Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to add my words of appreciation that the member for Wentworth—Burlington raised that question. Since he quite clearly described what constitutes a contempt of the House I will not repeat what he has already said.
I rise on a question of privilege with regard to the actions of the Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and his officials which I believe constitute a contempt of the House and a contempt of the office and authority of the Speaker. First I will address the issue of contempt of the House.
On January 21, 1998 the minister met in Regina to discuss the rules for the election of directors to the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors as proposed in Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Substantial amendments to Bill C-4 tabled at report stage by opposition members had yet to be debated in the House. While the House is still debating how many directors should be farmer elected versus government appointees, the minister was holding meetings as though his bill were already law.
This sort of thing has been complained about in the House a number of times in the past. Each time it is brought to the Speaker's attention, the Speaker has declined to rule in favour of a prima facie question of privilege. However he did leave the door open since these actions are clearly insulting and offensive to this institution and may constitute a contempt in the future.
On October 29, 1997 the member for Fraser Valley brought to the Chair's attention a similar case regarding the Department of Finance. The Chair ruled on the matter on November 6, 1997 and made this statement:
—the Chair acknowledges that this matter is a matter of potential importance since it touches the role of members as legislators, a role which should not be trivialized. It is from this perspective that the actions of the Department are of some concern. The dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.
I agree with the Speaker that these actions repeated often enough make a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices. I suggest that making a mockery of parliament diminishes the respect due to parliament.
On page 250 of the second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada the following is stated:
—there are actions that, while not directly in a physical way obstructing the House of Commons or the Member, nevertheless obstruct the House in the performance of its functions by diminishing the respect due it.
Accordingly, the actions of the minister and his officials distinctly constitute a contempt of this House.
Further to my argument is the issue of the minister and his officials knowingly and deliberately ignoring a warning from the Speaker. In the ruling of November 6, 1997 the Speaker said: “I trust that today's decision at this early stage of the 36th Parliament will not be forgotten by the minister and his officials and that the departments and agencies will be guided by it”.
I believe that these recent actions have reached a new level of indignity, since a minister is no longer just snubbing his nose at backbench members of Parliament but now is also snubbing the Speaker's direction.
On March 21, 1978, at page 3978 of Hansard , the Speaker ruled that in the final analysis, in the areas of doubt, the Speaker asks simply: “Does the act complained of appear at first sight to be a breach of privilege?—to put it shortly, has the member an arguable point? If the Speaker feels any doubt on the question, he should—leave it to the House”.
The previous complaints against the government in these matters were legitimate complaints. The question as to whether or not they constituted a prima facie question of privilege may have given the Speaker some doubt in the past. However, even if doubt existed, there are precedents to support the Speaker's putting the question to the House. You should also consider that this time it is not just a matter of doubt. There has been an additional complaint against a department and the department has acted, despite the warning issued by the Speaker. The Speaker's warning was direct, clear and deliberate. It could not have been any clearer.
On page 225 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada contempt is described as an offence against the authority or dignity of the House. The minister and his officials have gone further and brought the authority and dignity of the Speaker into question.
I ask that you take the advice from the Speaker's ruling of March 21, 1978 and leave this matter to the House because, at a minimum, there must at least be doubt in your mind regarding this issue.
If you rule this matter to be a prima facie question of privilege I am prepared to move the appropriate motion. I think it is high time that this House demonstrate to the ministers and their departments a little democracy over bureaucracy.