Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege.
Jack Layton, the new leader of the NDP who wants to join us in the House, and his colleague the member for Winnipeg Centre need to understand that there are some rules in the House, such as privilege and privileges of the House. That is what I want to speak to today.
Page 66 of Marleau and Montpetit states:
In December 1989, a third committee was created to review the Parliament of Canada Act regarding the powers, duties and obligations of Members--
It quotes from the third report:
The privileges, immunities and powers of the House of Commons and its Members are established by section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act. These privileges are intended to enable Members of Parliament to carry out their functions and activities and to represent Canadians. These privileges, immunities and powers must be considered and respected in the execution of search warrants--
It continues on under the heading “Privilege Versus Contempt”:
Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House.
Page 68 of Marleau and Montpetit states:
The premature disclosure of committee reports and proceedings has frequently been raised as a matter of privilege. However, in those instances where no specific individual has been identified, the matter has not been pursued even though it might appear to involve contempt.
I refer the House to an article in today's Ottawa Citizen . If the Speaker will permit me to read from the article, the headline is “Ad firm report ignores political meddling, Parliamentary panel sidesteps politicians' role in sponsorship scandal, MP charges”. The newspaper article states:
A parliamentary committee's report into the controversial sponsorship program whitewashes allegations of political interference and lays the blame on bureaucrats for mishandling the contracts at the centre of the scandal, says an NDP MP.
[The member for Winnipeg Centre] said the public accounts committee's draft report into the three contracts given to Montreal-based Groupaction “doesn't even touch” the allegations of political interference, which was a key reason the committee decided to investigate and hold hearings in the first place.
The secret report, which has yet to be tabled with Parliament, is expected to be discussed at a closed meeting of the committee today.
“To me, the report misses the whole point,” says [the member for Winnipeg Centre], who was recently removed from the committee. “There were overwhelming indications that political interference was the real story, but anyone reading the report years from now wouldn't even know political interference was even contemplated as an issue in this.”
[The member for Winnipeg Centre] said the report unfairly dumps the blame on public servants without even mentioning concerns or suspicions that bureaucrats were simply following orders from their political masters.
[The member for Winnipeg Centre] acknowledged the committee never found any evidence of political interference but said it was “offensive” to make current and former public servants the “scapegoats”. Unless changes are made, the NDP will issue a dissenting report.
I will quote one more paragraph from the article:
The committee's draft report, which was written in November, but kept secret to avoid leaks before Parliament returned from Christmas break, was to be discussed at an in camera meeting two weeks ago. The Liberal-dominated committee agreed to defer the report so committee members had more time to consider it. The report has since been leaked to the media.
The article continues on to talk about more details of the report.
Mr. Speaker, I am the chairman of the public accounts committee and the committee, as pointed out in the article, has not even deliberated on this particular report. We have not discussed it in any way. We have not agreed to anything in any way. We have not tabled any report in the House. There is in essence no report at this point in time.
This morning there was a media advisory issued by the member for Winnipeg Centre stating that he would be available for comment Monday, February 10 on a minority report he has prepared regarding the May 2002 special audit report of the Auditor General on the Groupaction affair. I have to advise also that the press conference was cancelled prior to its scheduled time.
Another question is, how can a dissenting report be prepared on something that does not exist? If one wants to dissent to something, there has to be something to dissent to and the report does not exist at this point in time.
Not only that, but the member for Winnipeg Centre is no longer a member of the public accounts committee. It is not even a member of the committee leaking a report. It is a member of the House who has been given privileged information by virtue of the fact that he used to be a member of the public accounts committee. That was when he was given the report, privileged as a confidential document, for it to be discussed by the members. However, now that he is no longer a member of the committee, he is an ordinary member of the House who has this privileged information in his possession and who has decided to talk to the media about it. He has abused the privileges of the committee and the privileges of the House.
I pointed out page 68 of Marleau and Montpetit and how, when we have been unable to identify who has leaked a report, it is very difficult to point a finger and hold someone accountable. However, in this particular instance, the member for Winnipeg Centre has been openly critical in the media and has talked about a report in the media that does not exist but may be considered by the committee.
Therefore, I believe that there is a prima facie case of a breach of parliamentary privilege. Mr. Speaker, if you agree, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.