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House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was immigration.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.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

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

March 9th, 2011 / 3:35 p.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 notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Standing Committee on Finance—Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 7, 2011, by the hon. member for Kings—Hants concerning the production of documents ordered by the Standing Committee on Finance.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Kings—Hants for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Mississauga South, Windsor—Tecumseh and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine for their interventions.

The member for Kings—Hants explained that on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance adopted a motion ordering the production of documents relating to corporate profits and taxes and the costs of various justice bills. The government, citing cabinet confidence as a reason, declined on three separate occasions to produce the information sought. The committee then presented its 10th report to the House on February 7, 2011, to draw the attention of the House to this matter.

More specifically, the member for Kings—Hants contended that the refusal to provide the information constituted a breach of this House's privileges and, moreover, the refusal to provide a reasonable explanation as to why the information was deemed to constitute a cabinet confidence was tantamount to contempt.

There was a considerable lapse of time before the government formally responded to this question of privilege. Before it did so on February 17, 2011, in the Debates, at page 8324, the government House leader rose in the House to table “information on our government's low-cost and tough-on-crime agenda as requested by certain members of Parliament”.

Only after this, on February 28, 2011, did the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader returned to the House to present his case on the question of privilege. He argued that even though, in his view, the Standing Committee on Finance, in its 10th report, did not ask the House to order the production of the documents in question, the government, despite the absence of such a House order, had willingly tabled information which preserved “the confidentiality required around documents which are classified as cabinet confidences yet meets the request for specific data contained within the documents which by its nature is not a cabinet confidence”.

Later the same day, the member for Kings—Hants made further arguments in the House to indicate his dissatisfaction with the government's response. He stated that he believed the government had “failed both to provide all the documents or provide any reasonable explanation as to why these documents cannot be provided”.

In interventions since that time, the government has maintained that the government has provided the information requested, implying that all of it has been provided.

It should be noted that at the same time as interventions were being made on this question of privilege, the House was proceeding on a separate track on what was essentially the same matter.

Thus, on February 17, 2011, the House was debating an opposition motion ordering the production of the same documents demanded by the Standing Committee on Finance. In a subsequent vote on the motion, held on February 28, 2011, the House adopted the motion, thus setting a deadline of March 7, 2011 for the production of the documents in question.

Dealing first with the question of whether or not the House or its committees have the authority to order the production of documents, let me restate in part my April 27, 2010, ruling with respect to the production of documents related to Afghan detainees.

At the time I stated, at page 2043 of the Debates:

—procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents...Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.

I also quoted House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 978 and 979, which states:

The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the type of papers likely to be requested, the only prerequisite is that the papers exist—in hard copy or electronic format—and that they are located in Canada....

No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of the power rooted in the House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.

With respect to the power of committees to order the production of documents, Standing Order 108(1)(a) is clear, that they can “...send for persons, papers and records....” O’Brien and Bosc, at page 978, expands on this point:

The Standing Orders state that standing committees have the power to order the production of papers and records, another privilege rooted in the Constitution that is delegated by the House....

Thus, the power of committees of the House to order papers is indistinguishable from that of the House.

With these well-established privileges and principles in mind, and in order to assess properly whether or not the order flowing from the Standing Committee on Finance has been complied with, I undertook a review of what was tabled. The Chair was helped in this by the committee's order, which was quite explicit in the information it sought, even going so far as to list the bills for which information was required. While the Chair does not judge the quality of documents tabled in the House, it is clear from a cursory examination of the material tabled that, on its face, it does not provide all the information ordered by the committee.

While the Chair finds this in and of itself unsettling, what is of greater concern is the absence of an explanation for the omissions. At the very least, based on the indisputable right of the committee to order these documents, this is required. Only then can the House determine whether the reasons given are sufficient or satisfactory. The need to provide reasons to the House is clear. On page 281 of Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, fourth edition, it states:

But is must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.

The Chair has reviewed the debates on this question, and while initially cabinet confidence was cited as a reason not to produce any of the documents, despite this, the government saw fit to partially comply with the committee order and a tabling of some material did eventually take place. Since then, no further reasons have been given as to why the balance of the documents should not or will not be tabled.

It may be that valid reasons exist. That is not for the Chair to judge. A committee empowered to investigate the matter might, but the Chair is ill-equipped to do so. However, there is no doubt that an order to produce documents is not being fully complied with, and this is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account.

For these reasons, the Chair finds that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege in this matter.

Before I invite the member for Kings—Hants to move his motion, however, the Chair wishes to explain the procedural parameters that govern such motions.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 146 and 147 states:

In cases where the motion is not known in advance, the Speaker may provide assistance to the Member if the terms of the proposed motion are substantially different from the matter originally raised. The Speaker would be reluctant to allow a matter as important as a privilege motion to fail on the ground of improper form. The terms of the motion have generally provided that the matter be referred to committee for study or have been amended to that effect.

I hasten to add that the powers of the Speaker in these matters are robust and well known. In 1966, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux, having come to a finding of prima facie privilege on a matter ruled a number of motions out of order. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, tells us at page 147, footnote 371, in doing so, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux “more than once pointed out that it was Canadian practice to refer such matters to committee for study and suggested that this should be the avenue pursued”.

The Chair is of course aware of exceptions to this practice, but in most if not all of these cases, circumstances were such that a deviation from the normal practice was deemed acceptable, or there was a unanimous desire on the part of the House to proceed in that fashion.

With this guidance in mind, I will soon recognize the hon. member for Kings—Hants so that he can propose his motion, but before he proceeds, I have a ruling on another matter, which I will deliver.

Statements by Minister of International cooperation Regarding KAIROS--Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 17, 2011, by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, stemming from the presentation of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and the allegedly misleading statements made by the Minister of International Cooperation.

I would like to thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Ottawa Centre, Joliette, Scarborough—Rouge River, Vancouver East, Guelph, Eglinton—Lawrence, Beaches—East York, Yukon and Winnipeg North for their contributions on this important matter.

As members will know, this matter was first raised by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010. In my ruling of February 10, 2011, I explained that I was unable to “find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading”. Accordingly, I declined to find that a prima facie question of privilege existed.

On February 14, 2011, the Minister of International Cooperation made a statement in the House to clarify matters related to the funding application for KAIROS. While acknowledging that the way in which this case has been handled was unfortunate, she asserted that she had neither intentionally nor knowingly misled the House or the committee. She also stated that:

If some were led to conclude that my language implied that the department and I were of one mind on this application, then I apologize.

On February 17, 2011, the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development was presented to the House. It is a short report which focuses primarily on testimony by the minister and her officials on December 9, 2010, in relation to the process that led to the rejection of a funding application by KAIROS.

In particular, much attention is given to determining how the word “not” made its way into the assessment of the KAIROS funding application submitted to the minister for approval. The last part of the report links this testimony with “other information before the House” and draws “attention to what appears to be a possible breach of privilege”.

The member for Scarborough—Guildwood and other members have argued that the minister has made statements in committee that are different from those made in the House or provided to the House in written form. Indeed, these members have argued that the material available shows that contradictory information has been provided. As a result, they argue, this demonstrates that the minister has deliberately misled the House and that as such, a prima facie case of privilege exists.

For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the sixth report of the standing committee contained no accusations or other suggestions that the rights or dignity of the House had been compromised or that the committee had been misled, either unintentionally or deliberately. Claiming that in fact no direct accusation had been made, he asked, “What charge is there to be answered?” He suggested that it was improper for a committee to report that “an undescribed and undefined breach of privilege may have occurred”, and emphasized that the minister had given clear, accurate and honest answers. He also stated that it was not contradictory for the minister to state that while she did not know who inserted the word “not”, it had indeed been done on her instructions.

Now that the standing committee, in its sixth report, has made available to the House material not previously before us, I must take its findings into consideration, measuring them against other material, including statements in the House and answers to oral and written questions.

But I caution that the Speaker has a very particular and limited role in the conclusions to be drawn. In a ruling given on March 21, 1978, at page 3975 of Debates, which is also referred to in Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, at page 227, Mr. Speaker Jerome quoted a British procedure committee report of 1967, which states in part:

--the Speaker should ask himself, when he has to decide whether to grant precedence over other public business to a motion which a Member who has complained of some act or conduct as constituting a breach of privilege desires to move, should be not--do I consider that, assuming that the facts are as stated, the act or conduct constitutes a breach of privilege, but could it reasonably be held to be a breach of privilege, or to put it shortly, has the Member an arguable point? If the Speaker feels any doubt on the question, he should, in my view, leave it to the House.

It is with this principle in mind that I have taken great care to study the evidence in view of the very serious allegations regarding the conduct of a minister, who as a result has been subjected to harsh and public criticism which has been potentially damaging to her reputation.

The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is this: as the committee has reported, when asked who inserted the word “not” in the assessment of the KAIROS funding application, in testimony the minister twice replied that she did not know. In a February 14 statement to the House, while she did not indicate that she knew who inserted the word “not”, the minister addressed this matter by stating that the “not” was inserted at her direction. At the very least, it can be said that this has caused confusion. The minister has acknowledged this, and has characterized her own handling of the matter as “unfortunate”. Yet as is evident from hearing the various interventions that have been made since then, the confusion persists. As the member for Scarborough—Rouge River told the House, this “has confused me. It has confused Parliament. It has confused us in our exercise of holding the government to account, whether it is the Privy Council, whether it is the minister, whether it is public officials; we cannot do our job when there is that type of confusion”.

The Chair has faced a somewhat analogous situation before. In January 2002 the Minister of National Defence had made statements in the House regarding Afghan detainees that ultimately also caused confusion and led to a question of privilege being raised. In that case, two versions of events had been presented to the House. In that case, as in this one, the minister assured the House that there was no intention to mislead. At that time, in finding a prima facie case, I stated at page 8581 of the Debates of February 1, 2002, that I was “prepared as I must be to accept the minister's assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House. Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation”. I then went on to conclude that “the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”.

In keeping with this fairly recent precedent, and mindful of the ruling by Mr. Speaker Jerome cited earlier, the Chair is of the view that sufficient doubt exists to warrant a finding of prima facie privilege in this case. Accordingly, I will invite the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to move his motion in due course, but at the moment I will return to the hon. member for Kings—Hants to move his motion on the earlier case.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That, given your finding that a prima facie breach of the privileges of Parliament has been committed by the government for failing to fully provide the documents as ordered by the House, the matter be hereby referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a final determination on the government's compliance, or lack thereof, and that the committee report back its findings and recommendations no later than March 21, 2011.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my remarks by thanking you for your very thoughtful and considerate ruling on this issue of Parliament's right to information. As you know, what is at stake here is nothing less than Parliament's ability to function and hold the government accountable.

Parliamentarians have ordered the Conservative government to provide documents detailing the costs of its U.S.-style prison agenda. Parliament has a right to these documents, as has been pointed out. We need this information to do our jobs as members of Parliament. Under the Canadian rule of law, it is the role of government to propose legislation and the role of Parliament to evaluate that legislation and control the government's purse strings, for in our democracy it is Parliament that has the supreme authority over government spending and as parliamentarians we have a fiduciary obligation to Canadians.

When a constituent asks us how much this legislation just voted for actually costs, we have a moral responsibility and a parliamentary obligation to be able to answer that question. This applies to all members of Parliament, including Conservative members. It is important to note that not only is the government keeping opposition members in the dark as to the cost of its legislation, it is also keeping its own Conservative members of Parliament in the dark.

No one should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. As members of Parliament, it is our duty to thoroughly and publicly evaluate the government's spending plans before allowing the government to spend that money. It is our job to make sure that when the government spends Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars, it is done with respect, transparency and in a way that reflects the priorities of Canadians. That is what Canadians elect us to do. That is why we are here. However, without information, we as members of Parliament simply cannot do our jobs.

We live in a wonderful country, but one that is also facing some very serious and complex challenges. As parliamentarians, we must work to manage these challenges. We have a rapidly aging population with growing demands for health care and other government programs. We have a dwindling tax base due to a demographic shift, a dwindling tax base to pay for those services.

Canadians are worried about their pensions and savings and at the same time Canadians are facing dangerous levels of personal debt. Too many simply cannot afford to retire and too many seniors who have retired are living in poverty. Canadian families from coast to coast to coast are struggling to make ends meet. They face rising food prices and other increasing costs of living.

Although the Canadian economy has had a statistical recovery, we are still facing a human recession. For far too many Canadians, full-time jobs have been replaced by part-time work. Our constituents want the government to invest in health care, family care, education, retraining and pensions. At the same time, they want the Conservatives to be held to account because it is the Conservatives who have spent Canada into a record $56 billion deficit.

Therefore, as parliamentarians we must evaluate all of these competing demands for tax dollars while we put Canada back on a path toward balanced budgets, but we cannot make informed decisions between these competing demands if we do not know how much the government's legislation would cost.

In June of last year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report on how much the Conservatives' truth in sentencing act would cost Canadian taxpayers. He estimated the cost at $1 billion a year for the federal government and, on top of that, more than $1 billion a year in costs for provinces. That is more than $2 billion of Canadian taxpayers' dollars each and every year, which must now go toward building prisons instead of providing hospital beds and hiring nurses.

This is despite the fact that the minister has told us this legislation would only cost $90 million over two years. The $2 billion annual price tag is just one of the Conservatives' crime bills. The Standing Committee on Finance responded to this new information by ordering the government to provide the committee with detailed cost estimates for 18 additional Conservative criminal justice bills.

For each crime bill, the committee ordered the government to provide a breakdown of incremental cost estimates; a breakdown of baseline departmental funding requirements, excluding the impacts of the bills; the total departmental annual reference levels; and, a detailed cost accounting analysis and projections, including assumptions for each of the crime bills conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board guide to costing.

We have asked for these detailed cost breakdowns because Canadians have a right to know and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to demand.

How much would these crime bills cost? How much does the government plan to pay? Do the Conservatives plan to reallocate existing money within the department? For example, are we going to see cuts to front-line policing and disaster relief in order to pay for bigger prisons, or does the government plan to find the money elsewhere through cuts to health care or education?

The Conservative government still refuses to provide Parliament with these cost breakdowns. The Conservatives continue to falsely hide behind cabinet confidence without even trying to provide an explanation as to why they believe cabinet confidence applies. They will not provide any explanation because they know their excuses are without merit. By hiding this information, the Conservatives are treating Parliament and indeed all Canadians with contempt.

On February 25, 2011, the Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report evaluating the government's response to the finance committee's request for information on the cost of the 18 crime bills. The PBO report states clearly that the Government of Canada has not provided the finance committee with most of the information that it requested.

In that report, the PBO recognizes that Parliament has a right to the information that has been requested and the report states clearly that this information is, “required for parliamentarians to fulfill fiduciary obligations under the Constitution”.

However, the Conservative government refuses to respect the rules and provide the documents on how much the crime bills would cost.

The government did give us the bare bones annual cost for five of the 18 crime bills, but that is it. The government did not provide us with any cost breakdowns, as requested. The government did not provide the baseline departmental funding requirements that were requested. The government did not provide the total departmental annual reference levels that were requested. The government did not provide the detailed cost analysis required by Treasury Board that was requested by the committee. Nor did the government provide any reasonable explanation as to why none of this information could be provided.

This pathetic response from the government is an affront to Parliament and an insult to Canadians. The government is demonstrating contempt of Parliament and disrespect to taxpayers.

We know from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the financial cost of these bills is in the billions of dollars. We know it is big, but we do not know how big.

As parliamentarians, we find ourselves in the situation where we cannot determine how seriously these crime bills would impact the federal treasury. We cannot make informed decisions between competing demands for money. We do not know how many hospital beds we will be able to afford in the future because we do not know how many prisons the government has effectively committed to build as a result of this legislation. Simply put, we do not have the basic information we need to evaluate the government's books and the government will not explain why it will not provide the documents to Parliament.

Either the government is breaking the rules in order to hide the true costs of its crime legislation from Canadians, or it is a matter of extreme incompetence where the government broke the rules in the first place by never bothering to actually find out how much the crime bills would cost. This is particularly unacceptable at a time when we have a record $56 billion Conservative deficit. Either way, it is clear that the government has broken the rules and is in contempt of Parliament.

Once again, accordingly, and given the finding that a prima facie breach of the privileges of Parliament has been committed by the government for failing to provide the documents as ordered by the House, we ask that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a final determination on the government's compliance, or lack thereof, and that the committee report its findings and recommendations back to the House no later than March 21, 2011.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.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 simply want to suggest that the government believed that the information we provided would satisfy the members opposite in their desire to find information as to the cost of our crime bills, our law and order bills.

However, one thing needs to be discussed here and I hope it is something that would be acceptable to all members. We need to respect, in all cases, cabinet confidence. I know the member for Kings—Hants has argued that a previous government, the previous Liberal government, had released cabinet confidence when requested by the House.

However, Mr. Speaker, I think you would find, historically, that is not the case.

There needs to be respect for cabinet and respect for the information discussed in cabinet. That is fundamental to our democracy. While I can appreciate the member wanting information that would satisfy he and his committee members in trying to determine absolute costs, the member also needs to respect cabinet confidence.

We respect the decision by the Chair, obviously, and we are not challenging that. However, does my hon. colleague believe that cabinet confidence is fundamental to the democracy of Canadian government?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, of course I believe that cabinet confidence is important but it is important that it be used where it really matters and is required.

However, once the decision had been made by a cabinet to bring government legislation to this House, the cost of a government's legislation is no longer cabinet confidence. In fact, once it comes to this House, there is a constitutional requirement, a fiduciary requirement, that parliamentarians need to have the cost of that legislation.

While the cabinet is discussing its legislation, that may be cabinet confidence, but once the government has presented its legislation to this House, it is obligated, under the Constitution, to provide this House and members of Parliament with the costs of that legislation.

Mr. Speaker, as I discussed earlier, we need to make decisions on behalf of Canadian citizens, on behalf of Canadian taxpayers, as to how to spend their money. We have a fundamental responsibility and obligation as parliamentarians to hold the government to account. It is not just opposition members. Conservative members have the same responsibility to hold their government to account. They should be standing and demanding that their government tells them the cost of its legislation.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to hear my colleague from Kings—Hants agree with me that there is such a concept as cabinet confidence.

However, I think it is important to realize, again, as I pointed out in my earlier intervention to his original point of privilege, that cabinet confidence has to be respected in Parliament. What the member is talking about now, though, is information that he needs and his colleagues need in committee to determine whether legislation brought forward by this government is actually not only affordable to the Canadian public but necessary.

I would point out that prior to the decision today, the government provided that information to the opposition. In other words, as I pointed out in my intervention, we provided the information contained within the documents but not the documents themselves.

My question for the member opposition was not whether or not information was or was not provided. It has been clear that information has been provided. My question was whether documents that are considered to be cabinet confidence should have the ability to be protected by confidence, not turned over at the sheer desire of an opposition that may be doing it for strictly partisan purposes.

The question I asked dealt with information versus documents and I did not hear a distinct answer to that question.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not certain where the parliamentary secretary was during the Speaker's ruling earlier today, but if he had been listening he would have heard quite clearly that the Speaker did not agree with the government's position on this.

The Speaker found that there was a prima facie breach of the privileges of Parliament in this case. The Speaker condemned the government's failure to provide all of the information. The Speaker was very clear in his ruling that the government had not provided all of the information requested by Parliament, by the finance committee. In fact, the Speaker went further to say that the government had not provided adequate reasons for not providing the information sought.

Furthermore, the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer said that the Government of Canada “has not provided FINA with most of the information that it requested” and that it has not provided Parliament with any legitimate explanation as to why it has not fulfilled those requests for information.

I disagree completely with the government's abuse of the term ”cabinet confidence”, which does not apply to the costs of government legislation once it is introduced in the House. That parliamentary secretary either does not understand the principle of cabinet confidence or he does not understand the principle of respecting Parliament.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I find the position of the member opposite quite disingenuous. I have been in this House for quite some time and I have had a lot of experience with the Liberal government and what it did.

The member is very familiar with Bill C-68. I put in over 500 access to information requests and many of those were on the cost of that legislation. I have file cabinets full of documents where cabinet confidence was cited as the reason the Liberals would not let me know what the costs were.

I started piecing these all together and I realized that the cost was over $1 billion. The government constantly denied that but used cabinet confidence as the excuse not to reveal the costs to me. Later on, the Auditor General confirmed that I was correct when I cited the fact that the cost was over $1 billion.

That member is being very disingenuous when he says that his government did not use cabinet confidence in hiding costs.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I fear that once again that hon. member was not in the House for your ruling earlier today in which you clearly stated that the government had not fulfilled its constitutional responsibility to provide Parliament with the information requested by the finance committee. Your judgment, Mr. Speaker, was that the government was in breach and that there was a prima facie case of privilege.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, the Liberals did respect cabinet confidence but at the same time we made information available to Parliament that was not protected under cabinet confidence. Liberal governments did do that. There was a higher level of transparency under Liberal governments than under the present Conservative government. In fact, there has been no government in the history of Canada as disrespectful of Parliament as the present Conservative government.

I believe the hon. member was elected initially as a Reform Party member. The principles upon which the Reform Party was founded in terms of respect for Parliament and democracy have been ripped to shreds by the current neo-conservative government that has no respect for Parliament whatsoever. Not only has the Conservative Prime Minister chewed up and spat out on the sidewalk of Canadian democracy the Progressive Conservative Party, he is doing the same to the roots, the cause, the basic fundamentals of the old Reform Party when it came to respect for Parliament.

I would think that hon. member, as a former Reform member, would be demanding a greater level of accountability from the present Conservative Prime Minister and not be so compliant with the Conservative Prime Minister's disrespect for Parliament.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. We want to thank the Chair and the Speaker for his ruling today. Rather than taking up valuable time in the House on this matter, I look forward to the committee considering this motion and reporting back to the House at its earliest opportunity.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I, too, will be brief. The Speaker's ruling says it all, especially when he states, as he did in April 2010, that committees, like the House, have the right to order the production of documents needed for their work.

It is appalling to see that the government did not learn its lesson last April. Once again, not only did it try to keep members of the Standing Committee on Finance from having access to all of the information they needed to do their work, but it tried to cover up this attempt at non-transparency by tabling documents in the House that in no way answered the members' request. That was like adding insult to injury. So I think that the ruling is welcome.

We will be supporting the Liberal member's motion. We hope that the government will agree to work democratically with the committee. My colleague from Outremont could testify to the fact that over the past few days we have seen the Conservatives use every kind of delaying tactic, including filibustering, to keep committees from coming to conclusions.

I invite the government to take note of the ruling by the Speaker of the House and to commit to working with us so that a report can be tabled by the deadline set out in the motion, namely April 21.

The Bloc Québécois will support the motion that was moved following the Speaker's ruling on the question of privilege.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP will be supporting the motion by the member for Kings—Hants.

Like him, I am a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, and like him, I was outraged at the Conservative government's attempts to hide behind the false argument of cabinet confidence.

Just as the member for Kings—Hants was a minister, I was a minister for a number of years in the National Assembly of Quebec, which has the same strict parliamentary rules for cabinet discussions. However, in this case, it is completely beside the point.

We often make the mistake of taking our institutions for granted. Today's courageous decision was made by a Speaker who has sat in the chair for longer than any other Speaker in Canadian history and who is such a unanimous choice that he has now served twice under a government led by a party other than his own. That is the quality of the Speaker we have.

In his courageous decision today, he again stood up for the defence of our institutions, as he did before Christmas, when it was revealed that the staffer of a Conservative member of Parliament, for his own purposes, sent out a confidential report of the same finance committee to a bunch of lobbyists to curry favour with them. That issue was also declared to be a question of confidence, and it is now before another committee. I cannot say more about that.

However, this is a pattern of behaviour that we are starting to see on the part of the Conservatives, a pattern of behaviour that seeks to undermine, to suborn and to damage our parliamentary institutions. With brazen arrogance, they replied that they no longer had to tell Parliament how much things would cost. One of the basic rules of the House is that we get to decide how money is spent. That is one of the most basic things we do here.

The government has the obligation to provide Parliament with information. The hypocrisy of this is the Conservatives were the ones who boasted they would bring in more accountability. They said that they would create an independent authority called the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They shackled him once by saying that he was a subaltern of the parliamentary librarian. Then we found out he was not even going to be able to get his full budget, so he could not hold on to his best staff. Then we found out that, like us, he could not even have access to real information that would allow members of Parliament to do their jobs. This is all about that.

This is about allowing Parliament to perform one of its most fundamental roles: holding the government to account in terms of how it spends public money.

It is not the first time we have seen the Conservatives behave like this, but it is becoming a pattern of behaviour and it is time for the members of the House to stand up to the Conservatives and say “enough”, that they are not going to trammel on our obligations and rights or our ability to get our jobs done in the public interest anymore. This is a fundamental role of Parliament and our democracy.

We again congratulate the member for Kings—Hants for bringing the motion and the Speaker for his courageous ruling. The NDP will be there four square voting for it and working on it to try to have the rights of this institution respected by the Conservative government.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I go back to my riding, the constituents who talk to me at Tim Hortons and other places are very concerned with the fact that Parliament cannot make proper value judgments on the expenditures and plans and perhaps even the upcoming budget because of the fact that the government seems to becoming more and more secretive and protective.

We all know that democracy is a very fragile thing. I believe if this type of behaviour is condoned, it can set our country back dozens, if not hundreds of years. There is a very clear problem. This should never become a country governed by a sovereign or secretive body of some sort, and we see more and more of that by the government.

How does the member see that impacting on our democracy?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member could not have said it better. This goes right to the heart of the ability of this institution to work in the public's interest. The people he is referring to at the local Tim Hortons are the people who are expecting their parliamentarians to check on how their tax dollars are being spent.

The government would not provide the basic information to allow us to make a judgment and the member for Kings—Hants brought this motion. I sit on the same committee as he does and this is repeat behaviour. When Conservative staffers are not leaking out confidential prebudget consultation documents, they are trying to bar us from seeing what we need to do our jobs.

It turned out that this year the finance committee was not even able to table its prebudget recommendations because of the behaviour of the Conservatives. It is the same thing now. They are trying to shackle us and stop us from being able to do our jobs and we are going start fighting it every step of the way.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from Outremont for his support and the support of the NDP for our motion today.

My question for him, as somebody who has served as a cabinet minister in the province of Quebec, is this. Has he ever seen the use of cabinet confidence used to actually deny from Parliament the cost of government legislation?

Does he agree with me that it is fundamentally important that once cabinet has rendered its decision on legislation and has introduced it to Parliament that it provide the cost of that legislation to Parliament to garner support for that legislation? Would he agree with that?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the experience of my colleague from Kings—Hants is the same as mine. Of course that is what it has to do. That is the basic rule in a democracy and that is why the Speaker gave the ruling he gave today.

The Speaker is defending the institution of Parliament and our ability to carry out our fundamental role that we were elected to do. That is what the Conservatives are trying to stop us from doing.

It is a complex issue. I think in our society we tend to believe, because Parliament is there and we get the newscast at night and we see the subject of the day, that it will just continue on like that.

This is an assault on the institution. We are standing up, with the help of the Speaker, who was chosen to represent us and to apply the rules, saying enough of the Conservative government that will not play by the rules. It is a reflection of a profound disdain for democracy. We will start standing up to defend Canadians on this file.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?