Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with regard to Bill C-23, an act to modernize the statutes of Canada in relation to benefits and obligations.
The government let it be known that it would table Bill C-23 on Friday, February 11, 2000. The bill was tabled at noon on that day which is the prescribed time for tabling bills on a Friday pursuant to Standing Order 30.
In an e-mail that was sent from John Fisher, Egale@sympatico.ca, the author outlined in detail his analysis of Bill C-23. It was sent at 10.56 a.m. on Friday, one hour and four minutes before Bill C-23 was tabled in the House of Commons.
In order to do an analysis of a omnibus bill such as Bill C-23, the author would have had to be in possession of the bill many hours before his e-mail transmission.
With references from the authorities on parliamentary procedure and rulings from two distinguished Speakers, I will attempt to defend the integrity, the dignity and authority of the House. I will try to defend against what I view as a mockery of the parliamentary system.
My question of privilege holds the Minister of Justice responsible for leaking information and the author of the aforementioned e-mail for obtaining and using information contrary to parliamentary law and practices.
This problem is not new. On April 20, 1999 the matter of the government leaking a government response to a report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was raised in the House. The next day the government House leader apologized for the leak and assured the House it would not happen again.
The very next day after the apology, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development stood up in the House and quoted from an in-camera meeting.
When the parliamentary process is circumvented in this manner, the role of the House is misrepresented.
On October 10, 1989 the integrity of the House was also under siege and ironically the member who came to the defence of parliament was the hon. member for Windsor West, the now Deputy Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister was quoted in a Speaker's ruling as saying that it was clearly contempt of parliament to misrepresent the role of the House.
While the Speaker in 1989 did not rule a prima facie question of privilege, he did say:
I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous.
On November 6, 1997 the Speaker said of a similar matter:
—the chair acknowledges that it is a matter of potential importance since it touches the role of members has legislators, a role which should not be trivialized. 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 guided by it.
On page 95 of Marleau and Montpetit it states:
Much like a court of law, the House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of contempt power, which is inherent to any superior court. In other words, the House may, through its orders consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly. This area of parliamentary law is therefore extremely fluid and most valuable for the Commons to be able to meet novel situations.
This House can no longer allow its dignity and authority to be mocked in this way. The consequence of inaction only encourages it to continue.
Very recently the Prime Minister announced the date of the budget outside the House. As far as I know, this has never been done before. Not only did it put egg on the face of the Minister of Finance, but the Prime Minister showed arrogance and disrespect for the House of Commons.
It was not that long ago when the Minister of International Trade who on March 30, 1998 sent out a press release entitled “Marchi Meets with Chinese Leaders in Beijing and Announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”. At that time there was no Canada-China interparliamentary group. The minister gave the impression to some one billion people in China that the association existed when parliament had not approved it.
We had the naming of the head of the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation by this government before there was legislation setting up the foundation.
We had the matter raised by the member for Prince George—Peace River regarding the Canadian Wheat Board on February 3, 1998.
Another case involving the Department of Finance was argued on October 28, 1997.
There is a litany of cases of leaked committee reports that go unchecked and unchallenged. It is time that we take this matter seriously.
Madam Speaker, if you rule this to be a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion today.