Evidence of meeting #28 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was andrews.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

There's no such thing as a friendly amendment. This is a subamendment. We need the wording of your subamendment.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

It would simply be a matter of adding to the amendment that the committee should look into all government resources used on Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Therefore, I suggest that we add “and Facebook” to the amendment, after the word “Twitter”.

That way, we would be consistent when it comes to our use of social media.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Monsieur Dusseault. We are now just on the subamendment of adding Facebook. Could you speak to your subamendment?

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

I thought that we could make a friendly amendment and that Mr. Andrews would agree. That would have been similar to what we did last time, when Ms. Davidson proposed a friendly amendment to the main motion on the date change. I thought this could be done in the same way.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

I have to see if there's unanimous consent from the committee to accept the subamendment as presented. Otherwise, we will need to debate the subamendment.

Is there unanimous consent—

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

No.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

There is not unanimous consent, so we need to proceed with your subamendment on adding Facebook.

March 8th, 2012 / 11:35 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

I could talk about this for a long time. Facebook is another very important element, in terms of parliamentary resources. Facebook and Twitter are both being used. I often use them at the same time. If we punch in the pound key followed by the letters “fb” at the end of our tweets, we can automatically add a tweet on Facebook. It could be worthwhile to discuss that, which is why I am asking for an amendment.

If we want to get to the bottom of things when it comes to Twitter, why not do the same in terms of Facebook use? I think that's very important. Facebook is also often used to play partisan politics. People use it to promote their party's positions, or simply to talk about current events. Often, people share information they believe is true, or untrue.

If we pass an amendment like the one moved by Mr. Andrews, regarding Twitter, I think we would also have to talk about Facebook. If we were to conduct a study on the use of parliamentary resources on the Internet, especially in social media, it would be all the more important to also track what is happening on Facebook. I feel that would be an important thing to do.

We know that the incident involving Mr. Toews happened on Twitter—Vikileaks30. I think the same thing could have happened on Facebook. Knowing that, it would be important to see what could be done on Facebook, how it could be done and what we can do to prevent it. That is somewhat the idea behind the original motion put forward by Mr. Del Mastro. It was a matter of checking how government resources were being used.

Something specific was recently in the news. An amendment was proposed in order to take things further, and I think it's a good idea to have a more in-depth look at the use of government resources. We could make the amendment more specific by adding Facebook to it. That's something that should be done if we take that path, as it's clearly the type of thing that could have happened.

I don't understand why my colleagues from across the table did not accept the friendly amendment. We were adding only two words. It is too bad they want to focus on a single issue, the case of the Liberal staffer, Adam Carroll. When we ask to take things further, to conduct a more in-depth and larger study, they refuse right away. That's a bit strange. I would have been very interested in seeing what is happening on Facebook, as that really is also where things happen.

The number of social network users is a hot topic. Facebook has the most users, about 500 million. Twitter has only 100 million users, if I'm not mistaken. The figures have probably changed recently; they're always changing. However, Facebook is a social network that is used even more than Twitter. If we are serious about this, we will also look at what is being done on Facebook.

That being said, I hope we can achieve a consensus. The committee members did not unanimously agree on the friendly amendment. However, I hope we can at least reach a consensus when we vote later today to add Facebook to Mr. Andrews' amendment, which is asking for a more in-depth study on Twitter.

In addition, it is somewhat surprising to see that the Conservatives have not agreed to this, given the Speaker's ruling. I won't get into all the details of the Speaker's ruling right away. I also understand that I cannot add anything more than the two words “and” and “Facebook”. That's fairly specific, and I think it's a pity it was not accepted. I am eager to hear my colleagues speak about the friendly amendment I would have liked to pass here. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

On that note, I will see what my colleagues think about my amendment, and I hope that we will find some common ground in order to add that part to Mr. Andrews' amendment.

After we finish discussing this amendment, we can go back to the original amendment proposed by Mr. Andrews. I can't wait to see what my colleagues think about that amendment.

Thank you.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Merci, monsieur Dusseault.

I am now turning to Monsieur Morin on the subamendment.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you for allowing me to speak, Madam Chair.

As for my colleague Mr. Dusseault's friendly amendment, I agree with it, but I feel that I should play something of a devil's advocate.

I have evidence to present. This is my BlackBerry, which is paid for by taxpayers and has Facebook and Twitter applications. I can use my telephone to access social media. I also have with me at all times my personal telephone, which is not paid for by taxpayers, but also has Facebook and Twitter applications.

If we pass the amendment and the whole motion, will we be able to distinguish between a tweet that could violate House rules sent from my personal phone—which I think I can use as I like—and a tweet sent from my BlackBerry, paid for by taxpayers?

That's something no one has considered. My intention is not to start a witch hunt on all Facebook statuses that may be problematic. I just want to point out that the issue involves a considerable grey area. In principle, I agree with both the amendment proposed by my colleague Mr. Dusseault and the motion introduced by my colleague Mr. Andrews. However, I think we should take this matter into consideration when voting. Perhaps the issue I just raised will lead to other discussions.

Thank you.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Morin.

Mr. Angus, go ahead on the subamendment.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I think the subamendment and the amendment are reasonable, but again this goes back to the discussion that we had the other day, where I said—

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Angus, if I can interrupt, when there is another subamendment introduced, there is a new speakers list. I keep the speakers list on the original amendment. Because we're now on a different subject, we've been taking speakers as they put their hands up, and Mr. Andrews has his hand up.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

I've been waiting patiently, Madam Chair. Could you put him in order of precedence ahead of me? I waive my precedence in his favour.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you.

Mr. Angus, go ahead.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I will certainly be speaking to this subamendment, which I think is a reasonable amendment to be made.

This goes back to the question I raised with this original motion, which I believe was a spurious motion to begin with. It was, as we said the other day, an attempt to sort of change the channel on the electoral fraud scandal that's rocking the government now, in an attempt to find a way to get on to something else. So when you, Madam Chair, turned us down and said this was not the place at the committee, you made a very wise decision. Unfortunately, the parliamentary secretary decided to ignore that and ignore the very reasonable ruling by the Speaker.

We just need to clarify this so that we understand how this subamendment plays into this. The uncharted waters.... My colleague Mr. Del Mastro, probably without having thought it through, is inadvertently walking our committee one more time down a dead-end road that will leave us looking like a ridiculous committee. So when the Speaker originally ruled on the three issues of privilege—the first issue being the minister's belief that people calling him, outraged about a badly flawed bill, was somehow an abuse of his privilege because it interfered with his staff time—quite clearly the Speaker ruled that was very much not on the table.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Angus, could you deal with the subamendment, the words, and Facebook? Could you make that relevant?

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

This is what I'm getting to. I understand your desire for us to keep on track, but these are all very much related. It's the cause and effect. When you create laws, you create unintended consequences. My colleague Mr. Del Mastro wants to change the channel on the Conservatives, going back to the old fight with the Liberals. But he has opened a Pandora's box, and our committee is going to have to deal with this. We're going to have to deal with it in a judicious manner.

The second element of the Speaker's ruling had to do with the anonymous video, which was quite rightly moved to the procedure and House affairs committee. Using threats to influence members of Parliament to change their votes is more than breach of our privilege—it goes back to the founding of the parliamentary system.

King Charles lost his head over this. Whether we're in a digital age or whether it was 300 years ago, when the Sergeant-at-Arms had to keep the sword at the door for the Commons, you cannot threaten members of Parliament and tell them they have to change their votes or they have to stop a bill. That's a serious breach. We all agree on that. The breach was that they were going to air the dirty laundry of the minister and his ugly divorce. That's a threat that, quite rightly, went to the procedure and House affairs committee.

Now, the third element, and this is where we're going to get into the issues of House resources, was on this—

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Angus, the amendment proposed by Mr. Andrews deals with the House resources, but the amendment proposed by Mr. Dusseault is simply adding the words “and Facebook”. So please come back to that.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I'm getting there right now. This was our concern about opening this Pandora's box. It is not clear whether they are attacking a former Liberal, House of Commons resources, or anonymous attacks. This is the issue here. Twitter lives in the anonymous realm, and Facebook less so, but Facebook is the use of parliamentary resources.

The House allows us to have Facebook on our apps as well as Twitter, because it is seen as a legitimate form of public relations with our constituents. That is something we use. We use Twitter. We use Facebook. We use cellphones. We use e-mail. These are all legitimate resources.

With Facebook, you can set up a fake page; you can create any number of fake personalities and run a Facebook page. You can do that to attack a member of Parliament. You can do it to undermine the credibility of a political opponent. Twitter is almost entirely in the realm of anonymous. People set up all kinds of names under Twitter accounts and write all manner of spurious things. I have nothing against Twitter, but I had a gentleman write to me the other day who said he can't call his dog in 140 characters and asked how could he get involved in an intelligent discussion.

It's not our purview to decide whether Twitter is an addition to the parliamentary political discourse or a dumbing down of it. The question has to do with using House resources for new media. We've opened a Pandora's box. Now we're going after House use of Twitter, which has clearly been identified as legitimate. My honourable colleague says it's Facebook, which can be used in the exact same way, and we're now looking at that.

I think people back home are going to get worried about the intrusiveness of government. This goes back to the intrusiveness of Bill C-30, of government deciding to shut down Twitter accounts to be able to investigate. We've all agreed that it has been a very seedy little side story about the minister, with allegations or documents flying about an unsavoury divorce. Now, once again we're forced to discuss it, but that could have been done on Facebook.

This is where we need to really understand where we're going. Political staffers and bureaucrats are online all day. They're using House resources all day. When I'm at my desk, Facebook is often open. We're now talking about the use of House resources in new media.

We've had numerous instances when anonymous sources have been traced back to IP addresses in the House of Commons. Posting online comments, digital troll comments on news sites, changing the appearance of public commentary on a newspaper—all these activities have been traced back to the House of Commons. It would be understood that either a political staffer or a civil servant is hiding his or her name and is trying to undermine someone from another party. That has happened. We know that biographies on Wiki have been changed, and they're traced back to people who have been bombing the Wiki sites. They're traced back to IP addresses in the House of Commons.

We will be in a discussion of the House, going back to the original issue—the issue of anonymous attacks and House resources. What my honourable colleague has done—I don't blame him for trying—is open the door to a whole Pandora's box. If we are going to identify a former Liberal staffer—

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Angus—

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

This is the relevance here. If we're going to make a precedent by going after a former Liberal staffer for his use of House resources on a Twitter account, that would be seen as an unfair partisan witch hunt, unless we are going to actually look at misuse of time. Incidentally, this would actually undo the precedent of the previous Conservative government, which said that political staffers were exempt. People could be posting as digital trolls, bombing Wiki sites, posting anonymous blogs under other names—and we can trace these activities back to House of Commons IP addresses.

I recognize that there is no such thing as a friendly subamendment, but with all due respect to my colleague Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who thinks it's strictly about Facebook, I've been thinking for a long time about the whole role of the digital troll in partisan politics. I think we have to carry out a subamendment to the amendment again: Twitter accounts and Facebook and—

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

I'm sorry, Mr. Angus; you have to dispose of one subamendment before a second subamendment can be proposed. We need to dispose of this one before we can propose another one.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Okay. I understand that. But I guess what I'm concerned about is that if I'm just limited to Facebook, these other issues....

We have to deal with that in the next round, then?

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Angus, once the question has been put on this subamendment and it has been either passed or defeated, when we're back on the amendment and you have the floor again at some point, you can then propose a subamendment to the amendment.

We need to deal with this subamendment before any other subamendments can be proposed.