The deputy House leader of the Bloc Quebecois raised a question of privilege on March 1, 2000 relating to the rejection of two motions in amendment to Bill C-20, an act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference.
These motions in amendment, declared out of order by the clerks involved with the bill, were never forwarded to the journals branch for inclusion in the Notice Paper.
Before beginning I would like to thank the hon. member for raising the matter. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, as well as the House leader for the Reform Party on this subject.
The acting House leader stated that on Tuesday, February 29, 2000, the Deputy Principal Clerk of the legislative unit forwarded a letter to the office of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois presenting the procedural details for rejecting some 700 motions in amendment to Bill C-20. These motions in amendment were appended to the letter. The Bloc Quebecois had, in fact, never forwarded two of the motions in amendment bearing the reference numbers 5180 and 5163 to the journals branch for inclusion in the Notice Paper.
After inquiries by the office of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, it became clear that the clerks working on the bill had made an error by including reference to those two motions in the covering letter. The acting House leader argued that the privileges of the Bloc Quebecois members and all members of the House have been breached because of the actions of these clerks involved in the performance of their duties, namely consulting a database that the member contends is intended for the exclusive use of the legislative counsel.
The member went on to assert that the relationship of confidentiality that must exist between the legislative counsel and those members who request the drafting of amendments had been breached and that this action constituted a contempt of the House.
On behalf of all members of the House, I have looked carefully into the actions and events related to this matter. Hon. members should understand that House legislative counsel do not work in isolation.
They are part of an operational team that supports the legislative work of the Chamber and its committees. This group is comprised of procedural clerks as well as legal drafters who are assisted in their functions by text processing operators and administrative support staff. The confidentiality to which the acting House leader refers is shared by all staff within this group for operational purposes.
There is no separate database for legislative counsel as the hon. member suggests. The legislative database supports the work of all persons having duties within the field of legislative support operations.
Members should also understand that with respect to report stage, there must be interaction between the staff of the legislative services group, the clerk of the committee to which the bill was referred, and the staff of the journals branch.
All staff of the House working in support of members in their legislative function are governed by strict confidentiality with regard to persons outside their operational field and, of course, vis-à-vis other members.
In this case, I note there is no mention of any breach of confidentiality whereby the text of proposed motions of the hon. member or her party has been made known to persons working outside the field of legislative support operations or to other members. Confidential information proprietary to the Bloc Quebecois and several of its members remained completely and absolutely confidential. Consequently, I am unable to find that this constitutes a prima facie question of privilege or a contempt of the House.
I thank the acting House leader of the Bloc Quebecois for bringing this matter to my attention and permitting me to make this clarification to the House.