Mr. Speaker, I rise to contribute to the question of privilege that was raised by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby regarding the recorded division on opposed vote no. 126 during this year's interim estimates.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, during that vote many Liberal members entered the House after the question was put by the Assistant Deputy Speaker. After an hour of points of order, the Chair invited members to come forward, be honest and declare whether or not they were in fact in the chamber when the question was put. If they were not, the Chair called upon those members to identify themselves and withdraw their votes.
A number of members did just that. They showed honesty and principle. However, many more members did not. This was in spite of being clearly seen entering the chamber after the question was put by the Speaker. I know Canadians have seen the video. In fact I have gotten messages they have sent me. Canadians saw what happened. All of us were here and saw what happened. If you check the video, Mr. Speaker, you will confirm what I am saying. I know that this is a point that was urged upon the Chair at the time as well.
At page 81 of the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, it refers to a ruling from Speaker Sauvé, who stated in that 1980 ruling:
…while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits. When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred.
One way of looking at what took place during the vote is to conclude that certain members had found a unique and a disturbing way to mislead the House deliberately, and in so doing interfered with the proceedings of the House. Normally we talk here about misleading the House in the sense of words spoken, but that is not the only way to mislead someone. In this case, it is a matter of misleading both through actions and inactions or omissions committed by members.
On page 15 of the 24th edition of Erskine May, a contempt is described as:
Generally speaking, any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results, may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.
In the first instance, by standing up and voting despite not having heard the question read by the Chair, which everyone saw, including Canadians watching the camera, it is an act I contend be a contempt of the House.
To be sure, we are not talking about a one-off accidental or inadvertent error by someone who was not paying close attention to the vote. That has happened in this place and we all know it could happen. Members walk in, they realize they did not hear the vote and they tell the Speaker. That is not what we are talking about in this case.
As I said earlier, the House, in fact, was seized with an hour of points of order before and following the taking of the recorded division. It would, frankly, have been impossible for any member present at the time not to have been consciously aware of what was going on and what the live controversy was before the House.
The second element of which I am concerned about here is the inaction or the omission. By staying silent after being called upon by the Assistant Deputy Speaker, certain members have deliberately misled the House regarding the recorded division on opposed vote no. 126.
As a result, the records of the House on this vote are simply in error and, therefore, false. The records have been falsified through the inaction of these members who did not take the appropriate steps when prompted and called upon to do so. At page 82 of Bosc and Gagnon, falsifying the records of the House and deliberately misleading the House are both listed as offences treated as contempt.
This is a very serious matter that strikes at the very heart of our parliamentary system of democratic governance. The government may have actually lost a confidence vote that night. All of us who were here for that vote, including Canadians who witnessed it, saw it happen.
It is one thing to act and believe in the honour of all of us as members of Parliament, but if the House trusts our honour and then evidence comes forward that our honour was indeed not intact, the House, the Speaker and the office has an obligation to act on that.
It is one thing for a member to say that he or she is honourable, but if proof exists that he or she is not honourable as a member of Parliament, that cannot be ignored, nor should it ever be ignored. At page 82 of Bosc and Gagnon, falsifying the records of the House and deliberately misleading the House are both listed as offences and treated as contempt. This is a very serious matter. It strikes at the heart of our system and, as I said, the government may have actually lost a confidence vote that night.
I want to offer this citation from Beauchesne's. In the sixth edition at page 3, it talks of the basic principles of parliamentary law, which are “To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of the majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner”. It also states further down the same page that Canada is, in short, “a responsible Cabinet system with the assumption that there will always be a recognizable Government with a legislative programme. ...the system also presupposes an Opposition ready and willing to attack the Government in an attempt to have its legislation altered or rejected.”
That should have produced results as a consequence of the votes on the interim estimates. Opposed vote no. 126 should have been rejected. Had opposed vote no. 126 occurred in an honourable, legal fashion, which should have happened, there is a very good chance that the estimate would have been rejected. Therefore, the supply bill based upon the interim estimates, Bill C-96, should have been altered accordingly before being disposed of by the House.
There is ample evidence of this. There is ample evidence that the government blatantly disregarded the constitutional convention of prosecutorial independence when it sought to protect its corporate friends during the SNC-Lavalin affair. However, there is ample evidence that about 50 members misled the House. We all saw it in plain view. The cameras caught it in plain view, while the table saw it and the Deputy Speaker saw it. It was seen in plain view. That is now another cornerstone of our unwritten Constitution. The confidence convention is being undermined for Liberal interests.
During the votes on interim estimates the government attempted to interfere. If we do not take action, it will be successful at interfering with parliamentary law, the law that is supposed to secure our democratic principles and protect the House from the tyranny of a majority government, a government that we have currently seen use its majority to shut down the justice committee and now shut down the ethics committee. We now find that the majority government is rigging votes in the House of Commons to protect itself from losing the confidence of the House and having to face the verdict of Canadians at the ballot box.
As I said earlier, certain Liberal members have found a unique and disturbing way to try to mislead the House, which may have profound consequences and cannot be ignored. The government may have actually lost a confidence vote. However, since up until this moment there has been no accountability mechanism in place to deal with the actions of these members, the government appeared to have been able to dodge a bullet.
This is, Mr. Speaker, where we are asking for your intervention. Perhaps this question of privilege could serve as a means for accountability. If anything, it is certainly worthy of study at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Maingot's second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, at page 227, suggests that:
In the final analysis, in areas of doubt, the Speaker asks simply:
“Does the act complained of appear at first sight 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...leave it to the House.”
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I ask that you find a prima facie case in response to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby.