Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order regarding a number of Order Paper questions. I have alerted the table of my interest in raising this issue today.
On November 20 and 21, 2002, Questions Nos. 59 to 71 and Question No. 77 were placed on the Order Paper requesting from the government a list of grants, loans, contributions and contracts awarded in certain constituencies, including names, addresses, dates, amounts and other such information since 1993-94. Government was defined in those motions to mean all departments and agencies, including what was referred to as crown corporations and another term referred to as quasi non-governmental agencies funded by the government. Remember the word non-governmental which is in there.
Clarifications were required prior to assigning these questions. These clarifications include the matter of which organizations are so-called quasi non-governmental agencies because the government does not have access to information of non-governmental agencies. Frankly, if they are questions of the government and someone is asking about something being non-governmental in the giving of a contract, how would the government possibly know?
Additional clarifications were sought on the types of contracts. The processing of these clarifications took a total of two days out of 45 allowed before the government received from members the necessary information to assign the questions.
In addition, I raise the following concerns about whether these questions are reasonable or in order.
First, there is an enormous amount of information sought covering eight years of material to be gathered and put in readable form, checked for accuracy and signed off by respective officials, including ministers, within 45 days.
Second, all information collected has to be translated under Standing Order 32(4) which requires that any document distributed or laid before the House shall be in both official languages, which of course is reasonable and appropriate.
Third, government departments are not required to keep records on a constituency basis for their programs. I am sure that members would appreciate that there are many reasons why this should not be the case. To respond to the question for search would require postal codes and a manual search of files which would be extremely costly to the taxpayers of Canada, something that some of us care about.
Fourth, there is a matter of the retention period for government files. Under the multi-institutional disposition authority, MIDA, of the National Archives of Canada, general administrative records are kept between two and five years and financial records, six years. Each department determines its needs. This makes requests for information that is not normally used in the conduct of government business with a date over six years old time consuming and extremely costly to complete. I remind members of the House that it is the taxpayers who must pay for this.
In short, because the information requested covers so many different matters, it cannot in any way be produced and translated within 45 days.
In addition the following issue is one I would hope to bring to the particular attention of the Chair. The electoral map of constituencies was realigned in 1996-97 which makes it impossible to respond accurately to questions. Ironically, some members are asking the questions on the Order Paper. I will use the example of the member for Blackstrap because one of the questions is in her name. There was no such riding as Blackstrap prior to 1997. In other words, we are being asked questions about ridings by members of ridings who themselves did not exist at the time for which the information is being sought. Therefore the information on a so-called riding by riding basis prior to the electoral redistribution in my opinion at least should be ruled out of order by the Chair.
Under Standing Order 39(6) these questions cannot be transferred to Motions for the Production of Papers because they do not seek documents. In this regard I would refer to the Speaker's Ruling of June 14, 1989, pages 3025 and 3026, which I am sure are very familiar to all members of the House.
Some members suggested, in a point of order raised on May 30, 1989, that Standing Order 39(6) was obsolete. I would suggest that given the issues I have raised today, it should probably be amended to provide the government with an avenue to request from the Speaker grounds to counter these types of requests for information within 45 days.
Mr. Speaker, I would also ask that you consider whether the clerk has authority to reject questions for information within 45 days as unreasonable, particularly given the exceptional kind of things that I have just brought to the attention of the House.
Under Standing Order 39(2) the clerk has responsibility, and by the Clerk I am referring to the institution, the clerk and his staff, to review questions before they are placed on the Order Paper. It seems to me that questions that are so poorly prepared, and unfortunately some are, that they require multiple clarifications should be rejected.
Similarly, questions that are unanswerable should be rejected. I would submit that questions which are excessively costly and time consuming should be rejected or the government should be able to transfer them for debate.
Finally, questions that are asked of agencies that are not governmental at all should be ruled out of order in the very first instance.