I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member forMississauga South on October 19, 2006, concerning the premature disclosure of Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act).
I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for having raised this important matter as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform for his comments on October 23, 2006.
In raising this question of privilege, the hon. member for Mississauga South claimed that a breach of the privileges of the House had occurred as a result of the premature disclosure of Bill C-30, Canada's clean air act. He stated that copies of the bill had been distributed at a press conference held on October 13, 2006 by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. The bill itself was not introduced in the House until October 19, 2006.
In response to this question of privilege, the hon. government House leader contended by Bill C-30 had a much broader scope than the document tabled by the hon. member for Mississauga South. He noted that the bill proposed amendments to three statutes rather than only to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. He went on to indicate that, even with respect to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, Bill C-30 proposed amendments not identical to those in the document referred to by the hon. member for Mississauga South.
In response to this intervention, the member for Mississauga South stated that the basis of his complaint was not that the two texts were identical, but that they contained, “substantively, the same critical provisions”.
This is not the first time a question of privilege has been raised about the premature disclosure of a government bill. In cases where prima facie cases of privilege have been found, there has been divulgation of the actual bill prior to members having been made privy to its contents. Members may wish to consult the ruling delivered by Mr. Speaker Parent on February 21, 2000, at pages 3766 and 3767, of the Debates where such an issue is discussed.
When looking carefully at the document provided by the hon. member for Mississauga South, it is evident to me that it is not a copy of the bill which the government placed on notice. In addition to the differences pointed out by the hon. government House leader, an examination of the two documents shows numerous other differences. These include not only differences in the organization and numbering of its parts, but more extensive textual differences as well, since there are various provisions in the bill not found in the document provided by the hon. member for Mississauga South.
I have also looked at the press release issued by the Sierra Club in conjunction with the October 13 press conference. The press release clearly indicates that the Sierra Club's comments relate to, “...an August version of the proposed amendments...”. The Sierra Club further notes in the press release that its comments on the legislative proposal will remain valid, and again I quote, “...(a)ssuming that this draft is what is introduced into Parliament...”.
The fact that the document distributed by the Sierra Club contains blacked-out passages also indicates that the document as circulated by the government was a consultation document and not an advance copy of Bill C-30.
As has been noted in previous Speaker's rulings, the government is free to consult whomever it wishes in preparing legislation for submission to the House. It is not for the Chair to determine what form these consultations may take or what documents the government may circulate for comment.
The key procedural point, as I indicated in a ruling delivered on March 19, 2001, at pages 1839 and 1840 of the Debates and to which the government House leader made reference, is that once a bill has been placed on notice, it must remain confidential until introduced in the House. In the present case, I can find no evidence that there has been any premature disclosure of a confidential document to which the House has priority. I, therefore, must rule that no breach of privilege has occurred.
I would again like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for his vigilance in drawing this matter to the attention of the House.