Mr. Speaker, yesterday another colleague in the House rose on a point of order involving the mandate of a committee. I thought it might be helpful to the Chair if I provided a few more remarks which I felt yesterday were not fully addressed.
The question involves the operation of a committee and whether the committee is operating within its mandate and whether or not a committee when it drifts outside of its specific mandate should be communicated with by the House in some way.
I know, Mr. Speaker, you are reluctant and naturally so to interfere with the work of committees. They generally do a pretty good job of carrying on the work that is delegated to them by the House.
The first thing I want to mention of course is the very basics here, the rules of the House. Mr. Speaker, you will know very clearly that the work of the committees is set by orders of reference and Marleau and Montpetit fortunately speak to this fairly clearly. I am not too sure I have to read Marleau and Montpetit, but I will refer to the page numbers just for reference here in the discussion.
On page 853 it states: “The Standing Orders provide standing committees with permanent orders of reference--” and on page 854, the authors write: “Committees are bound by their orders of reference and may not undertake studies or make recommendations to the House which go beyond the limits established by them”.
In this case the particular committee is the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. That particular committee has adopted a motion the contents of which were made available to the House yesterday which purports to, and I will just use the short form here, “investigate the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party”.
That motion of the committee which was adopted has been provided to the House and, Mr. Speaker, if you want me to read it I can, but I probably do not have to.
Mr. Speaker, you are indicating that I should read it. The motion that was adopted states:
That pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a) in relation to the conflicting reports about the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party, the committee investigate the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada, which - as evidenced by such recent events as, the February 13, 2008 Fundraising Auction at the Ottawa Congress Centre, the “Stéphane Dion’s Liberal Leaders Dinner” event of February 21, 2008, which accepted corporate money though the federal branch of the Liberal Party of Canada in Saskatchewan, the Halloween Spooktacular Carnival in Mississauga-Streetville of October 26th, 2007, which accepted corporate sponsors, and other prior events - potentially violate the Canada Elections Act by encouraging and allowing personal donations in excess of $1,100 dollars, as well as allowing and encouraging political donations from corporations, unions and associations.
Essentially, it is a Canada Elections Act fundraising focus. Mr. Speaker, you will be the judge of what that appears to be.
In adopting the motion, I am suggesting that the members have gone way beyond the mandate of the committee. The committee's mandate is contained in the Standing Orders. It does not have any specific other reference or guidance from the House in terms of its order of reference.
Mr. Speaker, if you read the order of reference from Standing Order 108(3)(h), you will find that there is really only one sub-category, 108(3)(h)(v) and (vi), which could in any way relate to what the committee is now purporting to do. I will just read subparagraph (vi):
the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;
I would accept that if the proposed work of the committee had to do with public office holders there might be a connection. But in fact, the term “public office holders” is defined by the Conflict of Interest Act. It is defined in the definition sections of that statute and does not have a particular section number. However, it is clear that the Liberal Party of Canada is not a public office holder. Public office holders are generally appointees of the government: ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
The focus of the committee's motion here is the Liberal Party of Canada. It is not a public office holder, so there is no reasonable reading of these rules that would allow the committee a mandate to do this type of inquiry.
I suggest that if the committee can clearly go beyond its mandate, then the committee can look at the fundraising efforts of the United Nations Children's Fund in Canada, the National Citizens' Coalition, charitable and political action groups across the country, and it might as well just go and study the Department of National Defence or the employment insurance fund. Once the committee goes beyond its mandate, it is simply beyond its mandate.
The point I want to try and make very clearly here is that the House should not allow its committees to do that. That would seem to be obvious. When a committee appears to be going beyond its mandate, I believe the House leadership should take steps to re-calibrate the committee's focus to ensure that the committee stays within its mandate.
I am suggesting that this committee is on the verge of going rogue. In this particular case, the committee overruled its own chair. The chair believed that this motion and this field of study was beyond the committee's mandate, and ruled it that way. The committee members overruled the chair. That is what I am told. I believe this is a very clear case.
Just as another benchmark, the procedure and House affairs committee, which does have a mandate to look at the Canada Elections Act and financing and fundraising of political parties, is currently doing a study on the issue of political party fundraising. So it is not as though the issue of political party fundraising is not covered in the Standing Orders. It is very clearly part of the mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee.
I am going to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to either make a ruling on this for the guidance of the House and the committee or, in collaboration with the House leaders or the members of the committee, effect some form of reconsideration of their decision to embark on this particular field of study simply for the purpose of following the rules of the House which are fairly flexible but clear, in this case.
I think your guidance to the committee would be very helpful in allowing the committee to get on and do the work it is supposed to be doing.