Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in relation to the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Finance.
In our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. Parliament, in turn, has an obligation, a responsibility to hold the government to account and to scrutinize the government's books.
Recently, this government impeded the work of the Standing Committee on Finance by hindering its attempts to better understand the federal government's budget projections.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 108 empowers committees to send for persons, papers and records. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, describes Parliament's right to order the production of documents as a right that is “as old as Parliament itself”.
On November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance passed a motion ordering the Government of Canada to provide the commitment with five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from the 2010-11 fiscal year until the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive.
The November 17 motion also ordered the government to provide the committee with certain financial information pertaining to justice Bills C-4, C-5, C-16, C-17, C-21, C-22, C-23A, C-23B, C-39, C-48, C-50, C-51, C-52, S-2, S-6, S-7, S-9 and S-10.
Among other things, the motion specifically requested:
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.
The motion established a deadline of seven calendar days, which ended on November 24, 2010.
On November 24, the Department of Finance replied to the committee with the following. I will read the department's response in its entirety. It stated:
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.
The government provided no further information to the committee before the deadline.
On December 1, 2010, one full week after the deadline, the committee received a letter from the Department of Justice regarding projected costs of the justice bills. Again, I will read the department's response in its entirety. It stated:
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.
On December 7, 2010, after the government had refused to provide the information ordered by the committee by the established deadline, I provided the committee with written notice for a motion by which, if passed, the committee would draw the attention of the House to what appeared to be a breach of its privileges.
On December 10, 2010, perhaps in response to the written notice I had written on December 7, the committee received an additional response from the Department of Finance.
In its response, the department stated:
To the best of its knowledge, the Department of Finance has determined that “series” or projections of corporate profits before taxes or the effective corporate income tax rates have never been previously disclosed. These projections are from a comprehensive economic and fiscal projection that constitutes a Cabinet confidence. As a result, the Department of Finance has not been in a position to provide these "series" to the Committee.
This response appeared somewhat dubious. For, if any member of the House or if any Canadian wishes to Google the phrase “corporate profits before taxes” and restrict their search to the domain of the Department of Finance's website, he or she would get exactly two results: the HTML and PDF versions of “The Economic and Fiscal Update” from November 2005, in which they would find, on page 83, that the previous Liberal government had actually published projections of corporate profits before taxes from 2005 until 2010.
At this time, I would like to seek unanimous consent to table page 83 of “The Economic and Fiscal Update” from November 2005.