Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with regard to a news release put out by the Minister for International Trade on March 30, 1998 entitled “Marchi meets with Chinese leaders in Beijing and announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”.
The minister announced in his release:
International Trade Minister today took part in a series of bilateral meetings with senior Chinese leaders and announced the establishment of the Canada-China Interparliamentary Group.
There is no Canada-China interparliamentary group. There has been an application to the joint interparliamentary council to establish such a group, but contrary to the minister's perceived powers and authority in these matters there is no such interparliamentary group until parliament grants such status to that group, and that has not happened to date.
I have made proposals in committee to revamp parliamentary associations to include a greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific countries and on the Americas. However, none of the changes that the minister has proposed or that I might have proposed has ever come to pass.
For the Canada-China friendship group to advance to the status of interparliamentary group it must first apply to the Joint interparliamentary Council. It then must get approval from the House through the Board of Internal Economy and the internal economy committee of the Senate.
The minister has given the impression that this association will be sanctioned and funded by parliament. I find this to be a clear contempt of the House.
Just to go through a few precedents, Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary—Nosehill brought a similar matter to your attention on February 26, 1998. She complained about an article in the Toronto Star naming the head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation. Her complaint was not who was named but the circumstances which led to the announcement.
In that case there was no legislation before the House setting up the said foundation. Nor was the budget statement containing the suggestion to set up the foundation adopted. She argued that the situation had brought the authority and dignity of the Speaker and the House into question.
The precedents are many regarding this issue. The government and its departments are continuously mocking the parliamentary system in this manner. The member for Prince George—Peace River raised a similar matter regarding the Canadian Wheat Board on February 3, 1998. During that discussion the member for Langley—Abbotsford pointed out that the Speaker was asked to rule on a similar complaint in March 1990 regarding a pamphlet about the GST.
I made a case on October 28, 1997. In that instance the Department of Finance started to take action before the bill authorizing the department to act was passed by the House. I was concerned at that time that these actions undercut the authority of parliament.
Your ruling on that question of privilege has been repeated time and time again, Mr. Speaker, and I will repeat it once more. The Chair said on November 6, 1997:
—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 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 department and agencies will be guided by it.
At page 250 of the second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada it states:
—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.
How many times must parliament be mocked in this way? How often can we accept this disrepectful behaviour by ministers who continuously make announcements and pronouncements both here and internationally about what the House is to do when the House has not yet done it?
At page 225 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada contempt is described as “an offence against the authority or dignity of the House”.
I would argue that these accumulated complaints, left unchallenged, will only continue to give the impression that parliament is irrelevant and that the cabinet and its bureaucrats run our lives. This I find to be an offence against our authority and dignity in the House.
Cabinet has no role to play in setting up interparliamentary groups. The process is clearly outlined in a document titled “Parliamentary Exchanges Policy” adopted by the Board of Internal Economy in January 1990. That document makes absolutely no reference to cabinet's authority in the matter of setting up interparliamentary groups.
Members of cabinet have no right to presuppose if parliament is to accept any suggestion put forward by them including legislation and the spending of taxpayers' money. Parliament must not be seen as some sort of obstacle that the bureaucrats must overcome. Parliament must be respected if we are to function in this place. Parliament must not be taken for granted by a minister who is looking for a press release or a headline in a foreign country.
I believe the House must conclude that the minister and his department are in contempt by their actions. Mr. Speaker, I ask that you rule this matter to be a prima facie question of privilege, at which time I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.