to have handled the situation with aplomb and good grace.
I am troubled that the member for Churchill, without prior warning, took it upon herself to lead a group to another member's office. That media representatives were part of this group makes the situation that much more unfortunate. No matter how well intentioned the member for Churchill was, or how amicable the outcome of this particular incident, it was an unauthorized presence in a minister's office that left ministerial staff uncomfortable enough to warrant the assistance of security. It is a credit to the minister's staff, and it must be said to the unexpected visitors as well, that this incident did not escalate further and that the tone of the exchange was respectful.
It is well understood that members need access to ministers to fulfill their parliamentary functions but it is equally true that there are various well-known, entirely acceptable avenues available to secure such access. Members are expected to avail themselves of these mutually agreed upon opportunities rather than resorting to other unorthodox means that may place colleagues in untenable situations. Because of the actions of the member for Churchill, for almost an hour, her guests occupied the office of the minister without a previously arranged appointment. This is a clear abuse of the usual practices that all members are expected to follow. The Chair is disappointed that the member for Churchill showed a complete disregard for the common courtesies that are to be observed between members. In this case, the situation was well managed, but we may not always be so lucky.
It does not require a great deal of imagination to foresee the kind of circus atmosphere that could result if all members took it upon themselves to escort constituents, delegations or other citizens—however worthy their cause or objective—to whichever other member's office they chose.
That being said, in this particular case, in large part due to the calm, measured approach taken by the minister's staff in handling the situation, there is little evidence to suggest that the staff of the minister were obstructed in the fulfillment of their duties. The minister himself was careful not to overstate the impact of the incident on his staff. In view of the very high threshold required in adjudicating such situations, in this circumstance the Chair cannot find that a prima facie question of privilege has arisen in this matter.
The Chair expects that all members will heed the lesson of this incident in an effort to maintain the integrity of the precinct as a work environment where all members feel secure and respected.
I ask for the active collaboration of all members in this and I thank all members for their attention.
Privilege March 22nd, 2011
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 1, 2011 by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh concerning the premature disclosure of information contained in the main estimates for 2011-2012.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for having raised this matter, and the President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the members for Winnipeg North, Hochelaga and Mississauga South for their submissions.
In presenting his case, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that specific information about the main estimates was published in a newspaper article, as well as in a web blog and Twitter postings by QMI reporter David Akin. It was clear, he stated, that Mr. Akin had had some knowledge of the contents of the main estimates before they were tabled in the House on March 1, 2011.
The member argued that the Speaker had ruled on a number of occasions that the House had an absolute right to expect the government to provide information, whether on a bill or on the estimates, to the House before it was disclosed elsewhere. For him, it was a matter of being able to respond, as a member of Parliament, to enquiries in a meaningful and intelligent way.
In his response, the President of the Treasury Board admitted that the untimely release of the material in question was improper and not in keeping with past procedures and practices of this House. Furthermore, he committed to taking steps to prevent it from happening again. The minister went on to cite House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 894, thus quite rightly pointing out that, in the past, similar matters, namely of budget secrecy, have been treated more as matters of parliamentary convention rather than matters of privilege.
The member for Windsor—Tecumseh is certainly not misguided in his expectation that members of the House, individually and collectively, must receive from the government particular types of information required for the fulfillment of their parliamentary duties before it is shared elsewhere. However, in such instances when there is a transgression of this well-established practice, the Chair must ascertain whether, as a result, the member was impeded in the performance of parliamentary duties.
While in the matter before us there may be a legitimate grievance, as admitted even by the President of the Treasury Board, there has been no specific evidence to suggest that any member was impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties, and thus there can be no finding of prima facie privilege. Further, the minister has recognized the seriousness of this matter and given his assurance that measures will be in place to prevent a recurrence.
Consistent with the manner in which incidents of this kind have been viewed by my predecessors in the past, and given the prompt assurances provided to this House by the President of the Treasury Board, the Chair is satisfied that appropriate steps will be taken. In the circumstances, therefore, I will consider the matter closed.
I thank the House for its attention on this matter.
Privilege March 9th, 2011
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 17, 2011, by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, stemming from the presentation of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and the allegedly misleading statements made by the Minister of International Cooperation.
I would like to thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Ottawa Centre, Joliette, Scarborough—Rouge River, Vancouver East, Guelph, Eglinton—Lawrence, Beaches—East York, Yukon and Winnipeg North for their contributions on this important matter.
As members will know, this matter was first raised by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010. In my ruling of February 10, 2011, I explained that I was unable to “find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading”. Accordingly, I declined to find that a prima facie question of privilege existed.
On February 14, 2011, the Minister of International Cooperation made a statement in the House to clarify matters related to the funding application for KAIROS. While acknowledging that the way in which this case has been handled was unfortunate, she asserted that she had neither intentionally nor knowingly misled the House or the committee. She also stated that:
If some were led to conclude that my language implied that the department and I were of one mind on this application, then I apologize.
On February 17, 2011, the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development was presented to the House. It is a short report which focuses primarily on testimony by the minister and her officials on December 9, 2010, in relation to the process that led to the rejection of a funding application by KAIROS.
In particular, much attention is given to determining how the word “not” made its way into the assessment of the KAIROS funding application submitted to the minister for approval. The last part of the report links this testimony with “other information before the House” and draws “attention to what appears to be a possible breach of privilege”.
The member for Scarborough—Guildwood and other members have argued that the minister has made statements in committee that are different from those made in the House or provided to the House in written form. Indeed, these members have argued that the material available shows that contradictory information has been provided. As a result, they argue, this demonstrates that the minister has deliberately misled the House and that as such, a prima facie case of privilege exists.
For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the sixth report of the standing committee contained no accusations or other suggestions that the rights or dignity of the House had been compromised or that the committee had been misled, either unintentionally or deliberately. Claiming that in fact no direct accusation had been made, he asked, “What charge is there to be answered?” He suggested that it was improper for a committee to report that “an undescribed and undefined breach of privilege may have occurred”, and emphasized that the minister had given clear, accurate and honest answers. He also stated that it was not contradictory for the minister to state that while she did not know who inserted the word “not”, it had indeed been done on her instructions.
Now that the standing committee, in its sixth report, has made available to the House material not previously before us, I must take its findings into consideration, measuring them against other material, including statements in the House and answers to oral and written questions.
But I caution that the Speaker has a very particular and limited role in the conclusions to be drawn. In a ruling given on March 21, 1978, at page 3975 of Debates, which is also referred to in Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, at page 227, Mr. Speaker Jerome quoted a British procedure committee report of 1967, which states in part:
--the Speaker should ask himself, when he has to decide whether to grant precedence over other public business to a motion which a Member who has complained of some act or conduct as constituting a breach of privilege desires to move, should be not--do I consider that, assuming that the facts are as stated, the act or conduct constitutes a breach of privilege, but could it reasonably be held to be a breach of privilege, or to put it shortly, has the Member an arguable point? If the Speaker feels any doubt on the question, he should, in my view, leave it to the House.
It is with this principle in mind that I have taken great care to study the evidence in view of the very serious allegations regarding the conduct of a minister, who as a result has been subjected to harsh and public criticism which has been potentially damaging to her reputation.
The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is this: as the committee has reported, when asked who inserted the word “not” in the assessment of the KAIROS funding application, in testimony the minister twice replied that she did not know. In a February 14 statement to the House, while she did not indicate that she knew who inserted the word “not”, the minister addressed this matter by stating that the “not” was inserted at her direction. At the very least, it can be said that this has caused confusion. The minister has acknowledged this, and has characterized her own handling of the matter as “unfortunate”. Yet as is evident from hearing the various interventions that have been made since then, the confusion persists. As the member for Scarborough—Rouge River told the House, this “has confused me. It has confused Parliament. It has confused us in our exercise of holding the government to account, whether it is the Privy Council, whether it is the minister, whether it is public officials; we cannot do our job when there is that type of confusion”.
The Chair has faced a somewhat analogous situation before. In January 2002 the Minister of National Defence had made statements in the House regarding Afghan detainees that ultimately also caused confusion and led to a question of privilege being raised. In that case, two versions of events had been presented to the House. In that case, as in this one, the minister assured the House that there was no intention to mislead. At that time, in finding a prima facie case, I stated at page 8581 of the Debates of February 1, 2002, that I was “prepared as I must be to accept the minister's assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House. Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation”. I then went on to conclude that “the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”.
In keeping with this fairly recent precedent, and mindful of the ruling by Mr. Speaker Jerome cited earlier, the Chair is of the view that sufficient doubt exists to warrant a finding of prima facie privilege in this case. Accordingly, I will invite the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to move his motion in due course, but at the moment I will return to the hon. member for Kings—Hants to move his motion on the earlier case.
Privilege March 9th, 2011
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 7, 2011, by the hon. member for Kings—Hants concerning the production of documents ordered by the Standing Committee on Finance.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Kings—Hants for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Mississauga South, Windsor—Tecumseh and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine for their interventions.
The member for Kings—Hants explained that on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance adopted a motion ordering the production of documents relating to corporate profits and taxes and the costs of various justice bills. The government, citing cabinet confidence as a reason, declined on three separate occasions to produce the information sought. The committee then presented its 10th report to the House on February 7, 2011, to draw the attention of the House to this matter.
More specifically, the member for Kings—Hants contended that the refusal to provide the information constituted a breach of this House's privileges and, moreover, the refusal to provide a reasonable explanation as to why the information was deemed to constitute a cabinet confidence was tantamount to contempt.
There was a considerable lapse of time before the government formally responded to this question of privilege. Before it did so on February 17, 2011, in the Debates, at page 8324, the government House leader rose in the House to table “information on our government's low-cost and tough-on-crime agenda as requested by certain members of Parliament”.
Only after this, on February 28, 2011, did the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader returned to the House to present his case on the question of privilege. He argued that even though, in his view, the Standing Committee on Finance, in its 10th report, did not ask the House to order the production of the documents in question, the government, despite the absence of such a House order, had willingly tabled information which preserved “the confidentiality required around documents which are classified as cabinet confidences yet meets the request for specific data contained within the documents which by its nature is not a cabinet confidence”.
Later the same day, the member for Kings—Hants made further arguments in the House to indicate his dissatisfaction with the government's response. He stated that he believed the government had “failed both to provide all the documents or provide any reasonable explanation as to why these documents cannot be provided”.
In interventions since that time, the government has maintained that the government has provided the information requested, implying that all of it has been provided.
It should be noted that at the same time as interventions were being made on this question of privilege, the House was proceeding on a separate track on what was essentially the same matter.
Thus, on February 17, 2011, the House was debating an opposition motion ordering the production of the same documents demanded by the Standing Committee on Finance. In a subsequent vote on the motion, held on February 28, 2011, the House adopted the motion, thus setting a deadline of March 7, 2011 for the production of the documents in question.
Dealing first with the question of whether or not the House or its committees have the authority to order the production of documents, let me restate in part my April 27, 2010, ruling with respect to the production of documents related to Afghan detainees.
At the time I stated, at page 2043 of the Debates:
—procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents...Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.
I also quoted House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 978 and 979, which states:
The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the type of papers likely to be requested, the only prerequisite is that the papers exist—in hard copy or electronic format—and that they are located in Canada....
No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of the power rooted in the House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.
With respect to the power of committees to order the production of documents, Standing Order 108(1)(a) is clear, that they can “...send for persons, papers and records....” O’Brien and Bosc, at page 978, expands on this point:
The Standing Orders state that standing committees have the power to order the production of papers and records, another privilege rooted in the Constitution that is delegated by the House....
Thus, the power of committees of the House to order papers is indistinguishable from that of the House.
With these well-established privileges and principles in mind, and in order to assess properly whether or not the order flowing from the Standing Committee on Finance has been complied with, I undertook a review of what was tabled. The Chair was helped in this by the committee's order, which was quite explicit in the information it sought, even going so far as to list the bills for which information was required. While the Chair does not judge the quality of documents tabled in the House, it is clear from a cursory examination of the material tabled that, on its face, it does not provide all the information ordered by the committee.
While the Chair finds this in and of itself unsettling, what is of greater concern is the absence of an explanation for the omissions. At the very least, based on the indisputable right of the committee to order these documents, this is required. Only then can the House determine whether the reasons given are sufficient or satisfactory. The need to provide reasons to the House is clear. On page 281 of Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, fourth edition, it states:
But is must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.
The Chair has reviewed the debates on this question, and while initially cabinet confidence was cited as a reason not to produce any of the documents, despite this, the government saw fit to partially comply with the committee order and a tabling of some material did eventually take place. Since then, no further reasons have been given as to why the balance of the documents should not or will not be tabled.
It may be that valid reasons exist. That is not for the Chair to judge. A committee empowered to investigate the matter might, but the Chair is ill-equipped to do so. However, there is no doubt that an order to produce documents is not being fully complied with, and this is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account.
For these reasons, the Chair finds that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege in this matter.
Before I invite the member for Kings—Hants to move his motion, however, the Chair wishes to explain the procedural parameters that govern such motions.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 146 and 147 states:
In cases where the motion is not known in advance, the Speaker may provide assistance to the Member if the terms of the proposed motion are substantially different from the matter originally raised. The Speaker would be reluctant to allow a matter as important as a privilege motion to fail on the ground of improper form. The terms of the motion have generally provided that the matter be referred to committee for study or have been amended to that effect.
I hasten to add that the powers of the Speaker in these matters are robust and well known. In 1966, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux, having come to a finding of prima facie privilege on a matter ruled a number of motions out of order. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, tells us at page 147, footnote 371, in doing so, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux “more than once pointed out that it was Canadian practice to refer such matters to committee for study and suggested that this should be the avenue pursued”.
The Chair is of course aware of exceptions to this practice, but in most if not all of these cases, circumstances were such that a deviation from the normal practice was deemed acceptable, or there was a unanimous desire on the part of the House to proceed in that fashion.
With this guidance in mind, I will soon recognize the hon. member for Kings—Hants so that he can propose his motion, but before he proceeds, I have a ruling on another matter, which I will deliver.
Business of Supply March 8th, 2011
Before we resume debate, I am prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning the applicability of the sub judice convention to the supply day motion proposed by the member for Beauséjour.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the motion as drafted contravened the sub judice convention and should be ruled out of order on that basis.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 100, makes reference to the Speaker’s discretion in the application of the sub judice convention:
In 1977, the First Report of the Special Committee on the Rights and Immunities of Members recommended that the imposition of the convention should be done with discretion and, when there was any doubt in the mind of the Chair, a presumption should exist in favour of allowing debate and against the application of the convention. Since the presentation of the report, Speakers have followed these guidelines while using discretion.
In addition, as hon. members are aware, over the years the Chair has given considerable latitude in the wording of supply day motions. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 854, states:
The Standing Orders give Members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (i.e., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene.
This may explain why there are examples of this kind of motion coming before the House in the past, notably one proposed by the then member for MacLeod, Mr. Grant Hill, on February 16, 2004, and another proposed by the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie on April 14, 2005. Both motions were proposed after the government of the day had established a public inquiry to look into the matters referred to in the motions.
Nevertheless, with these procedural principles in mind, the Chair has carefully reviewed the motion currently being debated, with particular attention to how it relates to court proceedings to determine whether the sub judice convention ought to apply.
There are two kinds of court proceedings at issue. First, in terms of the civil aspect of the matter, a unanimous court decision has been rendered. At this hour, no appeal has been filed. Until further steps are taken on that aspect of the question, there is no possible application of the sub judice convention at this time.
With regard to the reference to criminal charges filed against certain individuals, a close reading of the motion reveals that they are properly referred to as “individuals facing charges”. The motion does not comment on their guilt or innocence. The question of whether persons charged should be able to continue to hold positions in government or a political party, which is the point addressed by the motion, is not covered by the sub judice convention.
That being said, out of an abundance of caution, the ordinary practice of the House in respect of matters which may be sub judice has been for the Speaker not to stop debate, but rather to caution members in their choice of wording. Along with a number of my predecessors, I have frequently advised the House to proceed judiciously when debating matters that are, or might be, sub judice.
In addition, the wording of the motion before us contains the key words “in the opinion of this House”. If adopted, it would serve merely as an expression of the opinion of the House rather than compel the government to take any action. It is also important to note that the motion is general in nature, lacking in specifics about related proceedings.
For these reasons, I have been prepared to allow the debate on the supply day motion to proceed and I rule that it can continue to the expiry of the time provided for the debate, at which time the question can be put.
Points of Order March 3rd, 2011
I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Vancouver East on February 18 concerning the need to clarify the process by which members give notice of questions of privilege arising out of committee reports. I thank the hon. member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.
The House will recall that on February 17, 2001, two members gave notice of questions of privilege related to the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. One member did so before the report was tabled, while the other waited until the report had actually been tabled and, as a result, the member who chose to wait to give notice until the report had been tabled was not the first to be recognized.
In reference to the procedures members are to follow in raising questions of privilege, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 142 states:
A member wishing to raise a question of privilege which does not arise out of the proceedings during the course of a sitting must give notice before bringing the question to the attention of the House. The member must provide a written statement to the Speaker at least one hour before raising the question of privilege in the House.
For questions of privilege arising out of committee proceedings, O'Brien and Bosc states on page 151:
If the committee decides that the matter should be reported to the House, it will adopt the report which will be presented to the House at the appropriate time under the rubric “Presenting Reports from Committees” during Routine Proceedings.
Once the report has been presented, the House is formally seized of the matter. After having given the appropriate notice, any Member may then raise the matter as a question of privilege.
This passage implies that a report must have been presented to the House before a member can give notice of a question of privilege related to its contents. This is akin to our procedures with regard to notices of motions to concur in committee reports, which cannot be submitted until the report in question has been presented.
The Chair is cognizant that to do otherwise with regard to notices of questions of privilege might well give rise to situations in which a member could give notice as soon as a committee begins to consider a matter, or perhaps even earlier, when there is but an inkling that something may arise. This is neither desirable nor practicable.
Accordingly, in the interest of bringing clarity to this procedure, from now on, the Chair will not accept notices of questions of privilege based on committee reports until after the reports are tabled.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Privilege February 10th, 2011
I am now prepared to rule on a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010 concerning allegedly misleading statements by the Minister of International Cooperation and the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, the member for Kootenay—Columbia.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the members for Kootenay—Columbia, Guelph, Laurentides—Labelle, Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, Toronto Centre, Ottawa Centre and Scarborough—Rouge River for their interventions.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood charged that the Minister of International Cooperation and her former parliamentary secretary made statements in the House that were deliberately misleading with regard to who had been responsible for a government decision to reject a funding proposal for the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, known as KAIROS.
He measured those statements against a response to a written question, testimony in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request. Guided by Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, Third Edition at pages 653-4, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood stated at page 7,144 of Debates:
In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.
In response, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia apologized for his statement, made in the House on March 15, 2010, that “CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities”. He characterized his statement as a mistake and that he had not known that it was misleading and concluded that he had not intended to mislead the House. I thank him for his timely apology, and I consider any allegations against him to have been satisfactorily addressed.
For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader maintained that the matter was not one of privilege but rather of debate as to the facts. As to the proceedings of the standing committee referred to, the parliamentary secretary emphasized that as no report had been made to the House on this matter, it would be inappropriate for the Chair to take note of those proceedings.
In a ruling I gave on January 31, 2008, I stated at page 2,435 of Debates:
...before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.
For the question of privilege now before us, the Chair is, in essence, being asked to assess the accuracy of the minister's answers to questions in the House. In any such circumstance, it has been well established over time that the Speaker has a limited authority. House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 510 clearly explains it by stating:
The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
It was based on this practice of ours that, on January 31, 2008, at page 2435 of Debates, I 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.
This is not to say, however, that there are not circumstances when the Chair could determine, given the proper evidence, that statements made to the House have indeed breached the privileges of the House. In fact, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood neatly laid out the standard of proof that would be required to demonstrate that the House has been deliberately misled.
It was with these principles in mind and ultimately the need to determine that there was intent to mislead that I undertook to review all of the evidence that could be taken into consideration in this case. Again, however, the Chair was limited in its ability to act on the full range of that review since much of the proceedings referred to in member's submissions were never officially placed in the hands of the House. The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader was not mistaken in his assertion that any and all statements made in committee, even when those have been repeated verbatim in the House, remain the business of the committee until such time as it elects to report them officially to the House. This is a long-standing practice and I would refer members to a ruling I made on June 14, 2010, at page 3778 of Debates, where I stated:
...if there are issues about the proceedings in the committee, it is incumbent upon the committee itself to deal with them and, should it deem it necessary, to report to the House on the matter.
Furthermore, while a copy of an internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request was provided to me, it was not tabled in the House and, thus, is not officially before it.
As a result, in this particular circumstance, the Chair has been left in a delicate position.
As noted earlier, the Chair reviewed all the documents available. In doing so, to fully grasp the allegations being made, particular attention was paid to the committee testimony of the minister and senior CIDA officials and to the internal CIDA document obtained through an access to information request made available to me by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood. The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
However, despite the obvious frustration expressed by many of the members who have intervened in this case and the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House. With regard to statements made by the minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.
In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind and in the absence of a committee report on this matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that she believed them to be misleading or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the minister deliberately misled the House and, therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
Points of Order February 3rd, 2011
The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on November 2, 2010, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-507, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act (federal spending power), standing in the name of the hon. member for Saint-Lambert.
I thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this important matter. In raising his point of order, the parliamentary secretary set out two separate grounds on which he alleged that Bill C-507 infringes the financial initiative of the Crown. First, he claimed that the bill seeks to alter the terms and conditions of existing royal recommendations which authorize payments out of the consolidated revenue fund to provinces and municipalities for various purposes. This alteration would take two different forms. Where transfers are made conditional upon provinces meeting certain federal standards, these transfers would now be unconditional. Where the federal government provides funds to individuals, agencies or municipalities, these funds would now be transferred only to the provinces.
The parliamentary secretary maintained that this alteration in the way in which funds are transferred violates the terms of the existing royal recommendations on which those transfers depend.
The second cause for concern which the parliamentary secretary highlighted is the effect of the provisions of Bill C-507 on payments to provinces that choose to opt out of federal programs in areas of provincial jurisdiction. These payments would be authorized whenever a province did not delegate its responsibility to the federal government in relation to a federal program in an area of provincial jurisdiction. He claimed that this would result in payments out of the consolidated revenue fund for purposes not currently authorized.
The Chair has examined carefully the provisions of Bill C-507 in light of the arguments presented. The nature of the royal recommendation requirement is explained in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 834.
A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered. Without a royal recommendation, a bill that either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown's financial initiative.
What is at issue in each case is whether the provisions of the bill introduce a new appropriation, increase an existing appropriation or entail changes to the objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications of the existing appropriations to enable these appropriations to be used for a new purpose.
Bill C-507 seeks to amend the Financial Administration Act by proposing new subsections 26.1(1) and (2) which would prevent the federal government from making payments in respect of expenditures in areas of provincial jurisdiction unless the province concerned delegates that power to it. Proposed new subsection 26.1(3) establishes a timeframe for that delegation. While it has been argued that the proposed new subsections 26.1(1), (2) and (3) would have the effect of altering the conditions under which the authorization to spend currently exists, the Chair is of a different view. These subsections in no way enable existing appropriations to be used for a new purpose. Instead, these new subsections would affect whether or not the moneys appropriated are actually spent. The appropriations themselves remain unchanged and such a consideration does not give rise to the need for a royal recommendation.
As for the second issue raised by the parliamentary secretary, the Chair refers honourable members to the proposed new subsection 26.1(4) which requires that payments be made to a province that does not provide a delegation under subsection 26.1(2). In the Chair’s view the effect of this provision would be to allow the transfer of funds without there being any conditions attached. In other words, those funds could be expended for purposes not limited to, or governed by, the conditions—or purposes—of the original appropriation. Obviously, this would be a relaxation of applicable conditions, to say the least, and would necessarily constitute an infringement of the financial initiative of the Crown as the appropriated funds could be used for purposes not approved by Parliament when it made the appropriation.
On this basis, it is my ruling that Bill C-507, in its current form, requires a royal recommendation. Consequently, I will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.
Today's debate, however, is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber His Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income--Chapter No. 15
Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts--Chapter 17
Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs)--Chapter 18
Bill S-215, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (suicide bombings)--Chapter 19
Bill C-36, An Act respecting the safety of consumer products--Chapter 21
Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act--Chapter 22
Bill C-28, An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act--Chapter 23
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Canadian Council on Learning; the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, Public Safety.