I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Monday, September 15 by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville concerning statements of the hon. Minister of Justice in relation to the financial administration of the firearms program.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for raising this matter as well as the government House leader for his comments.
The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville contends that the hon. Minister of Justice misled the House on February 3 in describing the results of a financial review of the firearms program carried out by the consulting firm KPMG and that similar statements were contained in a justice department press release issued on the same day. The hon. member also alleges that the minister had shown contempt for the office of the Auditor General by failing to substantiate the justice department's assessment of the KPMG report.
In support of his charges, the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville pointed to concerns expressed in a letter from an official of the Auditor General's office sent to the deputy minister of justice on February 14. The hon. member cited the following passage from that letter, and I quote from the debates of September 15, page 7340:
We are concerned that there may be insufficient information in the KPMG Report to support the conclusions in the Press Release. We would like to be able to respond to any Parliamentary concerns about the KPMG Report that may be raised in the forthcoming hearings.
There are two statements in the Department's Press Release that are causing concern. These statements conclude that the KPMG Report has allowed the Department of Justice to confirm that the necessary systems are in place to ensure the integrity and completeness of relevant financial data; and
This work has provided the Department with confidence that the information compiled on past expenditures is accurate.
We are concerned that the work described in the KPMG report and accompanying transmission letter does not appear sufficient to support these statements.
The letter from the Office of the Auditor General went on to question whether other aspects of the position taken by the Department of Justice could be fully supported by the report of the consultants’ study.
The hon. government House leader in his intervention pointed out that the KPMG study in question was tabled in the House by the Minister of Justice on February 3, the day that the minister made the comments complained of. The House leader characterized the statements made by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville as a matter of debate, a difference of opinion, in regard to the report. He noted that since the report in dispute had been made public, members were free to reach their own conclusions with respect to its findings.
Indeed, the government House leader added, that the justice minister and the Auditor General had appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts concerning the firearms program on February 24. Both the minister and the Auditor General had an opportunity at that time to elaborate on their views and respond to questions from hon. members.
As members of Parliament, we all deal regularly with differing interpretations of various events or situations and differing views of documents laid before the House. Members can, and often do, disagree about the actual facts of the same situation. Disagreements of this kind form the basis of our debates. Our rules are designed to permit and indeed to encourage members to present differing views on the given issue. This tolerance of different points of view is an essential feature of the freedom of speech and of the decision making process that lie at the heart of our parliamentary system.
I have examined with care the documents provided to me by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville. I have also reviewed the arguments both he and the government House leader presented to the House when the question was raised on September 15. I can find no evidence that the hon. Minister of Justice intended at any time to mislead the House.
In my view, the minister simply presented his views regarding a document that he had tabled in the House and his department repeated those views in a press release. I can see no basis in the documents provided by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville that the minister acted in anything but good faith.
As the government House leader pointed out, the disputed report has been tabled and members can read it and form their own opinions of it. The officials of the Auditor General's office did so, and they seemed not to endorse the minister's view. They have expressed their reservations and have requested further information. Members may do likewise and, if they so choose, pursue the matter directly with the minister through various avenues available here in the House or in committee. However these are matters for debate and they are not matters that the Chair must decide.
With respect to the final point raised by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville, if the Auditor General requires the assistance of the House to obtain information, she can always seek that assistance through the usual means, such as a special report to the House or in consultation with the public accounts committee and the House can then take whatever action it deems appropriate. At this stage, I see no basis on which, as Speaker, I could intervene on procedural grounds.
I thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for having raised this matter, and of course in his usual very thorough fashion. However, on the evidence before me, I can find no indication that either the minister or the department have breached the privileges of the House in this case.