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House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was finance.

Topics

Indian AffairsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault LiberalMinister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, in the Speech from the Throne the Government of Canada put forward a governance initiative, building better governance tools for first nations people.

Over the last number of months since April we have consulted with over 400 first nations communities and their organizations. That consultation just concluded here at the end of October. We look forward to the next phase of consultation putting forward modern governance tools to bring an economy to first nations citizens.

Religious OrganizationsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister has demanded that Canada's churches sign over their buildings. The reason is that they want a mortgage on the churches in exchange for financial assistance in paying for the residential school lawsuits.

What will the Deputy Prime Minister do with these church buildings once he forecloses?

Religious OrganizationsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Windsor West Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray LiberalDeputy Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the premise of the hon. member's question is totally wrong. We have not demanded mortgages on church buildings. The allegations on the part of Mr. Smith as reported in the National Post are totally without foundation.

Religious OrganizationsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Betty Hinton Canadian Alliance Kamloops, Thompson And Highland Valleys, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Deputy Prime Minister seems to be taking his cue from Henry VIII, Robespierre and Lenin. It does nothing to help the victims of residential schools to make victims out of Canadian churches.

Why should Canadian churches be asked to mortgage their beliefs to pay for the government's past mistakes?

Religious OrganizationsOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Windsor West Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray LiberalDeputy Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, instead of reading her already prepared question based on a false premise, she should have listened to my answer. I said that we were not seeking mortgages on church buildings. Instead we are seeking to work with churches to provide fair compensation to victims of abuse in Indian residential schools.

I do not know why my hon. friend is unwilling to get back to the priority of helping victims of abuse in residential schools. That is what we should be concentrating on, not false allegations, misusing the House.

St. Hubert TechnobaseOral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of National Revenue said that the St. Hubert Technobase have been studied by an independent firm, which recommended the minister continue.

We learn that the Technobase investment fund is technically bankrupt and that, despite what the minister says, it is not such a good thing. We are entitled to know where the million dollars went.

My question is for the Minister of National Revenue. Given the way the million dollar fund was managed, why is the Minister of National Revenue not investigating the administration of the Technobase?

St. Hubert TechnobaseOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bonavista—Trinity—Conception Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Brian Tobin LiberalMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the member's game is obvious. Mr. Olivier is running in the municipal elections, and the Bloc Quebecois is now involved in municipal politics. It is very clear.

In fact, the Technobase created 600 jobs. The government thinks this is a very positive thing for Canada.

National DefenceOral Question Period

November 1st, 2001 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence. Two weeks ago the permanent joint board of defence held its 208th meeting in Ottawa to discuss continental security.

Could the defence minister explain the nature of this important Canada-U.S. institution and brief the House as to what was accomplished at that meeting?

National DefenceOral Question Period

3 p.m.

York Centre Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the permanent joint board of defence is the senior bilateral advisory group between Canada and the United States on continental defence matters. It reports directly to the Prime Minister of Canada and to the president of the United States.

The board existed since the second world war. It is not a policy setting device but it is an opportunity for broad ranging discussion on defence and security issues. It has both military and civilian personnel. It is co-chaired by someone from each side of the border. The member of parliament for Brossard--La Prairie ably represents Canada on the board. It recently had discussions about September 11 and its fallout, which of course is the current issue.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of six recipients of the 2001 Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. I ask all hon. members to refrain from their applause until I have introduced all six.

The four recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for lifetime artistic achievement are Mario Bernardi, Max Ferguson, Christopher Plummer and Anne Claire Poirier.

The winner of the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts is Thea Borlase.

The recipient of the National Arts Centre Award is Édouard Lock and La La La Human Steps.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I invite all hon. members to join me and the winners of these awards in room 216 for refreshments in a few minutes time.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could advise the House of the business for the rest of this week and for next week, leading up to the Remembrance Day break.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House leader of the official opposition for the question. This afternoon we will continue the prebudget debate that we commenced this morning.

Tomorrow we will deal with the miscellaneous statute law amendment bill introduced earlier today. I understand there is some agreement pursuant to the usual process of passing the bill at all stages. We will then consider report stage and third reading of Bill C-33, the Nunavut bill.

I wish to advise the House that there will be a royal assent later this afternoon on Bill C-11.

Next week we will debate Bill C-39, the Yukon bill. That will be followed by report stage and third reading of Bill C-10, the marine parks bill. When this is completed we will turn to Bill S-31, respecting a number of international tax treaties. If and when Bill C-35 is reported from committee we will turn to its report stage and third reading.

I would like to report to the House that if we have time next week I will be prepared to entertain a second day of prebudget debate or consultation.

I understand that some members will be producing a motion to defer a debate until next week. I am awaiting that process.

I also wish to inform the House that there is ongoing consultation among House leaders, although not quite complete, about having a take note debate next week, possibly on the issue of the World Trade Organization and international trade generally. Those consultations are not yet complete.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. This morning, at the request of a member of the Bloc Quebecois, you authorized an emergency debate this evening.

However, if you seek it, I believe you would find unanimous consent of the House to defer that debate until next Tuesday evening, with a view to accommodating all parties and enabling everyone to attend, including for instance the minister, the critics concerned, and the MPs directly affected by this matter.

So, if you seek it, I believe you will find unanimous consent of the House to proceed with the debate on Tuesday next, rather than this evening.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to defer this evening's debate until Tuesday evening?

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

An hon. member

No.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, if it has been denied there is no point in my speaking. I wanted to speak before you sought unanimous consent of the House. However I heard somebody say no so it is a moot point.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I denied consent at this point in time because I believe we can still have some negotiations. The coalition would agree to moving tonight's debate to Tuesday. However we would not want any time limit. We would want the debate to continue on autopilot until no member rises in his or her place. We would be in agreement as long as that is the agreement for the debate on Tuesday night.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to negotiate on the floor of the House. Our party had a concern with respect to the request to move the emergency debate from Thursday to Tuesday. If it is an emergency I do not know why we should not be having it tonight. We need to be careful what we ask for because we might get it. That is what we learn from these things.

We wanted to have a take note debate on the WTO. There is a big meeting of the WTO at the end of next week. Unless we can be guaranteed or unless we have agreement that we will have a take note debate on the WTO, we cannot agree to sabotage that in order to move an emergency debate from one week to another.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Might I suggest that negotiations continue on this point. When that happens I am sure the House leaders will come back to the House with wondrous proposals.

Business of the HouseThe Royal Assent

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Government House

Ottawa

November 1, 2001

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Jack Major, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his capacity as Deputy Governor General, will proceed to the Senate chamber today, the 1st day of November, 2001 at 4.30 p.m. for the purpose of giving royal assent to certain bills.

Yours sincerely,

Michèle Lévesque

Deputy Secretary, Policy, Program and Protocol

PrivilegeThe Royal Assent

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize you have important guests so I will try to be brief on my question of privilege. Opinion is divided on whether or not this is a question of privilege. I am told by some that it is and some that it is not. It is however an important matter to bring to the attention of the House as it pertains to the right or opportunity of ordinary MPs to have access to government officials.

It is something that has arisen in exceptional circumstances. We will need your decision on whether it is a question of privilege, or even has the aura of a question of privilege, to decide whether or not it should be considered.

I will remind everyone that in the House we are a company of equals. When I stand or sit at my place I am exactly equal to the Prime Minister in his place. Every colleague is equal to every other colleague, be they ministers, parliamentary secretaries, members of the opposition or otherwise.That is why all our desks are exactly the same.

That is why, I might add, Mr. Speaker, you sit in an elevated chair, not because you lord it over us but because you are our servant. You are the one who makes sure that we do act as equals in the Chamber and indeed on Parliament Hill because as members of parliament we serve the public equally. We do many things by common consent. We decide who is the government. We set up rules in the House. Everything functions in the House by common consent.

I have an instance that appears to be outside the rules of parliament. No rules exist to cover the situation that occurred to me as an individual MP. I am referring to attempts last June by a group of members of parliament to set up a special committee to examine an issue of immense public interest.

The special circumstance was that it was summer and the House was not sitting. We thought we had a deadline. We wanted to present a report before a bureaucratic task force that existed on the Access to Information Act. We thought it was very important that we do this as soon as possible during the summer months.

Part of our plan was to receive briefings from government officials. We sought out those government officials and we had a work plan. We lined them up and many of them agreed to appear before our group.

We were going to hold meetings for the record in the open on Parliament Hill with all the attention to detail of a normal standing committee. However, and this is so important, we were not a standing committee. We were a group of MPs from all sides of the House who were not part of government and who were concerned about an important public issue.

To our surprise, the government suddenly ordered the officials we had lined up not to appear before our committee. The order extended not only to the government officials that we lined up but also to officials from crown corporations. It was every official in government. We had also hoped to talk to some very junior people with respect to access to information.

The issue is not the reason why the government decided to do this. We recognize that the government has certain powers that we by common consent give to it. One of those powers is the right to determine when public officials appear before members of parliament.

What is different in this particular case is that a situation occurred where backbench members of parliament were not carrying out ordinary business. They were carrying out exceptional business, in the sense that the law we were looking at was a law that was quasi-constitutional and affected all members of parliament. Ironically there is a direct analogy with Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism legislation that is before the House because this is a piece of legislation that affects civil liberties. Consequently it affects all members of parliament.

There are situations which occur in which backbench members of parliament or ordinary members of parliament, if you will, might find an absolute necessity to receive briefings from government officials. This is not trivial. It is not as though this was just a casual incident where a group of MPs wanted a briefing from government officials. I think we would all agree that the government would be correct in determining when and where it was appropriate to do this. This was an exceptional circumstance. The government said no and the officials were unable to come.

Mr. Speaker, the guidance I seek from you is that I think there are exceptional circumstances where members of parliament are acting in the most absolute interest of the public, in which the government needs some guidance from parliament, some guidance where it recognizes there are exceptional instances where there should be some sort of mechanism whereby the MPs who are seeking these briefings from officials, briefings in public I might add, can go to perhaps you, Mr. Speaker and say “Mr. Speaker, this is an exceptional circumstance. Will you advise the government on whether this is an appropriate request?”

Mr. Speaker, what I am asking is if you feel that I as an individual have had my work compromised as a result of this decision of the government.

I have before me the report of this committee of MPs who were studying the Access to Information Act which was presented to the public today. It is entitled “A Call for Openness”. It is an excellent effort on the part of backbench MPs to examine a very important issue. Mr. Speaker, I regret to tell you that although I think it is an excellent report, it is less than what it could have been because we were unable to receive briefings from public officials whom we had asked to appear and had no opportunity to question them.

It seems to me that this strikes to the very heart of the privileges of a member of parliament. Whether we are prime minister or backbench MP, when we set out to examine a policy issue that is in the deep public interest, we must have access to the officials whom we need to have access to. It cannot be left absolutely to the government to decide that issue. I am not saying that on a day to day rhythm of things that the government should not have this say, but there are exceptional instances and I believe this report “A Call for Openness” is an exceptional instance.

This report contains 11 recommendations. It is a clarion call for more transparency on the part of government. I have to say that it is a unanimous report by 12 backbench MPs covering most of the major parties. The contribution was entirely non-partisan. I want to particularly mention the Bloc MPs, the member for Saint-Jean and the member for Kamouraska--Rivière-du-Loup--Témiscouata--Les Basques, who made a particular contribution that we all applauded. So, Mr. Speaker, I do not want you to think that this was not an entirely joint effort.

I do not know what the answer is. I think the government acted the way it thought it should act. I think it was perhaps afraid that if backbench MPs can call government officials, that this might happen all the time. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, it would happen only rarely. I think every one of us on the committee still believes in partisan politics. We were no less members of our parties because we were acting in a non-partisan way. It was a very fine example of the kind of co-operation that can occur in the House.

Consequently, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to consider my remarks. What I would like to do is that if you feel that there is a prima facie case for a breach of privilege here, I would like to suggest that I would move a motion that the matter be referred to the appropriate committee of the House to give guidelines to the government on how to deal with these very exceptional instances where backbench MPs might feel they have to gather in a non-partisan manner, and I mean non-government MPs, to consider a major issue. Mr. Speaker, I do thank you.

PrivilegeThe Royal Assent

3:20 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot. He seems to recognize this is not a question of privilege. On that point I must agree with him.

Mr. Speaker, I refer to page 71 of Marleau and Montpetit where it states:

The rights, privileges and immunities of individual Members of the House are finite, that is to say, they can be enumerated but not extended except by statute or, in some cases, by constitutional amendment, and can be examined by the courts. Moreover, privilege does not exist “at large” but applies only in context, which usually means within the confines of the parliamentary precinct and a “proceeding in Parliament”.

Those are the key words because the group about which my hon. colleague has spoken was not a committee of the House. That is the essential important point and therefore no parliamentary privilege is involved in this case.

Privilege is strictly ancillary in nature. Members of parliament do not have any privileges per se except insofar as it relates to parliamentary proceedings which this was not.

The hon. member claims that the government denied him briefings. This is not accurate. In fact he was told that officials would be available to brief these members of parliament in private. However, I understand the member insisted that it would have to be in public, that is, that the meetings were going to be held in public.

A public meeting is not a briefing and the hon. member was told that. I want to read from a letter that was sent by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to the hon. member on August 9. It has an introduction and then it goes on:

My colleagues and I must, however, repeat the view, which we have maintained for two months, that officials should not meet with your group, which, although meeting in public, is not a committee of the House of Commons and, therefore, cannot offer persons who meet with it any of the protections offered by the rules, privileges and immunities of the House. In addition, as we have stated previously, there are cases now in litigation that could be affected by such proceedings.

I should also point out that the same officials who you would seek to have appear before your group are, in the course of their duties, participating in the work of the Task Force on Access to Information announced by the responsible Ministers. We would not want their contributions to the Task Force to be compromised in any way by any confusion or misunderstanding that could well arise from anything they may say to your group, which may, of course, be interpreted wrongly or taken out of context, especially by the media.

It is important to note that, once the Task Force has reported and the Government has developed policies based on the report, Parliament and its Members will have a complete opportunity to examine the matter before such policies are put in place. At that time, the appropriate Standing Committee of the House of Commons will be fully empowered to study those proposed policies, whether in the course of considering proposed legislation or through undertaking a study pursuant to Standing Order 108. In those circumstances, Ministers and officials would, naturally, co-operate fully with the Standing Committee.

It is our view that the review of the Access to Information legislation in an ad hoc fashion would be incomplete and unsatisfactory. This very important task ought to be undertaken in an orderly and rational process, fully regulated by the rules of Parliament, and it is our intention to proceed in this manner.

Another letter was sent to the hon. member on August 17 providing information with regard to the question of cabinet confidences, the application of solicitor-client privilege and so forth and enclosing background documentation on cabinet confidences.

Mr. Speaker has previously insisted numerous times that questions of privilege, if this were one which it clearly is not, must be raised at the earliest opportunity. It is clear that has not happened here, Mr. Speaker, and I would ask you to rule in that regard. I have numerous other references from Marleau and Montpetit that I could refer to but I understand you are pressed for time and I now conclude.