Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to rise on a question of privilege regarding a grave matter which was brought to my attention on Tuesday, April 23, 1996.
Events have led me to believe there has been a deliberate attempt by the office of the government House leader to deny me an answer to my questions on the Order Paper. I refer to questions Nos. 25 and 26. Comments made by an official from the office of the government House leader were quoted in the Ottawa Sun on April 22: ``He is outrageously seeking information and a lot of it. The government is not going to divert personnel to answer the questions''.
Mr. Speaker, I believe this constitutes a contempt of Parliament. I refer you to Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 97:
While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member-
Questions Nos. 25 and 26 on the Order Paper to which I refer were first submitted as a single question on December 1, 1994 and have been on the Order Paper ever since. While the government failed to answer within the prescribed 45 day period, I was patient.
On June 21, 1995 I raised a point of order asking that the question be answered. The parliamentary secretary to the House leader replied that he was sorry it had taken so long and that the government had been assiduous in attending to its duties. He alluded to the fact that I could expect a response soon thereafter.
I waited until October 26, 1995, four months later, to raise a second point of order and again ask the parliamentary secretary when I could expect an answer. The parliamentary secretary replied that he would get me an answer and that it was nearing completion, but that I should be patient.
When Parliament resumed, I resubmitted the question as it is part of my parliamentary duties. However it would now seem that the government has no intention, and never had any intention, of answering the question. This obstruction of my parliamentary duties was confirmed in a Toronto Sun article published Sunday, April 21, 1996.
Erskine May's 21st edition clearly describes contempt as follows: "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 contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence".
I requested the information in accordance with Standing Order 39(1) which states:
Questions may be placed on the Order Paper seeking information from ministers of the crown relating to public affairs; and from other members, relating to any bill, motion or other public matter connected with the business of the House, in which such members may be concerned;
This request of mine was submitted under the rules of the House and is considered a proceeding of Parliament for the purpose of privilege.
Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 70, defines a proceeding of Parliament as follows: ``Since two of Parliament's constituent elements, the House of Commons and the Senate, were established for the enactment of laws, those events necessarily incidental to the enactment of laws are part of the proceedings in Parliament. However Parliament has also always been a forum to receive petitions, and the crown's satisfying the grievances of members before granting supply eventually led to straightforward requests for information''.
Therefore the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions and notices of motions in Parliament in the 17th century and today are all events which are part of the proceedings in Parliament.
Moreover, a report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act in 1939 stated that a proceeding in Parliament covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such a question.
As an opposition member it is my duty to scrutinize the government and to ensure that it is spending the taxpayers' money wisely. The Order Paper is one method of seeking information from the government. The Order Paper questions are allowed under the rules of this House and as I have pointed out are a part of the proceedings of Parliament.
I am an elected member of this House performing my duties in accordance with the rules established by this House, and an official in the office of the government House leader is attempting to impede directly or indirectly in a proceeding in Parliament.
There was a case in 1973 when the member for Northumberland-Durham received a letter from the solicitor general stating that the RCMP did not make it a practice of opening mail. Subsequent questions in the House by that same member on November 9, 1977 to the then solicitor general regarding mail openings by the RCMP provided a sufficient and direct relationship with the proceedings in Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Later, remarks before a royal commission were made by the former commissioner of the RCMP stating that the practice was very often that ministers' letters were not exactly drafted on precise statements of fact. The sum of this evidence permitted the Speaker in 1978 to find a prima facie case of contempt where the RCMP were alleged to have deliberately misled a minister of the crown and the member for Northumberland-Durham, resulting in an attempt to obstruct the House by offering misleading information.
Whereas the case of the member for Northumberland-Durham dealt with a matter of an official deliberately misleading a member, what I bring to your attention is a case where an official in the minister's office is deliberately trying to interfere with me as a member of Parliament by deliberately not being forthright with resources, causing information to be withheld.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, in the case of the citation from Beauchesne, the Speaker once ruled that there could be a question of privilege where there is a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member.
I take issue with the comments of the official in the media in regard to my request. That official is quoted as saying that a request for information from a parliamentarian is outrageous. Such arrogance and insolence by an official in the face of Parliament is contemptuous. Is this how ministers' staff view requests for information from opposition members? Here we have a staff person making judgments on a request from Parliament, virtually thumbing his nose at this House.
Mr. Speaker, I refer you to citation 59 of Beauchesne's sixth edition, which reads:
Traditionally, articles in the press reflecting badly on the character of the House have been treated as contempts. Two members of the staff of the House have been dismissed for writing such articles, and in 1873 the House judged an article written by a Member to be a "scandalous, false and malicious libel upon the honour, integrity and character of this House, and of certain Members thereof, and a high contempt of the privileges and constitutional authority of this House."
Surely an official referring to a request from Parliament as "outrageous" reflects on the dignity of Parliament and of parliamentarians.
In conclusion, I want to address the issue of ministerial responsibility, which you may be tempted to factor into your decision. I draw to your attention once again the Speaker's ruling of November 9, 1978, which appears at page 966 of Hansard , where the Speaker said:
I do not think that there is procedural significance to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, it appears that we are now embarking on a different course in having the
House, through a question of privilege, reach around the minister and examine directly the conduct of an official-it seems to me [it] is not [a] procedural matter.
The Speaker did not consider that there was a prima facie question of privilege in 1979. There is no procedural significance in this case either, Mr. Speaker, and I ask that you consider my points accordingly.
Mr. Speaker, I ask that you review this matter. Should you find that there is a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.