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House of Commons Hansard #106 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, again, we covered this ground before, but one thing I find interesting is no one yet here today, who is speaking on this issue, and who seems to want to sort of push this motion forward so quickly, has answered or even spoken to a very fundamental question.

When we raise the issue of why it should go to a parliamentary committee for fulsome and further investigation and discussion, why has not one of the members who were speaking in favour of the motion said, “I'd like to hear from the Ethics Commissioner. She made the ruling. I'd like to be able to question her and ask her in depth questions about why the ruling was made”. Members do not seem interested in getting to the root of the decision. They just seem interested in fast-tracking a motion that I think is seriously flawed.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important debate on a motion raised by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. I must admit, when the House has been seized with some matter that is of a complex nature, whether it be interpretation of the Standing Orders or our procedures and practices, the member has always been an active participant with sage words for the House's consideration.

I believe that the member has raised appropriately, based on the initial commentary of the Speaker with regard to his former question of privilege, the fact that there are other ways to do this. We have heard some suggestions. Why do we not send the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee where it could be taken care of?

The last time that committee took care of a conflict of interest issue of review, it created a subcommittee. It sent it to the subcommittee, I think it was in November 2006, and we did not get a report back until June 2007. I think that, under any criteria, urgent decisions by this place on a clear question should not take several months to address.

I have listened to the debate. I think that there has been ample discussion and presentation on the importance of free speech which is clearly the issue here. The crafters of the Constitution of Canada and our laws now in the Constitution have extended extraordinary privileges to members of Parliament. Those privileges, in brief, would include such things as the matter to speak freely in this place, to represent the interests of constituents without having fear of being taken to another jurisdiction and have it used against one in another jurisdiction or in a court of law, as one member said

The decision to grant the privileges to parliamentarians was carefully considered and carefully done in a way in which the public interest could be served only if members had that free speech, the right to speak freely, to speak frankly, to tell it like it is as it were, because it is important in this place that this is where the debate should take place. This is where one has to push the envelope, where we have to make very strict and firm arguments.

It may not be beautiful at all times, but it is our parliamentary practice and tradition. It is not a matter of trying to perform for some esoteric reason. It is to fight on behalf of what members believe to be the truth and fairness within the laws of Canada.

We have this extraordinary privilege and what we have before us now is a situation where an extraordinary matter, the privileges of parliamentarians, is being suspended by a very ordinary act. It is simply to launch a legal action. In this case before us, it is a libel suit.

The member for West Nova, in an interview outside of this place not covered by privilege, effectively indicated that a former prime minister accepted cash when he was prime minister. Mr. Mulroney contends that he received the money only as a member of Parliament after he had stepped down as prime minister. Consequently, he launched a $2 million lawsuit, the proceeds of which he indicated would go to charity.

That is all well and good, but during the hearings there was a lot of evidence and testimony that we had during the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings. It is not clear yet, and has not been established yet, whether or not the former prime minister actually had received money while he was prime minister or the promise of money.

He could have done certain things as prime minister with payment to be made only after he stepped down, but just as there is a contingent liability, if members would like to use that term, there also could be a contingent asset. It would be in order to circumvent the rules of this place, or in fact a statute of Canada, particularly the Parliament of Canada Act, which would deal with the issue of influence peddling.

Therefore, this is an extraordinary matter that is being undermined, mitigated and even shut out by an ordinary matter.

There has been some argument that we need this to happen. There has been some argument that we need to have this recusal of the member for West Nova to participate in debate or votes or questions, because, as one member put it, members could use this place to advance their case. They could use this place and abuse it to further their own private interests.

If members want to continue to argue their case and try to remedy their situation, they can do it outside of the Parliament of Canada, outside of this chamber or committee. They can do that. There is nothing to stop them. What could they do here that they cannot do out there?

We have the situation reversed. We have a situation where members can say things in the House that they cannot say out there, but in this particular case, we have a situation where the decision of the Ethics Commissioner is that members can say anything they want out there but we will not let them say it in here. It is exactly the reverse. This is preposterous.

The motion also, and I want to be clear on this point, refers to an exemption being proposed if a member is “a party to a legal action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament”. Some will interpret the words “legal action” as meaning a lawsuit, a court action, but there are many actions out there that involve a pecuniary interest to members. It could mean appearing before some tribunal or city council trying to get costs back or a reduction of property taxes or something like that where a member has argued. A judicial review could be a legal action in the context of what is being done here.

I raise this because in this place we deal with matters which touch on virtually the full gamut of issues that have touched the lives of Canadians. We will be there arguing on behalf of the interests of our constituents and of Canadians as a whole, but sometimes we will have to participate in fora outside this place.

If I can go to a tribunal, argue a case successfully and get a judgment or a decision that would affect the public interest, that is fine. However, what if I am seeking costs, the costs of my taking the time to do it, to get the research, to pay for the transcripts and to get legal assistance or other professional expertise? In themselves, those costs, and the recovery of those costs because I have successfully argued a matter that is not a private interest, represent a private interest, which I presumably would be advancing.

The point I am trying to make here is that if this matter is not changed, things can occur which would say that members who are involved in some sort of a legal action, legal proceeding or litigious proceeding may have to be in a position to recuse themselves from discussing it in the House because they are out there trying to do something to get back costs. That is not the intent.

I did what I could to determine whether or not there was any evidence of contingent liability being a subject of discussion by those who were responsible in the House to determine what the elements of our Conflict of Interest Code could be. I could not find any.

In my view, and I hope members will look at it carefully, there is no evidence that the existence of a contingent liability was ever contemplated. It could be something like a frivolous lawsuit, somebody paying the thousand dollars and filing the necessary papers, and then the parliamentary secretary would say that the member has to wait because it is in the courts and that is the way we do this. If one gets sued, then one is going to have to recuse oneself and lose one's privileges and rights under the Constitution until that court deals with it. How long is that going to be?

There is a saying about how justice delayed is justice denied. Privileges being denied because of a frivolous and vexatious suit is an inappropriate outcome.

I also want to make the point that in the Ethics Commissioner's decision, she decided that the member forWest Nova, who was the subject of a lawsuit by Mr. Mulroney, must recuse himself and could not participate in debate or vote, the reason being that we are talking about whether or not there is a pecuniary interest, a private interest. That could be assets or it could be liabilities.

If we look in a dictionary, we will see that liabilities have a whole range of definitions. One of them happens to be a contingent liability. We are not sure what it is, but it could happen. Other things have to happen in order for that to be assessed and the amount determined.

Did the crafters of our code of conduct decide that people could say that they thought someone was wrong so they would sue and find out in a couple of years from now whether or not the courts would agree, but that in the meantime before it gets to court they just might yank it and then the individual could go back? That is the problem.

There is a further problem if we have a situation like this one where other parties are related to Mr. Mulroney or where Mr. Mulroney is involved in any other business. If there is anything that we do or touch or say that would directly or indirectly affect Mr. Mulroney adversely, should the members also recuse themselves or be recused and lose their privileges in regard to discussing those things? The example I would give is the spectrum wireless issue and Quebecor and whether or not the members should recuse themselves from talking about Quebecor because Mr. Mulroney is an officer of a subsidiary of Quebecor.

There is another aspect that has not been considered. I raised it in one of the questions. If we are talking about just being sued, as is the case with the member for West Nova, and there is a recusal required, what happens if one applies the same logic that has been applied to the member for West Novawhen a member of Parliament himself or herself launches a lawsuit? If that member of Parliament launches a countersuit in the case of Mr. Mulroney, or a lawsuit on any other matter that is before the House, the interpretation given by the Ethics Commissioner's report demands that the member recuse himself or herself from participation in any vote, debate or questioning on any matter related to that.

Is it the intent of our code of conduct that a member cannot sue without giving up his or her privileges? It is the reverse situation, but we always have to look at what happens when we flip it on its head, start from the bottom up, or go in reverse or inside out. We have to look at all the angles.

One of the members says that we should just send it to the procedure and House affairs committee, which has a good track record. Let me give the House example of how ridiculous it could become if we apply the rules.

We have a situation now in which Elections Canada has named 17 members of Parliament in the Conservative caucus as participants in a scheme to circumvent the election spending rules as they relate to national advertising. They have been specifically named. In fact, there were 57 Conservative candidates. Of them, 17 were elected. They are all MPs, but of the 17, 10 are ministers or parliamentary secretaries and are also subject to an even more stringent code, that being the code for public office-holders, defined as cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries and governor in council appointees.

If we were to apply the decision and the logic of the decision of the Ethics Commissioner in this regard, we would have a situation involving: the member forKelowna—Lake Country, the member for Cariboo—Prince George, the member for Okanagan—Shuswap, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, the member for Louis-Hébert, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse, the parliamentary secretaries for heritage, national resources, the Prime Minister, and labour, the Minister of Public Safety, the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip, the Minister of Transport, the former minister of foreign affairs, who has just been replaced, and the Secretary of State for Agriculture. All of those 17 members of Parliament, 10 of whom are public office-holders, should be recused from voting, debating or participating in any shape or form on any matter related to Elections Canada, because that matter is before the courts. The Conservative Party of Canada has taken the matter to the courts.

Elections Canada has made a finding. Not only has Elections Canada found that the Conservative Party of Canada violated the Canada Elections Act and overspent the advertising spending limit, but it has implicated and named specifically 17 members of Parliament. Those 17 members of Parliament filed election expenses returns after they became members of Parliament and those 10 became public office-holders. They filed returns. They and their chief financial officers swore and signed and said that the returns were fair and audited and everything was in good order.

Elections Canada said no to that. Elections Canada said that in its opinion that was not the case, that the returns were false and misleading. That is the allegation before these members. It would appear on a prima facie basis that the allegation, a contingent liability to either repay or to reduce the amount one is going to get back on an election rebate, is a pecuniary interest. It is not a contingent liability. It is a contingent reduction in an asset that members have determined is theirs. Elections Canada has said no.

It will now have to go to the courts, but until that is done, and it is going to take years, perhaps those 17 members of Parliament had better pay a visit to the Elections Commissioner and suggest that because they have this thing hanging over their heads they should not be participating and they should recuse themselves and not participate.

That is how ridiculous it gets. It is certainly not my suggestion or intention that this should ever happen, but if we want to apply the rules and the intent of the Conflict of Interest Code, we cannot do it on the narrowness of determining it in the worst possible case, a frivolous and vexatious libel suit. An ordinary action could be done by almost anybody on almost anything because it is their own opinion, not the opinion of the courts. Almost anybody could commence an action, in this case a legal action, and it would take away, in whole or in part, the privileges of a member of Parliament that have been granted to that member by our Constitution. That is how serious this is.

This has the potential to get much wider and to cover more subject matters and more integrated matters, because we know that things are inextricably linked. We know there are such matters. People have friends. If my friend is touched, I am being touched. Arguments could be made.

We need to protect the privileges of members of Parliament. That is what this is all about. This is not a partisan issue. It happens to be one member of Parliament who is caught in a situation. It is being used as a proxy for us to consider whether or not we are opening ourselves up to a situation that can get very, very nasty and could virtually grind this place to a halt.

That is why it has to be dealt with now. That is why I believe the motion, the debate and the argument brought forward by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River are cogent and wise and that this is the right thing to do. We should support this motion that is now before the House.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly the member who has just spoken has once again shown that he is most capable of shameless hypocrisy in the House, as he has on so many other occasions.

Speaking of the Elections Canada issue, it is important to state some facts. First, it is the Liberals themselves who have continually brought up Elections Canada in the House while the Conservative members who are involved rightly made the choice to pursue this in the courts. It was never brought up in the House proactively by the Conservative Party. It was always the Liberal Party.

By contrast, a lawsuit was launched against the member for West Nova. That member chose to use the privileges of this House in an attempt to fight that lawsuit outside the courtroom before he made it to court. That, in my opinion, is a direct conflict of interest.

Speaking of hypocrisy, I would suggest that if the impartial Ethics Commissioner who makes decisions about ethical conduct of the members of this House had made a choice the other way, there would be utter silence from that side of the House.

I will remind the Liberals that when a member of the Conservative Party had an issue with the Ethics Commissioner, the same members who are speaking now vigorously supported the Ethics Commissioner at the time because it was in line with what their thinking was.

I would like to ask the member--

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issue is about freedom of speech. That is what we are talking about. It is a fundamental right of all members of Parliament. It has to be protected if we are going to do our jobs.

I like the member as a person, but on this debate I have to disagree with him. He said that the member for West Nova could come to this place and argue his case. Think about it. The Ethics Commissioner said that there is a contingent liability and he may affect that contingent liability, i.e., reduce it. Can the member for West Nova use this place to reduce the contingent liability by arguing his case? No. He can do that outside. He does not have to do it here. If he can do it out there, it does not matter whether he can do it here.

He is not arguing his case because to do that here would be to mitigate the liability. How is he going to do that? The court case is out there. The only way he is going to help himself and enhance his position is to have the court case dropped by Mr. Mulroney. That means he would have to come in here and start kissing Mr. Mulroney's ass. Is that not the way it is?

I have to disagree with the member. The member for West Nova is not going to come in to this place and argue his case. The proof of that is that during committee--

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I know the member was swimming upstream on his rebuttal, but to use a phrase like that I think is unparliamentary and I would like to ask him to withdraw it, please.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member himself was using unparliamentary language when he was up. He kept using the word “hypocrisy”, which was out of order. I did not rule the member out of order and I am not going to rule this member out of order. The response has already been given. I will go to the next questioner.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his presentation, the member gave the impression that if this rule is not changed, we are all going to lose our freedom of speech in this place and it is going to happen more and more frequently.

I am sure the member has read this because I know he is a very diligent member and likes to read things, but I am going to read a brief paragraph from page 21 of Commissioner Dawson's statement:

The lawsuit instituted against [the member for West Nova] resulted from his statements to the media outside Parliament. Furthermore, the questions before the standing committee were substantially overlapping with the very statements that were the essence of the lawsuit. A similar conjunction of circumstances is unlikely to occur frequently. Only where questions debated and voted on by the House or committee relate to the private interest of a Member is he or she not permitted to participate.

I would like the member to comment on this, that it is obviously very rare that this situation could occur.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, rarely, but it can occur. That is the point: it can occur. In this place privileges cannot be flipped on and off at a whim. They have to be protected. It is fundamental. It is constitutional. That is the issue here that the member does not get.

I do not believe that the member for West Nova, in his participation in those hearings, over that period since last November, ever once raised an issue where he was arguing his case, not once, not in this place, not there. He participated in debate. He participated in votes. He participated in questions. He addressed Mr. Mulroney in the hearing. Not once did anybody question whether or not he was arguing his case to enhance his own position, not once through all of that time, since last November.

Why is it now that there is this fear that somehow he is going to say in here something that is going to enhance his case when he can say it out there? That is the point.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, what is concerning about this case is that as part of our work as legislators, we do have to raise allegations. We do have to accuse. That is one of the fundamental roles we have in Parliament. Certainly we have parliamentary privilege within the House.

If we are doing our duty at committee, whether it is accusing a government official or whether it is cross-examining how moneys are being spent, we do bump up against private interests, we do bump up against corporate interests, we do bump up against political interests, where we do take a certain amount of risk. We understand that risk. When we go out and speak we have to be somewhat judicious, but at the end of the day, we have to make accusations.

My concern with what is happening here is that if someone decides to initiate a lawsuit against a member, the precedent has been set: that member then should not be on a committee; that member should not be able to speak to an issue.

If a member is making an accusation, whether it is in a procurement business deal or whether it is against another member in the House, if a member continues to attack, that will be something that is dealt with in the lawsuit. We do know very well that lawsuits can carry on for six months, a year or two years, long enough past the period that it is a political threat. Then it can be dropped quietly at that point.

What is being done here is taking a member, a key member on a committee or a key member in any party out of the picture for the length of time that the member could do political damage.

I would like to ask the member, in his long experience, what kind of threat that poses to us in being able to do our jobs, and also whether or not we set the precedent—

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we operate in this place on the presumption of honesty. The argument that I have heard being made by some of the Conservative members is that members will say or do anything to enhance their own interest in this place and it is a presumption of personal interest and dishonesty. We must uphold the value that we operate on the presumption of honesty. Members should be able to discharge their responsibilities here. Any action against them is publicly known, in the public domain. All of those who are stakeholders in the matter certainly will be aware of it and will judge the commentary of any individual member of Parliament in his or her actions as a member of Parliament, whether it be debates, votes or questions, on its own merit.

The point remains, in this case here, the member for West Nova can be outside this House and before the media arguing his case all he wants to enhance his own benefit, but he cannot do it in here. The consequence is it creates a situation where he cannot do his job. He cannot enjoy the privileges that we have been granted via the Constitution. That member cannot enjoy today full free speech.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

I would ask the hon. member to address another potential sequence here rising out of the Ethics Commissioner's interpretation of these rules.

As I understand it, the Prime Minister has sued the Liberal Party. That is okay; that is going on outside the House. As a possible outcome of that lawsuit, the Prime Minister may succeed in getting damages and costs, or if he loses the case, there will be an award of costs against the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister then is in a place where he has the same kind of contingent liability as the member for West Nova had.

Therefore, these rules run the risk now of actually kneecapping the Prime Minister in addressing any of these issues, and he has not recused himself and I do not think he is going to. Maybe under this ruling he has to recuse himself from dealing with these issues and those matters in the House and elsewhere in government. That was not the intention of these rules. The Prime Minister has just as much free speech as I do in this place, and these rules should not kneecap and handicap him.

What does the member have to say about that?

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

The member is absolutely correct, Mr. Speaker.

There is another example. There is a Federal Court challenge against the Prime Minister related to his conflict of interest with regard to Mr. Mulroney and setting the terms of reference for a public inquiry. He has a clear conflict of interest. There is a legal action, that is, a Federal Court challenge. There is another contingency because there could be costs here. That is a second example of where it could be argued very straightforwardly and in parallel to the Ethics Commissioner's ruling on the member for West Nova that the Prime Minister is in conflict of interest and should recuse himself from all matters related to that, as well as to probably the Elections Canada in and out situation.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to participating in this debate. I have heard my colleague from Mississauga South speak so passionately and knowledgeably about this issue. I will be supporting this motion because I genuinely believe the motion speaks to the core of the matter, which revolves around the concept of freedom of speech.

I want to acknowledge the hard work done by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River who put forth this motion on behalf of the Liberal Party. Over a 20 year period he has demonstrated a tremendous knowledge of House procedure and committee procedure. He is somebody who understands the rules. It makes a great deal of sense that a person of his calibre would put forward a motion to discuss the importance of parliamentary privileges and freedom of speech. The motion is very straightforward. It states:

That this House reaffirm all of its well-established privileges and immunities, especially with regard to freedom of speech.

That is why I support the motion. As I said, this is a very important issue.

I want to quote some comments made recently in editorials in national and regional newspapers which speak to this issue. One in the Globe and Mail on May 20, 2008 said:

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--

--I anticipate that will happen fairly soon--

--they may come to regret endorsing the precedent set by Ms. Dawson's ruling.

There is another quote that I would like to put on the record:

Now that [the Prime Minister] has filed suit against the Liberals for allegations about the Cadman affair, does that libel suit represent a personal interest that prevents all Liberal MPs from raising the issue again in Parliament?

It's a chilling prospect.

Dawson's ruling cannot be allowed to stand. If her interpretation of the law is correct, then the law must be changed.

Freedom of speech was gained through centuries of struggle. It must not be given up without a fight.

Those two quotes speak to the matter of the motion. That is why I wanted to ensure they were on the record.

The message is very straightforward. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of each and every member of Parliament regardless on which side of the House they sit. That is the issue here.

It does not matter if members are in an opposition party or the governing party. It speaks to any party because we reside in a democracy. This freedom is required to ensure that all members are free to serve the needs of their constituents without fear of frivolous lawsuits. It is also a freedom that the Conservatives have made every effort to trample as they try to silence the legitimate questions of opposition members regarding Conservative scandals. It is not one; there are numerous scandals, numerous problems the government is facing and it is trying to avoid opposition members speaking to those issues. That is why this motion is very important.

Today I want to speak about my personal experience on what has happened today and in the last few days. This is with respect to a larger issue. This motion does not necessarily speak to the freedom of speech, but a larger issue of political responsibility. We have seen the trend of suing MPs and political parties and that is why we are speaking to this motion. We have seen the utter disregard and disrespect for the media; blaming the bureaucracy whenever and wherever possible; civil servants who work day and night for years serving this country and the government blaming them when it has an opportunity; and misleading Canadians. This has been the way the government has dealt with political responsibility.

This morning I was in the government operations committee speaking about a very important issue with respect to a file of which we are all too well aware. It has to do with the NAFTA-gate issue, which is how it is being phrased by many. This particular issue is of importance. I have asked numerous questions in the House of Commons. A report has been completed by the Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, someone whom I respect, a public servant who has served this country with a great deal of honour, but someone who had a very limited mandate and a very limited scope.

I put forward a motion, with my colleagues' support, this morning the member for Ajax—Pickering and a few days ago the member for Toronto Centre. I will read the motion that was put forward. It is a very straightforward motion:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and given the importance of the issues contained within the “Report on the Investigation into the Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Diplomatic Information” prepared by the Privy Council Office, Mr. Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council and other relevant witnesses be immediately called to testify before the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on those issues and that this will occur before the Parliament rises for the summer recess.

Can anyone guess what happened this morning at the government operations committee? The chair of the committee abruptly ended the debate, hit the gavel and ran out, again, trying to prevent members of Parliament from speaking to a very important issue. That is a demonstration of what the government members are trying to do in committee and in the House with libel chills. They are trying, in any way possible, to prevent elected members from doing their jobs. I find that problematic. It goes to the core of the matter and speaks to the bigger issue of political responsibility and to the fact the government is unwilling to address the issue.

I want to remind viewers and members why the issue is so important. As we all know, it was the indiscretion of the chief of staff and the ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, that led to this international incident. This story was not made up overnight. It was a reflection of individuals, hand-picked by the Prime Minister, who had access to privileged information, having conversations with the media that led to this international incident, dubbed as NAFTA-gate.

The report states, “It appears probable that Mr. Brodie spoke to the reporter on the subject of NAFTA”.

Every time I stand in the House and ask the House leader, the government and the Prime Minister to give us further proof that the investigation was conducted in a manner that was open and transparent and that the mandate was enough to ensure it included Americans who were on the emails, including other people, they have chosen to neglect to mention that particular line in the report.

The other aspect of the report that is problematic is that when the--

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I have let the member go on for some time in the hope that he would find a way to make a connection between what he is talking about and the motion that is on the floor. That has not happened for about five minutes now. I would ask the member to please try to respect the rules of relevance.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to illustrate my personal example of the difficulty I had in committee with respect to freedom of speech and the difficulty I had putting forth this report in committee and asking questions in the House. This is tied to the issue of the motion today, which revolves around freedom of speech and parliamentary privileges. This speaks to our ability as opposition members to do our jobs. I was simply illustrating, with examples, the frustration I and many other Canadians have, illustrating a point that has been going on for months and months.

Mr. Speaker, that was the point that I was trying to make and I wanted to be very clear about it. I think it is very relevant in this context and I greatly appreciate your intervention but I wanted to ensure the point was on the record.

As members have said before, this Liberal opposition day motion states:

that, in order to clarify and assure those privileges, Section 3(3) of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which is Appendix I to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, is amended by deleting the word “or” at the end of paragraph (b) and by adding the following after paragraph (b):

“(b.1) consists of being a party to a legal action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament; or”;

that, pursuant to section 28(13) of the Conflict of Interest Code, the House refer the Thibault Inquiry Report back to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for reconsideration in the light of the amendment to the Code; and

that the House affirm its confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

The point I want to make here is that we have and continue to have confidence in Commissioner Dawson. That is not the issue here today, and I want to be very clear about that because many people must think that we have a particular grievance against the commissioner. We do not. Our issue speaks to that particular report and it speaks to the fact that it does not allow freedom of speech and does not allow parliamentarians to do their jobs, especially opposition members to oppose the government.

I do want to go on and mention another important article in the Edmonton Journal on May 21, 2008, which speaks to this issue. The article reads:

Allowing Dawson the benefit of the doubt, it may well be that parliamentary rules regarding conflict of interest need to be amended.

Frankly, it's a bit shocking that the Harper government--

This is a quote, Mr. Speaker, from the article--

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It does not really matter if it is a quote. You need to substitute the appropriate words.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the report alludes to the Prime Minister so I will insert the words “Prime Minister”.

--the [Prime Minister's] government would be engaging in this sort of nonsense, the very same brand of not-so-fancy footwork it once so vocally deplored. Opposition MPs must feel free to ask questions, however inane, embarrassing or clearly in the public interest. If the rules need to be changed, so be it. And as to libel suits, its the government that should chill out.

This article in the Edmonton Journal illustrates the motion put forward by the Liberal Party and the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

The government cannot silence opposition members. It cannot silence elected officials from doing our job. The government would be setting a very poor precedent. We are elected to represent our constituents and to hold the government accountable.

I am a member of the official opposition and I take immense pride in the fact that I have the ability to ask the government, in the House of Commons and in committee, tough questions on a whole range of issues that speak to political responsibility, to Conservative missteps and numerous other examples. I cited NAFTA-gate because it is an issue with which I am having difficulties.

The government is setting the wrong precedent by trying to sue members of Parliament. As I said before, it is just a matter of time before the Conservatives will be back in opposition and then they will regret this decision and this course of action. They will come to the realization that this has set our country back. Many Canadians have sacrificed much for our freedoms. I do not think the government understands the seriousness of this issue.

The Conservatives cannot sweep issues of a political nature under the rug by setting this precedent.

Opposition Motion--Conflict of Interest CodeBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member but he will have eight minutes left in his speech when we return to this matter.

Statements by members. The hon. member for Barrie.

Barrie Public Safety ScholarshipStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to congratulate local high school student Joshua Whittingham, who was awarded a $500 cheque for winning the Barrie Public Safety Scholarship Essay Contest. I created this scholarship to help students finance post-secondary education costs.

Maintaining a low crime rate has always been a Barrie trademark. This essay contest is a way to educate our youth on the best ways to maintain Barrie's lifestyle as a safe community.

I would also like to congratulate Algonquin Ridge grade 4 student Meaghen Lavallee-Trobak, who was the runner up in the contest.

It is important to mention the judges in the essay contest: city of Barrie councillor, John Brassard; chief of police, Wayne Frechette; Simcoe County District School Board trustee, Diane Firman; and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board trustee, Connie Positano.

I would also like to thank Positano Paving, the company that co-sponsored the scholarship.

I would also like to thank all the students who participated in the contest. It is encouraging to know that we have so many bright minds in Barrie and that our youth care about the local community so much.

Minister of Veterans Affairs CommendationStatements By Members

June 5th, 2008 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to recognize Helen MacRae, who last Friday received the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation award.

Mrs. MacRae is a teacher, choir director, musician and composer who has been entertaining servicemen and servicewomen since the mid 1940s.

She is currently the accompanist for the Canada Remembers Chorus, which entertains veterans in legion halls, nursing homes and other locations around Prince Edward Island.

For the past five years, Mrs. MacRae has also found the time to organize free concerts, featuring wartime music entitled “We'll Meet Again”. These concerts are an eagerly waited afternoon of singing, dancing and reminiscing by veterans.

The commendation is awarded annually to individuals who have contributed in an exemplary manner to the care and well-being of veterans or to the remembrance of the contributions, sacrifices and achievements of veterans.

I ask all members of the House to join me today in congratulating Helen MacRae, a great Prince Edward Islander and a great Canadian.

World Environment DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, Environment Week, which coincides with World Environment Day, is in its 37th year.

This event gives us an opportunity to take stock of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. According to André Porlier, director of the Montreal regional environmental council, governments are talking about the environment, but they are not taking action or allocating resources.

The Montreal regional conference of elected officials and Équiterre have selected June 5, World Environment Day, to raise people's awareness of environmental issues. They launched the climate challenge for businesses and individuals. The challenge is to commit to doing something for the environment, such as plant a tree.

I invite everyone to participate in taking small steps to help the environment.

Uranium WeaponsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, last year, the United Nations First Committee passed a resolution urging member states to re-examine the health hazards posed by the use of uranium weapons.

Belgium has banned the use of uranium in all conventional weapon systems. However, at least 18 countries, including the U.S., use depleted uranium in their arsenals. They are considered weapons of mass destruction under international law.

According to a Canada-U.S. agreement, Canadian uranium exports may only be used for peaceful purposes. However, according to Dr. Douglas Rokke, a U.S. Army research scientist, and others, Canada provides raw uranium to the U.S. and other countries for processing. The resulting depleted uranium is then used in weapons.

One only has to watch the documentary film Beyond Treason to see the devastating effects of these weapons in countries such as Iraq.

I call upon our government to undertake every measure possible to ensure that depleted uranium weapons of mass destruction are banned forever.

Stanley CupStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Fabian Manning Conservative Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador can see “Cleary” now. Danny Cleary, that is.

Last night, Danny Cleary, from Riverhead, Harbour Grace in the riding of Avalon, became the first NHL player from our province to hoist the Lord Stanley Cup after his team, the Detroit Red Wings, clinched the coveted prize.

Danny began playing hockey at a young age. In 1993, at age 15, he left home to play in the Ontario Hockey League.

In 1997, Danny first began his NHL career as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, followed by four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. Then in 2005, Danny became the most notable addition to the Detroit Red Wings.

Today in Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Cleary is indeed the talk of our province and all of our citizens are beaming with pride and gloriously celebrating the tremendous and historic accomplishment of this fine young man.

I want to congratulate Danny and all his teammates. We are all so very proud. He can be assured that his family, friends and countless others across our province will all be there to welcome him home when he brings the Stanley Cup home to Harbour Grace.