Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the notice I gave yesterday I rise on this question of privilege.
Yesterday morning the legislative counsel office advised me that in response to a request for a status report on a private member's bill being drafted for me that the work of drafting this legislation is in the hands of a classroom of students at Ottawa University. This advice came by phone and subsequently by letter.
I am aware that the recent annual report of the House of Commons alluded to a partnership between this House and the University of Ottawa with respect to training students. That being noted and as a consequence I would submit the following to you as a prima facie case of privilege.
First, giving this drafting assignment to a classroom of students is placing in the public domain certain ideas which I assume would be first tabled in this House at first reading of the bill.
Second, as a member I have the right to assume and I have the right to expect that work carried out on my behalf will remain confidential; that is, out of the public domain until such time that it is in fact tabled in this House or released by me.
I would hardly think that a classroom of students at a public university in any way meets the test of confidentiality of bills being drafted. It is in fact releasing work in progress from a member's office into the public domain.
Third, sending this matter to a university class for drafting goes outside the parameters of the authority of the Board of Internal Economy.
Mr. Speaker, as you pointed out in a ruling on October 23 of this year, section 52(3) of the Parliament of Canada Act vests in the board the administrative rights with respect to members and staff. Clearly by farming out this work to a university class, the board has no control or authority over these drafters. These students are clearly not staff of the House of Commons. In fact, by falling outside the purview of section 52(3) they are clearly and plainly in the public domain.
Fourth, if work in my office is to be released into the public domain either by me or my staff or House staff, my consent is necessary. This work was sent to the legislative counsel's office on the assumption that it would remain confidential. Without my consent it has been released to a classroom of students, which is by any definition not a confidential setting.
Finally, in the letter I received from the House this morning I was advised that my file was being directed by Professor Keyes at the University of Ottawa. Interestingly, this person is one and the same John Mark Keyes who works as a lawyer for the Department of Justice. This was confirmed by placing a phone call to him this morning at his office at the Department of Justice.
One of the fundamentals of privilege is that members be able to do their work free from the interference of the crown. In other words, a member of this House does not resort to employees of the crown for advice, yet that is what occurred when my file and presumably others were sent to him and to his class at the University of Ottawa.
Is it not interesting that a Department of Justice lawyer has advance notice of private members' bills being drafted and has input into their creation? That, I understood, was the reason for the creation of the legislative counsel.
Clearly this is a serious matter of privilege. As the defender of the rights and privileges of members, I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that this releasing or delegation, or whatever you want to call it, of confidential work in progress to a classroom of students is in fact releasing into the public domain, without my consent, work or matters which are confidential. It is a prima facie case of privilege.
With your permission I would move that motion.
Second, giving this file to a Department of Justice official, a crown official, is also a matter of privilege, and with your permission I would move a second motion on that.
Third, I would suggest to you that there is a residuary discretion vested in your office to correct decisions of the Board of Internal Economy when that board inadvertently intrudes into matters of privilege.
In this regard I acknowledge the general principle, as enunciated by you, that the board can regulate generally the office of the legislative counsel. However, at some point the board made a decision that passed through the threshold of reasonableness and in fact became a question of privilege, as evidenced by sending members' drafting requests, requests that are expected to be confidential, to a class of students at a public university and to a Department of Justice lawyer.
Mr. Speaker, I request that you exercise this discretion and acknowledge that the decision made by the Board of Internal Economy to allow students to do our drafting work is evidence that there is inadequate legislative counsel support for members.
If you make the comparison, and I acknowledge that this is only a comparison, that there are two legislative counsel in the other place and there are still only two for members of this House, then I have to say that the members of the other place have on a pro rated basis three times the level of service that we have.
Certainly the cuts by the board, I would suggest, have passed the point of determining the general operations of the legislative counsel's office and have triggered the threshold of privilege.
Once again, with your permission, I would move a third motion on this.