House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.


Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

One minute. Boy, times flies when you are trying to make real points.

The promise to defend to the death article XI of the GATT, by the time the Liberal Party understood that the Reform was right, that this was going to be gone, it had lost it as a bargaining chip.

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The member's time has expired. Is the House ready for the question?

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Under the present House rules, Standing Order 57, I have read carefully through the closure notice and I did not notice anything specifically in that rule that does not allow for a 10 minute questions and comments portion following 20 minutes speeches.

Could the Chair clarify Standing Order 57 and why we are not having any questions and comments?

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member was kind enough to indicate to the Chair his concern in this regard earlier and the answer is as follows. Standing Order 57 states there will be 20 minute speeches only during the period of closure, the debate we are in now.

Standing Order 43 states that unless provided otherwise there will be 20 minute speeches plus question and answer.

I agree with the member that it would have been better if somebody had said under Standing Order 57 that there will not be questions and answers, but it is by implication. In a commentary under Standing Order 43 it is indicated there are not questions and answers under closure debate.

There is of course the availability of unanimous consent. If the member wishes to ask for unanimous consent that there be questions and answers during this closure debate the Chair would be happy to entertain that motion.

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will decline from so moving because I strongly suspect the Liberals will not allow it.

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.


Bob Ringma Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in addressing this motion I would like to start with the Liberal red book and end with the Liberal red book.

Let us start by assuming that there was some good will there that went into the creation of that document, that there were honest, noble members of the Liberal Party who said, sitting in opposition: "We need change. We have to respond to the people of Canada who are saying let us have change, let us revise the rules of the way we are doing things. Let us do things better".

I assume that even the member for Kingston and the Islands was one such person and the report he put forward which forms a contributing document to the red book was made in good faith. Having said that, what happens to it?

When the Liberals were in opposition I think they were sincere and honest in saying that we really must have this. Now they flood the government benches and oh what a difference it makes.

In the creation of the red book the Liberal Party brass, the creators of strategy asked what it is that the people of Canada want. They had a pretty clear message at that point of what the people of Canada wanted, which was integrity and honesty in government. Their red book was created by that stimulus. They said: "Fine, let us promise to the people of Canada what it is that they want, and we will put all that in the red book". It has wound up as a book of promises and the government says it has kept 78 per cent of them. We give the government 30 per cent at the most.

One of the contributing documents for the red book which has already been cited today is the document "Governing with Integrity". Having read it in my role as an opposition member I totally subscribe to it. It states: "If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored". The Liberals felt that was true at the time and I am sure it was, but it is still true and it has still not been achieved.

Again from "Governing with Integrity": "This erosion of confidence seems to have many causes. Some have to do with the behaviour of certain elected politicians, others with an arrogant style of political leadership". Hold on. This is the Liberals talking about the Conservatives. "The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them or that disregard their views or that try to conduct key parts of the public business behind closed doors". That is the Liberals talking in the creation of their famous red book in 1993.

Lest anyone say this is sour grapes or this is just a westerner talking, let me quote from an article written by Michel Venne in Le Devoir yesterday about the unhappiness of the Canadian electorate:

"For the past week, the Liberal Party of Canada has been congratulating itself in a way bordering on indecency, given that, since the Liberals took office in 1993, the country has come within a hair's breadth of disintegration, while poverty and voter cynicism keeps growing from coast to coast."

That is the view from Quebec. The Quebecers say that the cynicism of the electorate is prevalent from coast to coast. Let us look at the reasons for that cynicism. Let us examine some of the specific promises made in the Liberal red book.

Number one: "We will restore Canadians' faith in themselves and their government". Has that been done? The answer is a resounding no, and we will get that no from province to province from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

They also promise: "We will implement new programs only if they can be funded within existing expenditures". That is a very nice promise. Certainly it was probably their intent at the time to keep the promise to implement new programs only if they could be funded within existing expenditures.

How about the latest foray by the Minister of Canadian Heritage into flags at $23 million, and the establishment of-let us call them what they are-government propaganda offices across the country at a cost of well over $100 million? These are new programs that were unfunded and magically, funding has been found for them but not for other things.

There is an example close to us in Ottawa, in Chalk River, Ontario. A superconducting cyclotron needs $3 million of bridge financing to keep it going but the money is not to be found. The government cannot find $3 million or even half of that amount, presuming that the rest would come from private industry. No, the money is just not there.

The same case can be made for Whiteshell Laboratories in Manitoba. The government simply cannot find the money or the means to make its promise of looking at the privatization of that laboratory. It has simply been left to wither on the vine.

These were promises made and promises not kept. The government, when it wants to implement new programs, we have the example of the grant of a loan to Bombardier in Quebec. Was that necessary? Well it was only necessary from a political point of view. New money is found for anything that suits the purpose of the government.

Promise No. 4: "We will exercise unwavering discipline in controlling federal spending and we will re-order current spending priorities to make sure the maximum return is obtained on each investment". It really sounds good: unwavering discipline in controlling federal expenditures. Look around and we find example after example of the flagrant disregard for that.

Just to show that the Liberals did keep some of their promises let us look at a kept promise. Promise No. 7: "A Liberal government will cancel the $5.8 billion purchase of EH-101 helicopters". They kept that promise. The only problem is that it has cost us a few hundred million dollars just to keep the claimants away and we still do not have a replacement three years later. They kept the promise but to the detriment of the country.

Let us go on to some of the other many unfulfilled promises made by the Liberals. Why did they make these promises? They made them purely to get elected. I will reiterate my opening statement that without a doubt some statements were made in honesty at the beginning and some of those were incorporated honestly into the red book. However, they went on from there to say: "No, winning is the thing. We must win and we must win at any cost. Therefore, do not mind what promises are made, we will just see how we can cope with that".

Another promise: "The Liberal government will replace the GST". That one has been pounded into the ground so I think I will leave that for others to hit.

Here is another promise: "A Liberal government will work closely with provincial governments to achieve the maximum possible co-ordination of tax policies". We have seen where that one has gone in recent months. It has made a hiatus in the Atlantic provinces and other provinces are totally unhappy about it.

Another promise: "A Liberal government will be committed to the elimination of interprovincial trade barriers within Canada and will address the issue urgently". What has been done on that? I recall there was a little effort made in 1994 and perhaps there are a few minor items going on but the work that is desperately required is not happening.

Promise No. 17: "The Liberals will manage this trading relationship with the United States in a way that best serves Canada's interests". They are talking about the GATT, the NAFTA and such things. Let us look at examples from the last year or two with respect to our trading with the Unites States in fish, in softwood and in wheat. We do not have anything which is serving Canada's best interests. There are problems. That is not to say that they have not put some effort into it. Of course they have, but it is insufficient. Once again it amounts to a broken promise.

Let us move on through the pages. The Liberals said they would prepare for the transition from school to the workplace and provide a constructive outlet for the skills and talents of younger Canadians who are the innocent victims of Canada's prolonged recession. They said they would enhance the opportunity for job training and improve the literacy and numeracy skills of Canadian workers, and improve access to employment for women and single parents by making quality child care more available.

Those are wonderful words. It is an admirable aim for the government to have said: "Look Canadians, this is what we are going to do for you. We are going to make 100 more promises like this, but unfortunately we are not going to be able to keep them". As a promise it was wonderful. It was certainly a worthwhile aim. That is indeed what the government should be doing. It should be keeping the promises which were made in this book.

Let us go on to other promises along the same line. The Liberals said that a Liberal government would gather information on these developments of job training, skills and disseminate it to all those responsible for the education of our children. That has not been done.

In collaboration with provincial governments the Liberals would introduce a voluntary national achievement test in math, science and technology. Again, that is a very worthwhile aim. I laud the Liberals for having thought of all these wonderful things, but I do not laud them for having put them in this book and then not having kept those promises.

They were also going to work with business, labour and provincial governments to provide funding to establish apprenticeship programs for the new economy. Once again, what could be better than to establish worthwhile apprenticeship programs? This country needs more of them, but we are not getting them. The Liberals have simply not delivered on their promise.

Let us turn the page. What do we have? "A Liberal government will provide the necessary funds and administrative support to launch pilot projects in community projects across Canada within the first year of a Liberal mandate. We will invest $100 million a year in the Canadian Youth Service Corps". I have to say that is not a totally ignored promised. There has been something done.

I have in my own riding of Nanaimo-Cowichan a very worthwhile project concerning the Canadian Youth Service Corps. The trouble is, it only involves 16 or 17 young people. The promise was to invest $100 million a year. That is not being done. Again I will give credit for what is being done, but what is not being done is what we are calling the Liberals to task for.

All of these are examples of broken promises. They are good intentions. If the Liberals want good parliamentary government and good government across the country, they should read their red book again. They should read again the contributory documents that were made probably in good faith to say what the red book is all about, that they are the basic documents. They should read them again and ask themselves if they have kept their promises to the Canadian people, starting and ending with the promise to have a deputy speaker who represents the opposition in the House. It was a good intention. They simply did not measure up to it.

Committee Of The Whole
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

October 29th, 1996 / 5:25 p.m.


Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON


That this House unequivocally reconfirms the undoubted rights and privileges of the House of Commons, won from the Crown and which became part of the law many centuries ago, and in particular the unfettered right of the House and its committees to at all times compel the attendance of persons and require them to answer questions and to compel the production of such papers and documents as the House or committee considers necessary for the due carrying out of its mandate.

Mr. Speaker, if this motion were to be voted on today it would cause this House of Commons for the first time in its 129-year existence to publicly articulate, declare and confirm its absolute right on behalf of all citizens to send for persons, papers and records.

The authority to require the attendance of persons, to have the persons answer questions and produce documents, as well as the right to institute inquiries, are essential elements of our parliamentary process. They are part of the law of Canada. They are founded in the Constitution Act of 1867 and the Parliament of Canada Act. Each of Beauchesne, Bourinot, Erskine May, Maingot and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993 has recognized this historic and longstanding body of parliamentary privilege.

Unfortunately these powers are not commonly understood by or in some cases respected by parliamentarians, the executive branch and the public. That is why I have moved this motion on what I consider to be a very important matter for Parliament.

Let me draw to the attention of the House some of the problems that have been encountered in this area, that have arisen in the past and that continue to recur today.

In 1991 the then solicitor general and Correction Services Canada refused to provide to a committee of the House the complete, unexpurgated reports of inquiries into escapes from correctional institutions of an individual by the name of Leger and another individual by the name of Gingras. Each of those individuals had escaped and had killed innocent Canadians.

Inquiries were held and the House of Commons committee on justice at that time was undertaking a review. As I said, the solicitor general and Correction Services Canada refused to turn over the unexpurgated versions of those two reports.

In the end it took approximately 12 months to receive the reports. We had a number of lawyers, a number of parties, committee hearings, privilege moved in this House and ultimately the unexpurgated reports were provided under the basis of a House order which was consensually agreed to. That process which took 12 months is not sufficient. Everyone in the House knows it. That is one example of why the House should adopt this motion at this time.

I am also personally aware of confusion and sometimes ignorance at the Department of Justice where lawyers continue to advise their clients as lawyers to the clients, but we must forgive them in some cases. They are in fact advising their clients. They are not advising the House of Commons. They are not advising parliamentarians, they are simply telling their clients the limits of their legal rights. In some cases this manifests confusion and, I regret to say, ignorance of the law of Parliament.

Clearly this is not acceptable to parliamentarians. I am sure there are many other examples being experienced by parliamentarians in committee from time to time. I know there are some instances extant right now.

Why this motion now? The Canadian House of Commons has never formally articulated this element of parliamentary privilege. It is noteworthy, however, that other parliaments have done this, especially when confusion has arisen. For example, the House of Commons in the United Kingdom reconfirmed its power over witnesses in 1947 and the Senate of Australia did the same thing in 1975.

The way to reconfirm and re-assert the authority of the House of Commons and clear up the confusion is by the adoption of a resolution such as this. In my remarks I want to discuss a bit more of the background to this motion, the purpose of privilege and the enforcement remedies available to the House. Finally I will comment on some practical implications.

Why do we have this particular authority or power to call for persons, papers and documents? The power to send for a person's papers and records is central to the ability of the House and its committees to discharge their responsibilities. This was confirmed in the first report of the standing committee on privileges and elections in February 1991 dealing with the Gingras and Leger matters to which I referred earlier.

There is a phrase of which members may be aware where the House has been described as the grand inquest of the nation. Historically, the House of Commons has been considered to be a grand inquest in the United Kingdom and also in Canada.

Lord Coke first described the House of Commons in this way in the 17th century, and courts have continued to use that phrase ever since. The House of Commons and the other place act as a kind of a check on the executive branch and I will talk a little more about that later.

What is the legal basis of this particular privilege? First, section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867 which I will not read because it is there for reference. Second, it has been restated in sections 4 and 5 of the Parliament of Canada Act. Of course, a recapitulation of all of that is in Standing Order 108(1)(a) of the House. It states, and I will paraphrase: "Standing committees shall be severally empowered to examine and inquire into all such matters as may be referred to them by the House and to send for persons, papers and records". In effect, that is a comprehensive delegation by the House to its committees of that power to call for persons, papers and records.

The courts have commented on this and I just want to note that for the record. The Supreme Court has stated its opinion on several occasions. It has described these privileges as fundamental. It has stated: "It is clear that the privileges inherent in legislative bodies are fundamental to our system of government". This was in the case of New Brunswick Broadcasting Company v. Nova Scotia.

Second, the court has commented that these privileges are necessary. It has said that parliamentary privilege and the breadth of individual privileges encompassed by that term are accorded to members of the Houses of Parliament and the legislative assemblies because they are judged necessary to the discharge of their legislative function.

Third, these privileges are a part of our Constitution. They are part of the fundamental law of our land.

By this brief review of the statutory basis of parliamentary privilege, it will be noted that it is within the scope of the House or its committees to inquire into any matter within Parliament's authority to enact legislation.

What are the documents that must be produced? What are the questions that must be answered?

For the reasons I have just discussed, Parliament and its committees have a very broad range of powers. No person may ignore the order to appear, nor decline to answer a question, nor refuse to produce a document. To do so is a contempt of the House for which the House may exercise its lawful power to enforce sanctions which include the power of detention.

Here are some of the authorities I want to cite for the record: "A committee is not restricted in the scope of questions it can pose and a witness must answer all questions put to him". That is from Maingot, page 163.

"Committees may send for any papers that are relevant to their orders of reference. Within this restriction, it appears that the power of the committee to send for papers is unlimited. Witnesses must answer all questions directed to them even over their objection that an answer would incriminate them". That is from Beauchesne, page 239, citation 862.

Canadians may be asking what protection is afforded to a witness who provides such evidence or documents. Even if a claim were made that a witness violated a statute's provisions by providing information or documents to the House or a committee, that witness would automatically be clothed with the protection or immunity of the House and cannot be prosecuted.

This immunity is described in Beauchesne as follows: "Every witness attending before the House or any committee thereof may claim the protection of the House in respect of the evidence to be given". That is page 237, citation 853.

"Nothing said before a committee, or at the Bar of the House, may be used in a court of law. Thus a witness may not refuse to

answer on the grounds of self-incrimination". That is Beauchesne, pages 27-28, citation 109.

Finally, article 9 of the Bill of Rights, 1688, which the Supreme Court of Canada noted in the 1991 Patriation Reference and which is part of the public and general law of Canada, states: "That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament". Forgive me for going back 400 years to find that one.

The enforcement mechanisms that are available to the House are available to the House and not to committees. These are the procedure to be used where a witness refuses to appear as set out in Beauchesne, among other volumes: "If a witness should refuse to appear on receiving the order of the Chairman, or if a witness refuses to answer questions, this conduct may be reported to the House and an order immediately made for the attendance of the person at the Bar or before the committee.

"On further refusing to obey, the witness may be ordered to be sent for and brought to the Bar in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, or may be declared guilty of a contempt and ordered to be taken into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms". That citation is from Beauchesne, page 238-239.

In my research, I went back another couple of hundred years to the year 1704 and found the case of an unfortunate Mr. Lee of Clement Inn who I am sure was not an ancestor of mine. He might have been. In any event, Mr. Lee had failed to respond to an order of a committee of Parliament. The resolution of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom which was adopted found him guilty of contempt and required that he be taken into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Even a former Canadian Prime Minister has been held in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. That was in 1873. Sir John A. Macdonald failed to attend a committee meeting of which he was a member and was ordered into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. The former Prime Minister was not discharged until after the reading of his doctor's affidavit indicating his ill health that existed at the time.

In 1913, not that long ago, Mr. R. C. Miller refused to answer questions before the public accounts committee. The matter was reported to the House. He was summoned to the bar but he persisted in his refusal to answer. The House committed him to the Carleton County jail until prorogation or until the House otherwise decided. That citation is at page 30 of Beauchesne's.

Occasionally the matter of crown privilege arises. It is not truly a privilege but a claim that is put to the House of Commons and Parliament on behalf of the crown that usually involves a matter of state. Rather than being an absolute exception to the rule, the matter is taken under advisement by the committee or the House and is disposed of on a common sense basis. I put it that way so as not to derogate unnecessarily at this time from the main principle found in my motion.

I would like to recap for a moment. I have discussed the legal basis for the privilege. I have talked about why the privilege applies, the remedies and the enforcement. Why is this motion important to us? I have thought this through carefully and I think there are three or four reasons.

First, it deals with the public perception of the role and the authority of the House of Parliament and the other place. In my experience the production of documents is the single greatest obstacle I have ever encountered as an MP during my work at committee. The existence of this circumstance is eroding the public's confidence in Parliament. Parliamentarians are more than just a debating club and a cheering section for the government. If parliamentarians cannot get the information our committees are out of business; we cannot do our job.

My second point is fairly simple. If we do not establish the principle all other questions regarding exceptions, privileges and privacy are all moot. We will never be able to deal with the exceptions until we have the principle.

Third, I reiterate how other houses in the Commonwealth have dealt with the matter. Perhaps I will avoid too much detail recognizing that the clock is running faster than I am flipping pages of my speech.

On August 13, 1947 the House of Commons in the United Kingdom reconfirmed its authority to require the attendance of witnesses by resolving:

That the refusal of a witness before a select committee to answer any question which may be put to him is a contempt of this House, and an infraction of the undoubted right of this House to conduct any inquiry which may be necessary in the public interest.

The attorney general of the United Kingdom at that time said:

We are now putting the matter beyond all possibility of doubt by this motion.

The mover of the motion, Mr. Morrison, said:

The point is not one on which any doubt can be allowed to continue. It should be cleared up and the motion is to make the position entirely clear for the future as regards any committee of the House.

The Senate of Australia passed a similar resolution in 1984.

My final point is that we can clear up doubt on this matter once and for all by confirming this privilege with a motion. We must act in such a way as to fortify and buttress the powers of Parliament, the rights of Parliament and the privileges of Parliament as they exist now and as they have always existed. This resolution does not create new law. It simply confirms what is there. The House has not passed a resolution of this type in its entire 129-year existence.

There is some ignorance, denial and confusion out there with which we must deal.

It is an embarrassment to me as a parliamentarian that for 129 years we have muddled along without articulating it. We simply assumed that all the authorities and authors who have written for us would do the job. It is not their job; it is our job. It is our duty as parliamentarians to deal with the issue in this way and the time has come to deal with it.

The House will confirm the principle. It will be there for all parliamentarians, all writers, all the Beauchesnes who write about Parliament and study our rules.

I hope the debate will not fall on deaf ears. I would like to think this motion could be passed but of course it is in the hands of members. I thank members for giving the matter their consideration.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


François Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my friend and colleague, the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River and I am pleased to speak to his Motion M-142. And in doing so, I am in good company, since I have the hon. member for Gaspé at my side to support me, should I become weak.

Motion M-142 reads as follows:

That this House unequivocally reconfirms the undoubted rights and privileges of the House of Commons, won from the Crown and which became part of the law many centuries ago, and in particular the unfettered right of the House and its committees to at all times compel the attendance of persons and require them to answer questions and to compel the production of such papers and documents as the House or committee considers necessary for the due carrying out of its mandate.

The English version of the motion translates the French word "indubitables", in reference to privileges, as "undoubted rights and privileges". If rights are undoubted, unchallenged, there is no need really to reaffirm or reconfirm them.

In fact, the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River provided a brilliant historical demonstration, and knowing his attachment to the parliamentary system, I am sure he feels this demonstration even in his frustrations as a parliamentarian. I will share some of my own with you in a moment.

I do not think that it is necessary to pass the motion again. That said, should the question be put again, I will gladly vote in favour. But it is worth reaffirming from time to time rights so longstanding in the British parliamentary system, probably dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215, the Oxford provisions of 1258, the Bill of rights of 1689 and all the legislation that, little by little, over the course of centuries, have affirmed the rights and privileges of the House of Commons and Parliament.

I assume that the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River has put this motion before us today not to have a purely academic debate, but in response to actual situations. I will not speak for the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River, but for myself. Since the very beginning of this Parliament or almost, I have been sitting on the sub-committee on national security, which was set up by the Standing Committee for Justice and Legal Affairs.

One of the matters we have worked on was the Heritage Front affair. On many occasions, at in camera sessions, with members of Parliament in attendance, we have had members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, better known as SIRC, appear before our committee as witnesses.

These people systematically refused to answer questions, to table uncensored versions of documents they had sent to the Solicitor General and to co-operate in any way with the committee.

At the time I moved a motion before the committee to have the Chairman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, Mr. Jacques Courtois, cited for contempt of Parliament. It was divine providence that prevented the motion from being debated because, meanwhile, Mr. Courtois had died.

The other members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee had never volunteered their co-operation either. Neither the chairman pro tempore nor the other members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee. We had to sit for months and months to try and get clear answers to clear questions. All the members did was look at the clock to check when the committee's time was up, and they then rose without having answered the question.

These same members of SIRC, although they had been informed of their obligations by the general legal counsel of the House, Ms. Diane Davidson, refused to answer our questions. They refused to answer, even when the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River, chairman of the sub-committee, ordered them to answer.

In spite of all that, they left us in great good humour, but we never got an answer to matters of substance. Our report to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs was, to all intents and purposes bereft of substance. We could not include any pertinent elements because we had no evidence, which was the fault of those who were supposed to serve the Canadian people by providing accurate replies to the elected representatives of the people.

By hiding behind the oath of office they had taken to keep their information secret, members of the Security Intelligence Review Committee refused to answer the questions asked by the elected representatives of the people. In a parliamentary democracy, this is a moral sin.

Unfortunately, the text of the motion of the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River does not solve the problem. These rights are not discussed but are perhaps open to discussion in connection with the contemporary element which might be added. These rights are not really being questioned, it is the exercise of those rights which is being questioned. That is where politics enters into it.

There was nothing to prevent the subcommittee on national security from promptly making a report to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, which would in turn have reported to this House so that the Security Intelligence Review Committee could have been brought before this House for contempt of Parliament and subjected to sanctions commensurate with the offence committed. But no political majority ever came together to have these people charged with contempt of Parliament.

For months and months the question hung fire, and I understand the political constraints under which the chairman and member for Scarborough-Rouge River found himself. Despite all of his attempts at negotiation, he could not compel the members of SIRC to provide answers.

When a parliamentary committee is totally paralyzed, rendered incapable of action by people who refuse to bow to the laws of the country, we are-you will pardon the expression, which may seem to be going almost too far-almost in a state of insurrection. People mandated to do something, who are categorically refusing to do it.

If the question were to be raised again, as it will be-we have already had to adjourn a meeting of the subcommittee on national security-the next time the people of the Security Intelligence Review Committee come before the subcommittee on national security and again refuse to respond, as they have for months, for years now, to the legitimate questions asked of them, I shall be the first in line to table a motion that they be accused of contempt of Parliament.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the issue I address today relates to the investigative and probative powers of committees. I certainly applaud the member for Scarborough-Rouge River for his very informative review of the rights of the House and its committees. Too often it is forgotten that Parliament is the highest court of the land and that the committees as creatures of this House are component bodies of the high court.

In the discharge of our duties as parliamentarians to carry out our mandate it is imperative that committees be given the unfettered right of the House to compel attendance and subpoena witnesses, and such powers must be afforded every committee and every full member of these bodies.

I listened intently to the Bloc member relate the circumstance regarding the subcommittee on national security and the efforts that committee went through to get full evidence before the committee. It should not be the case.

Unfortunately I must report that my personal experience with committees has not been consistent with the high goals advanced in this motion. Take the recent cased put before the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs on which I serve as a full member. It was advanced that the standing committee use its probative and investigative powers to study a certain matter of alleged employment insurance fraud and report its findings to Parliament.

It was explained that Elizabeth Roux of Montreal went to the University of Southern California in September 1994 but kept collecting employment insurance benefits to the tune of $5,200 until January 1995. It was further presented that the RCMP was called in to investigate the matter. It determined that Roux "did by trickery, lies and other misleading methods defraud the Canadian government". I explained to our committee that the RCMP recommended that charges be laid.

I also presented evidence that the Montreal office of Human Resources Development Canada also recommended trying Roux. The department sees hundreds of cases a year of EI recipients studying or vacationing outside the country while continuing to collect benefits in violation of the law requiring claimants to be actively seeking and readily available for work.

The Roux case would appear on the surface to be just like any other case but it is more involved. Many of these EI snowbirds and scholars cost Canadians at least $60 million annually. They are such a problem that human resources recently began cross-referencing EI records with customs declarations Canadians file when they return to the country to help them spot the cheats.

I also explained to my committee colleagues that most fraud cases of this type have accomplices, someone back home, usually a close friend or relative who collects the EI cheques and forwards them to the absentee claimant. In Roux's case her partner in deception was her mother who mailed her daughter's false declarations of employability to the EI office from Montreal so they could be postmarked in Canada. She then collected Roux's cheques and deposited them in a joint mother-daughter bank account.

I explained to the committee that charges are almost always laid against accomplices even if the unlawfully obtained benefits are paid back as was the case with Roux. There is in effect a zero tolerance policy. In the case of globetrotting claimants they are invariably fined and almost always charged with fraud.

I imparted to the committee that most Canadians would expect that Roux and her mother would be charged. But they were not. Justice department lawyers refused to proceed. Coincidentally Roux's mother is a Canadian senator, Senator Therésè Lavoie-Roux. Senator Lavoie-Roux was a provincial Liberal cabinet minister for 12 years and it was apparent that her pedigree and political connections may have very well factored into the decision not to lay charges.

Herein is the issue. Two independent federal organizations, the RCMP and the human resources fraud investigators, recommended that charges be laid. Immediately thereafter the justice department, inexplicably, refused to lay charges. The subject of the investigation had real and substantive ties to the political process and the standing committee refused to allow an investigation.

That the government in power would use its majority to suppress my motion for parliamentary investigation into a matter as important as the case illustrated today demonstrates the need to effect the goals advanced in the motion we debate today.

No one can tell me that the Liberal government does not recognize the need to have a more open process in the committee. In fact, the subject for debate prior to Private Members' Business dealt with the promises of the red book. The Liberal red book promises point to several sore spots which need to be corrected.

I noted yesterday that clearly in the preamble to the red book there is a concern on the part of the Liberal government that there have to be some changes. It reads: "Mounting criticism of the House of Commons and its proceedings reflects the frustration of citizens and parliamentarians alike with the continuing failure of Parliament to address effectively the problems that face us". It continues: "Canadians, including those who are elected to serve Parliament, expect the House of Commons not merely to discuss openly the problems of the nation, but also to advance solutions".

Time and again the public has viewed parliamentarians and senators as being above the law. This has been questioned on numerous occasions and there have been regular press reports on these cases.

I will continue to quote from the second paragraph of the preamble to the red book: "They expect the Commons to explore Canada's problems rationally and to establish policies for resolving them. These expectations are not met". That is the statement made by the Liberal government in its red book. I do not believe it is being met adequately.

Parliament must remain the highest court in the land. We the elected officials must possess the tools to carry out our duties and to ensure that justice and the law apply equally to all Canadians. By refusing the right of our committee to investigate the matter of fraud, for instance, involving Senator Lavoie-Roux, the members opposite who serve on the justice and legal affairs committee have contravened the spirit and substance on which the motion which we are debating is founded.

An article in the Edmonton Sun reports that these occasions will hit the press time and time again. I will quote briefly from the Edmonton Sun , the press' view as outlined with the information at hand: ``The RCMP reportedly recommended laying charges, as did the Montreal office of Human Resources Development Canada. But the justice minister says his department has looked into the case and found insufficient evidence to warrant charges. Last week the Liberals used their majority in the Commons to defeat a Reform demand for a parliamentary investigation. Lavoie-Roux claims there was no attempt to defraud. She did not know there are EI rules against making claims while resident in another country''.

"From a former social services minister this is impossible to swallow", the press said. "She didn't see a problem. Why not mail the claims then from California if there was no problem? We could demand to know why mother and daughter have not been charged. Unfortunately that is rather obvious".

Situations of this nature bring the whole parliamentary system into disrepute. If this motion is to have any meaning, Senator Lavoie-Roux, should be called before a committee, questioned by its members and the findings reported back to Parliament.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take peculiar pleasure in speaking to this motion. This is quite incredible because it pertains to one of my direct ancestors. I refer to one Thomas Percy who, on November 4, 1605, was chased by the soldiers of James I because he had been involved in the gunpowder plot.

Thomas Percy joined up with Guy Fawkes and they rented a building next to the Houses of Parliament, spent six months burrowing through the wall into the cellar under the House of Lords. They filled it with 20 barrels of gun powder and intended to blow up the entire House of Lords, the privy council, James I, and hopefully get his successor as well.

The plot failed, as members know, and my ancestor was pursued on the road to Dover and was captured at an inn where the king's

men rode up in the rain. Thomas Percy and other members of the conspiracy had laid their gunpowder out to dry in front of the fireplace and a spark ignited it. There was an explosion and the king's men successfully captured my ancestor, Thomas Percy. He was hanged, drawn and quartered, all in the name of trying to obtain parliamentary privilege for members of Parliament.

This issue of privilege goes back for centuries in parliamentary tradition. In fact, the English civil war was fought over this issue. It is not just a matter of summoning documents, it is also a fundamental issue of free speech and the ability of MPs to have freedom from arbitrary arrest or interference by the crown, by the state. James I, who was the target of the gunpowder plot, on several occasions arrested members of Parliament. This led directly to the English civil war which, I am happy to report, parliamentarians won against the royalists. This is one reason why we have privileges entrenched in the Canadian Parliament today.

I should say that privilege, the right to speak freely in the House of Commons, the right to order documents, the right to have true witness from those we call before us, is something that has been fought long and hard for in the British tradition.

However, we Canadians were fortunate because in 1867 we adopted these privileges in the Constitution Act without a war, without bloodshed and they became an essential part of our parliamentary tradition and an essential part of the way the House of Commons functions. If we cannot have immunity from arrest, if we cannot have freedom of speech and if we cannot summon the evidence that we must have in order to make our decisions clearly, then this Parliament cannot function adequately and serve the people who elected it.

I come to Motion No. 42 from the member for Scarborough-Rouge River. He raises the question of whether we have left behind the sense of privilege. Is there something the matter? Are we getting the return on the sense of privilege as it pertains to the summoning of documents and questioning of witnesses? I suggest we are not.

Indeed, what was conferred on us by the Constitution Act of 1867 we are losing through a process of neglect. As MPs we have over many decades failed to establish our need and our right to have the proper documents and the proper testimony from witnesses who come before us.

Indeed, I regret to say that when I was elected as an MP for the first time in 1993, veteran MPs who had been in the House previously told me that there was not much point in taking part in standing committees because it was all by rote. It was all decided by the government in power. It was all decided by parliamentary secretaries who sat in the standing committees.

There has been criticism in the House about the performance of standing committees. Nevertheless I have been very satisfied, for the most part, that MPs who are willing to speak out in standing committees, whether they are opposition MPs or government MPs, can be heard and can make a difference.

It is true-and this is where the motion of the member for Scarborough-Rouge River is so very important-that the one place where we hit a log jam is the repeated instances where officials called before the committee have refused to testify or have refused to give an answer.

The motion is long overdue. It merely reminds Parliament of a privilege it has had for centuries, centuries of parliamentary tradition that should require proper testimony and evidence before the committee.

I remind the House of something that we implement very rarely. Parliament has the option of compelling testimony under oath. This is one occasion on which we can bring people before us. If they fail to satisfy us, they are actually subject to a penalty equivalent to perjury.

In conclusion, looking down the centuries I must say that we in Parliament should remember the origins of privilege in the British tradition which wars were fought over. We should remember that every one of us on all sides of the House have a fundamental obligation to defend the rights of every MP to obtain good information and adequate testimony both in committees and in any other location on Parliament Hill.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague about the history of his forefather. If he were hanged and quartered I was wondering how my colleague evolved. I will speak a bit about history, democracy and the privileges we should have and should not have.

Democracy comes from two Greek words, part of my ancestry, demos, which means people, and kratos, which means country. In the old ages in Athens people would gather at the bottom of the hill to have a say in what the state should be doing. At that time they did not have elected members of Parliament or an elected system but collectively they were there and made a decision.

As we evolved we came to what we have today, the Westminster system and the parliamentary systems of different countries. People have different elections. Other people get elected at large. For example, in the parliamentary systems in Europe in the second district of Paris 20 or 30 members of Parliament are elected. In Canada we have a plus one system which means one parliamentarian gets elected for one seat.

The constituents who have sent us here want us to voice their opinions in caucus. We all come here, as I did in 1988, with dreams

and aspirations. We find out there is a larger game. We find out we have to listen to our colleagues. We find out there are rules and procedures. It is not what we want it to be but by working in committees and here we can make changes.

I always ask my constituents what one member of Parliament can do. I raise the example of when the Prime Minister put forward a private member's bill back in the sixties and changed the name of the Trans-Canada Airlines to Air Canada. Members of Parliament are effective.

I commend my colleague from Scarborough-Rouge River, for bringing this important motion to the floor of the House. It gives us the right to access information. It gives us the right to ask. We do not have to be wary that if I ask this question somebody will crack my knuckles.

I support the motion my colleague has brought forward.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Motion No. 142 in the name of the member for Scarborough-Rouge River. It states:

That this House unequivocally reconfirms the undoubted rights and privileges of the House of Commons, won from the crown and which became part of law many centuries ago, and in particular the unfettered right of the House and its committees to at all times compel the attendance of persons and require them to answer questions and to compel the production of such papers and documents as the House or committee considers necessary for the due carrying out of its mandate.

I listened carefully to the mover of the motion, a second term member of Parliament who has worked very diligently in a particular area of the House in which many members do not get to participate. It has to do with security, intelligence and review, et cetera.

The issue is important to the member because of the sensitivity and the importance of that area of responsibility in the House of Commons in terms of its mandate to create legislation and to ensure the laws of Canada are abided by.

The principal issue I want to deal with, rather than referring to some of the history, is whether or not the House of Commons should be a body that is prepared in advance for a problem or whether or not it is presently exposing itself to a situation where should there be a problem there would be some confusion.

The principal point raised by the member for Scarborough-Rouge River is a very good point: the House has not in its history dealt with the confusion or uncertainty of the powers of the House.

In my experience over the past three years as a member of Parliament dealing at the committee level, there have been times when I wondered whether or not there was an opportunity to bring to the committee forum additional information or expertise I knew was available but had not accepted an invitation of the committee to be there.

When I think of the important aspects that are dealt with by committees on behalf of the House, it raises a very important issue about whether or not committees have looked for opportunities to exercise this right which exists in law.

The fact that it has not been affirmed within our place and the fact that it has not been tested or applied here are all the more reason for the motion to have been brought before the House.

This is not a votable motion. At the end of the hour debate will cease. However it has raised the issue to a point where all hon. members will be looking for opportunities to test this right of Parliament.

As the member for Scarborough-Rouge River pointed out in his presentation, the Canadian House of Commons has never reaffirmed this right of Parliament and of its committees to call for persons or papers.

There has been a failure to articulate this right which leads to confusion. In the absence of a clear statement of authority, cabinet ministers and government officials may at some time be unaware. The powers of the committee must be more fully articulated.

Another issue raised was public confidence in Parliament. In terms of historical context, committee work in Parliament has not garnered public attention to any great extent.

The role of a member of Parliament is very broad. It is most unfortunate that many Canadians feel the performance of members of Parliament and the credibility of this place are more reflected in the activities during question period, which is only 45 minutes of each day even though the House starts at 10 in the morning and continues to 6.30 at night.

Committees operate in virtually every discipline. Members of all parties are represented on those committees. These facts are not well known to the Canadian public. It is unfortunate the Canadian public does not know what happens at committee. As a result or a consequence of Motion No. 142, possibly the role of committees can be reconsidered in light of the responsibilities seconded to them by the Chamber.

I congratulate the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River for raising an important issue in terms of the fundamental aspects of the operation of the House of Commons of Canada, the important role committees play, and the potential for confusion or a problem down the road.

Should a matter of importance to all Canadians and to the laws of Canada arise which would tend to put the House in some difficulty

or jeopardy, it would reaffirm the right of Parliament and the right of the committees to call for persons or papers.

I thank the member for raising the motion. Possibly he would consider reintroducing it at an appropriate time to ensure that the House does not miss the opportunity to be prepared.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Ottawa West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to say a couple of words. Obviously there is no disagreement with the intention of the motion. There is a strong feeling about the importance of this principle and the entitlement of Parliament as the highest court in the land to have before it whatever information or witnesses it requires.

I make one point which I hope we all bear in mind. We have exercised this right to be able to fulfil our responsibilities on behalf of the people who have sent us here to govern our country. It is not for our privilege as individuals but in our role as members of Parliament and representatives of the Canadian people. That element has been missing from the debate today.

I compliment the hon. member for bringing forward the motion.

House Of Commons
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for Private Members' Business has now expired.