Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the question of privilege raised on Friday, May 14 by the member for Mississauga South. What he raised was not a matter of privilege, but really a matter of debate. It was a disagreement about facts and a difference of opinion regarding the application of certain Standing Orders of the House.
On page 13 of Joseph Maingot's second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, he states:
While it will be seen that the Member enjoys all the immunity necessary to perform his parliamentary work, this privilege or right, such as freedom of speech, is nevertheless subject to the practices and procedures of this House. Thus allegations of breach of privilege by a Member in the House of Commons that amount to complaints about procedures and practices in the House are by their very nature matters of order.
Because of its nature, a true question of privilege should arise in the House only infrequently.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Mississauga South cannot be taken seriously, since he is on his feet every other day claiming that his privileges have been breached. If we examine his line of argument, it is clear that he takes issue that this is a matter of order, not privilege. He argues for the application of Standing Orders 119 and 31. He cites your letters about the use of Standing Order 31, which was giving direction on a matter of order, not a matter of privilege. The member takes issue with statements I made in the House. I said that:
Mr. Speaker, by long-standing constitutional convention, any MP may attend and participate in any committee meeting. Standing Order 119 says:
Any Member of the House who is not a member of a standing, special or legislative committee, may, unless the House or the committee concerned otherwise orders, take part in the public proceedings of the committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.
That is a fact. The second point I made in that statement was:
Today, defying the Standing Order, the Liberal chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics forbade the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development from participating in its proceedings. This ruling was contrary to law and turned the committee into a kangaroo court.
That is also true. I went on to say:
Further, by denying the minister her legal right to participate, the chair was undermining the principle of ministerial responsibility and accountability, a key principle of our Constitution. It is outrageous that the chair of the ethics committee, the member for Mississauga South, would reject the principle of ministerial accountability, all in an attempt to score cheap political points. He should be ashamed and he should resign.
That, too, is true and I do believe the member should be ashamed of himself and I still think he should resign as chairman of the ethics committee. In his submissions, the member for Mississauga South talked of justice and fairness and he talked about being able to defend himself. On that we can both agree, and I think he should apply that standard not only to himself but also to others and, in particular, to those non-elected persons who appear before his committee.
I want to talk a bit about the relevance of Standing Order 31. First of all, I want to quote from O'Brien and Bosc about ministerial responsibility, as they talk about ministerial responsibility on page 32 of chapter 1. Also I would just note that the government House leader talked of this yesterday in Hansard on pages 2867-69.
I want to quote from page 32 of O'Brien and Bosc:
In a general sense, responsible government means that a government must be responsive to its citizens, that it must operate responsibly...and that its Ministers must be accountable or responsible to Parliament.
In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament. The individual or personal responsibility of the Minister derives from a time when in practice and not just in theory the Crown governed; Ministers merely advised the Sovereign and were responsible to the Sovereign for their advice. The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that the Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates—
—and I stress, “their subordinates”—
—individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.
That is exactly what the minister was trying to do when she appeared at the ethics committee. As the member for Mississauga South was quoting Standing Order 119, as I did in my statement, I think it is important to talk about freedom of speech. Standing Order 119 says that members of Parliament when they appear before committee have the right to speak at committees.
On page 93 in chapter 3 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:
Freedom of speech permits Members to speak freely in the Chamber during a sitting or in committees during meetings while enjoying complete immunity from prosecution or civil liability for any comment they might make. This freedom is essential for the effective working of the House. Under it, Members are able to make statements or allegations about outside bodies or persons, which they may hesitate to make without the protection of privilege.
The minister definitely has the right of freedom, as I do, in the House to speak about the procedures and things that have happened at committee or in the House and raise those about the undertakings of other members. In contrast, we can compare that to the member for Mississauga South and look at what he did as chair of the ethics committee when he censored the minister from speaking.
On page 150, O'Brien and Bosc states that “the Chair of a committee does not have the power to censure disorder or decide questions of privilege”. When I was going through his testimony from May 14, he actually laid out that he was arguing with the minister when the minister was trying to speak at committee. In his testimony he says:
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....
He says that he had orders to not have the minister appear. I did not see any of those orders that the minister was not entitled to speak at committee. He goes on to say:
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...”.
Again, I will go back to chapter 3, page 150 where it states:
...the Chair of a committee does not have the power to censure disorder or decide questions of privilege. Should a Member wish to raise a question of privilege in committee, or should some event occur in committee which appears to be a breach of privilege or contempt, the Chair of the committee will recognize the Member and hear the question of privilege, or in the case of some incident, suggest that the committee deal with the matter.
The chair never asked the committee to do that. It goes on to state:
The Chair, however, has no authority to rule that a breach of privilege or contempt has occurred.
That, to me, was disturbing.
I want to touch on a couple of other things concerning what the committee's powers actually are. Mr. Speaker, as you and the member for Mississauga South know, the standing committees are creatures of the House of Commons. They were created by the House and so we are bound by the rules laid out by the House, including the standing orders.
On page 973 in chapter 20 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:
The House delegates certain powers to the committees it creates in order that they can carry out their duties and fulfill their mandates. Committees have no powers other than those delegated to them in this way, and cannot assume other powers on their own initiative.
I will interject here to say that is why Standing Order 119 must be respected by committees. It is a standing order handed down by the House and a committee failing to recognize the right of any member, even if it is a minister, appearing before a committee is a breach of the rules laid out by the House.
It goes on to state:
The exercise of their powers is subject to three fundamental rules. First, they can be exercised only on the territory and within the areas....
I will not go into that. The standing orders set out the powers held by standing committees. We have the standing orders and the chair decided to ignore them.
Finally, I will remind the member for Mississauga South what the chair's responsibilities are as laid out in chapter 20 on page 1,030 under procedural responsibilities of chairs. It states:
Chairs preside over committee meetings and oversee committee work. They recognize the Members, witnesses and other people who wish to speak at these meetings; as in the House, all remarks are addressed to the Chair.
He did not recognize people who wished to speak.
It goes on to state:
They ensure that any rules established by the committee, including those on the appropriation of speaking time, are respected. They are responsible for maintaining order and decorum in committee proceedings, and rule on any procedural matter that arises, subject to an appeal to the committee.
In this case, he was shutting it down without having that appeal by committee. He was shutting down debate and comments from the minister who appeared to speak on behalf of her staff and, as I laid out earlier, her rights and responsibilities as a minister to answer for her staff.
It goes on to state:
Committee Chairs have considerable administrative responsibilities, starting with those involving the committee's program of activities. In compliance with instructions from the committee or an order from the House....
I do not believe the member for Mississauga South, as chair of the ethics committee, had the order from the committee to censor the comments made by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development when she appeared along with Mr. Sparrow. I also do not believe the member for Mississauga South had an order from the committee not to allow her to testify. He was ignoring the standing orders as laid out.
As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the argument he made in his question of privilege was all about order and was not a question of privilege.
Finally, I have to say that members on this side of the House are finding it increasingly difficult to work with the member for Mississauga South as chair of the ethics committee. Mr. Speaker, you may need to take a look at the way that committee has been functioning. It has resulted in the position laid out by the House leader just yesterday in saying that political staffers should not be appearing before committee because of the kangaroo court ethics that have been undertaken at certain committees, especially the ethics committee, and that we do not need that type of anarchy occurring in our parliamentary institutions.