This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I have before me some information that will be very troubling to you concerning the conduct of the chair of the Standing Committee on Ethics.

Before I go into that information, I would like to read a quote. In his ruling of May 5, 1987, Speaker Fraser stated:

The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.

Today, I rise to inform you of such an incident where my privileges were violated by a chair who took action to impede me from fulfilling my duties and functions as an associate member of that committee.

The matter relates to a motion which was moved by--

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but we are dealing with a question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park at this moment and this is a separate question of privilege. I think the member should restrict his remarks to the first privilege.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the incident in question occurred at the Standing Committee on Ethics. We have heard from the member from Alberta who has indicated that his rights and privileges as a member of Parliament were impeded by the actions of a chair who was willing to ignore the rules and overturn the ability of members to speak their minds and carry out their duties.

The member from Alberta explained earlier on that the chair prohibited him from speaking, but it was much worse than just speaking. The chair refused to even entertain amendments to the motion that was before the committee.

Amendments are not only permitted but they are a regular, run-of-the-mill component of committee and parliamentary debate. I have almost never seen a document go through this place without being amended, but the chair of the ethics committee took the position that amendments were not allowed if they changed the motion.

If you look up the definition of an amendment, Mr. Speaker, without changing a motion, an amendment is not an amendment. An amendment by its very nature is a change. To amend is to change. The two words are synonymous.

In particular, the chair indicated that the motion, which sought to investigate the electoral practices of the Conservative Party, was allowed but that any amendment that would expand the motion to investigate the financial practices of his party or any opposition party was not allowed. He said that this was because his committee, the committee on ethics, was not allowed to study the actions of parties. However, the motion in question states explicitly that it wants to study the actions of the Conservative Party. It does not say that it wants to investigate the actions of Conservative public office holders but rather of the Conservative Party of Canada.

For the ethics committee chair to suggest that only one party can be investigated by his committee, infringes on the privileges of members of all political parties in this House. The privilege to which I speak now is the right to be treated equally, regardless of party affiliation. The chair of the committee indicated that only one party could be investigated and that all the other parties would be exempt from any scrutiny whatsoever.

It would have been unfair if committee members from the opposition had amassed their votes and suppressed the right of Conservative members to investigate the financial practices of all parties. That would have been unfair and wrong. However, the committee chair went even further than that when he said that it was not only the right of committee members to vote down such an inquiry of their finances, but that it was completely out of order for such an amendment to even be considered.

In other words, he structured the entire meeting in a way that would allow a motion to survive and pass only if it focused exclusively its scrutiny on the Conservative Party. In essence this is a partisan--

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member again but it sounds to me as though he is arguing a point of order, not a question of privilege.

The question of what amendments or whatever are in order in a committee is not a matter of privilege. We are dealing with a question of privilege raised by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park which deals with his right to speak, freedom of speech. That is not the admissibility of amendments. Therefore, I hope the hon. member will move very quickly to deal with privilege, not a point of order.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are right. If we were to focus on the admissibility of amendments then that would be traditionally a point of order. However, what I am dealing with here is the privilege of the member from Alberta to speak freely by amending a motion.

I will not focus any more on this point as I believe it has been well exhausted but I think you should note that that privilege, which is afforded to all members, to amend a motion was infringed upon by a heavily partisan chair bent on advancing his own partisan interest.

On the subject of the member's point of privilege, the member from Alberta is correct to say that he was not even capable of uttering a full sentence before being aggressively interrupted by a highly partisan chair who would abruptly push any member who tried to speak off the speaking list and silence them immediately.

I know the member from Alberta who spoke earlier to be a statesman of this House. He presented himself in the committee to make intelligent arguments on behalf of his constituents and advance careful consideration of a highly partisan motion. He was interrupted again and again by a chair who did not want that member to have his voice heard.

The chair has a right to his private opinion and, as we all know, the chair in this particular committee is heavily opinionated, which is his right, but it is not his right to impose his personal opinions and his personal urges on that committee. That is exactly what he did in denying the privileges of the hon. member from Alberta to speak his mind freely in that parliamentary setting.

I was present throughout and I can corroborate exactly what the member from Alberta indicated. I can say that my privileges were equally denied. I know we are not speaking of my privileges at this point but it is important to show that there is a pattern here. There is a pattern of behaviour on the part of that chair who refuses to permit members of the committee to carry out their work and to speak freely, which is a fundamental right of members of any committee.

As we move forward in this discussion, I think it will be found that this committee cannot go on functioning like this because it will deny members of the committee the privileges with which they were vested when they were elected by their constituents.

The chair might not be pleased or happy with the fact that members on this side were elected and given the privileges of parliamentarians, and it is his right to be displeased with the choice by Canadians in the last election, but it is not his right to take away their choice by silencing the members who Canadians have elected, which was exactly what he attempted to do when he silenced the member from northern Alberta and other members of the same committee.

The intention of Conservative members on the committee was to see a fulsome investigation of the financial practices of all political parties in this House, including our own. We are more than happy to defend and have our finances investigated, which was what the member was speaking about at the moment he was interrupted. This shows that the topic on which he was intervening was completely germane and, therefore, totally permissible in the committee context. He was indicating as well that he wanted to see an investigation of the Conservative practices in concert with a similar investigation of all parties.

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I will move to my final point by reiterating the words of one of your predecessors, Speaker Fraser. On the quote I raised earlier, I would like to unpackage it a little more. It states:

The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.

Speaking in a parliamentary committee is a duty and a function of a parliamentarian. Were the member from Alberta to refuse to speak in committee, he would be abdicating his duty to represent his constituents. Were he to be prevented from speaking in that same committee, he would be deprived of his ability to carry out the functions of a member of Parliament.

As such, it is not only permitted for him to speak, but it is essentially obligatory that he do speak. He was denied the right to do that. He was denied the right to carry out his functions and shoulder his duties when the chair slammed that gavel again and again with the fury and wrath of a northern Ontario thunderstorm.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

That is out of order.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

I can hear that there are other members who have that same wrath right now because they do not want any of these matters to be discussed.

Therefore, it is the duty of the Speaker of the House in extraordinary circumstances like these to intervene with the chair and indicate to him that he has neither the right nor the responsibility to silence members of the committee with whom he disagrees.

I would invite you, Mr. Speaker, to read the Standing Orders. We know that you are a master of those Standing Orders already, but if you would review them and then look at the comportment of this chair, you will find that he has acted in a way that is out of line with the Standing Orders and out of line with the privileges that are vested in that member through our traditions in this House.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, in addition to wishing you a good summer and saying that I hope you have a chance over the summer to reconnect with your friends in Kingston and indeed right across Canada, I would like to point out that you have set a tone of responsibility and parliamentary privilege in the House that no one has contested. However, it is being undermined by one of the chairs of the parliamentary committees. I invite you to remind him of the spirit and tone that you have set in the House.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I wish you and yours a terrific summer.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the two previous government speakers, we cannot help but note that they seem to be having difficulty grasping the very notion of a question of privilege.

I would like to share with the House a document on House procedure. The document indicates just how important questions of privilege are. Any member who wishes to raise such a question of privilege must first convince you, Mr. Speaker, that his or her concern constitutes a question of privilege on the face of it—and the Latin expression prima facie, meaning at first glance, is often used. The document goes on to say that your only duty is to decide if the question raised by the member will take precedence over all other business of Parliament.

Elmer Driedger, a Canadian author who has written a number of texts on drafting and interpreting legislative instruments, has taught us the following cardinal rule: any interpretation of an act, regulation or the rules governing this deliberative assembly must take context into account. The context of a question of privilege cannot become a pretext for reraising a question regarding a lawful decision made by a parliamentary committee chair.

Mr. Speaker, I respectfully submit that that is exactly what the Conservatives are trying to do here today. For some time now, they have been raising a series of arguments that, when reduced to the simplest terms, are intended quite simply to undo the work of parliamentary committee members.

At first glance, in my opinion, it is not a prima facie matter of privilege and you should rule accordingly, Mr. Speaker.

Let us look at what it is all about. The government, even though a minority, nevertheless has all the rights, privileges and powers attributed to a government. As we know, unlike the American system, the members of the executive branch of our government sit at the same time here, in Parliament, in the legislative branch. The only time that the fact that we are elected, that we are parliamentarians, takes on its true meaning is when all four parties work together on a parliamentary committee. By electing a minority government, Canadian voters decided the following: henceforth, the government is to respect the will of the majority of voters.

After 10 hours of debate, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics ruled that that was enough. He did not prohibit anyone from speaking. He said to the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park and others that that was enough and that, as elected members—not the executive branch of government, not the cabinet—gathered around the table of a parliamentary committee, we would make decisions about the public interest. We made this decision together. The members had every opportunity to speak. They had the opportunity to make known their opinions over the ten hours.

It is not right that we should allow a filibuster, a term derived from the French word flibustier. The pirates are trying to take control of our ship and we should not let them. Respect for the fundamental rules of Parliament means that there is nothing more important than allowing parliamentarians to express themselves, that much is true. But we do not honour Parliament or its parliamentary committees by allowing individuals to repeat the same thing for 10 hours.

Therefore, I submit to you that the only way to deal with the member's request is to reject it because, on the face of it, it is not a question of privilege, but an underhanded way of calling on you to review a decision duly made by the chair of a parliamentary committee that was supported by the majority of parliamentarians present who, in turn, represent the majority of Canadians.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments made by the member for Nepean—Carleton. Based on his remarks, I would like to ask him if he could table the book on dirty tricks that the government whip provided. That would really tell us what a partisan chair is all about. I want to put that on the record since those members talk about it so often.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I do not think that is necessary for determining this question of privilege.

The hon. member for Louis-Hébert.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak, because I was unable to do so yesterday.

At the meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I had indicated to the clerk and the chair that I intended to speak on the debate, on the motion and on the various amendments that had been proposed. I was on the list of members who wanted to speak, but I was never given the opportunity to say even “Mr. Chair”. My rights as a parliamentarian were ignored. I did not have the chance to utter a single word.

I do not yet have much experience as a member of Parliament, as I have been here for only two and a half years. But I do know one thing: a chair cannot limit members' speaking time as long as the committee has not agreed on a time limitation.

The second thing I have to say concerns repetition. Given that there was no vote on a time limitation and that I did not have time to utter a single word, how can anyone say I was repeating something that had already been said?

I recently visited some African countries where individuals' right to speak had been taken away.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Harvey Conservative Louis-Hébert, QC

You see how they react when we talk about democracy, when we talk about respect for others. They have zero respect, just as they have zero achievements. They have no respect. All they do is make personal attacks on other people.

I just wanted to say that denying me the right to speak—I was not allowed to say one word, which violated my rights as a parliamentarian—showed a total lack of respect for my constituents, the people I represent here in Ottawa. That is completely unacceptable.

Committees of the HousePrivilegeOral Questions

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I think that the chair has heard enough. However, before ruling, I must hear from one more member—the committee chair, who is not here today. This is obviously a question of privilege that concerns his actions in committee.

However, I would draw hon. members' attention to a ruling I made on June 12, 2003, concerning privilege in committee. While I am not citing this as the final authority at the moment on this issue, I would point out that I said at that time:

Our parliamentary system is predicated on freedom of thought and expression and indeed encourages active debate. I would remind hon. members that conflict and differences of opinion are inherent in the work we do as members of Parliament. On the other hand, members are expected to conduct themselves with decorum and to show respect for their colleagues in committee just as they are in this place. Establishing and maintaining a working environment in committee that respects both these principles is entirely within the responsibility of the committee and its members.

While it is regrettable that there continues to be tension between members of the standing committee, I would point out once again that there has been no report from the committee. Therefore, the matter remains one which, in the first instance, the committee itself must deal with.

I am not saying those words apply fully to the case before us because I have not heard everything about it, but I point those out to hon. members, and it may help later.

The hon. member for Burnaby--New Westminster is rising on a point of order.

House of CommonsPoints of OrderOral Questions

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that this morning, now many hours ago, it seems, I rose on points of order at the same time as the House leader for the Conservative Party. You chose to hear the House leader first. He raised his point of order and subsequent to that we have had a discussion.

I want to raise a very brief point of order and go beyond the thanking of the pages that was held yesterday. A number of representatives from a number of different parties expressed their support and their thanks for the good work that the pages do in the House.

On behalf of the NDP, I would like to broaden that thanks to all parliamentary personnel: the bus drivers who drive the green buses that take us around Parliament Hill; the individuals who do the cleaning and cooking on Parliament Hill; and the custodians. All of these individuals do a tremendous job in our community. When we are away from home, as we are in virtually all cases except for representatives from the national capital region, they ensure that we feel very much at home, and we do so because of all of their efforts and all of their work.

On behalf of the NDP caucus, I will say that I am sure members from all four corners of the House will join us in thanking all the personnel on Parliament Hill.

Conflict of Interest CodeRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to section 90(1)(a) of the Parliament of Canada Act, it is my duty to present to the House the Annual Report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner on activities in relation to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry Ontario

Conservative

Guy Lauzon ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to seven petitions.

Special Import Measures ActRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-574, An Act to amend the Special Import Measures Act (environmental costs).

Mr. Speaker, this bill would help to make it easier for Canadian companies to compete globally by complying with our environmental legislation and regulations. It would ensure that foreign companies that export to Canada are penalized when their home governments refuse to enforce their own environmental laws in order to subsidize their products when cases of dumping are considered.

Conversely, the bill would ensure that Canadian companies that comply with Canada's environmental laws and regulations would have those costs considered as part of their costs of production in dumping cases. My bill would provide clarity to the government and would protect Canadian companies from outsourcing carbon emissions, which do not respect national borders.

This bill would help to build a strong green economy for the 21st century.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

June 20th, 2008 / 12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

moved that Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Criminal code (protection of children), be read the first time.

It is quite an honour for me to sponsor Bill S-209 in the House. The bill would repeal section 43 of the Criminal Code. Section 43 of the Criminal Code provides the justification available to school teachers, parents and persons standing in the place of parents to use force as a means of correction toward a pupil or a child under their care.

Growing numbers of countries have removed the availability of corporal punishment to children. As well, Canada signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Children in 1991, which calls on all state parties, which includes Canada, to take all appropriate legislative measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, abuse and so on.

A longitudinal study in Canada on children shows that children who are subjected to corporate punishment show behavioural problems, including aggression toward other children and bullying toward other children.

I call on the members in the House to support the repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code and protect our children.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations with all parties and I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, at any time the House stands adjourned during June or July, the Standing Committee on Health or the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has ready a report, when that report is deposited with the Clerk, it shall be deemed to have been duly presented to the House.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)