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House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-10.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 10 petitions.

Natural ResourcesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

In accordance with the order of reference of Thursday, November 3, your committee has considered votes 1(b), 5(b), 10(b), 15(b), 20(b), 25(b) and 30(b) and agreed on Monday, November 28, to report it without amendment.

Holidays Harmonization ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-364, An Act respecting the harmonization of holidays.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to introduce a bill respecting the harmonization of holidays. This proposed enactment would entitle employees under federal jurisdiction to all the general holidays observed in the province in which they work.

A few years ago, the Ontario government created a new holiday known as Family Day. Employees in federally regulated workplaces in Ontario, however, are not currently entitled to that provincial holiday. As a result, we find ourselves in the curious situation where a worker in the federally regulated courier sector, for example, is forced to try to deliver packages to retail businesses that are closed because of the provincial holiday. Moreover, these workers are not able to share the holiday with their family and friends despite the fact that they, too, work in Ontario. My bill would end this unintended disconnect between federal and provincial laws by entitling employees in federally regulated workplaces to all of the general holidays that are recognized in the province in which they work.

I will conclude by thanking Shaun Flannery from my riding of Hamilton Mountain for first bringing this issue to my attention. I met him while I was knocking on doors in his neighbourhood and I am delighted to be able to table this bill for him and for all the workers under federal jurisdiction who would benefit from this enactment.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Competition ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-365, An Act to amend the Competition Act (inquiry into industry sector).

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is back with this bill. During the previous Parliament, my former colleague and the member for Shefford, Robert Vincent, introduced this bill. This is not the first time. This bill would give the Competition Bureau more teeth. Right now, there needs to be a complaint before the Competition Bureau will investigate price fixing by oil companies. There have been some striking examples of this, particularly in my region, in Victoriaville, but also in the surrounding area, in Thetford Mines, Sherbrooke, the Eastern Townships and all over. People have been found guilty of fixing the price of gas.

We want the Competition Bureau and police forces to have the power to conduct investigations without the need for a complaint. Back home, there was a complaint and there were some very good results: charges were laid in June 2008 and July 2010 against 38 people and 14 companies for fixing prices at the pump. This happened in Victoriaville, Thetford Mines, Magog and Sherbrooke. Eleven individuals and six companies pled guilty in this case, and they received fines totalling nearly $3 million. Of the 11 people who pled guilty, six were given prison sentences that added up to a total of 54 months in prison. A complaint was necessary for this to happen.

The purpose of this bill is to allow the Competition Bureau to use its expertise to initiate investigations without the need for a complaint. I think that this would greatly improve the situation with gas price fixing.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Protection of ChildrenPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to the attention of the House a petition I received that calls upon Parliament to enact stronger legislation to deal with child sexual abuse. Statistics show that 39% of those who possess child sexual abuse materials have images of children between the ages of 3 and 5 and 83% have images of children between 6 and 16 being sexually assaulted.

Section 163 of the Criminal Code currently allows sentences as little 90 days for making criminal child sexual material and only 14 days for the possession of criminal child sexual materials.

Well over 5,000 signatories of this petition are requesting stronger mandatory minimum sentences that would protect children, provide justice and deter pedophilia.

I should add in closing that the Canada Family Action, which is sponsoring the petition, applauds our government for addressing the issue in a meaningful way with our crime legislation, Bill C-10, which is currently before the House.

CrimePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on Bill C-10 that has been signed by Canadians across the country.

Bill C-10 is the omnibus crime bill. The petitioners say that it crudely bundles together too many pieces of unrelated legislation, some of which makes sense and some of which does not. There is also a big problem with its implementation because Ontario and Quebec may refuse to pay for the costs of some of the measures in this bill that would be downloaded to them.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to separate Bill C-10 into its pieces and allow members to vote on each part separately.

Safe Streets and Communities ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition today from Canadians, primarily from the Montreal and Ottawa areas, also concerned with Bill C-10, making the same point, that we have nine separate bills put together into this omnibus crime bill, the so-called safe streets and communities act, that many petitioners believe will not deliver safe streets in communities.

The petitioners ask that this House consider separating Bill C-10 into its component parts so that each part can be dealt with separately.

I present this petition in hopes that this House will still come to its senses and not pass the omnibus crime bill as drafted.

Canadian Wheat BoardPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, with pleasure I present this petition on behalf of prairie farmers. Their desire was to address it to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The petitioners are requesting that he honour the democratically expressed wishes of western Canadian farmers.

We are all aware of what took place yesterday when Bill C-18 passed, which disagreed with what the prairie farmers were actually requesting. However, the petitioners still felt that it was important to table this petition so the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food would be aware of the fact that most farmers did not support Bill C-18.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I understand that the member for New Brunswick Southwest will be responding to the question of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to the supposed question of privilege from the hon. member for Mount Royal which was raised on November 16 and 23, along with the submissions made by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. I appreciate the time you have allowed to return with a response.

For the reasons I will put before you, Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find that there is no basis to conclude a prima facie breach of privilege has taken place.

The question at hand is related to the identification of voters by the Conservative Party of Canada in the riding of Mount Royal.

As members are aware, every political party in the House identifies its voters in one way or another. This is an important part of the political process. Talking to Canadians, discussing issues with them and asking them if they support our party is nothing new.

Ultimately, the resources used to make these calls did not belong to Parliament or to the government; they belonged to the Conservative Party.

To be clear, in no way was any parliamentary resource or time used to conduct a routine political activity. We are aware of numerous circumstances where the Liberal Party of Canada was, prior to the last election, making voter identification calls in various ridings across the country targeting seats held by Conservative members of Parliament.

I will also add that, at that point, the election timing was entirely speculative, there not being an election called or scheduled until after all the opposition parties joined together and voted on March 25 for an unnecessary early election. Did those calls impinge on the work of the sitting members? Did those calls prevent the MPs from doing their jobs? No, absolutely not. This is exactly what a political party is supposed to be doing: targeting ridings they believe can eventually be won.

The hon. member for Mount Royal indicated that his ability to do his job as a representative of the riding because of these calls was undermined. This is simply not the case. As the hon. member noted, he has many bills and motions on the Order Paper and Notice Paper. Moreover, I am told that he has been very active in recent meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Clearly, his work in this place has not been impeded in this regard.

Moreover, members have numerous tools provided by taxpayers to communicate with constituencies as a result of being elected to Parliament. These include householders and ten percenters, among other tools. Finally, a member of the House can simply make a statement to the press, which is what the hon. member did in this case to ensure his constituents are aware of his intentions. As well, he penned an op-ed in yesterday's Montreal Gazette to inform voters of the work he is doing on their behalf. I was impressed by the volume of his work and I am sure they were too.

It may be helpful to draw the Chair's attention to other cases of rumoured byelections.

In 2003, during the New Democratic Party's leadership race, Jack Layton did not have a seat in the House of Commons. On Friday, January 10, 2003, the Toronto Star wrote that Mr. Layton had not ruled out the possibility of holding a byelection in Ottawa Centre. The problem is that no byelection was held in Ottawa Centre. Yet, the Toronto Star wrote that Mr. Layton had not ruled out the possibility of a byelection to fill this empty seat.

The Liberal member representing Ottawa Centre at the time, who is today a Liberal senator, Mac Harb, never raised a question of privilege. He never said that his rights as a member of Parliament had been violated, and for good reason: his rights were not violated. Mr. Layton was merely responding to rumours that the Liberal member might soon be stepping down.

Mr. Speaker, I will draw your attention to a line that appeared in a recent news article from iPolitics with respect to the claims advanced by the hon. member for Mount Royal. It appeared on its online news site on Wednesday, November 16. It stated:

While [the member for Mount Royal], who has an international reputation for his human rights work, has often been rumoured to be on the brink of quitting as an MP, in an interview with iPolitics, [the member for Mount Royal] said he has no plans to quit and has not been offered any positions or appointments.

I want to repeat that. The hon. member “has often been rumored to be on the brink of quitting as an MP”.

I will repeat that again. The hon. member has “often been rumoured to be on the brink of quitting as an MP”.

I will restate the essentials. The Conservative Party calls people for the purpose of voter identification. It is an important part of the job of any political party to ask Canadians if they support the party in the event of an election or byelection. The hon. member has often been rumoured to be on the brink of quitting. It is hardly an intolerable leap to insert this in a call script to identify potential voters.

This is not a prima facie breach of his privileges or the collective privileges of the House. It is, in fact, routine political discourse. For members to find this objectionable is to be shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in this establishment. Some members might be stunned by routine political activity conducted by all political parties, or at least the successful ones, but that indignation is no more surprising than Captain Renault's feigned anger in Rick's Cafe.

I should correct myself. This activity did not happen in this establishment and was not done by anybody affiliated with Parliament or under the Speaker's supervision.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to be cognizant of free and robust dialogue and democratic activities enjoyed in Canada in respect of the election of members, whether it be as a candidate, a partisan or a voter, when you come to your decision.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to be cognizant of free and robust dialogue and democratic activities enjoyed in Canada in respect of the election of members, whether it be as a candidate, a partisan or a voter, when you come to your decision.

To find a prima facie question of privilege in these circumstances would, I suggest, place an unreasonable and unacceptable chill over political discourse in this country, and therefore should only be done in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Those circumstances are not present here.

To find a prima facie question of privilege in these circumstances would, I suggest, place an unreasonable and unacceptable chill over political discourse in this country, and therefore should only be done in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Those circumstances are not present here.

Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, I believe you will agree that it is clearly not a matter that the House should consider further given that there was no breach here whatsoever, and that you should rule that there is no basis for a prima facie breach of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, if you would look at my statement on this question privilege, I said that I had no problem with people engaging in voter identification. I said I understood the practice of outreach. I said I understood that political parties, including ours, engage in issues of voter identification.

The issue is not that because of the calls themselves my work was impeded, calls regarding voter identification and the like. It was that in the course of those calls, my work became impeded by the false and misleading information contained in those calls. That is something very different.

The constituents were not asked, “Do you support or would you support the Conservative Party in a general election?” I could understand that, even though we just had a general election six months ago, but in the realm of political discourse, I could understand voter outreach being done all the time. That is fine. However, that is not how it was put.

My constituents were asked, “Will you support the Conservative Party in the pending or imminent byelection?” There is a fundamental difference. This is not normal political discourse, as the hon. member said. Clearly, this is false and misleading information because there is no pending or imminent byelection. When my constituents replied, “What byelection? We don't know of any byelection”, they were told that the member for Mount Royal had resigned or is about to resign.

That clearly comes within the breach of privilege of sowing confusion in the minds of the voters. It clearly comes within the breach of privilege with respect to prejudicing my standing with the electorate and not only causing confusion, but impeding my work because of the flood of phone calls and emails, et cetera, that my office received. People are asking about this pending byelection and when this imminent byelection was to take place. They are saying, “We didn't know that the member for Mount Royal was stepping down,” or, “We didn't know that he has already stepped down”. That is fundamentally different.

The fact is there may have been rumours, but after 12 years I am still here. In that article he quoted, I said that those rumours have been going on for 12 years. The fact that it emanates very often from the members opposite is something else. They are rumours. Rumours are rumours. I will just say that people can repeat rumours, but it is fundamentally different from a rumour to call constituents in a systematic way and specifically target those constituents, with the effect of sowing confusion in the minds of the electorate, impeding the member in the performance of his functions, and causing prejudice to his standing within the riding. These calls have not abated.

It is important that such a practice cease and desist. I do not think any member of this House should be subjected to those kinds of calls. It is not a matter of the party, although I will say that the former candidate in the riding of Mount Royal when asked if he was involved with this, said, “No, I had nothing to do with it. It was the party. It was the Conservative Party”. The Conservative candidate identified the Conservative Party as being involved. I believed him when he said he was not involved. I equally believed him when he said that the Conservative Party was involved. He identified the party.

Leaving that aside, the whole point here is that this was not in the course of normal outreach. This was a form of prejudicial misrepresentation of false and misleading information. As I said, it falls squarely within the criteria, and we quoted principles and precedents, as to what constitutes a breach of privilege. This is not chilling political discourse for you to rule, Mr. Speaker, that it was a breach of privilege; this will chill false and misleading information that tends to corrupt the political process.

That kind of constraint should be placed so that no member in the House should be subjected to false and misleading information. Again, it was not held out as a rumour. It was stated as a fact, a false fact, but it was held that the member had resigned or was about to resign.

There is not a byelection to be held at some point, as I said, let alone a general election. They were talking about a byelection. They said that a byelection is pending; a byelection is imminent. There was a series of ongoing false, misleading, prejudicial misrepresentations.

I think the Speaker should rule that it is a breach of privilege, not simply in my case, but to protect all members of the House from such false and misleading statements and innuendoes that should not be made inside or outside the House which could prejudicially affect members of Parliament.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken once before on this question of privilege. However, after hearing the Conservative member and now the member from the Liberal Party, whose question of privilege this is, I want to draw to your attention the complaint which came from the member for Windsor West with regard to a ten percenter, because I think it is exactly on point and fully supports the argument we just heard.

In that case, it was a member from the Conservative Party who had sent a ten percenter, which of course is no longer allowed, into the riding of Windsor West accusing the member for Windsor West of supporting a particular position. I think it was on a crime bill. The person who sent it was Monte Solberg. At the time I think he was a minister, but if not, he was certainly a member of the Conservative Party. In the ten percenter he accused in very strong language the member for Windsor West of supporting a particular position. In fact, it was a position I had taken as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. The member for Windsor West had not taken a position on it. I think he was on the other side of the issue at the time. The material that went into the riding in the form of the ten percenter was false and misleading in terms of the position that the member for Windsor West had taken, although he may not have taken any position at all.

It is exactly the same situation here. The allegations we have heard have been confirmed. I do not think there is much of a dispute over the facts. The phone calls were clearly false and misleading as to whether the member was going to retire or in some respect was leaving his position. As was the case with the member for Windsor West, that does have a negative impact on the member's ability to perform his duties. The same thing happened. There were all sorts of emails, letters and phone calls to his office asking why he had taken this position, when in fact he had not. That is a direct interference. It is false, misleading and has a negative impact on the ability of the member of Parliament to do his or her job.

The ruling by Speaker Milliken is exactly on point with the situation we have here. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to make a decision that would find a prima facie case. Let us investigate it at the procedure and House affairs committee. Let us deal with it in an appropriate fashion, as we did in the other case.

There were repercussions with regard to Mr. Solberg in terms of having to apologize, et cetera. The same thing needs to be done in this case.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to repeat all the arguments that have just been made by the member before me and the member affected by this, the member for Mount Royal, however, I am extremely disappointed that the Conservative member who defended the Conservative Party’s position in this matter did not have the class to say it was a mistake to do that. Instead of that, he justified the use of this tactic.

When I do something my wife finds unpleasant, and that is very rare, she asks me to put myself in her position. So I ask all the members here present, from all the parties, particularly the Conservative member who just spoke and his Conservative colleagues, to put themselves in the position of the member for Mount Royal.

In his riding, people are organizing and making telephone calls and doing polling, among other things, and clearly saying there is going to be a byelection. So that means the sitting member is getting ready to leave. Obviously this is a breach of the member’s privileges, as I said the first time I spoke to this subject not so long ago, since a person or a company or an organization that wants to do business with their member and has a project in hand will wonder whether it is worth the trouble to go and meet him to get help with their project, since they have heard that the member might not be there soon. It spreads like wildfire and the media seize hold of it. Because of a few telephone calls, everyone is persuaded that the member is going to be leaving.

Obviously this interferes with how the member works. He has to answer all these questions in the media. He has to answer the voters. He goes to evening functions. We all do it. That is how we spend our time on weekends and during break weeks. We take part in a variety of activities, for example at senior citizens’ clubs. I am sure that the member for Mount Royal is getting asked whether it is true that he is going to be leaving, because people have received a call about this. He spends his time refuting that argument, when he should be spending his time working on issues as we all do.

I heard absolutely nothing from the Conservative member to say it was unacceptable to do this. If we accept this in the case of the member for Mount Royal, it will be accepted for everyone here. I have a team of several volunteers who make telephone calls. They could spread rumours about the Minister of Industry in the neighbouring riding and say that he is leaving because he has been offered a post as ambassador. I do not want to do it; I am just saying that this must not become a precedent.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

November 29th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Williamson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a couple of points.

First, the ten percenter program falls within the purview of Parliament. Activities by political parties do not.

Second, members seem to be concerned about the tactics of political parties to identify votes or to win votes. Again, I submit this is of no business to the House.

Third, in this case with the hon. member, there is talk that he has put the situation to rest, and I accept that. But it is not unreasonable in a political discourse to have heard that and for it to be inserted into a script or used to explain why there are calls.

Good, strong political parties are ready for elections at any time. They will conduct work throughout the years, in this case four years, and not just wait until four weeks before the next election.

It is important that we separate these activities from the business of Parliament and the business of political dialogue outside this chamber that is legitimate and appropriate.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think I should respond to the supplementary remarks of my colleague.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will recognize the member for Mount Royal for closing summation comments.

I want to be very clear that the actions that occurred in the electoral district of Mount Royal are irrefutable. They are vile, corrupt and anti-democratic, and they happened. They happened in a way that was very consistent with previous actions of the Conservative Party of Canada using House resources to conduct a negative and false message targeted at a particular electoral district and a particular member of the House.

A professional polling firm, a corporate entity does not undertake this activity because of its own political philosophy or own personal actions. It does so for remuneration. Someone paid a company to conduct a false poll, a push poll, in the guise of a public relations survey, to convey a false message to the electors within the Mount Royal district.

There has been past activity which outlines that House resources were used to conduct that activity. That is irrefutable. What is also irrefutable is that this particular survey could just as easily have been conducted through one of two means. It could have been conducted using the research budgets of the Conservative Party of Canada, or through a subsidy from taxpayers.

The bottom line is that it is not acceptable to any member that we simply whistle past the graveyard and ignore this issue. Mr. Speaker, there are precedents and rulings that if you were simply to find the basis for an investigation to find out the truth, not to whistle past the graveyard, given the fact that there is past activity which supports the notion that House resources were used to do this type of acticity, that House resources could now be used to conduct this type of vile activity. To not refer this to committee, to not find a prima facie case of privilege in my opinion would be an offence to the House. We simply cannot walk past the graveyard on this. It is incumbent upon all of us to protect the rights of individual members.

I call on you, Mr. Speaker, to do the right thing and allow this matter to be properly vetted. Do not let even the perception or the reality of House resources, of the people's resources, be used for a false, corrupt message, which betrays the true character and integrity of a member of this House. It would be unacceptable.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I made reference to examples where personal privileges had been found to be violated they were not limited to the kinds of examples the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest put forward. They were not limited to householders or matters within the purview of this House. They included misleading advertising in newspapers. Anything that leads to confusion about the role of a member of Parliament is against our principles and constitutes a personal privilege being breached.

I want to reinforce that what I heard from the member for New Brunswick Southwest falls short of a satisfactory response to this question of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the member for Mount Royal, in addressing the suggestions that there would potentially be a byelection in his constituency, has used some very strong language to describe these as misleading, wrong, untrue.

However when we go back to the original arguments the member made, we will recall that he said people received these calls and they were perplexed. They of course asked the question, “Why are you calling me?”, a reasonable question to ask in the circumstances, since he is here.

The response that was given by the callers was, as the member said, that there was a possibility, rumours or suggestions that there would be a byelection. Well that response was, very interestingly, the truth.

What he is asking you, Mr. Speaker, to do here is prevent people from being able to speak the truth. When they were asked “Why are you making this call?”, “There are rumours that there might be a byelection” was the true answer.

That is what prompted the political activity. It is something that he himself acknowledges has been out there, has been present for some 12 years. We are not talking about the past couple of weeks; we are talking about years and years.

Clearly, the basis for them answering the truth when asked that question is most reasonable. It is a reasonable part of speech. In this case what the Speaker is being asked to do is extraordinary. The Speaker is being asked to reach far outside this House, to make a ruling that will affect every single Canadian. It will affect Canadians' freedom of speech, their ability to speak their minds, their fundamental charter rights and their fundamental democratic rights. That ruling would say that they are not able to comment or speculate on whether the member would be leaving his seat and whether there might be a byelection.

I think about the programs that I watch and the news stories that I read. There are continually items of speculation on whether particular individuals in this House might leave, might leave early, might retire or might resign.

Were you, Mr. Speaker, to find favour with the point as the member for Mount Royal is asking, you effectively would be making that type of speech illegal, as it would affect or offend the privileges of every member of Parliament if it ever happened. It is like putting the special cloak of protection around parliamentarians, insulating them from normal political and journalistic discourse.

Let us think of the logical outcome were you, Mr. Speaker, to find favour with the member for Mount Royal's suggestions. A political pundit might go on a panel on a television show and say, “We have heard that the member for York—Simcoe may want to return to the private sector soon. It is more lucrative anyhow. So there is going to be a byelection in that riding, maybe.”

All of a sudden, that pundit, having speculated on that, is going to be found to have offended the privileges of the member, subject to a contempt of Parliament ruling, subject to the fairly extreme potential consequences that are available to the Speaker in that case. That seems to be very unreasonable.

The same would apply to any journalist who would engage in that kind of speculation, entirely normal freedom of speech and expression. The member for Mount Royal is asking the Speaker to suppress that. That is the logical outcome of his request.

There are fundamental rights that exist in a democracy. I can understand his concern about his privileges being offended, but to say that one cannot speculate on his future, that that form of freedom of speech should forever be suppressed, is to me an overreach that is far too great. It really reflects more his insecurity than a confidence in the robustness of our democracy, of our long political traditions.

I would be very concerned, Mr. Speaker, were you to go down that path and suppress democratic activity, suppress the freedom of speech, not just of political parties but of every single individual outside this place. It would, in effect, say to them that somehow we are beyond their ability to speculate or talk about, because if they say anything negative about our performance, if they say that we might leave, that we have other plans or that we are not working hard enough, they are somehow offending our privileges.

The member said that people are saying that, as he is leaving, he is not working hard enough and not doing things for them. People say that about members of Parliament every single day. Some people say it about every single one of us, that we are collectively not working hard enough.

That should not be found to be a breach of our privileges. That should be part of our challenge every day in this House and outside this House. That should be addressed as part of normal democratic discourse.

Mr. Speaker, I would caution you very strongly against taking the invitation that has been presented to you.

Chilling that freedom of speech and democratic discourse that exists in our society to allow members of Parliament to somehow be insulated from criticism of their performance and speculation of their jobs by anybody out there would be overreaching and unprecedented in my view. When this matter was first raised, I somewhat jokingly said that it was quite evident the member was still here. I do not think anybody is disputing that.

Sir John A. Macdonald, in his ear, faced this on a regular basis, almost every year. It was published in The Globe by George Brown, the proprietor and a member of the legislature, that his departure was imminent. Obviously, that did not happen for many decades, but it was published all the time.

Sir John A. Macdonald, in the greatest tradition of democracy, understood it to be part of normal discourse. We have seen no evidence that there were any concerns raised that his privileges were offended. He was willing to go out and address it by doing his job, and being part of the democratic process.

The fact is that this has been going on as long as politics in this country. It is a normal part of politics in this country and it is not a kind of speech that should begin to be chilled at this point.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will allow the member for Mount Royal to respond and then I think we will move on.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the two interventions from the other side.

Some references were made to ten percenters. Mr. Speaker, your predecessor ruled that there was a prima facie breach of my privileges because of false and misleading ten percenters that were targeting households in my riding, at that time targeting only the Jewish households in my riding.

It is part of a pattern. I know the Conservatives covet the riding. I know they would like to win the riding of Mount Royal, but they have to do so on their merits, not by false, misleading, and prejudicial information as took place in the ten percenters, which your predecessor ruled was a prima facie breach of privilege, and with a repetition now with these false and misleading phone calls.

This is not a question of rumours of a byelection. We are all subjected to that kind of thing. People in my riding or in any riding might be asking their member, “I heard you might be resigning” or “I heard you might be going elsewhere”, or whatever. That is part of constituents sometimes asking a legitimate question to their member of Parliament. This is not what is being asked here.

These are constituents who have been told, in false and misleading phone calls, by an agency supported by the Conservative Party that there is an imminent byelection and that the member has resigned or is about to resign. It is not people coming up to me and saying they heard rumours as is part of the normal give and take. However, I should not have to be back in my riding this weekend and have people coming up and saying they were called and told that I had resigned or that they were called and told that there is an imminent byelection going on.

Under the principles of breaches of privilege, that is what is called “sowing confusion in the minds of the electorate”. That is what is called “impeding the member of Parliament in the performance of his duties”.

I can speak with my constituents in regard to rumour, but not when they are telling me that they are getting calls making statements of fact, when these are not statements of fact but false and misleading misrepresentations of fact. That is the fundamental difference. This is not a matter of chilling speech. The opposite member elevated this to absolute freedom of speech.

If we look at our whole constitutional law in this country, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. We have laws with respect to limitations on speech with regard to perjury, so people can have a right to a fair trial. We have limitations on false and misleading advertising, directly on point, so the consumer can be protected against false and misleading advertising. We have laws against obscenity, so people can be protected with respect to their human dignity. I can go through the whole law of free speech. I happen to have a certain degree of expertise, having written on it and pleaded it before the Supreme Court.

This has nothing to do with free speech. This has everything to do with false, misleading, and prejudicial information held out in a representation to constituents and held out as if it were a statement of fact, clearly causing prejudice and clearly undermining the role of the member.

If the members opposite say that they are happy to see that I am very active and involved, yes I am active and involved. That is our responsibility as members, to be active and involved.

However, when constituents believe not only that we are not active and involved but that we are not even a member anymore, that we have stepped down or are about to step down, this transforms the entire relationship between the member and his or her constituents.

Equally, when I was asked this past weekend, after my constituents had heard that I had stepped down, I began to tell them about some of the things I was doing with respect to Bill C-10 in this House, which is somewhat ironic that we are speaking on this today or maybe not so ironic that we are supposed to enter into a discussion on Bill C-10. It is a nice diversionary approach on the government's part. However, let us leave that aside.

The point is that the members of my riding were not aware of the work that I have been doing and that was precisely what I said in my point of privilege. It is not only false and misleading but it overtakes and overshadows, and effectively obscures, if not excises, the work that I am doing and the opportunity to engage in what the government has called political dialogue. I would love to be in political dialogue. I do not mind criticism. I do not mind voters coming up and saying, “Your position on Bill C-10, we totally disagree with it”.

That is fine. That is fair comment. That is fundamentally different from a voter coming up to me and saying, “How come you are not even involved on Bill C-10? You are not even there”. That is where the prejudice is: the reduction of the member of Parliament as if he is no longer a functioning member of Parliament.

There is no knowledge of all the work that I have been doing in the last two weeks, whether it was standing in the House to speak to Bill C-304, a private member's bill on the issue of freedom of speech and hate speech, where I thought the intervention was important, or that I have undertaken the representation of an Egyptian blogger, a leader in the Tahrir revolution, now being played out in Egypt, to have been imprisoned for allegedly insulting the Egyptian military, a rather dramatically important case. My constituents had no knowledge of that. When I held a press conference in that case, the questions that I was asked by journalists were, “Are you resigning? Have you resigned? Is there a byelection?”

Therefore, it did interfere with my work. It interfered in my exchanges with the media. It interfered with my exchanges with my constituents. It interfered with the public perception of the work in which I was engaged.

I want to conclude by saying that there is no suggestion here that any speech be chilled or suppressed. What is suggested here is that I practised a misconduct that misrepresents matters that relate directly to the performance of members in their duties as members of Parliament.

To say that it does not address what is being done in this House, it addresses the capacity of members, not only me, to perform their duties in the House and as members of Parliament when outside the House with their constituents, among the public, the media and the like.

It has a pervasive and persistent prejudicial fallout impeding, if not prejudicing, the members in the performance of their duties. It comes directly within all the principles and precedents that I cited in my two statements respecting the request for a prima facie finding of a breach of privilege.

Telephone Calls to Mount Royal ConstituentsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I thank the hon. member for his further interventions. I will take all the points made under advisement and come back to the House in due course.