Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege arising from the debate of yesterday afternoon. I want to thank the table clerks and the clerks of the committee on procedure and House affairs who helped me in haste to put together the facts of this question of privilege.
In his remarks concerning Bill C-36, the Leader of the Opposition made repeated references to the findings, proceedings and evidence of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning the matter of a breach of privilege brought to the House by the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast. The Chair will know that the matter was referred to the standing committee and the report was tabled this morning by the chair of that committee, the member for Peterborough.
As a foundation for my argument I draw the attention of the House to page 884 of Marleau and Montpetit:
Committee reports must be presented to the House before they can be released to the public...Even when a report is adopted in public session, the report itself is considered confidential until it has actually been presented in the House.
It goes on to say:
It is not in order for Members to allude to committee proceedings or evidence in the House until the committee has presented its report to the House.
I would argue that the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition contravened both conventions. On the first issue he twice referred to the fact that the committee concluded that there was no breach of privilege. The reference from the House required the committee to recommend on that issue and the issue of the alleged breach. That finding was the essence of the report. It was the committee's response to the reference from the House.
The committee did go in camera for a portion of the discussion so the notion that confidentiality was expected could not have been misinterpreted. On the larger issue of when and why committees go in camera, a practice that I think all members try to minimize, a major factor is the confidentiality protections that public proceedings enjoy as laid out in Marleau and Montpetit.
To take elements of the proceedings out of context and bring them to the floor of the House, using the argument that they were technically not part of the in camera discussions, may very well result in a dramatic increase in in camera activities by committees. In addition, the context of the member's criticism leaves no doubt as to the inference he was making. On November 28 the Leader of the Opposition stated in Hansard :
—why did the committee conclude that no breach of privilege occurred?
Marleau and Montpetit specifically included findings from public meetings to reinforce the fact that the finding is not the conclusion of the committee until the report is tabled in the House. Members are prohibited from cherry-picking aspects of the process without the context of the full and complete report. The hon. member continued his critique of the committee:
Then for some reason the committee decided to abandon its responsibilities in the incident related to Bill C-36.
I would argue that the responsibilities he refers to being abandoned were not fulfilled until the report was tabled in the House. That happened this morning. He continued:
I do not know how the committee will explain why it concluded that no breach of privilege had occurred when it tabled its report.
In fact the report had not been tabled. As I understand it, it was delayed at the request of the Alliance Party.
The words in context of the member were a conscious criticism of the findings of the committee, again before the actual findings were tabled. The member chose to exploit findings of the committee to potentially strengthen his political argument. The finding of no breach was a fait accompli. He referred to it in the past tense. He went on to disagree with and criticize the Liberal members of the committee in the House for that finding.
The only issue I take exception to is the timing. He should have waited until the finding was tabled in the House like all other members of this place. By pre-empting the finding and the reference that it was the final conclusion of the committee prior to the chair tabling the report this morning, the Leader of the Opposition, an officer of the House, showed contempt for the rights and privileges of all members of this place.
On the second issue of the reference to evidence and proceedings the transcript is clear. The member repeatedly described evidence and the voting pattern of the committee on a number of motions that were dealt with. I rose on a point of order at the time to object to the content of his remarks but was told it was a matter of debate. I would appreciate some clarity on this issue from the Speaker.
I put the issue in your capable hands and learned mind, Mr. Speaker. Should you find there is a prima facie breach of privilege I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.