Mr. Speaker, the first question involves an issue which arose during the election campaign in my capacity as a member of Parliament, and obviously the earliest opportunity to raise it is this morning. In order for you to understand what has occurred, I have to give a bit of background.
In the 38th Parliament I was a member of the House Subcommittee on Public Safety and National Security of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The House of Commons had charged that committee in December 2004 to study and report to the House of Commons within one year on Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act. The subcommittee finished its hearing of witnesses in October or November, I cannot quite recall which, and we were just about ready to sit down to begin deliberations of our report when the election was called.
When the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of the time appeared before the committee, they came with a number of officials, two of whom, Mr. Stanley Cohen and Mr. Douglas Breithaupt, were identified as the experts on the Anti-terrorism Act. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of the time invited me, if I wished to, to contact these two gentlemen and any others through his office if I wished to discuss any matters with respect to Bill C-36.
Of course, the election occurred, and it occurred to me as an individual who never likes to go down a one-way street that there are always two possibilities in an election: one either wins or loses. I was hoping I would win, of course, but I thought that in the event I were to lose I had put over a year's work into this committee and had 104 recommendations and questions that I wanted to put to the ministry so that it would have the benefit of my views. I therefore sought a meeting with these two individuals so I might communicate these 104 points to them, so that in the event that perchance I was defeated in the election, at least the work that I had done would survive by having been passed over to the appropriate justice department officials.
I began by doing everything in accordance with the channels of communication that I was told to do, namely, I contacted the then parliamentary secretary and asked that he arrange a meeting with these two individuals. I did not hear back, so on Monday, December 12, I contacted Mr. Stanley Cohen directly through my office. When I say “I”, I mean my office. We got his voice mail. We left a detailed message explaining why I wished to speak to Mr. Cohen and asked that he call me back.
Mr. Cohen did not call me back, so on the following day my assistant called and talked to his office coordinator and assistant, Linda Ménard. Actually, we got her voice mail. Again it was explained what I wanted. When he had not heard back by 2 p.m., he called again. She answered and they had a conversation in which it was explained what the purpose of my call was and why I wanted to speak to Mr. Cohen. She assured my assistant that Mr. Cohen had received my message and would return my call.
By Wednesday I had not received a call from Mr. Cohen. I began to get frustrated. I called the chief of staff for the then Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Hilary Geller, and explained the difficulty. She indicated that she understood there was a PCO directive that had gone out instructing bureaucrats not to speak to members of Parliament during an election campaign. I indicated that I wanted to speak with justice officials and spoke with the chief of staff of the Minister of Justice. His name is Jonathan Herman. He said he would contact Mr. Cohen personally and suggest that he at the very least return my call. Mr. Cohen never returned my call.
My assistant then called his assistant again on December 14 and left a message explaining that I was getting more and more frustrated. She returned the call and indicated that Mr. Cohen was not going to be available for two or three days. In my view, it became clear at that point that Mr. Cohen's office was being intentionally uncooperative in returning my telephone calls.
I then turned my attention to Mr. Doug Breithaupt, who was the second gentleman who had been identified as an expert. My assistant called his direct line and left a message on December 15 and also spoke to his assistant, who suggested that I make the request by e-mail. I made the request to Mr. Breithaupt by e-mail, asking that he contact me. Mr. Breithaupt did not return my call or respond to my e-mail.
I tried to find out what was going on. Since it had been suggested that it was the PCO that had issued the directive, my assistant contacted the PCO. We contacted the clerk's office there through the then Prime Minister's switchboard, asking them what kind of directive had gone out to bureaucrats not to speak with members of Parliament during an election.
A Hali Gernon returned the call, indicating that she was not aware of any such directive but that it would not have come from the communications and consultation section, which is where she worked, if it had been issued. My assistant then spoke with the PCO clerk's office manager on December 15 and explained my problem. By the following Friday, my assistant had not heard, so again called. She indicated that she had just been told that the PCO had not issued a directive and that it may have come from the Public Service Commission.
My assistant then immediately called the Public Service Commission and spoke with Debra Crawford, director of parliamentary affairs, who, believe it or not, did return our call. She said that the Public Service Commission had posted clear guidelines for the impartiality of public servants on the PSC website, but in no way do those indicate that bureaucrats cannot speak to MPs. In fact, she said that MPs and their office staffs continue to receive regular service for their daily business with the public, and of course I knew that because we were dealing with them.
My assistant indicated the problem and that we had come full circle. I still had not been able to speak with these two officials, nor had I been able to receive a copy of any written directive to the public service indicating that no one should speak to members of Parliament.
On Monday, December 19, not having had at least the courtesy of a telephone call from either of these two gentlemen to explain that they, in their view, could not speak to me, I then called the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Sims. The Deputy Minister of Justice did not return my call either; however, Melissa Cassar, from the then Minister of Justice's office, called and indicated that there could be no conversations because of an e-mail prohibiting bureaucrats from speaking to members of Parliament. I asked for a copy of that e-mail from Melissa and of course she could not locate such an e-mail.
The reason I am raising this is that, in my view, my abilities as a member of Parliament have been impaired. In my opinion, and I believe this is correct, we remain members of Parliament, and certainly our constituents consider us to be members of Parliament, until the actual date of the writ. That is why they continue to come into our office. That is why they continue to ask for our help.
I can understand if there would be some sort of a directive from bureaucrats, but it seems incumbent that if there is a direction to bureaucrats it should also be given to members of Parliament, so that we know, first of all, who gave that direction not to speak to members of Parliament, second, on what basis that direction was given, and third, so that we have some input into coming up with some kind of reasonable policy during an election period.
What I have determined as a result of my experience is that either there is no such vague policy directive or, if there is, everybody is afraid to show it to a member of Parliament. I believe that has breached my privileges as a member of Parliament to effectively exercise my duties. Let us suppose I had not been running for election. Let us suppose I was going to retire, wanted to finish off some files before I did so and called these justice department officials to try to finish off some of these files. Even though I was not seeking re-election, according to this phantom directive they would have been prohibited from speaking to me.
Mr. Speaker, I think this is completely outrageous and I believe it is a breach of my privileges, and if you so find, on a prima facie basis, I would be prepared to move a motion to refer this matter for further study to the procedure and House affairs committee. That is the first point.