Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question of privilege raised by some very troubling circumstances. My riding office is receiving numerous calls in this matter and thus I am raising it now, as per the requirement that questions of privilege be raised at the first available opportunity.
It seems that constituents in my riding of Mount Royal have been receiving calls from a telephone number identified as “campaign research”, asking my constituents if they intend to support the Conservative Party in the impending, if not imminent, byelection.
The very fact that I am standing here in this place and otherwise discharging my responsibilities clearly illustrates that there is no vacancy in the electoral district of Mount Royal and thus no pending byelection. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it is you who informs the House of such vacancies.
However, as personally disconcerting as this matter is, it has, more important, serious consequences for the work of a member of Parliament and indeed should be a matter of concern for all members of the House.
Accordingly I raise this question of privilege as I believe this matter constitutes a prima facie breach of my parliamentary privilege and prejudices the work of the House and this institution. If the Speaker so agrees, I would move the appropriate motion at the appropriate time.
It is long established, and O'Brien and Bosc so notes it on page 113. I am quoting from a ruling by Speaker Bosley, although it is sometimes mis-attributed to Speaker Fraser. The ruling is as follows:
It should go without saying that a Member of Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending to cause confusion as to a Member's identity creates the possibility of an impediment to the fulfilment of that Member's functions.
Here is the key point, Mr. Speaker. I continue:
Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege.
Further, as per speaker's ruling of May 3, 2006, and found in Hansard Debates, and reiterating a line of similar Speakers' rulings, Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from “intimidation, obstruction and interference”. That is why I say this is a matter of concern not only to myself and my constituents but to the House as a whole.
While there may be additional issues of misusing an electoral list and other conduct beyond the purview of the Speaker and the parliamentary process, this practice inhibits and impedes the exercise of my parliamentary functions or, indeed, of any member of Parliament so targeted.
For example, beyond the phone calls, emails and requests for meetings as a result of these calls, which themselves are an encumbrance, it causes confusion among the electorate. It impedes me in the discharge of my functions, which as O'Brien and Bosc quoted earlier states, constitutes a breach of privilege.
Constituents are asking my office and myself when will this imminent, but as I said, non-existent byelection, in fact be occurring? Calls have come in asking, and constituents are surprised, if not shocked, by this, whether I am still serving. Such questions cause damage to my reputation and credibility and would do so to any member of the House.
Just 10 or so days ago in a householder circulated to my constituents, I outlined, as members of the House do when sending these householders, various initiatives in Parliament. I made reference to items I hoped to see adopted in the House. Accordingly how are my constituents supposed to reconcile my reference to things I am fighting for in Parliament with what they hear “The member is, or has, stepped down?”
The insinuation therefore that I am abandoning my MP role here is at variance with the truth. I am saying this at the risk of sounding self-serving just to put the facts on the record, but I may have more motions on the order paper than any other member of this place. I seek to take my responsibilities as a parliamentarian very seriously, be it in committee, where now before the justice and legal affairs committee I have some 50 amendments with respect to the proposed omnibus crime bill, or in parliamentary debate, where like many other members in the House I remain an active member in take note debates, or just to use today as a case study, like other members in the House, I posed a question in question period and earlier made a statement.
However, the key point is that work, as it would be with regard to the work of any member in the House, gets overshadowed and overtaken if my constituents are made to think that I am not even here or am about to leave.
Mr. Speaker, I refer your attention to page 112 of O'Brien and Bosc on this matter. In the past, Speakers have found prima facie breaches of privilege related to the damaging of a member's reputation. Therein are references to two Speaker's rulings, one of April 2005, in relation to a matter raised by the then-member for Windsor West, and one in October 2005 on a question from the then member for Bourassa.
These rulings dealt with mailings that contained false and misleading information to constituents or that misrepresented their source. While, and I understand well, the Speaker cannot intervene on matters of debate and on disputes as to facts, these rulings demonstrate that prima facie breaches occur, and this is the important point, as you know only too well, Mr. Speaker, when the cumulative effect of such misrepresentation of facts either causes confusion as to the identity of the member or attacks one's reputation such as to damage his or her credibility in a serious way in the minds of the electorate.
Simply put, I have made no announcement about stepping down as the member of Parliament for Mount Royal. While others might, and I would hate to cast aspersions on my ageism, think that I am stepping down, there is in fact no byelection planned or pending. Any suggestion otherwise falsely offers a critique that I am not present here in Ottawa and working for my constituents in an ongoing way on matters of concern to them and on matters of concern to the House.
Indeed, misinforming my constituents can create difficulties for any MP. I draw to the attention of the House comments of the Speaker on December 1, 2009, regarding a privilege matter I then raised and which the Speaker agreed in the sense of finding a prima facie breach of my privileges in the matter of false and misleading mailings then sent to my riding. In his comments the Speaker, Mr. Milliken, said:
The privilege here was that a member's ability to do his or her job was interfered with by sending this material into his or her constituency. In this case, it was the member for Mount Royal's constituency.
The material was not accurate and caused problems for the member in doing his job as a member of Parliament....Hon. members know that members raising questions of privilege are not normally trying to settle whether a statement is true or not. It is a matter of whether their privileges as members have been breached.
Indeed, even if one views the question of whether there is a pending byelection as a dispute over facts, though clearly there is no dispute over facts as there is no pending byelection, the spreading of such false information, and this is the important point, is a breach of my privileges and interferes with the discharge of my function, as it would be a prejudice to any of the members of the House involved in such conduct and, indeed, may prejudice the institution of Parliament itself.
Simply put, how am I, or any member, to effectively represent a constituency if the constituents are led to believe that the member is no longer their elected representative? How can one correct the confusion and prejudicial damage that has been done in the minds of those who may think I am no longer their representative in Parliament or no longer discharging my duties?
In short, telling my constituents that I am resigning and that there is a byelection imminently occurring is not only patently false, but the clear and important point here is that it violates my privileges as a member and should be regarded by all members in the House as an unacceptable practice for this institution and its members. The particularly relevant part is that while this occurred in my riding of Mount Royal, nothing is to stop this from occurring in another riding and this practice ends up being an affront to all who serve in this place.
If you require more information on this matter prior to ruling, Mr. Speaker, I would be pleased to table appropriate documentation before the House. As I noted before, if you agree that this is a prima facie breach of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion to refer this matter to committee which, with its investigative powers, could get to the bottom of this and recommend appropriate sanctions in the circumstances where appropriate.