Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a point of order that is extremely serious. It concerns a matter that occurred at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
The chairman made a ruling that I submit violates the Standing Orders, violates the practices of the House and its committees, and violates the spirit of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, of March 14, 2008.
The motion that was proposed to the committee was as follows:
That the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics investigate the actions of the Conservative Party during the 2006 election, in relation to which Elections Canada has refused to reimburse Conservative candidates for certain election campaign expenses in order to determine if these actions meet the ethical standards expected of public office holders;....
The government argued that this study was outside the mandate of that committee. It was argued that the proper committee for such a study was the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee is outlined in Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi). It states that the mandate includes “the review of and report on all matters relating to the election of Members to the House of Commons”.
The chairman ignored the Standing Orders and ruled the motion in order. This same chairman, supported by the same opposition majority on that committee, already had one report rejected by the Speaker because it was outside the mandate of the committee, and now they are doing it again.
As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the position of the Conservative Party in this matter is sound. If there is to be an investigation, that investigation ought to be fair and include all parties. This is a reasonable position. Apart from the issue of the mandate of the committee, we have no qualms with an investigation. We just think that if a study is to be conducted, then that study should include all parties, and not just one. If the opposition has nothing to hide, then it ought to agree with our position.
In addition to ruling the motion in order, the chairman yesterday arbitrarily decided during debate on the motion that he had heard enough and refused to recognize members who were seeking the floor on debate.
Standing Order 116 states:
In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the...number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
The chairman of the ethics committee has no authority to cut off debate. By overriding Standing Order 116, the chairman went beyond the powers conferred upon him by the House.
Mr. Speaker, you made the exact same argument when you ruled a report signed by this same chairman out of order because the committee went beyond the powers conferred upon it by the House.
During the debate on the motion, the chairman interrupted the debate and made the following statement:
“Let's just take a moment here. We have had over 10 hours of debate on these motions, and it has deteriorated into procedural wrangling, points of order which are not points of order, repetition in the extreme, irrelevance on dealing with the matter before us. We could carry on like this just as the procedure and House affairs committee went for a very long time. I'm not sure that's in the best interest of this committee. I'm not sure whether I want to be part of where the members are going to continue to be, put in this position where we are spinning our wheels.
Accordingly, I'm going to rule that we are going to put all the questions necessary to dispose of the matter before us now”.
Mr. Speaker, this decision was upheld by the committee. This must sound familiar to you. This trick has been used twice in the past, a trick that resulted in the chairmen in both cases offering their resignations. The chairman in question in this incident has not offered his resignation.
On March 21, 1990, a Liberal member raised a question of privilege concerning a similar matter that arose at the Standing Committee on Finance. At that time, the bill to implement the GST was before the committee. The chairman, like the chairman of the ethics committee, shut down debate and put the question.
Liberal members argued at that time that the chairman had no authority to disallow points of order; that the chairman had no authority to disallow debate on what was clearly a debatable motion.
The opposition in 1990 referred to an incident in 1984 when Claude-André Lachance, as chairman of the justice committee, brought down the exact same decision as the chairman of the finance committee did in 1990 and the chairman of the ethics committee did yesterday. The circumstances were exact.
In 1984, Mr. Lachance offered his resignation. In 1990, Mr. Blenkarn, then chairman of the finance committee, did the same. I await the offer of resignation from the current chairman of the ethics committee.
On March 21, 1990, John Rodriguez, an NDP member, said the following with respect to this matter:
--the majority, may not have liked the fact that we were waging a filibuster. They may not have liked that. But, the fact was that we were not doing anything that was outside the parameters of the law. The law of the Standing Orders of the committee provided for that. We did not violate a law. We were simply conducting ourselves within the law.
The NDP members could have taken the same ethical position on this issue today, but they chose not to. Instead, they are supporting the tyrannical actions of the chairman of the ethics committee yesterday.
You, Mr. Speaker, were involved in that debate as well. On page 9603 of Hansard, you said that the chairman of the finance committee in 1990 “had the honour to resign”. Where is the honour today? The ethical standards of the opposition in this Parliament are well below grade.
While Speaker Fraser did not intervene in 1990, he did say that “committees are responsible for adhering to the normal procedural means and are expected not to behave in an arbitrary manner”.
What is different in this Parliament is that you, Mr. Speaker, have determined that committees are already heading toward anarchy, and since your warning of March 14, the ethics committee has ignored your warning. It tabled an illegal report that was ruled out of order. It is heading down the same path again and has also deployed behaviour that, by 1990 and 1984 standards, resulted in the chairmen both times offering their resignations.
In your March 14 ruling, you quoted Bourinot and how he described the first principle of our parliamentary tradition as:
To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner....
What took place at the ethics committee yesterday was a clear case of the tyranny of the majority trampling upon the rights of the minority. There are two sides to every story and the majority opposition has silenced one side.
On April 14, 1987, Speaker Fraser said:
It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.
If it is essential to our democracy that both sides should be heard, then it is then essential that you, Mr. Speaker, intervene in this matter and prevent the ethics committee from conducting this one-sided partisan study until you have ruled. This is the only way that some protection can be afforded to innocent people whose reputation may get damaged in this process. They cannot afford to wait for a report to come down before you intervene, because by then the damage is done.
The opposition on the ethics committee knows that its report will once again be ruled out of order, but that is not the point. Its objective is to tarnish reputations, hiding behind the immunity of parliamentary privilege. The majority opposition cannot be allowed to abuse the rules to protect themselves and at the same time override those rules that protect the minority.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for your assistance in this matter.