Mr. Speaker, I rise to make an additional submission relative to the question of privilege I raised in this place last week regarding phone calls to constituents in my riding asking them if they would support the Conservatives in the impending, if not imminent, byelection in my riding.
Clearly, as long as I am standing in this place there is no byelection in my riding. Equally, if not more important, I am as engaged now as I ever have been on the issues of the day, both domestic and international, on this the 12th anniversary of my first election in November 1999.
It is not only that the false and misleading information overshadows and overtakes my involvement, whether it be on the domestic justice issues of the day or whether it be on my urgent legal representation of an Egyptian political prisoner, but rather that my constituents hear only the false rumours that I have stepped down rather than reports of what I am in fact engaged in.
While my office has provided the table clerks with a list of constituents who were contacted as well as some of the correspondence my office has received, I rise because there is some new information that I believe must be made known to the Speaker and all members of the House before the Speaker's ruling is made.
I stressed in my first intervention that my concern about this reprehensible practice was not a personal one, but rather one that affects all members of this place.
Indeed, a story that aired on CBC Montreal about this found that some of the people contacted do not even live in my riding of Mount Royal. One Montrealer said in the CBC story, “Somebody told me that they were representing the Prime Minister and they were asking me for my support in the upcoming byelection. I asked him what byelection he was talking about”.
I believe this case study illustrates my point in the sense that the constituent who reported to me that she resides in the riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie said that she was politically aware enough to know that I was not stepping down. However, I can imagine that someone who follows politics less and lives in the riding ofWestmount—Ville-Marie might have been made to believe that in fact the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie had resigned or was planning to resign, so it goes beyond me in this regard.
While I am aware that it is not up to me to make a privileged submission on behalf of that hon. member, I again draw the attention of the House to the pronouncement from Speaker Bosley, reprinted on page 113 of O'Brien and Bosc, which states:
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. Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege.
Indeed, while I contend the practice has breached my privilege, I believe it has also, at least in this instance, breached the privilege of the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, as it would also breach the privilege of any member whose riding is so targeted or whose constituents receive such calls.
I say this, lest there be any confusion, that we all understand that political parties engage in fundraising, outreach and the like when Parliament is sitting. Such actions are perfectly permissible provided the rules are respected, the law is followed, and no privilege is breached. This practice, however, breaches my privilege by implying that I am not in this place and fulfilling my duties, as I could not be if I had indeed stepped down. As I said, it causes confusion in the minds of my constituents as to whether I am currently their MP and what in fact I am doing in this place.
Moreover, in the case of calls outside my riding, it may cause confusion to the electorate in other electoral districts as well.
This is far different from the usual party activity when there is no election. It is one thing to do a general fundraiser, as many members do, or even send literature, although as Speakers have ruled in the past, and in the case of my riding, this too may breach a privilege in certain situations.
The problem is that these misleading calls misrepresent an alleged imminent byelection. While the notion of an impending byelection may drum up support for it, it implies a sense of urgency. Stating that there is a byelection, in effect, implies a great deal about the member presently serving or, indeed, if he or she is even serving at all. Indeed, it implies that he or she is not serving and will not serve much longer.
Thus, while I wholeheartedly welcome disagreement and debate about my politics and positions, and this is a fundamental activity that must be protected in a free and democratic society, I must reject any assertion or implication that I am not here in this place acting as I should and advocating on my constituents' behalf.
Indeed, I have been in committee with hon. members on the other side in all parts of the House from 8:45 a.m. today, exiting only for question period and this statement, and will be there until midnight tonight and tomorrow as well to propose my amendments to the crime bill, Bill C-10.
This is the important point, and I do not wish to sound self-serving in any way, but all this gets overshadowed and forgotten if my constituents do not think I am even here and it overtakes them finding out what in fact I am doing when I am here. In fact, the press tends to only ask me questions about these phone calls without seeking to understand positions I may be taking on other compelling issues of the day in concert with members of the House.
Further, we now have some new information about the source of these calls. Whereas in my initial submission I identified the firm, Campaign Research, ties to the Conservative Party have since become clear. Indeed, the person who was the Conservative candidate in the last election in my riding and who was rumoured to be candidate in the imminent byelection, though I stress again, should any constituents be watching, there is no byelection, imminent, pending or the like, he said, “I have nothing to do with it, it is a party thing”.
That is a quote in a document presented to the table officers, which I will provide to any members who may wish to see it.
Further, news reports cite Conservative Party spokesman, Fred DeLorey, saying that the party “does not comment on operation matters”, when asked, which, to my mind, implies some level of involvement.
While I still believe the matter constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege and, as such, should be referred to the appropriate committee for inquiry and investigation, I believe it is now imperative that the committee be given the matter to investigate given that there are obviously individuals who could be called as witnesses on this matter.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, as your predecessor once noted in 2007, though I suspect that the comment may have been made partially in jest, and I so characterize it:
...I hate to deprive the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with an opportunity to examine witnesses on a question that I know would thrill the members of the committee.
Whether it is thrilling or not, I do not know, but I know it is sufficiently serious to warrant referral.
Should the committee find that the practice is indeed a breach of privilege, fines could be imposed for making such calls, individuals who ordered them might arguably be found in contempt of the House or, short of this, and I believe it would be in line with the established way privilege matters work, those responsible might acknowledge that the practice occurred on their watch, apologize for having engaged in it and the damage it has done, and all parties would undertake not to engage in such behaviour.
This would establish a welcome precedent that in the view of the House it is not proper for anyone to tell one's constituents that a member has resigned or is resigning when he or she remains a quite active and involved member of this place.
I have one last point. Unless the government plans to break its own election law and dissolve Parliament, the next election is clearly not impending or imminent as is being implied to my constituents, and, indeed, at such time it would then be a general election and not a byelection.
On the point of byelections, O'Brien and Bosc note on page 189 that byelections only occur when there is a “vacancy in the representation”, and further, precisely on page 241, that:
A person ceases to be a Member of the House of Commons when:
that person dies;
that person resigns his or her seat;
that person has accepted an office of profit or emolument under the Crown;
that person has been elected to sit in a provincial or territorial legislative assembly or on a municipal council;
the Member's election has been overturned in accordance with the Canada Elections Act; or
the House has, by order, declared that the Member's seat is vacant and has ordered the Speaker to address a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ of election for a new Member.
At the risk of reiterating the list, I have mentioned the list only so that it would be clear that none of these items accord with the present circumstances or my circumstances in any way.
Mr. Speaker, I assure you that there is no pending, let alone impending, byelection and all calls to the contrary are false, misleading and prejudicial to the workings of this House, to my constituents and to myself.