I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast on March 17 regarding his claim that the President of the Treasury Board misled the House concerning the use of the expression “major crown project” in relation to the Canadian firearms program.
I would like to thank the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. President of the Treasury Board, the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for their comments. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville for the documentation he supplied to the Chair.
In his presentation, the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast alleged that the President of the Treasury Board had misled the House in a reply made to an oral question on February 25, 2003. In response to a question posed by the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville, the hon. President of the Treasury Board stated:
Mr. Speaker, according to my information the program was not formally designated as a major crown project.
I urge hon. members to read the Debates for February 25, 2003 at page 3985 to see this answer in print.
The hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast contrasted that statement with statements made in the Auditor General’s letter of February 26, 2003 to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville has kindly provided the Chair with a copy of that letter and I have noted with great interest the references there to various documents of the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board where the term “major Crown project” has been used with reference to the Canadian Firearms Program.
In the letter, the Auditor General outlines a number of occasions, beginning in 1998, in which formal documents concerning project approval that were passed between the justice department and the Treasury Board Secretariat either describe the program as a major crown project or indicate that it will be managed as such. Moreover, the letter points out that in response to documents submitted for comment by her office to the justice department and the Treasury Board Secretariat during 2002, no exception was taken to the use of the expression “major crown project”. On one occasion, in fact, the Treasury Board Secretariat requested that the expression “major capital project” be altered to read “major crown project”. It was only last month, in February 2003, that the justice department began to object to the use of the expression “major crown project” to designate the Canadian firearms program.
The hon. President of the Treasury Board responded to the charge made by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast by stating that in her reply to the original question she was pointing out to the House that the program had never been formally designated as a major Crown project.
She went on to explain that such formal designation would have involved a decision of the ministers who comprise the Treasury Board, adding, in the Debates , on March 17, 2003:
To my knowledge, after an examination by my senior officials of all Treasury Board records and decisions, there has never been a written decision by Treasury Board formally designating this project as a major Crown project.
On examining the statements made here in the House and the additional information submitted to me, it seems to your Speaker that the Department of Justice and the Treasury Board Secretariat were prepared to regard the firearms program as a major crown project, or at least, were prepared to agree that it should be managed as though it were such a project. The House is now informed that such a designation was never formally made by the Treasury Board and that it is therefore incorrect to apply it to the firearms program.
As the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader pointed out, the decision to designate or not to designate a program as a major crown project is a prerogative of the government. Based on that decision, the government may require a different level or a different type of management structure and may impose reporting requirements that do not apply in other cases. All of these are matters that are internal to the government's administration. They are not matters of privilege. The House may choose to exercise its right of oversight of government activities to pursue these matters, but that does not require intervention by the Chair.
These are no doubt critical questions for hon. members and for the House, but they are not questions for your Speaker to resolve. Just as it is not up to the Chair to settle the dispute surrounding the issue of the proper designation of the firearms program, it is not the role of your Speaker to determine the consequences for good or ill of its designation. Rather, as Speaker, I am being asked to ensure that the privileges of the House have not been breached. In the circumstances of this case, the only argument for such a breach is the allegation that the President of the Treasury Board deliberately misled the House.
The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast cited a precedent where prima facie privilege was found in a case where a minister made a statement at one time and a different assertion on another occasion, but the precedent is not helpful in this case because there has been no inconsistency in the statements of the President of the Treasury Board. She has not said one thing at one time and something different at another time; she has been clear, stating only that the Treasury Board did not formally designate the Canadian firearms program as a major crown project. The Chair has not been presented with any evidence to indicate that that statement is incorrect. Others may have had differing views on whether or not this was the program designation, but their views are irrelevant to the narrow question of privilege that is before the Chair. On that question, I have concluded that the House has not been misled by the President of the Treasury Board and there is therefore no breach of the privileges of the House.