Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege under the provisions of Standing Order 48 alleging contempt of the House by the Minister of International Cooperation further to the notice that was submitted to the clerk this morning.
I will be asking you, Mr. Speaker, to make a prima facie case finding that a breach of privilege has occurred, specifically that the minister “deliberately attempted to mislead the House by way of a statement”, or, in this case, a series of statements, and “that she knew or ought to have known that the statements to the House were either false or an attempt to mislead”.
I brought this matter before you, Mr. Speaker, in December 2010 following statements by the minister during a foreign affairs and international development committee hearing. It is unfortunate that a question of privilege has to be raised a second time.
Despite being given many opportunities to do so, the Minister of International Cooperation has refused to show any deference toward Parliament and its members and apologize for the misleading statements she made regarding the funding of KAIROS.
The question before you today, Mr. Speaker, is whether any of the additional material would lead you to the conclusion of a prima facie case of misleading the House.
In your ruling of February 10, 2011, you said:
The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
However, despite the obvious frustration expressed by many of the members who have intervened in this case and the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House.
The question, therefore, is: Are you less troubled or more troubled by the additional material that is now fully and properly before the House?
The foreign affairs and international development committee report tabled this morning contains much of the quoted exchange between me and the minister, other members' interventions and a supplementary report provided by government members which provides yet another version of events. I would suggest that it solidifies your disquiet, if anything.
The line of argument in the supplementary report would be characterized as an “I do not know” argument. It appears that the minister does not know who signs her documents or whether or not they have been changed. It appears to be plausible the minister at one point actually recommended the grant and then the recommendation was changed after the fact at her direction or someone else's. It is clear that she does not know.
Another piece of new information came in the exchanges in question period. You, Mr. Speaker, have been present for all of them so I will mercifully not repeat them. In these exchanges, the government advances two lines of argument. First, the minister apologized so, therefore, that is the end of it Second, bureaucrats make recommendations and the ministers make decisions.
Mr. Speaker, if I lie to you or mislead you in a personal relationship an apology may well suffice, assuming no further harm. However, if you were a judge sitting in a court and I lied to you, there would be consequences regardless of an apology. It is called perjury. I may even go to jail because we have the highest expectations that truth be told in court; so also in Parliament and before a parliamentary committee.
In Parliament, however, as is stated on page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.
I allege that this is what has occurred.
There are four distinct occasions on which the minister or the parliamentary secretary speaking on behalf of the minister have knowingly misled the House which I will now relate.
First, on December 9, 2010, before the foreign affairs and international development committee, Margaret Biggs, the president of CIDA, was very clear in her testimony that, contrary to what the minister had led the House to understand, CIDA had unequivocally recommended KAIROS for the grant. The minister was fully aware of CIDA's position and yet chose to misrepresent the advice of her senior civil servants to cover up a plainly political decision.
We see this in a response dated March 8, 2010 to an order paper question put to the minister by the member for London North Centre. The minister stated the following in writing on a document to which her signature is affixed:
The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.
A reasonable person looking at that would clearly interpret that as a decision made by the CIDA department.
Based on both the access to information request document on which the famous “not” was written and the testimony of President Biggs, we know that this is false as the CIDA officials unambiguously recommended that KAIROS continue to receive funding.
Second, when appearing before the standing committee on December 9, the minister, when asked who inserted the “not” on the document, stated, “I do not know”. The minister subsequently contradicted this statement at committee by her statement in the House on February 14 when she stated, “The 'not' was inserted at my direction”.
Third, in the same statement given to the House on February 14, the minister compounded the untruth contained in the order paper response mentioned above by stating, “At no time have I stated that the decision was that of the department”. The above order paper response clearly alleges that CIDA, her department, made the decision. This is simply not true.
Fourth and last, the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of international cooperation stated in the House of Commons on March 15, 2010, that:
CIDA thoroughly analyzed KAIROS' program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet the agency's current priorities. This is important.
As with the order paper response above and based upon the evidence, we know this to be untrue.
I am pleased to note that the former parliamentary secretary, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, to his credit and his honour, did offer an apology to the House. However, the minister has not yet chosen to do the same thing nor, disappointingly, has the Prime Minister.
It is the right of every minister to make ministerial decisions. However, it is not the right of a minister to make a decision and then doctor a document so that it appears that someone else made the decision.
Mr. Speaker, as you stated:
Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes.
In addition to these clear examples of where the minister has misled the House, there are additional concerns that raise further questions about the minister's integrity.
First, KAIROS had its funding cut in November 2009, and we have been asking for clarification on this decision ever since. Why did the minister not clear up the confusion at the first available opportunity?
Second, it may be a little late but why did she not use her statement on Monday to do the honourable thing and offer an unequivocal apology?
Third, if someone is really going to reverse a recommendation, why would the individual not make the recommendation absolutely clear? Any first year law student would be more careful.
Fourth, why leave the lingering impression that CIDA officials rejected the grant?
It is deeply troubling for a minister of the Crown to behave with such disregard and disrespect for her position, her colleagues, the civil service, the NGO community and the millions of Canadians who support the work of KAIROS.
It is further troubling to see the Prime Minister even today defend and extol the minister's behaviour.
As we all know, privilege exists for good reason. In this instance, as in all others, it compels truthfulness even when embarrassing, even when it does not suit the government's agenda. Privilege exists so MPs can make decisions based on fact, not on fiction. Privilege exists as a core value of democracy because MPs and their constituents, the people of Canada, have every right to expect that public discourse in this chamber is without artifice.
Mr. Speaker, you are the guardian of that core value, the value of truthfulness between and among members, ministers and the Prime Minister. Any ruling other than a prima facie case of breach of privilege in this case will inevitably lead to another even more egregious abuse.
I and my colleagues are calling upon you, Mr. Speaker, to put a stop to tampered documents, to blaming others, to casual regard for facts before a committee of the House. We call on you to uphold the highest standards of discourse by ministers in their communications with the House.
Mr. Speaker, with the additional material before you, the case for contempt is even more compelling than it was before. I am prepared to move the motion of contempt upon your direction.