Mr. Speaker, I thank you for that correction.
The request for the finding of privilege that was brought by the member for Kings—Hants is troubling in that he had to do this on behalf of both the members of the finance committee, at least the opposition members of the finance committee, and all of us in the House. I say that in light of your ruling 11 months ago; a historical ruling by any standards in this House.
Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, and I do not want you to feel that I am buttering you up, but the reality is that the ruling was also a historical ruling in any number of other legislatures that use the Westminster system of representation in Parliament. It was acknowledged as such in a number of other legislatures.
Therefore, it is very troubling, given the nature of the request for the finding of privilege or breach of privilege at that time on the issue of the Afghani detainee issue, that we are back here less than a year later on essentially the same issue.
The Conservative government of the day is claiming cabinet confidence and refusing to divulge information to the finance committee members that is clearly necessary for them to do their job. That is the essence of the privilege request.
I think it is important that we walk through what has happened here.
There were requests at the finance committee for two types of information. This goes back to November 17, 2010. I will quote from the committee minutes at that point and from the report issued by the committee and presented to the House the first week of February.
On November 17, the committee reported that:
The committee also orders that the Government of Canada provide the committee with electronic copies of the following: Five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates (2010-11 to 2014-15);
The response from the government, I have to say from discussing this with some of the members of the committee, was a bit surprising. It was an immediate verbal response at that time by members of the committee. I am not even sure that the government leadership was involved in this.
Subsequently, there was a response from the government as follows:
Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.
That was the first one.
We know that the cost of the government's prime legislation, if I can use that generic term, has been an ongoing debate in the House, in various committees of the House, and in the general public.
Again, it is crucial that we have this information in order to engage in the debate and the discussion around those issues, not only in the House but in the country as a whole.
Therefore, the committee asked the government, in effect, ordered the government, to produce information with regard to a series of crime bills. That is set out in the report from the finance committee.
The attempt on the part of the committee is obviously to make informed decisions on legislation that is before the House and to share that information with other committees. There is a whole series of bills that the committee set out in the order for information.
I will not quote all of the bills because it is in the report, but I will quote the information that members on the finance committee wanted with regard to those pieces of legislation before the House or those which have already been passed. They wanted to know:
--the incremental cost estimates broken down by Capital, Operations & Maintenance and Other categories;
For a government that touts its fiscal prudence, it is interesting to note that it is unwilling to give that information to other members of the House in order for them to make decisions based on facts and good economic planning. Economic planning or public policy cannot be done without the facts. They wanted the costs.
The committee wanted to know:
--the baseline departmental funding requirement excluding the impacts of the bills and Acts, broken down by Capital, Operations and Maintenance and Other categories;
Members also wanted to know:
--the total departmental Annual Reference Level (ARL), including all quasi-statutory and non-quasi-statutory items, including Capital, Operations and Maintenance and Other categories, including the incremental cost estimates;
Finally, the finance committee asked for:
--detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to costing.
Finance committee members are asking for information that we know is available because it is required under Treasury Board criteria. We know from past practice that it is available and it has been submitted to ministers. In most cases, these bills would have also been in front of cabinet.
The government's response to that was:
The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.
By claiming cabinet confidence, the government absolutely refused to provide the information to the committee.
As I said earlier, the report containing this information is before the House, before you, Mr. Speaker, and is the basis on which the request for finding a breach of privilege was brought before the House.
To digress for a moment, I would like to make this important point. Both of these issues, the estimates of what the savings are going to be to the private sector by the tax cuts and what the projection for profits for those corporations is going to be, are crucial to the country. This may be the defining issue in the next election.
This is not a periphery area that we are trying to get information on. It is essential that we have this information in order for Canadians to understand the issue. At a personal level, it is absolutely crucial for us as members of Parliament to have the information when we are voting on the budget, on monetary bills, and a number of public policy issues.
As justice critic for my party, I have been asking for this information from justice ministers and ministers of public safety for four years, and regularly I get two answers.
First, the cost analysis has not been done, and I have to wonder about the truthfulness of that answer. That may have been accurate earlier on when the government came into power in 2006, but that has not been the case since then. We know that these projection analyses have been done on the capital cost of the crime bills, and on the operation and maintenance costs.
Just last week our critic on public safety had some material leaked to him showing how many more employees were going to be hired by Corrections Canada. The government has that information.
The whole issue of crime legislation has been a centre point for the government. It has been a centre point for the Conservative Party before it was government. However, when we try to ascertain the facts as to what this will cost, how many additional prisoners we will have in custody, we are denied that information.
Again, this is not a peripheral issue here. It is a very basic one that is very much in public debate not only in the House but across the country. That debate has been both in this House and in committee. It has been narrowed down to a very narrow scope because we cannot get access to this information.
With regard to its history, as I have previously stated, we have had the refusal from the government. Of course, it is not the first time it has done this, as I have said earlier, because of your ruling. It is just vitally important that it is not allowed to get away with it.
Last night, as I was preparing some notes on this, I was thinking about how important information and knowledge is. We hear the cliché that knowledge is power. That is really what this is about. It is a very fundamental part of our democracy and, in particular, of the parliamentary system. We can go back hundreds of years and I will be making some reference to that.
Historically, over centuries, the theory and principle of the divine right of kings was undermined once people realized that because one was born to a certain family, it did not give that person divine powers to govern better than a person who was born a peasant. This allowed democracy to flourish.
Also, throughout the Renaissance period in particular, if we look at advancements such as the development of printing and the ability to communicate information and knowledge, we see a huge increase in the rate at which democracy came to the fore.
Governments, particularly in Europe but also true in other areas of the world, restrained the development and sharing of scientific fact and information as they feared it would undermine their control.
As a species, and I will move into Star Trek fairly soon if I continue on this way, we find ourselves seeking out information because we believe it enhances our lives as well as our lifestyles. For instance, we proved that the Earth was not flat by moving beyond the continent that we were on at the time.
All of that is the basis on which the Westminster system determined that parliamentarians have an absolute right to information.
We as a country developed and so did our democracy. For instance, we instituted the CBC, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, in an effort to share more information to help unify the country because it allowed us to know and understand more about each other.
We are doing the same thing in this generation with the Internet, which is now also used to share information, as our--