Mr. Speaker, in a ruling made on February 10 on a question of privilege raised in December concerning misleading statements made by the Minister of International Cooperation about the decision not to grant funding to KAIROS, you said:
—despite...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. With regard to statements made by the minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.
In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind and in the absence of a committee report on this matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading, that she believed them to be misleading or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the minister deliberately misled the House and, therefore, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
Since you made this ruling on February 10, new facts have come to light. First, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development has provided to you certain statements that were made in committee, as well as the KAIROS funding document obtained through the Access to Information Act. You have been officially apprised of this information by the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Furthermore, the Minister of International Cooperation also read a statement in this House on February 14 regarding funding for KAIROS. Thus, in light of the new facts in this matter, of which you have been officially informed, I believe that there are grounds for you to reconsider your decision. Here is the timeline of the statements in this matter.
On April 23, 2010, the minister told the House:
The criteria for the funding for KAIROS is the same as the criteria for funding for anyone else applying for such funding. KAIROS did not meet the criteria. It did not get the funding. There was no surprise there.
Still on April 23, in reply to written Question No. 106, the minister replied:
The CIDA decision not to continue funding KAIROS was based on the overall assessment of the proposal, not on any single criterion.
On October 28, 2010, she said:
We have an international aid effectiveness strategy and we are acting on it. We are getting results for people in the developing countries and all projects by CIDA are assessed against our effectiveness standards. After due diligence, it was determined that KAIROS' proposal did not meet government standards.
At the December 9, 2010 meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, she stated, “...the decision on my part was not to fund KAIROS...”
During this same committee meeting, when asked who had added the word “not” to the documents, she stated, “I do not know”. In the same breath she added, “I cannot say who wrote the 'not'. However, I will tell you the ultimate decision reflects the decision of the minister and the government.”
On December 9, 2010, in committee, the president of CIDA, Margaret Biggs, confirmed that CIDA had recommended that the minister approve funding for KAIROS:
...the agency did recommend the project to the minister. She has indicated that. But it was her decision, after due consideration, to not accept the department's advice.
She also added that when she signed the document, the word “not” was not on it. Finally, on February 14, in the House, the Minister made this statement:
There was no decision taken by the department to provide funding. It was only a recommendation. It was my decision to disagree with the recommendation based on discussions with advisers. I was fully aware that my decision was not aligned with the recommendation of the department.
Later on, she added:
At no time have I stated that the decision for funding was that of the department. I have repeatedly and clearly stated in response to questions in the House and at committee that the funding decision was mine. The “not” was inserted at my direction.
In your decision on February 10, 2010, you referred to the following passage from Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand:
In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.
On April 23, 2010, in response to a question on the order paper, the Minister of International Cooperation said that the decision not to fund KAIROS was a decision made by CIDA. On December 9, 2010, at committee, she said the opposite, that it was her decision. On December 9, 2010, at committee, she said she did not know who added the word “not” to the document on funding for KAIROS. On February 14, 2011, however, she said in the House that the word “not” was added at her direction.
As a result, the first criterion has been met. The Minister of International Cooperation made misleading statements. Did she know they were misleading when she made those statements? Of course she did. If she made the decision not to fund KAIROS, she knew that it was not the decision of her officials. If she asked someone to add the word “not” in the document, she was fully aware of that when she gave her testimony at committee on December 9, 2010, because she signed the document on November 27, 2009. As a result, the second criterion has been met. When the minister made those statements, she knew they were incorrect.
Why did the minister make these contradictory statements? It is because the decision to cut funding to KAIROS was purely ideological and she did not want to pay the political price. That takes care of the third criterion. Yes, the minister fully intended to mislead the House.
I am well aware, Mr. Speaker, that you might be tempted to rule that this is a matter of debate. However, I believe that it is a much more fundamental question. The role of Parliament is to hold the government accountable and, unfortunately, this government is not co-operating. Over the past few months, we have seen it deny the power of the House to request documents and deny the power of committees to subpoena witnesses, and now it is denying the members' right to obtain accurate information. This is a case of contempt of Parliament. Deliberately misleading the House constitutes contempt of Parliament. In fact, in the 23rd edition of Erskine May, on page 132, it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. In 1963 the House resolved that in making a personal statement which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, a former Member had been guilty of a grave contempt.
On February 1, 2002, in your ruling on a question of privilege in which it was alleged that the Minister of National Defence had misled the House, you stated the following:
The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.
On March 22, 2002, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report concerning this same question of privilege. It said:
Incorrect statements in the House of Commons cannot be condoned. It is essential that Members have accurate and timely information, and that the integrity of the information provided by the Government to the House is ensured.
To conclude, I believe that you must find that this is a prima facie question of privilege. This is much more than a matter of debate. Parliamentarians have a fundamental right, a constitutional right, to hold the government accountable and, Mr. Speaker, you are the guarantor of that right.