Order. Before we proceed to the orders of the day I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for York South-Weston on Wednesday, February 19, 1997 concerning the availability of budget documents prior to the budget presentation made by the Minister of Finance on Tuesday, February 18, 1997.
I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member forSt. Albert, the hon. member for Kootenay East, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance for their comments in this matter.
In his submission, the hon. member for York South-Weston argued that many of the provisions of the budget had been announced by the government prior to the speech of the Minister of Finance and that budget documents were available approximately 15 minutes before the minister rose to make his budget presentation. He contended that these two actions were in marked contrast to previous practice.
The member also maintained that the privileges of members of the House are impinged upon when information is released prematurely. Finally, he asked the Chair to review the whole matter of the budget lock-up.
Since the beginning of this Parliament, hon. members have witnessed an important change in the budget process. On February 7, 1994 the House adopted amendments to its standing orders which included the insertion of new Standing Order 83.1 to provide for so-called "prebudget consultations" by authorizing the Standing Committee on Finance to consider and make reports on proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government.
Accordingly, the Standing Committee on Finance has engaged on three occasions in a process of public consultation, during which its members were authorized to travel and to listen to the concerns of Canadians. Pursuant to Standing Order 83.1, the committee tabled three reports: the first on December 8, 1994, the second on December 12, 1995 and the third and most recent on December 5, 1996.
On the issue of budget secrecy, perhaps it would be helpful to remind all members of what Speaker Sauvé pointed out in a decision she gave to the House on April 19, 1983 at page 24649 of the Debates :
-budget secrecy is a political convention. So also is the practice whereby the minister presents his budget in the House before declaring it in any other public forum.
I agree with Speaker Sauvé. It would not be proper for the Chair to get involved in the interpretation of budget secrecy, nor the matter of the lock-up.
As for the issue of privilege with respect to the matter raised, let me quote again Speaker Sauvé. In a decision which can be found in the Debates of November 18, 1981 at page 12898 she stated that:
-a breach of budget secrecy cannot be dealt with as a matter of privilege. It might constitute a very important grievance for members. Such action might have a very negative impact on business or on the stock market. It might cause some people to receive revenues which they would not otherwise have been able to obtain. All of these are possible consequences of breaches of budget secrecy, but they have no impact on the privileges of the member. They might do harm-irrevocable in some case-to persons or institutions, but this has nothing to do with privilege.
Speaker Fraser was also asked to rule on budget secrecy. On June 18, 1987, at page 7315 of the Debates he mentioned:
Budgetary secrecy is a matter of parliamentary convention. Its purpose is to prevent anybody from gaining a private advantage by reason of obtaining advance budgetary information-The limits of parliamentary privilege are very narrow and it is not a responsibility of the Chair to rule as to whether or not a parliamentary convention is justified or whether or not the matter complained of is a breach of that convention. That is a matter of political debate and not one in which the Chair would wish to become involved.
I concur with both Speakers in that a breach of budget secrecy has nothing to do with parliamentary privilege. Therefore, in the case presently before us, the Chair cannot determine that the hon. member has been in any way hindered in the performance of his parliamentary duties.
Consequently, it is my decision that there is no prima facie case of privilege.
I thank the hon. member for York South-Weston for raising his matter.