Mr. Speaker, I will continue with the riveting reading I was doing, putting on the record the editorial from the Globe and Mail of May 20 of this year. I believe I left off with the sentence that states:
But given concerns “about the use of lawsuits, more particularly libel suits, to prevent a Member from performing his or her duties in the House of Commons,” she wrote, Parliament might wish to amend the rules to make clear that such suits do not pose the same sort of “private interest” as business interests and other assets and liabilities.
While all three opposition parties have seized on this option, using their combined majority on the ethics committee to pass a motion calling for Parliament to amend the code accordingly, the Conservatives remain resolutely opposed. They scuttled the proposed change last week by successfully arguing that the committee exceeded its jurisdiction. That argument had merit on purely procedural grounds.
But it did little to help the House operate as it should.
At stake is the principle behind parliamentary privilege. If it is possible to silence MPs by filing a lawsuit against them, however frivolous, it may become far more difficult for opposition parties to hold governments to account. That may not concern the Tories now that they hold power. But when they next find themselves in opposition, they may come to regret endorsing the precedent set by Ms. Dawson's ruling.
Now I would like to underscore again the comments the Speaker made earlier. It is one thing to hear from all that I have read so far, but the Speaker rules, with a capital “r”, in this place and this is the way the Speaker saw it.
The member for Scarborough—Rouge River took issue with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's contention that being a defendant in a libel suit was tantamount to having a private interest since this interpretation would open the way to limiting the rights of members through the simple act of filing a lawsuit. Specifically, he challenged the interpretation given by the commissioner of the term 'liability' as used in the Code, claiming that the commissioner's extension of the meaning of the word 'liability' to include the sort of contingent liability represented by being named defendant in a libel suit was unreasonable.
The Speaker goes on further to say:
It should be noted at the outset that no one has suggested that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, in her consideration of the present case, did not recognize the importance of the rights and privileges of members, nor was any concern expressed that she had not exercised the highest standards of diligence or that she has not acted in good faith.
I will break from quoting the Speaker's remarks to say that I am not aware of a single member either on the floor or quietly out in the hallway who disagrees with any aspect of that. The commissioner did the job the House has asked of her. Let us remember that she is an officer of the House. She is not accountable to the government of the day. There is no one minister or prime minister to whom she reports. She reports and is answerable and accountable to the House as a whole.
It is my sense, and I believe that of every other member, unless somebody wants to stand at the appropriate time and contradict it, that we do not in any way fault her for doing exactly what we asked of her. In fact, if we take a look at her report dated June 17, she goes out of her way in the conclusion to say the following:
The addition of paragraph (b.1) to subsection 3(3) of the Code has the effect of excluding from the scope of private interests any liability arising from a legal action relating to the performance and functions of a Member of Parliament as a Member. Applying sections 8, 12 and 13 to the facts underlying the Report as if the amendment to subsection 3(3) of the Code had been made at the relevant times, I conclude that [the member for West Nova] would not have failed to comply with the Code had that amendment then been a part of the Code. Furthermore, as of June 5, 2008, [the member of West Nova] no longer has any obligations under section 8, 12 or 13 in relation to his previous private interest resulting from the lawsuit.
I thought it said an awful lot about that commissioner and her attention to duty, that she so promptly re-issued another response in light of the actions of the House. The commissioner made an interpretation under the existing rules. I am not lawyer, but it would seem rightfully concluded that the wording we or previous Houses had passed, in the interpretation of the incident case, left the member for West Nova in the position in which he was.
The House then dealt with that issue, moved and passed a motion that changed the code. As a result of that change, the House believed that any other member finding himself or herself in the same situation as the member for West Nova would now be relieved of the responsibility to stay silent.
One could have just left it there because it speaks for itself and takes care of itself. However, I thought it said a lot about Mary Dawson, who I worked with at the provincial level in Ontario, that she took it upon herself to issue a report that made the chronology of what happened clear, why she did what she did, and it is not that long, but most important, concluded with what I read into the record.
As this incident case applies, one can see that we believe the issue has been dealt with adequately. However, the amendment and the main motion both speak to the ongoing obligation of the House, of all of us collectively, to do our due diligence on an issue of such great importance. Therefore, it makes sense that both the amendment and the main motion would be before the House, and I would hope we pass both.
I fully understand we are sending it off to a committee that at this point is not working the way it should. We know the fault lies with the government. Nonetheless that does not mean we should stop doing all our other business because we have a bit of a political bottleneck somewhere in the process. In a minority government, from to time to time, it happens. It is disappointing that it is happening with such a researched systematic approach, the anarchist handbook, but these things do happen. In a minority situation if we all work to try to make this place work for the people who we represent, then one finds a way through it.
As difficult as that might be, as someone who has been in a majority government and served in Houses where there are majority governments on the government benches, this is a lot better in terms of the problems we have. Normally when there is an issue like this, what is in front of us is a government using its majority and the procedures to have the effect of shutting members down.
In this case we have an opportunity where it is not any one party that has majority control of the outcome. What a great unique opportunity to ensure we look at this issue in its fullest and in the most non-partisan way we will find, meaning no one party has the majority in the House and therefore nobody has a majority in committee. This stands the best chance of going through this carefully to ensure no other rights are impinged inadvertently as a result of the change that has been made.
However, I am pleased the member for Scarborough—Rouge River and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster have both moved the main motion and an amendment that is helpful to the House. I hope we keep that same attitude and approach and do what is in the best interests of not only those of us who are here today, but, more important, for the members of Parliament who will be elected and take—