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House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Economic DevelopmentOral Question Period

December 4th, 2002 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Gérard Binet Liberal Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the Agropur plant in Chambord, which used to process millions of litres of milk produced by farmers in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, has shut down.

Does the Secretary of State responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada intend to come to the assistance of stakeholders in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, so that they can keep production and processing operations in their region?

Economic DevelopmentOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Beauce Québec

Liberal

Claude Drouin LiberalSecretary of State (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his excellent question.

On Monday, I met with the employees of the Agropur plant, and with stakeholders from the region's dairy industry. At that time, I confirmed that the Economic Development Agency of Canada would help them with their recovery project for the processing plant, and I assured them of our financial participation in a study to determine the best options to promote the plant's recovery.

We on this side of the House are looking for solutions, not people to blame, as the other side is doing.

Canada Pension Plan Investment BoardOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Deputy Prime Minister. Last week in committee Mr. MacNaughton, the CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board said very clearly that the pension dollars of Canadians were going into supporting tobacco companies. The reason this is done is because there is no ethical screen at the pension board.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister invoke his cabinet to tell the Canada Pension Investment Board to put in an investment screen so that Canada's pension dollars do not go to aiding and abetting the killing of thousands of Canadians on a yearly basis?

Canada Pension Plan Investment BoardOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Ottawa South Ontario

Liberal

John Manley LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will know that we do not direct the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board's investments. Any policies of that nature that would be adopted would need to be agreed upon by all ministers of finance, including provincial ministers, prior to any such policy being adopted.

This is a matter which can be discussed among ministers when we next review the Canada pension plan investment policy.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That the federal government give the provinces the additional money for health unconditionally, with the promise of the provinces to use all of it for health care.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, is votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, there has been consultation among parties in the House and I think that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, on Thursday, December 5, 2002, all questions required to be decided pursuant to Standing Order 81(17) shall be put, commencing at 5:15 p.m.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege regarding a grave matter relating to information that I requested through a question on the Order Paper. Recent events have led me to believe that there has been a deliberate attempt by the Department of Justice to deny me a correct answer.

My question of privilege will charge the parliamentary secretary who delivered the answer to the House and the Minister of Justice who is responsible for his department with contempt for sending me misleading information with regard to Question No. 131 from the last session.

I will present four points, Mr. Speaker, that you will need to consider together before a prima facie case of privilege can be made. I would ask that the Speaker examine, first, the question that I submitted to the government; second, the response given by the parliamentary secretary; third, the Auditor General's report and her comments following the tabling of her report; and fourth, the perception created in the public's mind through the media.

I will begin by laying out the procedural grounds on which this question of privilege is based.

I refer to a Speaker's ruling from December 16, 1980, at page 5797 of Hansard . The Speaker said:

While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member,...

On page 141 of the 19th edition of Erskine May, it states:

Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees of either House will also be treated as a breach of privilege.

I refer to Erskine May's 21st edition which describes contempt as:

--any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

I would place much emphasis on the word omission in that citation.

I requested information in accordance with Standing Order 39(1), which states:

Questions may be placed on the Order Paper seeking information from Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs; and from other Members, relating to any bill, motion or other public matter connected with the business of the House, in which such Members may be concerned;...

This request of mine was done under our rules and is considered a proceeding of Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Joseph Maingot's first edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada defines a proceeding in Parliament on page 70. It states:

Since two of Parliament's constituent elements, the House of Commons and the Senate, were established for the enactment of laws, those events necessarily incidental to the enactment of laws are part of the “proceedings in Parliament”. However, Parliament has also always been a forum to receive petitions, and the Crown's satisfying the grievances of members before granting supply eventually led to straightforward requests for information. Therefore, the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions and notices of motion in Parliament in the seventeenth century and today are all events which are part of “proceedings in Parliament”.

Mr. Maingot went on to state:

Privilege of Parliament is founded on necessity, and is those rights that are “absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers.” Necessity then should be a basis for any claim that an event was part of a “proceeding in Parliament,” i.e., what is claimed to be part of a “proceeding in Parliament” and thus protected should be necessarily incidental to a “proceeding in Parliament.”

On page 72 there is a quote from the Report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act in 1939, which stated:

(A proceeding in Parliament) covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such a question,...

The question I asked was the following:

With regard to the Canadian Firearms Program: (a) what is the proposed budget allocation for fiscal year 2002-03; (b) what are the line-item cost projections for fiscal year 2002-03; (c) what are the cost projections by department and agency for 2002-03; (d) what is the total cost of the program since its inception in 1995; and (e) what is the projected annual cost for each of the next 10 years?

On Wednesday, April 24, 2002, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice responded. He said:

(a) The Canadian Firearms Centre’s, CFC, proposed budget allocation for fiscal year 2002-03 is $113.5 million.

(b) The CFC line item cost projections for 2002-03 are as follows:

Vote 1--Operating Expenditures: $97.3 million

Vote 5--Contributions: $10.4 million

Statutory--Employee Benefits: $5.8 million

(c) The cost projections by department and agency that will receive funding through the Canadian Firearms Centre in 2002-03 are as follows:

Department of Justice--CFC: $109.5 million

Solicitor General--RCMP: $3.0 million

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency: $1.0 million

(d) The total cost of the program since inception in 1995 is:

From 1995-96 to 2000-01 the net cost of the program incurred by the Department of Justice--CFC is $484.1 million. This consists of $551.5 million in gross expenditures minus $23.1 million in C-17 expenditures minus $44.3 million in net revenue.

As of March 31, 2002, period 12, the net cost of the program incurred by the Department of Justice--CFC for fiscal year 2001-02 is $88.6 million. This consists of $102.9 million in gross expenditures minus $14.3 million in revenue.

(e) The projected annual costs for the next 10 years are as follows:

i. For 2002-03 the net costs are projected to be $101.2 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $113.5 million minus $12.3 million in revenue);

ii. For 2003-04 the net costs are projected to be $59.8 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $95.0 million minus $35.2 million in revenue);

iii. For 2004-05 the net costs are projected to be $44.8 million (this consists of projected gross expenditures of $80.0 million minus $35.2 in revenue);

iv. Funding has not yet been finalized for fiscal years 2005-06 through 2011-12, but is expected to continue to decrease.

Yesterday the Auditor General tabled her report in Parliament. It states:

In 1995, when the program was introduced, the Department of Justice told Parliament that the program would cost taxpayers about $2 million after cost recovery from license and registration fees. The Department now estimates that by 2004-05 the cost will be well over $1 billion and only about $140 million in fees will have been collected. What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark. I question why the Department continued to watch the costs escalate without informing Parliament and without considering the alternatives.

She made the comment that: “Even though the department has many explanations for this ballooning of costs, it never shared any of them with Parliament”.

She points out in her report that:

The information the Department provided states that by 2001-02 it has spent about $688 million on the Program and collected about $59 million in revenues after refunds. We believe that this information does not fairly present the cost of the Program to the government. The Department also did not report to Parliament on the wider costs of the Program as required by the government's regulatory policy. Furthermore, the entire Program was designated as a Major Crown Project. Treasury Board policies require departments, at a minimum, to annually report the following types of information to Parliament: description of the program, total expenditures to date and planned expenditures to future years to the completion of the project, etc.

She then states:

The Department has not fully reported this information.

Finally, the Auditor General reports:

The financial information provided does not fairly present all costs. 10.48 in our view, the financial information provided for audit by the Department does not fairly present the cost of the program to the government. Our initial review found significant shortcomings in the information the Department provided. Consequently we stopped our audit of this information that because we did not believe that a detailed audit would result in substantially different findings.

The second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada at page 234 explains that in order for the Speaker to find a prima facie case in a matter involving a deliberate misleading statement there must be “an admission by someone in authority, such a Minister of the Crown or an officer...”

The Auditor General is a very senior officer of Parliament. If information was withheld from her, then that too is inexcusable, but information being withheld from Parliament is contempt. It was not as if no one asked the government for this information. Clearly my question did ask for that information and I was given unreliable and bogus information.

When I received my answer to Question No. 131 I had no choice but to take those figures the government provided as the answer. Had I known that the department either really did not know, which would have been a better answer, at least I would know the truth and not use information that was misleading.

There is a chain reaction of using misleading information. The department misleads the parliamentary secretary who misleads Parliament who then misleads the members. Sometimes the right answer is “I don't know”. The other possibility, and this is the position of the Auditor General and the media, is that the government knew and did not share that information, deciding instead to provide me with numbers for the sake of providing me with numbers, perhaps to avoid the 45 day review of a committee, I do not know, but it is clear it did not provide the correct numbers and it was deliberate.

Whether you are of the opinion personally, Mr. Speaker, that the government did or did not deliberately mislead or withhold information from Parliament, there is the perception out there that it did. On that basis only this House must take action and get to the bottom of this issue for, if nothing else, preserving the dignity and authority of this institution and its members.

I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the headline in the Globe and Mail which says, “Lies and contempt for Parliament at root of scandal in gun registry”. What impression does that give? I have never seen that in all my years as a member of Parliament.

The Ottawa Citizen reads, “Government accused of hiding secret audit. Different issue but same AG report and same theme”.

The Winnipeg Sun states, “Liberals lied”.

There was a case in 1973 when the member for Northumberland--Durham received a letter from the then solicitor general stating that the RCMP did not make a practice of opening mail. Subsequent questions in the House by the same member on November 9, 1977, to the then solicitor general regarding mail openings by the RCMP provided a sufficient and direct relation with the proceedings in Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Later remarks before a royal commission by a former commissioner of the RCMP “the practice was very often ministers' letters were not exactly drafted on precise statements of fact”.

The sum of this evidence permitted the Speaker in 1978 to find a prima facie case of contempt where the RCMP were alleged to have deliberately misled a minister of the crown and the member for Northumberland--Durham, resulting in an attempt to obstruct the House by offering misleading information.

Whereas, Mr. Speaker, the case of the member for Northumberland--Durham dealt with the matter of an official deliberately misleading a member, this case that I bring to your attention is a case where a department is deliberately trying to interfere with me as a member of Parliament by deliberately not being forthright with resources and causing information to be withheld.

In summary, I established that the government was asked this information through a proceeding of Parliament. I have provided the bogus answer to the Speaker. The Auditor General has confirmed that the government withheld this information from Parliament, and the impression in the public domain is that the government lied to Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you review this matter and I trust that you will find that there is a prima facie question of privilege here.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

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, as you know, I have the responsibility to ensure that answers to written questions are tabled in the House. I want to assure hon. members that I will endeavour to look into this particular matter and check into what has happened in this case. I am sure there was no intention to mislead the House on the part of the government.

I want to make it clear that in my role I try to get answers as quickly as possible for hon. members in the House. I think it is very important that those answers be given quickly. It is my expectation of all departments that those answers be accurate and complete.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to make a further point and add to the member's fourth point regarding the perception in the public domain.

There is also an article in the Ottawa Citizen stemming from the report of the Auditor General about the government withholding information in the form of an audit from Parliament's other watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Its chairman, the very capable member for St. Albert, is quoted as saying:

I find this very curious. The minister says she wants to be open and transparent on the matter, but it appears the government is hiding behind the police and keeping us in the dark...finding out about this second audit through the media adds fuel to the fire.

Mr. Speaker, in the context of the member's fourth point, I ask you to consider this ruling from March 16, 1983. Mr. Mackasey raised a question of privilege in order to denounce accusations made in a series of articles appearing in the Montreal Gazette to the effect that he was a paid lobbyist.

On March 22, 1983, on page 24027 of Hansard , the Speaker ruled that he had a prima facie question of privilege. The reasons given by the Speaker from page 29 of Jeanne Sauvé's Selective Decisions states:

Not only do defamatory allegations about Members place the entire institution of Parliament under a cloud, they also prevent Members from performing their duties as long as the matter remains unresolved, since, as one authority states, such allegations bring Members into hatred, contempt or ridicule.

On page 214 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada there is a reference to reflections on members. It states:

The House of Commons is prepared to find contempt in respect to utterances within the category of libel and slander and also in respect of utterance which do not meet the standard. As put by Bourinot, “any scandalous and libelous reflections on the proceedings of the House is a breach of privileges of Parliament....

I would think that headlines talking about lies and contempt could be considered utterances, which do not meet the standard. I think this institution deserves more respect than that unless of course it is true, which is why we are raising the issue. We must either punish those who are responsible for bringing the authority and dignity of Parliament into disrepute or exonerate members and this House.

Consider, Mr. Speaker, the reputation of the member for LaSalle—Émard, who was the finance minister for most of the years the gun registry has been in existence. His very future as Prime Minister may be at risk by this billion dollar boondoggle and disrespect for Parliament. He of all people would want to get to the bottom of this issue.

Who is to blame and who should take responsibility? The Minister of Justice and his parliamentary secretary are clearly responsible for the possible misleading statements to the House, and the Minister of Finance and the former minister of finance are responsible for the sloppy financing and the boondoggle itself.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will rule on this and send it to the procedures and House affairs committee so we can get to the bottom of this whole issue.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I might ask you for the opportunity to make a further submission at a later time.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I certainly intend to take the matter under advisement. Obviously, if members wish to come back I will probably hear them on this point.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief because you have indicated that you intend to take this matter under advisement. I would just like to express my shared concern with the point that was raised by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville.

If you could find, and certainly persuasive arguments have been offered, that questions were asked in the House and incomplete or misleading answers were given, this would in fact be a very serious breach of that very rare and privileged opportunity that members of Parliament have to ask the government questions. It is one of the things that members of Parliament can do. Some members of Parliament use it more than others but it is there for all of us to use. We should be able to take it for granted that when we put a question on the order paper, sometimes it takes forever to get an answer, but that when we get that answer it is something that can be relied upon, that it is not the usual, you know what, from the government. When we put a question on the Order Paper, we should be able to rely upon the information that we get in response to that question.

I would just like to register my own concern and that of my colleagues on the procedural point, on the theoretical point and on the parliamentary point that if you find when you look into this that there is indeed evidence, as it seems abundantly clear there is, that the government has not provided the kind of information that was requested, and that the government in fact has abused this particular parliamentary procedure, then I would urge you to use whatever powers you feel you have at your disposal to discipline the government on this particular matter.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, this is simply to support the position that has been taken by my friend from Yorkton--Melville and to reiterate, as has been clearly stated, that members of Parliament, in relying upon that information, not only should and do expect that information to come in a timely fashion, but that the answers themselves must be accurate and reliable.

The irony of course is that within this context of the gun registry, one of the complaints about the evidence that is to be registered is that it is not accurate and reliable. That is the exact point here to be concentrated on. If the information that comes forward is not complete and not fulsome it is the same as giving a false answer.

Members of Parliament have to be able to rely on that information as completely accurate and pristine. It is, I would suggest to the Chair, akin to the evidence that must be adduced in a court of law. It is no different from the expectation that one would have in a court of law that the information received under oath is accurate and fulsome.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair wants to thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for a very well researched submission to the Chair on this point. I will probably be asked to hear further suggestions or points about it. I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona and the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for their suggestions.

I know the member for Winnipeg--Transcona mentioned the need for the Chair to discipline members but the Chair's powers of discipline are sadly lacking. What the Chair can do is allow the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville, as he knows, to move a privilege motion that would then be debated in the House, which could refer the matter to a committee where a detailed study of the issue could be undertaken.

However I think the hon. member knows that my powers to discipline, until there has been a committee report, are quite useless. Even when the committee reports I am not sure how effective the disciplinary powers of the Chair are, but I am always happy to try and to listen to advice from the hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona, among others, on this point.

However the matter will be taken under advisement and either I will get back to the House or I will hear further submissions as the case may be.

I have notice of another question of privilege from the Secretary of State for the Status of Women arising out of question period.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine LiberalSecretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, my question of privilege arises out of question period. I know you are conscious of the respect that is given to women in the House and I also know that the member for Portage--Lisgar is someone who is also very respectful of women in the House, but there was a bit of a slip-up today and I want to bring it to your attention. I know the member is here and might want to respond.

A statement was made in his question, “Finally a Sheila that makes sense”. Using Sheila as a generic word shows disrespect, not only for a very capable woman but also very capable women who go by the name Sheila. However the point is that those of us who are in the House and who want to experience a fair measure of respect know that the sentence used and the reference made was one that showed disrespect. I know my colleague would not want to do so. Also, that reference, I would imagine, to the Auditor General, at this point in time, was one that I feel that the member, given the opportunity, would want to take back.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Pallister Canadian Alliance Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can understand a certain amount of defensiveness on the part of the government as a consequence of the question that I raised today in question period regarding the issue of aboriginal teen suicide. In the context of that question, I referenced comments made by the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser. Her name is Sheila and I referenced her comments by saying, “Finally a Sheila that makes sense”, to speak favourably of the comments she made in her report yesterday referencing the issues about which the government would nationally be defensive.

The Auditor General yesterday raised specific concerns about the onerous burden of red tape that is imposed by the federal government on aboriginal people and on band councils.

I am attempting to clarify just so the member opposite has the chance to make additional comments. I think she knows she has a chance to make those comments later and I encourage her to do that.

However, when I made the comment, I was heckled by a member opposite, the heritage minister. I suppose, in anticipation of that possibility and recognizing that is something that does not happen infrequently in the House, I specifically made my comments in reference to her as an individual whose name is also Sheila, though in the House I cannot refer to her by name nor would I.

I think it was apparent to all here, who are reasonable people, to whom I was directing that comment. The member opposite me is not an infrequent participant nor a thin-skinned person, I believe, in terms of engaging in debate in the House.

It would be apparent to all observers that I was not making any blanket condemnation of any particular person. I was referring specifically to one. I do not apologize for that. Nor would I expect that the Minister of Canadian Heritage would ask me to apologize. Because it is so painfully obvious to any observer that I was not referring to the Minister of Canadian Heritage in my comments, I do not think any apology would be necessary, and I certainly will not make one.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure the member for Portage—Lisgar actually understood the point. There are only two ways this could be interpreted. He either referred to the Auditor General by her first name, which I have trouble believing that he would have done for the previous auditor general and said, “finally a Denis who makes sense” or second, he was suggesting that everybody named Sheila or all women do not make sense.

It would be in his interest to suggest that he appreciates that some people were offended and he should withdraw or apologize for those remarks.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

It seems to me the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar gave an explanation that--

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

An hon. member

That did not make any sense.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I thought he made the statement to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, in response to her heckle he said, saying “Finally a Sheila that makes sense”. In other words, I think he was suggesting that perhaps the minister did not and the Auditor General did. That is my sense of what he just said.

If that is the case and if that is what he meant, and I think it is what he said, this might end the matter but I will review the question and answer. I will review statements made by the hon. secretary of state, the hon. member for Burlington and the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar on the question of privilege this afternoon. If necessary, I will get back to the House on this matter at another time.