Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to this and the point raised by the member for Scarborough—Agincourt earlier today. While not the same, it is obviously related to the exact same question.
The first point I would like to raise is that the member did not raise the question of privilege at the earliest opportunity. This is one of the requirements for a question of privilege of this type. I refer the Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 122 where it reads as follows:
A complaint on a matter of privilege must satisfy two conditions before it can be accorded precedence...First, the Speaker must be convinced that a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been made and, second, the matter must be raised at the earliest opportunity.
Page 124 states:
The matter of privilege to be raised in the House must have recently arisen and must call for the immediate action of the House. Therefore, Members must satisfy the Speaker that the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity. When a Member does not fulfil this important requirement, the Speaker has rule that the matter is not a prima facie question of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, the advertisements in question began running on April 15. We are now about a month later. We have had, since the advertisements began running, 17 sitting days. I would think that on that basis alone, you should dismiss this question of privilege.
I would further add that in terms of the member raising the question, the member for Trinity—Spadina who just spoke, that she is in fact quoted in the media commenting on the issue in question. Some time ago, after the advertisements began running, there was a story by Andrew Mayeda of the Southam group on April 21, which was four days after it began running. Therefore, that, again, is many weeks ago. Ample opportunity has existed and the member has failed to meet that minimum obligation of raising the issue at the earliest possible opportunity.
I would like to comment on something the member forScarborough—Agincourt raised this morning. He argued that the money being used for the ads flowed from Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill. Since Bill C-50 has not yet passed into law, he argued, that the government was in contempt.
There is absolutely no basis or evidence for the argument he raised, although that did not stop him from raising it. However, as you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, the money being used for the ads has nothing to do with the passage of C-50. The money was approved in March when the House, with the support of his party, the Liberal Party I might add, adopted interim supply.
With respect to the advertisements themselves, I would invite the Speaker to review the advertisements, which I will be pleased to table in the House. You will note that the ads are very respectful to the House and the legislative process. The authors of the advertisements took into consideration Speaker Fraser's ruling from 1991, from which the member for Trinity—Spadina quoted from extensively, when they were drafting these advertisements. As you will see, they were careful not to be dismissive in any way of the legislative process, which was the subject matter of the question of privilege that led to Speaker Fraser's ruling.
Let us recall what the core finding of that ruling was and the core message. The core principle of it was that advertising undertaken by the government should not presume or suggest that a decision had been made already when it had not been taken by the House of Commons or by Parliament. It is the taking of a decision by Parliament that represents the privilege that should not be prejudiced. Advertisements that imply or suggest that a decision has already been taken when it has not would be not in order, would be inappropriate and would give rise to a case of privilege. However, if the advertising does respect the fact that Parliament has yet to make a decision, then it will not have in any way prejudiced the privileges of Parliament.
I will, for the benefit of you, Mr. Speaker, and for those in the House, read the content of one of these advertisements, and they are all essentially the same, although in many languages. I will read one that appears in English:
Reducing Canada's Immigration Backlog
Newcomers to Canada have helped build our country from the beginning.
The Government of Canada believes in immigration: we want more newcomers to join us, families to be re-unified faster and labour market demands to be met.
Currently, the immigration backlog sits at 925,000 applications. This means that the wait time for an application can be as long as six years.
That's why the Government of Canada is proposing measures to cut the wait.
These important measures, once in effect, include:
More resources: An additional $109 million to speed up the application process.
Faster Processing Times: The ability to fast-track new applications.
Better Employment Opportunities: Matching skills with our economic needs.
Complete Processing. All applications currently in the backlog will be processed.
Then, the next sentence is critical. It says:
These measures are currently before Parliament.
The advertisement continues:
All of these changes respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Canada needs an immigration system that is flexible, fast and fair for everyone—that's why we're reducing the immigration backlog.
It proceeds to provide a number of contact phone numbers and a website to which people could go.
As I have said, the principal question that has to be determined is whether the advertisement in any way apprises, or suggests or presumes that Parliament has already taken a decision, that there is a fait accompli.
What things are spoken of in the past tense? There is something spoken of in the past tense and that is newcomers to Canada have helped to build our great country from the beginning. Perhaps the member suggests this is a fait accompli that has not happened. We believe it has happened and, therefore, I do not think that gives rise to a concern.
However, as for the substantive policy measures in question, all of them are spoken of as proposed measures, once in effect, and being matters that are currently before Parliament.
As I have said, the advertisement was crafted with that critical decision of Speaker Fraser, relating back to the GST advertisement case, in mind and they respect that principle so as to respect the privileges of every member of this House of Commons.
This is very much in contrast, I might add, to what we saw from the former Liberal government, which went out of its way to dismiss the role of Parliament and parliamentarians. This was highlighted by former prime minister Chrétien's reference to his backbench as terracotta soldiers.
Compare our ad to the former Liberal government's ads, announcements and activities and it will be concluded that it is not side of the House that needs a lecture on respecting the legislative process.
For example, the Liberal minister of international trade, on March 30, 1998, sent out a press release entitled “Marchi Meets With Chinese Leaders in Beijing and Announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”. At that time, there was no Canada-China interparliamentary group.
The Liberal government appointed the head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation before there was legislation setting up the foundation
The Liberal government sent out a news release, on October 23, 1997, announcing that provincial and federal governments had constituted a nominating committee to nominate candidates for the new Canada pension plan investment board. The nominating committee is provided for under subclause 10(2) of Bill C-2, which had not yet been adopted at that time by the House.
On January 21, 1998, the Liberal agriculture minister met in Regina to discuss the rules for the election of directors to the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, as proposed in Bill C-4, An Act to Amend the Canadian Wheat Board Act. Substantial amendments to Bill C-4, tabled at report stage by opposition members, had yet to be debated in the House. While the House was still debating how many directors should be farmer elected versus government appointees, the minister was holding meetings as though his bill was already law.
How can we forget what took place in the last Parliament, when the opposition defeated two bills that would reorganize the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. After the defeat of these bills, the Liberal minister responsible said that the government would go ahead and reorganize the departments anyway.
I point out that the Speaker did not consider any of these actions to be an affront to the House. That being the case, and in comparison to the respectful tone of this government's advertisement, I submit it cannot be viewed as dismissive of the legislative process or the role of members of Parliament. We on this side of the House do not think our caucus members are nobodies. We respect the institution and the members who serve it.
The advertisement is very clear in stating that the measures are currently before Parliament, and that is certainly the minimal test.
I might add, with regard to some other questions that were raised, much of what the member for Trinity—Spadina raised goes to the debate of the bill itself and the merits of it, some contentions about whether it would succeed in having some of the desired outcomes that were sought. Those are very much matters for debate. They are appropriate for debate, but they are not questions that go to the issue of the privileges of this Parliament, as people can have different views. The government is very confident in its views on this matter.
I might also add, with regard to Speaker Sauvé's 1980 ruling, she stated the following:
The fact that certain members feel they are disadvantaged by not having the same funds to advertise as does the government, which could possibly be a point of debate, as a matter of impropriety or under any other heading, does not constitute a prima facie case of privilege...
I understand she wished there was nobody making the case on the other side of this debate. However, the government reserves the right to make that case and it is doing so actively, but doing so in a fashion that respects the previous rulings in the House, the leading ruling of Speaker Fraser, which is the critical one to which we must have regard.
The advertisements were done in such a fashion, all of them in different languages, that they fully respected Parliament's jurisdiction, its ability to make this decision and communicated fairly to Canadians that the decision was yet to be made and it was something for which they should watch how Parliament determines, by saying that the measures were currently before Parliament and that they were, indeed, that the Government of Canada was proposing.