Mr. Speaker, on November 14, 2002, I placed a question on the Order Paper, Question No. 47, regarding “losses of public property due to an offence or other illegal act” for the Department of National Defence.
As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, there are new rules governing the disposition of questions on the Order Paper when the government fails to respond within the requested 45 days. Standing Order 39(5)(b) states:
If such a question remains unanswered at the expiration of the said period of forty-five days, the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond shall be deemed referred to the appropriate Standing Committee. Within five sitting days of such a referral the Chair of the committee shall convene a meeting of the committee to consider the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond.
While I did receive a response from the Ministry of National Defence it only tabled a partial response on January 27, 2003, to the question I posed. At the conclusion of its response it stated:
However, the Department of National Defence has obtained information representing $93,000 of the $220,000 addressed in Question 47 (see attached chart) and will provide the remaining information as soon as practicable.
Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to that last phrase, “and will provide the remaining information as soon as practicable”.
What we have is an answer, yet not the answer to the question which I posed. Technically speaking, we can say that we have received an answer from the Department of National Defence, however it openly admits that it has not answered the question and will provide the information in its words “as soon as practicable”. There is no timeframe stipulated in this answer. We are not aware if we are talking days, months or years. Therefore the department has taken the position that it can respond to Parliament on its timetable rather than on Parliament's timetable.
This is the tail wagging the dog. Serious questions posed by Parliament requesting an answer within 45 days should be tabled in this House within 45 days and not on a timetable at the discretion of the minister who has not even indicated what that timetable will be.
The information requested in Question No. 47 on November 14, 2002, used to be published as a matter of course in the Public Accounts of Canada on an individual item-by-item basis. The government has since taken it upon itself to aggregate these amounts and report them on a lump sum basis. This reduces the openness and transparency required in a democracy, and that openness and transparency would be further impaired if the department is able to provide the information as and when it sees fit.
Since Standing Order 39(5)(b) is a new procedure, I would not want us to get off on the wrong foot, and therefore I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to refer this matter either to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts or the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs on the basis that the question has not been answered.