Mr. Speaker, I rise today under the provisions of Standing Order 48. I regret that I must bring this matter to your attention today. It has been demonstrated that the Minister of National Defence has once again deliberately misled the House.
Over the past year and several months, the Minister of National Defence repeatedly told the House that his planning date for the entry into service of the new maritime helicopters was 2005. The minister never wavered informing the House that this was the date being planned for by his department.
On March 16, 2001, the minister was asked the following question by the member for Calgary Northeast:
The minister has told the House and the military repeatedly that we would be getting new choppers in 2005. Does the minister still actually have a plan...
The minister responded:
I am still hopeful that we could have them by the end of 2005.
On April 30, 2001, the minister was asked a similar question by the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore. The member said:
The minister stood in the House time and time again and said that the new helicopters would be replaced and flying in the year 2005...I ask him once again: When will those helicopters be replaced?
The minister responded:
We have not changed any of the timeframes. I do not know why he raises the matter.
Again a few months later in the House, on November 27, 2001, the minister was asked by the member for Saint John:
Will the minister be up front with us today, not political but up front and tell us exactly when we will get the replacements for the Sea Kings?
The minister responded:
We will be looking to get the replacement for the Sea Kings by the end of 2005. We will work as fast as we can to achieve that.
Sadly, these statements were false and the minister new they were false. The minister had already been told on March 7, 2001, that the delivery date for the new maritime helicopters had slipped to late 2006. Since that time the delivery date has slipped even further, but throughout 2001 the minister knew that his senior departmental officials had already determined that the helicopters could not be brought into service in 2005 and that in fact would be later.
We have obtained a briefing note written by Alan Williams who is the assistant deputy minister responsible for materiel in the Department of National Defence. The briefing note is entitled, “Briefing note for the Minister of National Defence on change of schedule and estimated cost of the maritime helicopter project”. That is the title and there is no ambiguity in that title at all. It is very clear. The first sentence of that briefing note states:
To explain why the estimated delivery date for the first maritime helicopter has moved from 2005 to 2006.
That is perfectly clear. There is no ambiguity with that, saying that it has moved from 2005 to 2006. The briefing note is about a page and a half long and explains the reasons for the delay. It states that the approval of the procurement strategy was delayed during the winter because of the government's focus on the early 2000 election and because of increased interest by competitors in the competition after the government split the contract in two.
The fourth paragraph of the briefing note again leaves no doubt about the delay. It states:
The combined impact of these two events has caused the target date for delivery of the first maritime helicopter to shift from the end of 2005 to the end of 2006.
That is what it says in the speaking note. There is no ambiguity. There is no reference of any kind to there still being a possibility of delivery in 2005. In fact it says exactly the opposite.
This briefing note was drafted on February 27, 2001 and passed to the minister on March 7, 2001. Even so, one week later the minister in answering the question put by the member for Calgary Northeast in the House said that he remained committed to the date of 2005. He of course repeated this to members many times over the next several months.
On May 7, just two days ago, here in the House, he was sitting before a committee of the whole to consider the defence estimates for the coming year. The member for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam gave the minister the opportunity to clarify these discrepancies. He gave him a chance. Extraordinarily, the minister said:
Madam Chairman, the member said it was my aim. I am an optimist. I am still trying to get the helicopters as quickly as we possibly can...I still stand by what I said, that by the end of the year we would like to have the helicopter named. I will make every effort to achieve that. I believe it is achievable.
That is what he said here just a couple of days ago. The minister went on to say:
It will be difficult to make the end of 2005 but I will not change the target until we are near the end of the year, know the helicopter and see what kind of arrangement we can then make with the company with respect to speeding up and gaining some of the lost time. I am not prepared to change my aim at this point of time until I have had that opportunity.
This is not good enough. The minister has been told by his departmental officials that the delivery date of 2005 is impossible. We have the briefing notes that say that. We now know that even 2006 is virtually impossible because the pre-qualification letter which was to have been issued last month still has not been issued and has been further delayed. Yet the minister knowing all this stood in the House two days ago and said he was sticking by that.
The minister has not apologized to the House for his misleading statements, nor has he made any attempt to clear the record in this place. In fact he has explicitly refused to do so.
I find it disturbing that the minister's officials have also misled the House. For example, on June 5, 2001, Alan Williams appeared before the standing committee on national defence. He was asked the following question by the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore:
Sir, when do you expect those helicopters to be replaced? In what year?
It is a straightforward question to which Mr. Williams replied:
Well, we won't know for sure until we complete both acquisitions. We're still hopeful for 2005. We'll have to complete both. It depends on who the winners are, whether they've had a history of working together, and how far advanced they are. We remain hopeful for 2005 while recognizing that there might be some slippage.
The truth is that Mr. Williams did know for sure because he prepared those briefing notes for the minister.
Referring to 2005, in spite of the fact that there was no question whatsoever that it would be 2006 at the earliest, and the briefing notes from Mr. Williams to the minister leaving absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever, is deliberately misleading.
I view this conduct to be inconsistent with the standards of this House and the public. It certainly is inconsistent with what we expect from members of this House. Accordingly, the minister of defence is in contempt of this House.
On February 1, in ruling on an earlier issue of privilege, Mr. Speaker, you said:
The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.
On page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.
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.
Mr. Speaker, if you find this to be a prima facie question of privilege I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.