Mr. Speaker, my question of privilege concerns the failure of the government to honour its obligation to give Parliament, through its committees, the opportunity to consider and examine appointments made by order in council. That is particularly important given the government's professed interest in increasing the scrutiny of appointments by Parliament. In fact, by breaking the existing rules, the government is limiting that scrutiny by Parliament.
Standing Order 110 imposes a clear obligation. It states:
(1) A Minister of the Crown shall lay upon the Table a certified copy of an Order in Council, stating that a certain individual has been appointed to a certain non-judicial post, not later than five sitting days after the Order in Council is published in the Canada Gazette. The same shall be deemed to have been referred to a standing committee specified at the time of tabling, pursuant to Standing Order 32(6), for its consideration during a period not exceeding thirty sitting days.
Standing Orders 110(2) and 111 are relevant to the argument but I will not detain the House by quoting as hon. members would be familiar with them.
Standing Order 110(1) imposes both a clear obligation and a timeframe “not later than five sitting days after the Order in Council is published in the Canada Gazette ”.
I have a list here of several order in council appointments published in the Canada Gazette from December 20, 2003 through February 7, 2004. By the rules, all these orders in council should have been tabled before the House adjourned on February 27. Sir, none was tabled.
That meant that the relevant standing committees were denied the right to consider and examine those appointments, a right conferred by an explicit order of the House.
Some of the appointments were routine, such as returning officers in various constituencies. Some might not be considered to be at the heart of public administration, such as the appointment of the new chef at 24 Sussex Drive. However some of the appointments were to new positions which reflect important new initiatives of the government and which would clearly benefit from the scrutiny of Parliament and the public.
I came upon this breach of the rules because of my interest in the appointment of Mr. Robert A. Wright as the “National Security Advisor” to the Prime Minister. That appointment was gazetted on January 17. The House sat from February 2 until February 27. Despite the clear order of the House, the order in council making that appointment has never been tabled in the House of Commons.
The security czar is a new position. It relates to security and intelligence matters which are of profound importance to this country and to Parliament. That is a field in which Canadian parliamentarians have consistently been denied the access to information that exists in other parliamentary systems, like the United Kingdom, Australia and in the United States. Breaking the rules on this appointment has denied Parliament an opportunity to look into this issue, an opportunity ordered by Parliament.
The government also failed to table orders in council respecting the new position of head of the Canada-United States Secretariat in the Privy Council Office, a position that had not existed before and that has significant implications of policy and other kinds for the Government of Canada, as well as appointments of the Commissioner of the Northern Pipeline Agency, the vice-chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, members of the Immigration and Refugee Board and other senior and sensitive positions.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that Speaker Sauvé ruled in 1980, as quoted in Marleau and Montpetit:
...while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits. When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred.
The government has a clear and explicit obligation to table these orders in council. It is spelled out in the standing orders. Its failure to act on that obligation has impeded the ability of the House to perform its function on important issues of public interest. By that failure, the government has also disobeyed a clear order of the House of Commons.
If you find it appropriate, sir, I have a motion to present.