Mr. Speaker, I had no recourse.
I want to address the points and the allegations made within Standing Order 31 to demonstrate this. I appreciate that this is in reference to matters that occurred before a committee. The proceedings are on the public website of the Parliament of Canada.
I would simply like to indicate, with regard to the allegation from the member for Selkirk—Interlake, that I have contravened Standing Order 119, which states:
Any Member of the House who is not a member of a standing, special, or legislative committee, may,--
And here is the operative part:
--unless the House or the committee concerned otherwise orders, take part in public proceedings of the committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.
The terms of reference and the order of the day before the committee was with regard to a special study, a study of the allegations of deliberate interference in the release of information by the human resources department. The order said that the motion by the member for Malpeque also called specifically for witnesses. The first witness was the Minister of Human Resources Development and following, and it says specifically, at subsequent meetings other members listed. In fact, the witness that we had at committee yesterday was one such member.
The motion adopted by the committee specifically indicated that the minister would appear first and subsequently the other witnesses. That was an order of the committee. In fact, we had the minister before us on May 4. We invited her to appear, pursuant to the order of the committee, and she appeared, but she agreed only to appear for one hour, even though we requested a full meeting of two hours. However, we gave her the opportunity to address these allegations.
Yesterday at committee, we asked Mr. Ryan Sparrow, who was named in the motion, to appear and answer questions by the committee. Mr. Sparrow appeared but he also appeared with the minister who sat beside him at the witness table.
Before I commenced the meeting, I went to speak to the minister and Mr. Sparrow and I asked why the minister was here. She told me, “I'm here to answer questions for my departmental employee, my political adviser on communications”. I told her that that was not possible because we had called a specific witness, Mr. Ryan Sparrow, of whom members were prepared to ask questions. The minister had already appeared.
Section 119 is not applicable here because the committee specifically ordered that Mr. Sparrow would be the witness. We already had the minister and therefore it is the committee's ruling that the member is not permitted. It did not say she could. It said that we were here to see Mr. Ryan Sparrow on the matter before the committee.
Therefore, the whole premise of the S. O. 31 by the member for Selkirk—Interlake, based on section 119, has been complied with. The committee ordered what took place there and I told them but the minister would not accept the ruling of the chair.
I hate to say this, but when we started the questions at committee, the member for Guelph asked, “Why did you not say that in your email, that you were unable to give accurate figures?”. The witness responded, “'ll refer that question to the Minister”. The member for Guelph said, “Well I would rather you answer the question. You're the witness”.
The minister started to speak, notwithstanding, and she said: “Mr. Chair, may I intervene?”. I said, “No, I'm sorry, Minister. I've made a ruling”. She came back and said, “Mr. Chair, with all due respect, Mr. Sparrow operates under my delegated authority. Anything he does is under my authority, authority that I carry as Minister. Therefore, I have that authority. I respectfully request that I be allowed to exercise that authority myself”.
She was arguing with the chair of a committee, which is improper. I responded to her, “Yes, well, Madam Minister, the committee has already addressed this issue. In fact, it is the reason why in the motion we have specifically indicated that it wanted to have yourself and other witnesses at separate meetings so that this wouldn't happen. That is the motion adopted by the committee”. I went on to say, “I've made my ruling”.
The minister argued yet again with the chair of the committee saying, “Mr. Chair, I would actually refer you...”, and then she carried on. I said “order” to get order back in the committee but she carried on yet again even after I called for order, and said, “to the experts on the subject of ministerial accountability, O'Brien and Bosc, and Marleau and Montpetit, Guide for Ministers and that...”. I called for order yet a third time.
The minister refused to listen. She went on again to say, “The Minister is accountable and that is why I am here today because it is my authority...”. I will not read the whole transcript.
I advised the minister again, “Madam Minister, Parliament has the right to call for persons, papers or records--all persons. Members of Parliament are exempt from that. They can refuse to appear”.
“We have called Mr. Sparrow as an individual related to this matter before us to respond to our questions. The ministerial relationship of their staff is not going to supercede this committee's right to ask this person, whom we have duly called, to respond to questions. I will not entertain further debate on whether or not you can answer for Mr. Sparrow. My decision, based on a motion passed by the committee, is that Mr. Sparrow is going to answer the questions directed at him”.
All of that transpired before question period and yet, with the full knowledge that the minister was not invited, as she said in the answer in question period and that she came voluntarily, well of course, she came voluntarily without telling the committee she was coming and she voluntarily sat herself beside our witness and voluntarily declared that she would answer questions. I do not understand what we could do when the Conservatives argue that this is the first time in the history of Westminster parliamentary system that a minister has been denied the right.
Let us flip it on its head. I believe this is the first time in the history of the Westminster parliamentary system that a minister has tried to impose herself as a witness before a committee. Ministers do not have to appear and they cannot be compelled to appear before a committee. If we follow what the minister believes, which is that she is accountable and speaks on behalf of her employees, that would mean that any of those employees called before a committee would have the minister with them when it suits the minister's purpose and at her choice. That is improper because, if it were not in her best interest to appear, she would not. We cannot have a double standard here.
Let me go on, Mr. Speaker, with my privilege and the references that I must give to you from the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2009. I will be referring to O'Brien and Bosc.
First, I make reference to Standing Order 18 regarding the use of offensive words against either House or against a member thereof, in which the House is well familiar. I also refer to page 618, O'Brien and Bosc, where it states:
The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect for the integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language in the House is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order.
I will go on and cite footnote 176, as it relates to Standing Order 18:
This includes any allegation that a Member has lied or misled the House.
This is a very important aspect. Certain allegations in the statement of the member for Selkirk—Interlake he knew were incorrect and yet he proceeded to make a statement in the House just one hour after the meeting.
Continuing with the quote at page 618, it states that:
Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order. A direct charge or accusation against a Member may be made only by a substantive motion for which notice is required.
It should be noted that the chair made a ruling, referred to the ruling several times and not once did any member in that committee challenge the ruling of the chair. They had that opportunity to make argument at that time, not to bring it to the chamber and to disregard and disrespect your letter of February 29, 2009 in which you expressed your sincere concern about the deterioration of matters related to Standing Order 31.
I should indicate that I gave notice yesterday, Mr. Speaker, but I had to wait for the blue. That is why I am rising today.
In Speaker Michener's ruling of June 19, 1959, on page 98 of O'Brien Bosc, it states, “Such a privilege confers gave responsibilities on those who are protected”. This refers to the immunity privileges that we have here that nothing we say in here can be used against us outside the chamber. The same goes for things that are said in committee. For instance, it goes on to say, “By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place. The consequences”, and Mr. Speaker, this is very serious, he states:
Such a privilege confers grave responsibilities on those who are protected by it. By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place. The consequences of its abuse can be terrible. Innocent people could be slandered with no redress available to them.
I believe that is the case. He goes on:
Reputations could be destroyed on the basis of false rumour. All Hon. Members are conscious of the care they must exercise in availing themselves of their absolute privilege of freedom of speech. That is why there are long-standing practices and traditions observed in this House to counter the potential for abuse.
I thought that is what you attempted to do, Mr. Speaker, in your February 29, 2009 letter.
Speaker Parent emphasized the need for members to use great care in exercising the right to speak freely in the House. In the footnote on the debate of September 30, 1994, page 6371, he states:
—paramount to our political and parliamentary systems is the principle of freedom of speech, a member's right to stand in this House unhindered to speak his or her mind. However when debate in the House centres on sensitive issues, as it often does, I would expect that members would always bear in mind the possible effects of their statements and hence be prudent in their tone and choice of words.
He goes on to say in footnote 170 on page 98 in the Debates of May 5, 1987:
Specifically, during a debate as well as during Question Period and other House proceedings, Members are bound by the Standing Orders and practices of the House with respect to the content of speeches and remarks. For example, Standing Order 18—
That is what I referred to, and it also:
—prohibits the use of disrespectful or offensive language in debate. Moreover, personal attacks, insults, obscene language or words that question a Member's integrity, honesty or character are not permitted. It is unparliamentary to state that a Member has deliberately misled the House.
As you yourself, Mr. Speaker, observed in 2002:
If we do not preserve the tradition of accepting the word of a fellow member, which is a fundamental principle of our parliamentary system, then freedom of speech, both inside and outside the House, is imperiled.
This is very powerful. These are the fundamentals of Parliament. These are the fundamental issues which we must respect and defend.
I want to move on specifically with regard to statements in Standing Order 31. I refer to Marleau and Montpetit, page 525, with regard to unparliamentary language. It states:
The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect and integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language in the House is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscene language or words are not in order. A direct charge or accusation against a Member may be made only by way of a substantive motion for which notice is required.
I believe that is what is happening.
On November 18 I rose in the House on a similar point, and O'Brien and Bosc would have been helpful. In fact, that was the day it was tabled in the House. On page 614 of O'Brien and Bosc, there are some relevant references. It states:
Remarks directed specifically at another Member which question that Member's integrity, honesty and character are not in order. A Member will be requested to withdraw offensive remarks, allegations, or accusations of impropriety directed towards another Member. The Speaker has no authority to rule on statements made outside the House by one Member against another.
It gives you, Mr. Speaker, the authority to order the withdrawal of statements which are inappropriate in this place. I think that was the thrust of your letter of February 29, 2009.
There is another reference that says that making allegations or insults or otherwise questioning the character, honesty or integrity of another member of Parliament are absolutely out of order. There are more references, but I believe I have provided sufficient argument at this time with regard to the content of these statements and the fact that the assertions are wrong technically or are incorrect or untruthful.
The minister cannot say that she voluntarily came to committee and she was denied her right to speak. She was not the witness. Maybe she entered the room voluntarily, but she is trying to aggrandize herself somehow that she did something and we did not let her do it. She was not called as a witness.
The statement that she made in this place during question period yesterday implying that she was there, ready to be accountable and the committee did not allow her to be accountable is nonsense. It is not true. Yet she said that it is true with a straight face, without a flinch, not saying the truth and looking like it is okay. I cannot believe it.
Being a chartered accountant, I am subject to rules of ethical conduct. I have been a member in good standing of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants for over 35 years. However, this matter of privilege, the allegations against me, the attacks on my person, personal integrity, ethics and ability are serious.
It happened previously when I rose on a question of privilege on May 10 because the member for Peace River also attacked under Standing Order 31. This is the third time Standing Order 31 has been used to attack a member, which is chock full of statements which are simply not true.
I take this very seriously and I have taken the time to open up to the House on this matter. I believe the Speaker shares my concern, which he expressed in his letter. Speaker Parent once said that once it is on the record, it is hard to retract it. It is almost impossible. It is like telling a jury to disregard the comment.
At any point in time, there could be five million people watching the proceedings of this place. If we allow the chamber to be used to attack other members of Parliament without recourse or response at the point of time, those statements, on their own, will stand.
Could there be other potential consequences to a member after the fact? Could it be possible that these statements by themselves, in Hansard of yesterday, attacks and assertions about the character and integrity of another member of Parliament, would appear in somebody's election literature to show that this member is not worthy of being a member of Parliament? It is going to happen.
With due respect, this is a form of intimidation. It is a chill factor that every time a member of this place, whether it be in committee or here, challenges the government on any matter, it retaliates with bullying tactics to try to intimidate other members of Parliament so they will not move in that direction and not challenge the government. Our job is to hold the government accountable, to respect the rules of the Standing Orders of the House, the rules of the House of Commons, the practices and procedures of this place.
Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, should you find a prima facie case of privilege, of my privileges and of my rights, without intimidation, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.