Mr. Speaker, I am saddened today to feel the obligation to rise to address comments with regard to the question of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants on February 7.
It is like the movie Groundhog Day. Anyone is familiar with that movie knows it was very successful. American actor Bill Murray relives the day over and over again until he learns his lesson.
It appears the government is reliving the same thing and forcing all other members of the House of Commons and Canadians to relive the same days we experienced back in 2009-10 with regard to a request from the special committee on Afghanistan for the production of documents from the government. The government resisted that. It took a question of privilege to be raised in the House. It took comments from many members of the House. It took considerable reflection and study on your part, Mr. Speaker, before you made a ruling that there was a prima facie case of privilege in that regard.
Yet, again, we are faced with the exact same situation today.
If I look at the timeline, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance tabled its 10th report on Monday, February 7. The member for Kings—Hants, pursuant to that report, raised the question of privilege of which we are now all aware.
I want to concur with the arguments raised by my colleague for Kings—Hants, as well as those raised by my colleagues from Mississauga South and Windsor—Tecumseh on the issue.
However, I wish to note a number of points. I also wish to address, in particular, the issues of cabinet confidence and the requests with regard to all the justice bills. It is important to do so, particularly with the time of events and the government's response to date to the committee's requests for the production of documents. We have not yet heard the government's response in the House with regard to the question of privilege.
On November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance passed a motion, ordering the Government of Canada to provide the committee with five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from the 2010-11 fiscal year until the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive. The November 17 motion also ordered the government to provide the committee with certain financial information pertaining to justice bills, which I will enumerate.
As all members in the House know, I am the justice critic for the official opposition. Therefore, all the information, all the documents requested through the motion of the finance committee have direct pertinence to the committee on justice and human rights. Those justice bills were Bill C-4, the youth criminal justice bill, Bill C-5, Bill C-16, Bill C-17, Bill C-21, Bill C-22, Bill C-23A, Bill C-23B, Bill C-39, Bill C-48, Bill C-50, Bill C-51, Bill C-52, Bill S-2, Bill S-6, Bill S-7, Bill S-9 and Bill S-10.
The motion specifically requested:
—detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to Costing.
Members are now aware, by the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, that the motion established a deadline of seven calendar days, which ended on November 24, 2010.
On November 24, Finance Canada replied to the committee, and I will read the department's response in its entirety because it is quite important, particularly to any Canadian and any member sitting in the House who takes his or her work as an elected official representing Canadians, a sacred duty in fact, to know the response. It said:
Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.
The department claimed it was not in a position to provide these documents to the committee because, according to the government, these documents were a cabinet confidence. That is the heart of the matter. Do the documents requested constitute a cabinet confidence and, if so, are they excluded from the rule of the House of Commons, the power and authority of Parliament, to require documents to be provided?
As the House knows, because it has been mentioned by others in the House who have commented on the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, the government has yet to speak to this issue. I understand that one of the parliamentary secretaries has said the government is taking note of all of members' comments in the House, relating to the issue of privilege, and will respond in due course.
On December 1, 2010, one full week after the deadline of November 24, 2010, the committee received a reply from Justice Canada regarding projected costs of the justice bills. I will read the response by Justice Canada in its entirety. It said:
The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.
That is interesting because in justice committee, of which I am a member, when we have repeatedly asked the minister for the cost analysis of a government bill before the committee, the minister has never stated that he could not give us that information because it is a matter of confidence. I would challenge members to check the transcripts of justice committee. What I did hear was he did not have the information with him or some befuddled answer that did not answer the question.
On December 7, 2010, after the government had refused to provide the information ordered by finance committee by the established deadline, the member for Kings—Hants provided the committee with written notice of a motion by which, if passed, the committee would draw the attention of the House to what appeared to be a breach of its privileges. That has been done. The committee adopted the motion and the member for Kings—Hants rose in the House to speak to the issue.
On December 10, the committee received an additional response from the Department of Finance Canada in answer to its motion ordering the production of documents relating to the projections regarding corporate taxes before profits.
In response, the department stated:
To the best of its knowledge, the Department of Finance has determined that [the] "series" or projections of corporate profits before taxes or the effective corporate income tax rates have never been previously disclosed. These projections are from a comprehensive economic and fiscal projection that constitutes a Cabinet confidence.
To reiterate, according to the second or additional response of the Department of Finance to the finance committee, the Department of Finance, acting on behalf of the government, claimed that these projections have never been previously disclosed and constitute a cabinet confidence.
As pointed out in this chamber before, but which bears repetition, I would suggest to any Canadian to Google the phrase, “Corporate tax profits before taxes”, and restrict their search to the domain of the Department of Finance Canada. That Canadian would get exactly two results: the HTML and PDF versions of “The Economic and Fiscal Update“ from November 2005. In that update, we find precisely the information that the Department of Justice, in its December 10 additional response to the finance committee, claimed had never previously been disclosed because it constituted a cabinet confidence. In fact, it was disclosed in the November 2005 economic and fiscal update that was issued by the previous government comprised of the Liberal Party of Canada's elected members of Parliament.
Therefore, the assertion on the part of the government, through its Department of Finance, justifying its refusal to obey, respect and act on the order of the finance committee to produce the documents is an outright fabrication.
The government department could have said that in the past the information had been released, but that the policy had been changed with a new interpretation of what constituted a cabinet confidence and, as a result, would not be releasing those documents to the finance committee. However, that was not the reason given by the department, by the government, for refusing to release that information. The reason given to the committee for not providing that information, that it is a cabinet confidence, is pure nonsense.
What is the state of legislation regarding cabinet confidence?
As mentioned, one can look to the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act, and one will find that the government does not have a leg to stand on, and in fact does not have two legs to stand on.
Any reasonable Canadian reading the pertinent sections of the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act would see that the two responses given by the Department of Finance and the response given by the Department of Justice are nonsense.
As I said, we know that in 2005 the previous government recognized that projections of corporate tax profits before taxes were not covered by cabinet confidence. Such projections are not considered a cabinet confidence when, as is the case with Finance Canada's revenue model, these projections are used by the department in a manner not exclusively related to cabinet operations.
What has changed between 2005 and 2010-11? On what grounds is the government now claiming that these projections constitute a cabinet confidence when there was no such assertion in the past and governments in the past have in fact provided and disclosed that information?
The costs of the justice bills are also important because the Department of Justice, as well, replied to the finance committee by claiming cabinet confidence as a justification for not releasing that information to the finance committee.
We know that due diligence would have required that cabinet consider the cost implications of each justice bill before making a decision to proceed with each bill. We know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.
Why do we know this? We know it because the Liberal Party of Canada has formed government in the past. We know that when we came power the government that preceded us, the one formed by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, had done that as well. So these are normal practices. These are practices of a prudent, diligent and competent government.
No diligent, prudent and competent government would consider an issue, whether amendments, or a justice bill bringing in new legislation to the Criminal Code or amending existing sections of the Criminal Code, because that constitutes government policy, would do so without informing itself of the cost of those changes.
That is what previous governments have done, because those previous governments, whatever their faults, have followed prudent, diligent and competent practices with regard to taking decisions on issues brought before cabinet.
As I said, we know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.
Now let us look at the legislation that deals with what is, or is not, cabinet confidence and whether or not something that falls into cabinet confidence can be accessible.
If one looks at section 69 of the Access to Information Act, it tells us that such analysis and background information is not, and I repeat, not, a cabinet confidence, if the cabinet decision to which the analysis relates has been made public.
A cost analysis of the implications of a justice bill should have been included, and I believe was included, in the memorandum to cabinet, as it is on each and every justice bill.