I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 18, 2007 by the hon. member for Skeena-Bulkley Valley concerning the alleged obstruction of his ability to carry out his duties as a member of Parliament.
I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this issue, which is of importance to all members. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, the hon. House leader of the official opposition, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Mississauga South and the hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois for their comments.
In bringing this matter to the attention of the House, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley stated that in a press release issued on August 21, 2007, by the member for Cariboo—Prince George, Ms. Sharon Smith was identified as the person his constituents should contact if they required assistance in dealing with the government or with members on the government side of the House. He alleged that this was an attempt to usurp his role as member for the riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley and that in so doing it obstructed him in carrying out his proper functions. He also claimed that the effect of the press release and of subsequent statements made by the member for Cariboo—Prince George was to confuse his constituents concerning the fact that he was their duly elected member of Parliament.
In replying to these charges, the member for Cariboo-Prince George stated that his only objective had been to see to it that people in the riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley received adequate service. He rejected the suggestion that there was any other motive behind his actions and asserted that he had no intent to interfere with his colleague’s ability to do his job. The importance of this issue was underlined by the opposition House leader.
In his remarks, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons drew the Speaker's attention back to what he took to be the crux of the matter, that is, whether the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley had successfully made the case that he had been obstructed in his work as a parliamentarian.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, p. 71, states:
The rights, privileges and immunities of individual Members of the House are finite, that is to say, they can be enumerated but not extended except by statute or, in some cases, by constitutional amendment...Moreover, privilege does not exist “at large” but applies only in context, which usually means within the confines of the parliamentary precinct and a “proceeding in Parliament”.
In a ruling on May 3, 2006, Debates, page 845, I reminded the House that previous speakers had consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from “intimidation, obstruction and interference”, but that for that protection of parliamentary privilege to be successfully invoked, the member's activity must be linked to a proceeding in Parliament. This point is clearly set out at page 93 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which states:
Every Member has duties as a representative of the electorate. A Member may only claim the protection of privilege relating to his or her parliamentary duties—
As I indicated in my remarks when this question was first raised, what is said outside the House is beyond the Speaker's purview.
However, there does exist an important exception to this general principle, one which was cited by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. For the benefit of members, I will repeat the citation, which is found at page 87 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice and is taken from Mr. Speaker Fraser's ruling of May 6, 1985.
It should go without saying that a Member of Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending to cause confusion as to a Member’s identity creates the possibility of an impediment to the fulfilment of that Member’s functions. Any action that impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege. There are ample citations and precedents to bear this out.
Footnote 173 on the same page provides an example of such a case, namely a ruling delivered on May 30, 1985, where an advertisement identifying an unelected individual as a member was found to constitute a breach of privilege.
I have examined with great care the press release and the transcripts provided to me by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. I have also taken into consideration the remarks made by the member for Cariboo—Prince George. I am satisfied that there was no intent to mislead the constituents of Skeena—Bulkley Valley concerning the identity of their MP and that the texts I have examined do not do so. I point out, as an example, that the press release explicitly refers to the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley as “an MP from the fourth party in the House”.
Accordingly, while I will concede that the hon. member may well have a grievance, I have to conclude that he was not obstructed in the performance of his parliamentary duties. I cannot therefore find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred in this case.
Although that disposes of the procedural point which was raised, I think it is proper to underline to the House that the member for Skeena-Bulkley Valley and other members who intervened have raised important issues concerning the ability of members to advocate for their constituents that may concern members on all sides of the House. The House will recall, specifically, that the member for Mississauga South alleged that he was encountering other difficulties in dealing with the public service and ministers’ offices on behalf of his constituents, and the whip of the Bloc Québécois further alleged that there was at least one further example of misleading information being disseminated to the public concerning who their elected representative is. These allegations may not meet the recognized criteria of matters of privilege but they are not concerns to be dismissed lightly.
Should the procedure and House affairs committee, within whose mandate such matters fall, think it appropriate, it might choose to examine any or all of these issues more closely.
Once again, I would like to thank the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and others who made interventions on this important issue for raising a matter which I believe is of concern to all hon. members.