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House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

I do now leave the Chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(Consideration in committee of the whole of all votes under Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the main estimates, Mr. Bill Blaikie in the chair)

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

I might just remind members that pursuant to the motion that was adopted with respect to yesterday evening and this evening, each party will have rounds of 15 minutes and that the answers on the part of ministers should be approximately, generally speaking, the length of time that opposition members or, for that matter, other members take in answering questions or making comments that the minister will then be called upon to respond to.

We will begin with the official opposition, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, it is nice to be working with you again. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Mount Royal in the first round of 15.

Just to start with a fairly mundane set of questions, just to try to find out about Madam Couillard. Did she have a diplomatic passport? Do we know what kind of passport she had?

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Chair, Passport Canada has an approach for diplomatic passports and, in those cases, anyone travelling with a diplomatic passport must be on official government business or be married or be a common-law spouse of someone who is.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I did not hear an answer. Did she have a diplomatic passport or not?

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, he heard the answer. I will not address any Canadian individual's passport.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, were there any official invitations issued in the name of Madam Couillard as a companion to the minister?

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, in terms of whatever they may have done as companions, we will not get into people's private lives.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, that is not acceptable. We are asking questions about the fact that she was designated as an official spouse or as an official companion to the minister. She travelled with the minister on official business. I am asking some very simple, factual questions.

Were invitations issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the name of the minister and Madam Couillard to receptions or events of any kind? Did she travel on an official passport, either a green one or a red one? What is the answer to that question?

These are official questions dealing with her status as a designated companion of the minister. They are not unreasonable questions. They are not personal. They are not about her private life. They are about her public responsibilities.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, the hon. member says that the individual was designated as an official spouse. I am unfamiliar with that term. In order to answer the question, I would appreciate it if he could explain to me how one gets designated as an official spouse or what exactly that means.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, what I understand is that Madam Couillard's name was submitted by the minister as his travelling companion to the Board of Internal Economy for the purposes of travel.

I am asking a question with respect to her role in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. She travelled on official business with the minister.

I am asking the question: Did she or did she not? I am then asking the question: On what kind of passport did she travel? I am then asking the question: Were any invitations to receptions or events issued with her name by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on behalf of her and the minister?

These are very simple, factual questions.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, I know the hon. member is new to the House of Commons but he was here in 1979, as I recall, under a very different party banner. He was first elected in 1978.

One's status as a designated traveller, as approved by the Board of Internal Economy, or a designation that someone indicates, has absolutely nothing to do with the person's status for travel as a companion of a minister. That is a designation one makes as a member of Parliament. We all know that relates to the points system that exists for travel with members of Parliament. It has nothing to do with ministers. Whether one is a minister or not, the same rules apply. It is an entirely different issue.

I fail to see what the choice that someone makes for his or her designated traveller has to do with any of the questions being asked. It certainly has nothing to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I will not take note of the minister’s personal remarks. I am asking very simple questions about the official role played by Ms. Couillard.

Did she have an official Government of Canada passport, that is to say, a special green passport or a red diplomatic one? That is a very clear, simple question.

Were there any invitations from the minister? There are receptions at the department sometimes when hon. members travel or are back in Ottawa. I do not know, I am asking him the question.

I cannot understand why it is so difficult for the government to answer such simple, direct questions. I hope that we will be able to get an answer from the department.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair, the question has been anything but clear and direct. First, there was some strange status called the designated official spouse that I had never heard of, and then it became designated traveller under the Board of Internal Economy, which has nothing to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The member continues to ask me very bizarre questions about things that have very little to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs--

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

It's a question about a passport. Come on, Peter.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I am sorry, Mr. Chair, I could continue--

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Is it a green passport or a red one, Peter?

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

One question at a time.

I will simply say this. The Passport Canada office confirms that in order to receive a diplomatic passport a traveller must be a government official on official government business or married to or the common-law spouse of such a traveller.

On the issue of invitations, I am married but I do not know what invitations she gets from the government. Any invitations with which I am familiar have been for me and a guest if I wish to bring a guest. That is my experience on how these things tend to occur.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I must say, frankly, that I would have expected an answer like that in question period. I have been asking questions for 20 years in question period, here and in Ontario, but I am astonished in a discussion like this one, when we have all the public servants here who know the answers very well, not to get a clear answer from the government. It is amazing, but that is life. It is obviously just the kind of government we have.

Let me ask the minister a question, then, if he can answer this question concerning the events of today with respect to the press release or press commentary made with respect to the meetings between the Prime Minister and Mr. Berlusconi.

I wonder if the minister would agree that if we wanted the Italian government to reduce the number of caveats it had with respect to the activity of its troops in Afghanistan, just about the worst way to do this would be to indicate in a press release that it had in fact agreed to something to which it has not.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Vancouver Kingsway B.C.

Conservative

David Emerson ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, the Prime Minister was on this trip pursuing the recommendations of the Manley panel, which have been embraced by Parliament in terms of the parliamentary resolution on Afghanistan. A critical part of that was to ensure that the Prime Minister and the government pursued a vigorous diplomatic effort to enhance the situation of Canadian troops on the ground in Afghanistan and pursue other objectives.

I think that trip was highly successful. Mr. Berlusconi did commit to review the caveats in the case of Italy.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Mount Royal. I understand the official opposition will be splitting its time and the time is now being split.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, the priorities of a government are reflected in its budgetary commitments; yet, the word “Darfur” does not appear anywhere in budget plan 2008, just as it did not appear anywhere in the throne speech. We are talking about what the United Nations has called “the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century” and what has been referred to as “a genocide by attrition”.

Should this not be the first foreign affairs priority of the government? Does the foreign affairs minister not agree?

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Chair, I think the accusation is totally false. The government is deeply concerned about the ongoing situation and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

Since January 2006, CIDA has provided more than $102 million in humanitarian assistance to Sudan, Sudanese refugees in Chad, and nearly $56 million has been directed to Darfur to continue our concern and to demonstrate that we are there when there is a need.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade--Main Estimates, 2008-09Business of SupplyGovernment orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Chair, I was not saying the government did nothing. I was just making a statement of fact: that it was not identified as anywhere near a priority since no mention of it was made.

In the matter of Burma, the government claims it has invoked strict sanctions on Burma, yet Foreign Affairs says there is no requirement for Canadian companies to register when they do business with Burma. How can the government possibly enforce sanctions if it does not know what is in fact being traded with Burma?