Mr. Speaker, you are right to point out that in keeping with our customs, I sent a written notice to the Speaker earlier today. I am pleased to be able to present my question of privilege, which is a rarity considering all the experience you have.
I am rising regarding the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, the finding of a prima facie case of privilege cannot be made by a committee chairperson or by the committee report itself but only by you.
And so, the best thing to do is read the report, which is quite short. It says:
On Thursday, November 18, 2010, the draft report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in respect of the Committee’s pre-budget consultations for 2010 was distributed by the Clerk of the Committee to all Committee members. The distribution occurred electronically.
I would like to add something here. On the front page of the report, the following statement is made to all of the members:
Please bring a copy of this document to the meeting. This report remains CONFIDENTIAL until it is tabled in the House of Commons. Any disclosure of the contents of a report prior to presentation in the House may be judged a breach of parliamentary privilege.
And the report continues:
On Thursday, November 18, 2010, the Member for Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar was informed that Mr. Russell Ullyatt, parliamentary assistant to the Member, had transmitted the Committee’s confidential draft report to three lobbyists: Mr. Clarke Cross, Senior Consultant, Tactix; Mr. Tim Egan, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Gas Association; and Ms. Lynne Hamilton, Vice President, Public Affairs, GCI Group.
In light of this matter, the Committee has reason to believe that a potential breach of privilege has occurred and, on Monday, November 22, 2010, the Committee unanimously adopted the following motion:
That the Committee report to the House of Commons the potential breach of privilege resulting from the release of the confidential draft report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance in respect of its pre-budget consultations for 2010, entitled “Canada's Continuing Economic Recovery: What People, Businesses and Communities Need”, prior to its presentation to the House.
Your Committee feels it is their duty to place these matters before the House at this time since a question of privilege may be involved and to give the House an opportunity to reflect on these matters.
I hasten to say that, to her credit, the member in question apologized yesterday. I want to tell her that while the committee accepts her apology, it is important to understand that this is not an individual issue, but an institutional issue that directly affects our ability to do our work as parliamentarians unimpeded.
I would like to point out that the report in question is the only committee report mentioned specifically in the Standing Orders of the House.
The prebudget report is one of only a few specific committee reports mentioned specially in the Standing Orders, and in fact Standing Order 83.1, which I will read. It is quite brief:
Commencing on the first sitting day in September of each year, the Standing Committee on Finance shall be authorized to consider and make reports upon proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government. Any report or reports thereon may be made no later than the tenth sitting day before the last normal sitting day in December, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2).
Clearly, this is a report of an institutional nature. We are therefore not bringing this matter before you lightly. We understand the full consequences of what we are talking about today.
The report we were to have considered yesterday—obviously we focused on this instead—includes suggestions by the four political parties and a comprehensive analysis of our country's budgetary and economic situation. We work hard to do justice to the mandate given to us by the House, and I believe that all the members generally carry out that mandate to the best of their ability. But we are faced with a truly unique situation here. We are being told that despite the cover page warning that the report is official and confidential, people can turn around and give it to lobbyists.
A lot of questions still remain. The member explained that she fired the person who worked for her, but that is a little too easy. Who hired that person? What were his instructions? Is this something that happens all the time? Who are these lobbyists? Have they ever contributed to the Conservative Party? Are they well known? Is there a revolving door? This is a fundamental issue that affects our democratic parliamentary institutions.
In our opinion, this requires us to pay particular attention to what we are discussing today, otherwise the public will never know if someone had access to privileged information. For example, if the party in power and the three opposition parties arrive at a unanimous position on an important subject, if someone has several weeks' notice of this position, and if it could be inferred that this would possibly be the government's economic position, those persons, the clients, the lobbyists are being given a distinct advantage. That covers the external aspect.
As for the internal aspect of our work and the impediment this incident could represent to our privilege of working freely as parliamentarians, there is another simpler but equally important consideration. A great deal of barbs are flung about by all—one is called a socialist, another a separatist, and so forth. If the committee, in carrying out its work, were to adopt the position of the Bloc, the NDP, or another party, and if someone were to discover something that they would not have discovered otherwise, they might put a slant on it. This could have the following result: individual reports would be tabled—which has only happened once—rather than a committee report arrived at by parliamentarians working together, as the public wants and as our institutions require.
For all these reasons, we believe that this was a breach of confidentiality involving the office of the member in question. This raises fundamental questions that cannot be dismissed. Making public confidential information about the advice given by members of the House of Commons in one of its committees to the Minister of Finance in view of drafting Canada's budget is very serious.
Consequently, I ask you to rule that this is a prima facie question of privilege and to allow this matter to be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I want to conclude by asking that you allow us to do our work. You often tell us that you cannot see what happens inside committees. I believe that the committee did everything it could. I know that this type of report is exceedingly uncommon. This is my fourth year in the House and the first time I have seen this. We request that you see fit to allow us to refer this matter.
We therefore move that the matters referred to in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance, tabled in this House on November 23, 2010, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.