I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Malpeque on March 5, 2009, concerning information disseminated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter.
In raising this issue, the member alleged that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans misused the privileges of her office in allowing the dissemination of misleading information for partisan purposes on her department's letterhead and website under the name of a Conservative senator. The member contended that the actions of the minister, the department and the member of the other place compromised his privileges as a member of Parliament.
The member for Malpeque explained that a press release by the senator was issued with the department's letterhead on its website. He also indicated that the senator was not an official spokesperson for the department. The press release concerning the seal hunt was critical of a member of the other place, the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party and, according to the member, distorted the position of the Liberal leader and the Liberal Party.
The member argued that it was the responsibility of the minister to ensure that media resources were used only for departmental purposes and that she had failed to do so. He quoted at length from the communications policy of the Government of Canada, illustrating how the news release had violated that policy. He further argued that, as a consequence of the minister's allowing the department's letterhead and website to be used in a partisan way by someone with no departmental affiliation, his privileges as a member had been violated.
The release of a departmental communiqué that is critical of members of the Senate and of the House is extremely unusual and is a serious matter that causes me considerable concern.
However, while the member may well be right that it is the responsibility of ministers to adhere to the government’s communication policy, it is not within my purview to judge whether the minister did or not follow that policy. In the present case, my only role is to ascertain whether the actions of the minister and the department have violated the hon. member’s privileges.
In the past, Speakers have been called upon to rule on questions of privilege relating to actions taken by government departments that have affected the privilege of members, for example, government advertising anticipating decisions of the House. In rare cases, such actions have been viewed as obstruction.
More often than not, however, as noted in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, on pages 91 and 92:
“—rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary duties of the Member were directly involved. While frequently noting that Members raising such matters might have legitimate complaints, Speakers have regularly concluded that Members have not been prevented from performing their parliamentary duties”.
In the current matter, I do not think that the member has demonstrated a link to his parliamentary duties. Likewise, it has not been demonstrated that the events described have had an undesirable effect on the reputation of the House of Commons. For those reasons, I cannot find that the member's ability to perform his work has been obstructed and, therefore, I cannot find a prima facie question of privilege.
I wish to thank the hon. member for his vigilance. In raising the matter, he has drawn public attention to a serious situation that needed to be remedied. His views have been heeded from media reports and, on examination of the website of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it appears that the offending communiqué has been removed and the departmental officials have apologized.
No doubt ministers and their officials have taken cognizance of these unfortunate events and will ensure that nothing like this happens again.
I thank the House for its attention to this important matter.