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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was powers.

Topics

The EnvironmentOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario

Liberal

Christine Stewart LiberalMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we still have not heard any position from the Reform Party. The reality is that we had a federal-provincial communique last week in Regina in which the provincial ministers said that they agreed that the federal government should have flexibility with regard to our targets.

They said that they wanted emissions reduced by approximately 2010 and agreed that there should be further reductions after that. We wish that the Reform Party would show some concern for the environment and its serious national interest.

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Suzie Robitaille's five children have yet to be released by their father in Egypt, and an agreement between Canada and Egypt has yet to be signed. But the Minister of Foreign Affairs said he would travel to Egypt to try to resolve the matter.

Could the minister, who is now back from Egypt, tell us whether he discussed Mrs. Robitaille's situation with his Egyptian counterpart and signed an agreement recognizing Canadian court rulings?

Foreign AffairsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I made representations directly to President Moubarak of Egypt, who promised to immediately look into the matter and take appropriate action.

HealthOral Question Period

November 18th, 1997 / 3 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government has just confirmed Greenpeace findings of lead content in children's toys and vinyl products that is higher than Health Canada guidelines. It then had the gall to dismiss its own findings by stating there is no significant risk to children.

Why does the government not care enough about the health and safety of children to do something about this serious issue? Would the Minister of Health himself buy for his children a product with dangerously high levels of lead and cadmium like this particular product?

HealthOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Colleagues, I urge you not to bring any props into this House. The question then I will rule out of order. That brings to a close our question period.

I have notices of questions of privilege from the hon. members for Sarnia—Lambton and York South—Weston. And I have a point of order from the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

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.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton has made his case. I would like to look into some of the allegations he has put forth. I will reserve judgement on this until I get more information. I want to satisfy myself. When it is necessary I will come back to the House on this particular question of privilege.

On a second question of privilege, the hon. member for York South—Weston.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata Independent York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for recognizing me today during question period to ask a question.

While the Speaker has the right to recognize members of Parliament during question period to ask questions, I would submit to you, Sir, that every member of Parliament except cabinet ministers and perhaps parliamentary secretaries has the right to ask questions in the House of Commons. To deny a member the opportunity to ask questions during question period, whether the member of Parliament is a government backbencher or a member of the opposition, is a breach of that member's rights and privileges.

A practice has developed, and it started developing before you became Speaker, where opposition members of Parliament who did not belong to a political party were treated in a different fashion from opposition members of Parliament who belong to political parties and indeed treated differently than government backbenchers. That practice is to recognize those members of Parliament who do not belong to political parties in the last five minutes of questions period.

More important, the practice has developed where those members of Parliament who do not belong to a political party are denied the opportunity to ask supplementary questions. There is no valid basis for that form of double standard, not only with respect to members of Parliament on the oppositions side who do not belong to a political party but also to government backbenchers because they too are treated differently in that they are not permitted to ask a supplementary question.

I would ask that you review this practice, which has developed over the years, with the view to treating every member of Parliament the same, treating every member of Parliament in a fair fashion.

I was elected, just as all other members were elected, by constituencies. We were given a mandate to represent our constituents to the best of our abilities. By allowing this practice to continue, Mr. Speaker, you are discriminating against the voters of my riding and the voters of the other members who find themselves in a situation where they do not belong to a political party. That is discriminatory. I would ask that you review the practice.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleague, I would of course not want to be discriminatory either in question period or in the debates.

What I have tried to do over the years but surely during the last two weeks in this Parliament is ensure that more members of Parliament can take part in question period. I think that by and large, because it was the will of the House, the questions seem on the whole to be much shorter and the answers seem to be much shorter. We have been able to get in more members of Parliament.

If what the hon. member is suggesting is that every member who stands has a question and a supplementary, that would be something I could consider. This would have some other ramifications in the rotation and in the number of people.

There are some parties that have chosen, instead of having a question and a supplementary, to have a question by one member and a second question by another member. I find no problem with that.

If what the hon. member is suggesting is that there always be a supplementary, I will consider it. If it is feasible to do such a thing in question period I will consider it in the hopes that this will make for a better question period.

It has been my view, and I share it with you openly, that the more members who can get on for questions the more questions we can get answered. It would make in my view, but it is only my view, of course, for a better question period.

I say in compliment to the House that whereas in last term we were getting in maybe 22 to 24 questions in a question period it is not uncommon for us now to get in between 38 and 42. In that way I believe it has improved.

I am always open to suggestions from members of Parliament. I will take your suggestion under advisement, if that is what it is. It is not a point of privilege if you want me to rule on that.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata Independent York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, you did not give me the opportunity to finish my submissions. I am afraid you have misinterpreted my submissions.

If it is your wish to get more members of Parliament asking questions, that is fine. What I am saying is that a practice has developed and you know that a practice has developed because all the questions I have asked in the House since Parliament has reconvened have been between 2.55 and 3 p.m. On no occasion have I been entitled to a supplementary question. In fact today you did not even give the government an opportunity to answer the question that I was about to put.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I do not want to enter into a debate with the hon. member. I believe he has made his point and, as I said, I will take it under advisement. I have been trying to get the questions in, in a reasonable amount of time. I would encourage all members. As a matter of fact most questions today came in, in quite a reasonable amount of time, but there were some discussions on before we came in.

The hon. member is an independent member and of course he would fall directly under my purview. I am very, very much aware of that. By way of improving the question period I will take the suggestions under advisement.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise. I just want to put on record that we in the Conservative Party support the contention of the government member who spoke previously on his point of order. Similarly I just want to speak very briefly with respect to the hon. member for York South—Weston.

My reading of his question of privilege is that in fact as an independent member he is more vulnerable perhaps to the process that we have undertaken. I fully appreciate your position in the chair, Mr. Speaker, as having to try to equitably distribute the questions both between government and opposition members. An extensive negotiation process went into that.

I want to support the hon. member in his contention that he must be given an equitable portion of that and that having his question earlier in the question period may involve some significant rotation point, so I do rise in support of that issue.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for his opinion with regard to that. Was that his point of order?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

No, Mr. Speaker.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you as Speaker are aware that at the close of question period there seems to be a rush to the exits. I would just put to the Chair that it is my feeling points of order and questions of privilege do affect and have a significant impact on the governing of the House which you have to oversee.

I am just wondering if there is some way to effect a more prompt interjection on your part, Mr. Speaker, in having these points of order heard before the entire body of the House.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I can appreciate your request to have as many members here as possible to hear points of order. However, in the House of Commons members are free to come and go as they will.

I would encourage hon. members, if they are interested in the points of order and the questions of privilege being raised, to indeed stay to hear them. If it proves to be beneficial for them then so much the better.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add slightly to your consideration of the question raised by the member for York South—Weston.

Perhaps you can consider the impact on the rest of us of agreeing to the suggestions made by the member. If he were to receive a supplementary question on the odd occasions he is here and asks a question, I do not think it would detract much from the rights and privileges of the rest of us.

I hope you will take that into account, Mr. Speaker.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I appreciate the magnanimity of the member. Yes, I will take that into account.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add some comments to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton. It is very important for you to understand what this means to backbenchers and for private members' bills.

It is absolutely impossible for me to understand how this could happen. It is not only a matter of privilege but it denigrates Private Members' Business.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Of course I appreciate the hon. member's remarks. I have not yet decided if it is a question of privilege or not. I am going to look into the matter and when I have satisfied myself one way or another I will return to the House if it is necessary.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to comment on the matter of confidentiality. It is absolutely disturbing to think, with no disrespect to the university or to the students, that bills are being proposed and prepared for Private Members' Business through a student body at the university.

Again with no disrespect intended toward the students, my concerns are to ensure privacy and the legal framework under which our business is being conducted. I always believed that drafting for private members' hour was carried out by individuals under the direct control of the House.

I would first like to know if the Board of Internal Economy was aware of this and, more important, I would like to add my observation that in my opinion this is a case of privilege.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for her opinion that it is a case of privilege, but I am sure she will give me the latitude to decide whether or not it is a case of privilege.

The information has been well documented by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton. I will look into the matter and try to get to the bottom of it.

I have already ruled on this issue in the sense that it was not privilege but was an administrative matter. A few more points have been brought into the debate, which is why I want to take my time and look at all aspects to see if we can come up with something else.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my support to the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton.

I raised the same concern a month ago in the context of the process. We as members are not being allowed to decide this in the House of Commons. It is being decided by the Board of Internal Economy. We are not being given direct input.

I raised a question of privilege on that and I have not had a reply as yet. Things are getting worse and worse as we continue down this road. This needs to be addressed and I would like to see the whole House discuss it at some point.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to put on record for the whole House and all parties involved that the Speaker who chairs the Board of Internal Economy and presides over our meetings does not act arbitrarily. We seek his guidance quite often but ultimately in the end we as representatives of our parties deal with subject matters such as the one before the House now.

On one hand I am pleased that hopefully by next week the other place will have given us royal assent on the Parliament of Canada Act which will bring other representatives from the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party to the Board of Internal Economy.

The House should be reminded that this issue has had a fair amount of debate at the Board of Internal Economy. I know the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton and other colleagues from my side speak to me almost daily about the issue. I encourage members from the other parties to do likewise with their House leader and representatives.

Hopefully next week when the board resumes its meetings the issue will be resolved.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my voice to those of my colleagues because, earlier, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve wanted to address this issue, but you did not recognize him. So, with your permission, I would like, on his behalf, to tell the House that the Bloc Quebecois very enthusiastically supports the point raised by the hon. member.

This having been said, and as pointed out by the chief government whip, the issue has already led to intense discussions within the House of Commons' Board of Internal Economy, and while I am prevented by my oath of office as a member of that board to elaborate, I am surprised to see that the unanimity reached in the House does not exist within the Board of Internal Economy.