Mr. Speaker, since it was my question that was submitted, I would like to add a few comments to this question of privilege raised by my colleague from St. John's West.
The government has basically taken the position that it can offer the information to the public at any time it wants provided there is no requirement to table the information in the House. In this case the information flows from an Order Paper question that I tabled in October 2002.
Notwithstanding the fact that the question died on the Order Paper as a result of Parliament being prorogued, I consider the act of releasing the answer outside the House by the government an affront to the House and to me personally.
I have two essential points to make.
First, the government refers to this information as information resulting from Question No. 37, making the public and members aware that the information provided was as a result of a proceeding in Parliament. In addition, there was the expectation from members that the answer would be tabled in the House. That would have been the proper and expected course for the government to take. This point is about the dismissive view and disrespect the government has for the House and its members.
Second, and most important, is the fact that the government ignored the practice that when it was discovered that inaccurate information had been provided to the House with respect to the first question in February 2003, the corrected information must then be provided to the House and it must be provided to the House first.
If the House is wronged, which it was, then it is to the House that the government must make its redress. Instead, it participated in a publicity tactic crafted from the communications office of the Prime Minister. That is a clear affront to me personally and to the House collectively.
The authorities on parliamentary procedure are clear. It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. The earliest opportunity in a parliamentary sense would have been yesterday during routine proceedings, not last week when the House was not sitting.
Parliamentary privilege can be bridged from session to session and from Parliament to Parliament. If a breach occurs in one Parliament, it can be raised in another. Applying that same logic to the obligation on the part of the government to provide accurate and truthful information to Parliament, then the obligation to correct an error in one session or another Parliament must be done in Parliament, and its failure to do so is contempt.
The fact that the question died on the Order Paper in the last session is immaterial. What is of concern is the inaccurate information provided to the House in February 2003. What is of greater concern is that the supposedly corrected information was not provided to the House first but to the public. No formal apology to the House was offered yet it was the House that was offended by the government's obvious incompetence with the first answer.
The government cannot even argue that time was an issue. The first answer was provided in February 2003. Our research showed that the answer was faulty. We raised the issue in the fall of 2003. The government provided the answer on January 28, 2004. The House was scheduled to come back on February 2, a date that the government itself set.
My second point will address the government's dismissive view of the House and its members. I will argue that this alone is sufficient enough to be considered contempt, particularly when it involves the integrity and dignity of the House.
These sorts of issues have been raised in the past. One of note was from October 10, 1989. Speaker Fraser ruled on a matter regarding an advertisement put out by the government which made it appear that the GST was approved by Parliament before Parliament actually approved it. The Speaker quoted a member saying:
When this advertisement--says in effect there will be a new tax on January 1, 1991--the advertisement is intended to convey the idea that Parliament has acted on it because that is, I am sure, the ordinary understanding of Canadians about how a tax like this is finally adopted and comes into effect. That being the case, it is a clearly a contempt of Parliament because it amounts to a misrepresentation of the role of the House.
We can draw a parallel with Question No. 37. The government provided information directly linked to an Order Paper question. Canadians would expect that this information be tabled in the House. That would obviously be the proper course of action. The information was not presented in the House and that is an affront to the House.
The government can try and debate technicalities, but the result of providing that information outside the House offended the authority and dignity of the House because the act itself was politically motivated. It was not out of respect for the House of Commons or out of respect to me.
Let me get back to the GST case. While the Speaker in 1989 did not rule a prima facie question of privilege, he did say this:
--I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous.
I will provide the Speaker with another comment from former Speaker Parent on November 6, 1997 in which he stated:
--the Chair acknowledges that this is a matter of potential importance since it touches the role of members as legislators, a role which should not be trivialized. It is from this perspective that the actions of the Department of Finance are of some concern.
This dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.
I trust that today's decision at this early stage of the 36th Parliament will not be forgotten by the minister and his officials and that the departments and agencies will be guided by it.
When I asked my question in Parliament I expected an answer to be tabled in Parliament. By circumventing the expected course of action through a politically motivated, defiant move, the government made a mockery of me and a mockery of our parliamentary conventions.
This Prime Minister is continuing the previous prime minister's dismissive view of Parliament and he is revealing his ignorance of the government's proper role in relationship with members and Parliament.
For information of members of the House, the way this was released was that I got a phone call at home at 7 a.m. from the the government House leader's office telling me “The minister urgently has to talk to you within the next half hour. It is so urgent he has to talk to you. He is going to answer your question, Question No. 37, which was incorrectly answered”.
Why do we not wait until Parliament sits and answer it next week and do what we normally do, which is that it is laid upon the table and we will pick it up. That is how it always operates. Instead, it had to be released that morning. They were throwing it up on the website.
Then I turned on my TV station and there we are. We had the Arar inquiry called. We added a fourth question to the Supreme Court. Well, surprise, Mr. Speaker, this is what happened.
This dismissive view is something the Speaker promised the clamp down on. Mr. Speaker, that is what we are expecting from you today.
In conclusion, the government is in contempt for providing information outside of the House that was directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada on page 71 states:
Therefore, the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions, and notices of motions...are part of “proceedings of Parliament”.
Privilege of Parliament is founded on necessity, and is those rights that are “absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers.” Necessity then should be a basis for any claim that an event was part of a “proceeding in Parliament,” i.e., what is claimed to be a part of a “proceeding in Parliament” and thus protected should be necessarily incidental to a “proceeding in Parliament”.
There was also the expectation from members that the answer would to be tabled in the House, and that, Mr. Speaker, should have been respected.
Finally, when it was discovered that incorrect information was provided to the House in February 2003 by the government, the government should have provided the correct information to the House at the next opportunity where it was intended in the first place. That would have been the only acceptable course of action.
As our current Speaker said on February 1, 2002:
The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House. ...integrity of information is of paramount importance....
You clearly stated, Mr. Speaker, that it was the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House that was of concern. The integrity of the information involving Question No. 37 was inaccurate. The government should make the correction in this House first.