Mr. Speaker, I think all of us in the House should be pleased with your ruling this morning.
The reality of the situation unfortunately is that conflicting facts have been brought to the attention of the House in response to an issue of grave importance, an issue of importance not just to me personally or to members of the opposition parties but to all members of the House, for when one member decides not to be forthcoming with information and answers on an issue of importance that is one thing, but when a member decides to come forward with information and then with subsequent information which conflict with one another that is misinformation. When a member decides to respond to a question in the House in a way that misinforms the House that member is disrespecting the House.
I do not take this as a matter of personal disrespect to me, but rather as something far greater than that. I take it as a matter of disrespect to my constituents, the constituents that I hold dear, the constituents I am here to represent. When I or any member in the House ask a question in question period we deserve to have an honest answer. We deserve to have an answer that is reflective of the understanding that this Chamber, this place, is a place that is to facilitate the democratic rights of all citizens of the country. It is not a Chamber that exists for the convenience of the government. It is not a Chamber that should exist to quell discontent within the government caucus, for example. It is a Chamber that exists to facilitate the rights and the honest concerns of Canadians at all times in all ways, in every respect, not just in some selective manner. The fact of a matter is hard to ascertain when a member opposite provides misinformation in response to a question.
The issue itself, the issue of whether in fact Canadian troops should be handing over prisoners to another sovereign jurisdiction in which no commitment has been made as to how it would treat such prisoners, is an issue that Canadians have been debating. It is an issue that members on the government side have been debating. It is an issue that many members on the government side have expressed grave concerns about and many members on this side have expressed grave concerns about, because their constituents have grave concerns about that issue.
The fact of the matter is that as we have questioned the Prime Minister on the issue, as we have done for many days, he has been saying that this is a hypothetical question only, not a question in reality but a question that calls for conjecture or supposition in some way. Such is not the case. Such was not the case. Such was not the case for some time. The fact of the matter is that when one is debating an issue, a hypothetical situation does not call for the same degree, necessarily, of seriousness in response that a real situation does. The Prime Minister, in assuming this was a hypothetical case, was perhaps not giving it the grave consideration that he might have had he known in fact that the case was real, that it happened fully a week before he became aware of it.
This raises another obvious question. I am sure this is a concern that many of my constituents have and many other members' constituents would logically have as well, and that is this: how is information that is pertinent and relevant to Canadians being transferred through the chains of command? Is it solely at the whim of the minister of defence as to whether information in fact is exchanged with other members of his cabinet? Is it at his discretion that these decisions are made? Or are there other channels of communication possible and in place to assure Canadians that important, pertinent and relevant information is being passed through the government's management structure? If that is not happening, then Canadians would be very concerned and rightfully so.
The events of the last few days have raised in the minds of all thinking members of the House, I am sure, the grave concern that this is the case, that at a time when Canadian troops have just left to add to our forces in Afghanistan, risking their lives abroad, the communication and command structure is one of confusion and disarray. Logically, that is the impression that has been created here.
In my personal view, and this is of course only my view, I believe that the Prime Minister was made aware of this information. I believe that he knew of this information. I will say that I do not have any doubt that the Prime Minister himself must have known this information in advance. I do doubt the responses that have been given by both the Prime Minister and the minister of defence.
Some have said to me, when I expressed the belief that the Prime Minister knew this information, that I am being hard on the Prime Minister. I would suggest the opposite. I would suggest that we have a choice to make. There are two options.
We can believe that the Prime Minister knew that this information was available, that he knew our troops were involved in some respect in taking prisoners and handing them over to the United States. We can believe he knew that and chose not to let it be public, not to let it inflame the divisions within his own caucus prior to last weekend's caucus retreat, not to put fuel on the fire of discontent in his own party. We can choose to believe that this is the reason he did not come clean on this issue. Or we can choose to believe that he did not know at all.
I would suggest that believing the Prime Minister is devious and manipulative and a political animal is not such a stretch for most Canadians. I would suggest that Canadians would rather believe that than believe he is incompetent and does not have proper information at his disposal; I would suggest that would be the favourable belief for Canadians. To believe he knew is not such a stretch. To believe he did not is a monumental stretch and defies belief.
There are deep divides within this Chamber as to whether in fact we should be handing over prisoners to another sovereign jurisdiction. This is a matter of important debate. We should have an open debate. We should be encouraging that debate. We should be encouraging the free exchange of information in a free society. That is what we should be doing. We should not be dismissing debate on the basis that it is just a hypothetical supposition.
We should be having the debate in a constructive way. Perhaps in that manner we could arrive at some outcome which would assure Canadians that we have considered this issue at length, as they would want us to. That would not necessarily heal all the divisions within our Chamber. It would certainly not make everyone in this country think the same way. That is not the objective. However, it would give Canadians the belief that this Chamber is a place where we can debate issues openly and honestly with one another.
Instead, what has been created is the impression that we are unwilling to do that here or at least that the government is unwilling to foster that kind of climate here.
All governments tend, over time, to believe that secrecy and the management of information is superior to open, honest and frank discussion. History tells us that, but this has been revealed this week in truth. Members on the opposite side have expressed strong concerns that the government should not be outsourcing our moral authority to other nations. I believe that is the phrase they have used. We may differ in our views on this issue. Certainly that is the case, but members on the government side have been open. Frankly this is a rarity with the members of the Liberal caucus. They have been very open. Perhaps it has been exacerbated by some of the members' frustration at not being included in the recent cabinet shuffle or not having the position they would have liked as a result of the Prime Minister's decisions a couple of weeks ago. That is quite possible and it is only human nature.
The fact of the matter remains that on this issue members opposite have expressed their opposition to the government's position and in response to their concerns the Prime Minister has been dismissive and has said it is just a hypothetical situation. Yet we are asked to believe that for a week, in regard to the most contentious issue the government had to deal with internally, the issue being that of the taking of prisoners, the defence minister had in his possession information which clearly and graphically demonstrated that actually we do not have a hypothetical situation on our hands but a real one. We are asked to believe that this information was kept from not only the Prime Minister himself but his entire office, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office, and the new minister of everything, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of security issues, who is supposed to be involved in or responsible, I am told, for daily briefings of the Prime Minister.
We are supposed to believe that the department of defence, being in possession of this information, did not share it with any other one of these agencies of government at a time when each of these agencies knew of the severity and seriousness of this debate and this issue that the government was facing and that it should face openly. That is what we are being asked to believe.
Picture the minister of defence, knowing full well that Canadian JTF2 troops were involved in the taking of prisoners and the handing over of those prisoners to the United States of America, sitting in cabinet when the issue was raised and remaining silent. When others of his colleagues no doubt raised the issue out of genuine concern, the Prime Minister said it was only a hypothetical issue and dismissed it.
Imagine the defence minister being in possession of that information and not releasing it to the Prime Minister after that discussion. Imagine still further, if we can, that a complete and full meeting of caucus was to take place, where various members of caucus would raise the issue with a genuine concern that it be dealt with openly. Imagine that the minister of defence, as part of that caucus, would sit silent in his place in that room, knowing that this was not a hypothetical debate but that it was real, and not allowing the facts to enter into the consideration of the issue.
Imagine still further that the meeting was to take place over a period of two days. Imagine as well that a subsequent cabinet meeting would be held and that again the minister of defence would not reveal this information to his Prime Minister. It defies belief. It defies comprehension that such a series of events would take place. For a Prime Minister who has a notable character for managing his caucus and limiting and centralizing discussion in the consideration of issues, it especially defies belief.
After all these meetings and all these opportunities to present information and after Monday night's debate here on the deployment of troops, there was still no information forthcoming after a full week. What would be the appearance to our allies? What would be the appearance to our friends abroad? What would be the appearance to Canadians if they were to find out subsequent to that entire week's events that one member on that front bench knew full well and had in his possession information of such gravity and importance and did not share it with the Prime Minister? What would the appearance be?
What would the reality be? It would be that the government does not have its act together, that it does not have a communications strategy in place so that it can command with confidence the real issues of the country, the issues that Canadians want us to deal with. What does it say about the government's ability to manage the deployment of troops and work co-operatively within itself in terms of the deployment of our Canadian citizens abroad?
I close by saying--