Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be here today. As I said earlier, I am rising to make an additional response on behalf of the government to the contempt allegations made by the hon. member for Malpeque on Monday, September 19, further to the initial and, I think, very adequate reply made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
Ultimately the member opposite is making an attempt to block planning efforts for bringing in a bill to give western Canadian grain farmers the marketing freedom our government has committed to giving them. It should come as a surprise to no one, as the parliamentary secretary has mentioned, that this has been a staple of Conservative election platforms.
In May Canadians, including western Canadian grain farmers, gave our government a strong mandate to implement our commitments, including our pledge to give those farmers the freedom to choose how to market their grain.
The two items cited in the member's submissions both relate exclusively to the government's planning efforts in preparing to bring in a bill and to be ready for its subsequent implementation if and when it is passed by Parliament.
Before returning to the bulk of the critic's arguments, I want to briefly address his suggestion that there was a breach of section 47 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act. While I could go on at length that these allegations are false and spurious, it is well established that these questions are beyond the jurisdiction of the Chair. I would refer the House, for example, to page 261 of O'Brien and Bosc, together with the cases noted in footnote 75 there.
At the core of his submissions, the member for Malpeque claims to rely upon the October 10, 1989, decision of Mr. Speaker Fraser at pages 4457 to 4461 of Debates. For the benefit of the House, it may be helpful to recap very briefly what happened in that situation.
The government, having proposed a series of tax reforms but before legislation was tabled in the House, ran full-page newspaper ads about those reforms. The ads in question, which ran in August 1989, opened with the words:
On January 1, 1991, Canada's Federal Sales Tax system will change. Please save this notice. It explains the changes and the reasons for them.
In other words, it was a general broadcast to Canadians that not only presumed that Parliament would adopt these measures but that it would do so in an unamended way. That could not be further from the situation before us respecting the two items cited by the hon. member.
First is the MERX posting, which I hasten to add is a focused form of communication intended for a targeted audience of service providers and very distinct from full-page ads in newspapers of general circulation, which communicate directly with the public and provide authoritative guidance in managing their own affairs.
The document cited seeks an assessment and identification of assets and financial contracts of the Canadian Wheat Board. The purpose of the contract, as noted in the posting, is to:
provide reasonable assurance of the total financial impact of the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
Later on, the notice of description reads that one of the audit's objectives is
to determine the potential financial impact of the repeal of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.
Let me repeat the word that I emphasized, and that is the word “potential”.
The critic for the third party has also taken exception to the comment that such a repeal for the purposes of this audit engagement is “expected to be July 31, 2012”. Again, I should emphasize the word “expected”.
You will note, Mr. Speaker, that it does not use words that prejudice the ultimate decision of Parliament, such as the “will change” line used in the GST ads, but rather that it simply notes a date when such a transition could be “expected” for the benefit of giving certainty to the auditors' terms of reference.
To put it another way, the government is seeking additional information in the nature of quantifying the impact with respect to our very well-publicized proposal to introduce marketing freedom for western Canadian grain farmers. Moreover, if no fixed timeframe was suggested in the scope of the audit exercise, it would serve only to frustrate the original point of generating certain and reliable data in this process of quantifying the impact of the government's long-proposed plan.
I could ask why a Liberal critic is suggesting that an audit should be weakened, but I will move on.
To be clear, this request for proposals, found only on a procurement service website, is part of the government's planning efforts. To suggest that the government should be utterly incapable of consulting outside experts on proposals for significant changes in policies, let alone on a significant change like this, is folly.
Second, the hon. member for Malpeque cited an article in the July 28, 2011, edition of the Western Producer, which made reference to a task force constituted for the purpose of giving the government advice on “issues that are likely to arise once legislation to end the single desk is passed”.
Part of the future scenario the task force is asked to contemplate turns on when such legislation is passed, in order to give focused advice to the government on this scenario.
Again, this is entirely consistent with the planning activities of the government in preparation to implement its electoral commitments to Canadians.
I want to return to Mr. Speaker Fraser's 1989 ruling, in which there is one passage I wish to stress. In coming to his conclusions, Mr. Speaker Fraser said:
I can express my own opinion that the content was obviously drafted in a cavalier manner; there is an element of confidence, if not a boldness, in the use of a phrase as definitive as “save this ad!”.
The hon. member for Cardigan also quoted from a May 29, 2008, ruling of Mr. Speaker Milliken, found on pages 6276 to 6278 of Debates. Key words from the decision quoted here on Monday were that there was no prima facie case of privilege in that case because there was
no misrepresentation of the proceedings of the House or of any presumption of the outcome of its deliberations.
There was, I would argue, no misrepresentation here, nor was there a presumption of what will happen here. Yes, assumptions were set for the scenarios under which planning materials were to be prepared, but these were not presuming the role and place of Parliament to pass legislation.
Next, let me turn to a second decision of Mr. Speaker Fraser on September 30, 1991, found on pages 2920 and 2921 of Debates, respecting government ads respecting the then government's wage offer to the public service workers. This decision allowed him to distinguish his GST rulings. With respect to the wage offer ad, he said:
...where it falls away from being exactly the same or even nearly the same as the ad on the GST is that this is not talking about in my view legislation which “has been passed or is in place”. It is talking about an offer made under circumstances which I think it would be reasonable to assume the government would then have to do whatever was imperative to place that offer into effect in the event that the offer was accepted.
Mr. Speaker Milliken also had an opportunity to add to this field of precedence. In his November 25, 2002, decision on pages 1822 and 1823 of Debates respecting ads about the Kyoto protocol, he opined on the thrust of the original GST advertising ruling by noting:
The suggestion was that these changes were in fact already passed, and the tenor of the advertisement was extremely important in this regard and very important in regard to Mr. Speaker Fraser's ruling, as he said, first of all, that the date was fixed as to when these changes would come in when in fact the act had not been passed by Parliament, and second, that it said to save the notice because there would be no changes, that this was the way the tax would be, that “you can save this notice now knowing that this is the way it is going to be on January 1, 1991”.
It was these two points that were made by Mr. Turner as objections to this particular advertising campaign and with which Mr. Speaker Fraser expressed his grave reservations at the end because of those two particular points.
Later in that ruling, Mr. Speaker Milliken added:
Generally advertising has been permitted, but what has been criticized and was criticized by Mr. Speaker Fraser, and where he had his reservations concerning the advertising campaign, was where the advertisement itself stated that there would be an implementation date and that the material in the ad was the final product. That was the objection.
Of course, Mr. Speaker, the two decisions I have just quoted from relate to advertising, not to consultations sought for the purposes of supporting the government's planning efforts. However, they may nonetheless be of benefit to the Chair in these circumstances.
Picking up on Mr. Speaker Milliken's interpretation here respecting the tenor and the content, I want to underscore that with respect to the two documents cited, they relate to the government's planning efforts. That is their tenor, and the content relates to setting out a particular scenario for these experts to use when generating their analysis and advice.
I would argue that the government must have the ability to plan intelligently, or manage, its proposals for legislative change. What the government has done here is simply an extension of that. On the other hand, what the hon. member for Malpeque is asking for would paralyze the process, and by extension could freeze the statute books, thereby doing far more to impair Parliament than to assist it.
The government will be bringing in legislation on this issue. We have been clear on that. The House will have a chance to debate that important bill, and most certainly it will have a chance to vote on it. Nothing to the contrary has been suggested here.
Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you find there is no prima facie question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Malpeque.