Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to charge the Minister of Transport with contempt. The minister has brought the authority and dignity of the House into question and has breached the new procedure that was established by the adoption of the first report of the modernization committee.
On Thursday, October 25, while the House was in session, the minister held a press conference to announce a $75 million bailout for Canada 3000. While this brand of disrespect is not uncommon for the Liberal government, I believe that this is the first time that such an act has occurred since the adoption of the first report of the modernization committee. At page 4 of that report the committee states:
Concerns have been expressed that government announcements, regarding legislation or policies, are increasingly made outside the House of Commons. While this is by no means a recent phenomenon, it continues to be a source of concern. The Committee is recommending two initiatives to address it.
First, it is important that more ministerial statements and announcements be made in the House of Commons. In particular, topical developments, or foreseeable policy decisions, should be made first—or, at least, concurrently—in the chamber. Ministers, and their departments, need to be encouraged to make use of the forum provided by the House of Commons. Not only will this enhance the pre-eminence of Parliament, but it will also reiterate the legislative underpinning for governmental decisions.
The committee recommended that the government make greater use of ministerial statements in the Chamber and that the House leaders be advised in advance of these statements.
I was not advised of this announcement. When I stood in the House on Thursday and asked the Thursday question, the government House leader had the opportunity right there and then, but failed to do so.
There was no reason why the Minister of Transport could not have advised the opposition and there were no procedural difficulties preventing the Minister of Transport from making his announcement in the House. I am certain that all parties would have extended every courtesy to the minister if he had chosen to respect the House and make his announcement here.
It is important to know that the House adjourned early on that day for lack of business. It adjourned early last Monday and Friday and it adjourned early on Friday, October 19, and on Monday, October 22, so wherein lies the problem with debating these issues on the floor of the House? A $75 million bailout is no small change. Where does the minister think the authority to spend the $75 million comes from?
The government and its departments are continuously making a habit of mocking the parliamentary system in this manner. We have had the deliberate leaking to the media of contents of Bill C-15 and, more recently, of the anti-terrorism bill, Bill C-36.
One of the reasons the modernization committee felt it necessary to address the issue was that in the last two parliaments the government got away with mocking the legislative process at every turn, belittling the role of members of parliament. I will cite a few of the more serious examples.
On Thursday, October 23, 1997, the government announced that provincial and federal governments had constituted a nominating committee to nominate candidates for the new Canada pension plan investment board. The nominating committee was provided for under subclause 10(2) of Bill C-2. The House had not yet adopted Bill C-2.
On January 21, 1998, the minister responsible for the wheat board 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 were scheduled for debate in the House. While the House debated how many directors should be farmer elected versus being government appointees, the minister was holding meetings as though the bill was already law.
When the Canadian millennium scholarship fund was being established, a published article in the Toronto Star announced that Yves Landry had been named as the head of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Mr. Landry was quoted as saying “I am only one member of the board and my job is to be a facilitator”. There was no legislation before the House setting up the foundation, nor had the budget announcement allocating $2.5 billion in revenue to the foundation been adopted.
The Minister for International Trade announced on March 30, 1998, the establishment of a Canada-China interparliamentary group. At that time, the House had not set up a Canada-China interparliamentary group.
Finally, the date of the last budget that was delivered in the House, so long ago we have probably forgotten, was announced by the Prime Minister outside the House.
Each disrespectful act we allow to stand unchallenged becomes a precedent that serves afterwards to justify more acts of disrespect. The modernization committee recognized this and felt it necessary to make a statement.
The adoption of this report outlined what standard the House expected from ministers in this regard.
On page 119 of Erskine May there is a reference regarding a select committee that was appointed to inquire into the conduct and activities of members and to consider whether any such conduct or activities amounted to a contempt of the House and whether any such activities were:
--conduct...inconsistent with the standards the House was entitled to expect from its Members.
The minister cannot claim ignorance because the House pronounced itself on this issue through the adoption of the modernization committee report. When the Minister of Transport made his announcement outside the House on Thursday, October 25 while there was still an opportunity to make it inside, his conduct was clearly inconsistent with the standards the House was entitled to expect from him. As a consequence the minister is in contempt of the House.
The other related parliamentary tradition that the government likes to forget about is the issue of and respect for the doctrine of ministerial responsibility.
The Minister of Transport and the rest of his colleagues, and particularly the Minister of Justice, should review the definition of ministerial responsibility from page 63 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May. It states:
—ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament—
Where can we find the truthful and accurate information regarding the decision to hand out $75 million to Canada 3000? Not in Hansard of Thursday, October 25. Where it was found was in the Globe and Mail of October 26.
I am beginning to think that being held in contempt in the House is of little concern to the government. Let us look at the example of the Minister of Justice who was held in contempt for leaking to the media the contents of Bill C-15.
When I appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to review another charge of contempt involving the minister, I pointed out that we no longer respect, to the same degree as in the past, the principle that ministers have a duty to parliament to account and to be held to account for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments.
I cited the example from 1976 involving the Hon. André Ouellet, the then minister of consumer and corporate affairs. Mr. Ouellet made a comment on the acquittal by Mr. Justice Mackay of the sugar companies accused of forming cartels and combines. As a result, Mr. Justice Mackay cited him for contempt of court. He was found guilty of the charge and resigned his cabinet post over the incident.
A charge of contempt by the House should be considered just as serious, if not more serious, as a contempt charge in a court. Unfortunately the Minister of Justice chose not to take responsibility in the time honoured tradition of ministerial accountability, as did Mr. Ouellet.
Getting back to this case, I will conclude my remarks by saying that had I had an opportunity to respond to this announcement by the Minister of Transport I might have asked the minister why he can justify giving Canada 3000 $75 million but cannot spend one dime on the softwood lumber industry that lost millions of dollars over a trade dispute with the United States. Thousands of people are out of work as a result and thousands more are expected to lose their jobs.
Also, what about the farmers who suffered through this summer's drought?
These are some of the questions we might have asked if the minister had given us an opportunity, but we did not. The minister might want to talk about timing, about how the House was not sitting. It was not sitting because the government chose not to have it sitting. It adjourned early. We have adjourned early too many days over the last little while.
Certainly I saw the minister on television that night at 7 p.m. The House adjourned early,and I cannot remember if it was 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., but surely he must have made the decision earlier in the day. He could have spoken to the government House leader and made sure it was put on the agenda so that we could have done it in the House and it could have been done properly.
Mr. Speaker, if you find that we have a case of privilege, I am prepared to move the proper motion.