I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on October 18, 2005 by the hon. House leader of the official opposition concerning the use during question period of the term “mislead”.
I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter as well as the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and the hon. member for Calgary Southeast for their interventions.
During question period that day, the hon. member for Calgary Centre-North posed a question to the hon. Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development that concluded with the following, “Why did the minister mislead the House?” At the time, I indicated that I was dissatisfied with the use of the term in that context. I had made a similar remark when the same word was used during question period on September 27, 2005.
Following question period, the hon. opposition House leader argued that the term “mislead” had been accepted in debate on numerous occasions. He stated that the term had been judged to be unparliamentary only when qualified by words like “deliberately” or “intentionally”. The hon. member quoted three Speaker's rulings in this regard.
In his intervention, the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell pointed out that citation 489 of Beauchesne's 6th Edition enumerates a number of cases where the word “mislead“ has been found to be unparliamentary. He also argued that the Speaker always has the discretion to rule out of order anything that causes disorder in the House. For his part, the hon. member for Calgary Southeast stated that since the term has been accepted many times in recent years, it should have been allowed.
While I can understand the desire of hon. members for certainty and consistency when it comes to acceptable language in the House, I am afraid that it is just not possible to say that particular words or terms are always parliamentary or always unparliamentary. This is because acceptability depends not only on the words themselves, but how they are used and the reaction they provoke. I would refer all hon. members to the following passage found at page 526 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice :
In dealing with unparliamentary language, the Speaker takes into account the tone, manner and intention of the Member speaking; the person to whom the words were directed; the degree of provocation; and, most importantly, whether or not the remarks created disorder in the Chamber. Thus, language deemed unparliamentary one day may not necessarily be deemed unparliamentary the following day.
It is therefore not surprising that hon. members can cite examples of the term being accepted in certain cases and not in others. The passage continues:
The codification of unparliamentary language has proven impractical as it is the context in which words or phrases are used that the Chair must consider when deciding whether or not they should be withdrawn.
I would also refer hon. members to rulings given by my predecessor, Mr. Speaker Parent, on February 17, 1997 and November 5, 1998. When arguments were raised about the acceptability of the word “mislead” and the word “misrepresent”, Mr. Speaker Parent indicated that tone, context and intention were the deciding factors when determining whether or not to rule the terms out of order.
I always try to allow hon. members as much latitude as possible in presenting their points of view, for, in my view, this House should be a place where strong arguments are presented and vigorous debate ensues. Indeed, I must confess that as the hon. House leader of the official opposition has reminded me, I have even on occasion allowed the use of the word “mislead” in certain questions, without the verb being modified in any way. However, I should also say that I have never been entirely at ease with its use in questions, though I have come to tolerate it in preambles to questions.
In the case before us, I judged that the tone of the question implied that the minister was intentionally misleading the House. I did not ask the hon. member for Calgary Centre-North to withdraw the word; I only cautioned him and all hon. members to choose their words carefully. Since the House is seeking clarification, let me say then that from now on, the Chair plans to be especially watchful about the use of the word “mislead” and I am not likely to allow it at all in direct questions.
I hope that hon. members realize that presiding over question period can be more of an art, some might say a black art, than a science. It is always the duty of the Speaker that our debates are conducted with a certain degree of civility and mutual respect in keeping with established practice in this House. The vigilance of the hon. House leader of the official opposition has been most helpful to me in considering this situation and others like it. I continue to count on his and the cooperation of all members in meeting the challenges our unique question period poses for any Speaker.
Again I thank the hon. opposition House leader for raising this matter.