Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in the House to ask the Speaker's consideration of an appropriate response to a new form of attack on the essential privileges of members in this chamber.
As O'Brien and Bosc make clear on page 59 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, parliamentary privilege is simply “the independence Parliament and its Members need to function unimpeded”.
There are certain powers that need to be exercised by this House to protect us from undue interference so we carry out our functions.
I raise two related points. One is that information conveyed on December 10 and December 14 by members of the government was fundamentally inaccurate and undermining of my function as a member of Parliament. I will show that in brief.
The other is that the government is abusing the freedoms and rights of members by abusing its function as the executive to validate manifestly false allegations with the sole purpose of bringing discredit to certain members who are attempting to bring it to account.
Our freedom of speech is fundamental. Freedom of speech is defined as the fundamental right without which we would be hampered in any performance of our duties, permitting us to speak in the House without inhibition to refer to any matter and express opinion as we see fit, to say what we feel needs to be said in furtherance of the national interest and aspirations of our constituents.
On several occasions there have now been repeated and coordinated attacks by ministers and other members, of an unsubstantiated personal nature, and I cite the attacks from the Minister of Public Safety towards the member for Ajax—Pickering and the attacks on the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.
As well, this new form of undermining of our privileges comes when the government purports to use the special knowledge that accrues to it in its role in the executive branch to disparage the performance of MPs and create a new form of threat designed to intimidate members in the conduct of their duties.
If this is allowed unimpeded, this form of official obstruction and interference will greatly diminish the function of this House. It is designed to prevent members from bringing the government to account, one of our fundamental functions.
If the House does not adjudicate this, then our abilities will be greatly diminished. I submit that this is in the same vein but of a different order from the ruling made by the Speaker yesterday, and based on his previous statement where he spoke to:
...if a Member who feels that his or her reputation has been maligned by the comments of another Member raises a question of privilege, the Speaker must determine if such remarks “constitute such a grave attack as to impede the hon. member…in the performance of his duties” (Debates, May 28, 2008, p. 6171).
I certainly allege that these are put forward as remarks of that nature, as I will briefly explain, but in addition the government has made reference in my particular case, on several occasions, to my comportment at two international conferences where I represented the House as part of a pairing system to enable Canada to have representatives abroad during the minority Parliament, as official opposition critic and as a member of the Canadian delegation.
I submit that the government is in effect reporting back to this House in its executive function when it characterizes the conduct and outcomes of such delegations. Both the minister and parliamentary secretary indicated in several statements that are not supportable but are, importantly, designed to help them avoid scrutiny, which they would otherwise have to submit to in this House.
I also refer again to the Speaker to say that on page 77 of O'Brien and Bosc:
We have parliamentary privilege to ensure that the other branches of government, the executive and judicial, respect the independence of the legislative branch of government, which is this House and the other place. This independence cannot be sustained if either of the other branches is able to define or reduce these privileges.
Mr. Speaker, I think you can find that there is a deliberate pattern of behaviour. Specifically, on Friday, December 10 and again on Thursday, December 14, several statements were made. They involved private members from Ottawa—Orléans and Kitchener—Conestoga, as well as the minister and the parliamentary secretary.
In those statements, information was put forward that the government itself knew manifestly not to be the case. For example, they spoke of my attendance at the climate change talks in Cancun. They referred to my leaving early. They said that halfway through the conference the Liberal Party representative went home. They also talked about wasting taxpayers' dollars.
In point of fact, it was the government that gave so little notice of attendance for that conference. Also a second allegation was raised by the parliamentary secretary that in Nagoya, which is a conference approximately two months ago, I was not actively participating. The government knew differently, as I will demonstrate, and yet the members deliberately brought this forward in question period, in statements and also in committee.
The government knew specifically, for example, when it gave notice of one week for me to attend Nagoya in order to facilitate the attendance of the then minister, that I hold a monthly public meeting in my riding and it was too late on that short notice to cancel that meeting. In fact it had already been widely advertised including drops to 5,000 households, which is the practice in our riding. Not only did I attend, but I managed to get credentials that were denied by the government to me as a member of the delegation to attend high level sessions. I was not invited to meetings or briefings of the delegation, contrary to the information provided opposite.
The main point is that I attended 22 meetings. I spoke directly to the minister, who I met at some of those meetings. I was only able to attend because of my own initiative working with international parliamentary delegations. I met for an hour and a half with the president of the World Bank, with other parliamentarians. We secured an undertaking at the World Bank to modify its process on natural capital, an announcement that was made at the conference, which created a legislative track as a direct result of that meeting.
I also met with and spoke to the prime minister of Japan and the environment minister of Japan, and the minister was present for some of those discussions, although not party to them. It is, I believe, a deliberate effort on the part of the government to interfere with my abilities as a member to hold it to account in this House, in its misrepresentation of these facts otherwise. So, I attended 22 meetings and events in Nagoya, Japan.
I would note that for two successive days I attended the Government of Canada seats in the high level discussions, which were vacant. There was no one there from the 30-plus delegation, which the Minister of the Environment brought there, listening to the other countries' statements. I believe it is important to understand that the government underperformed and was criticized. It won an international booby prize called the Dodo for interfering with those talks and that is directly related to why the government is now in an organized fashion undermining my privileges as a member by bringing up allegations that are absolutely and patently not true.
With respect to Cancun and the climate change talks in Mexico, the minister was personally aware because I made a request directly through him to attend earlier. The minister was fully, directly informed and when he said opposite facts here, he knew that I was there for six days while he was there for only four. He knows that I attended a conference with 50 representatives from 16 countries and that I went to 37 different meetings in performance of my duties.
Mr. Speaker, I would say to you very simply that the freedom of speech in the House cannot withstand the intimidation of organized efforts by the government as the executive. This is not the freedom of speech of members opposite but, rather, of the executive. It can be shown, and I will make submissions, that it is coordinated through committees and question period in the House. If it is permitted, that question period and committees and the functions of S.O. 31s and so on are able to be manipulated in a systematic way to attack individual members of the House, that is tantamount to relieving them of their privileges of freedom of speech without obstruction and without interference.
I would submit that the nature of that cannot be allowed to go forward and that the members are defenceless on their own. In a spate of systematic attacks, which have taken place not just in my case but on other members, and again I will put in submissions to the Speaker, we cannot individually respond to each one of those attacks. Again, the point I make is that this is the executive expressing itself, not respecting the rights and privileges of members.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for your ruling on that and to understand that in both cases of what was alleged related to my behaviour or comportment, it was the government itself that was on the defensive. It won six fossil awards and in fact was seen to be the colossal fossil, the worst performing nation, and it was those things it tried to prevent coming up in the House. If you do find a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.