Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order arising from an order paper question that I submitted. The question that I posed was quite simple and, for the record, I will read the question and the answer provided in their original parliamentary form. The question reads:
With regard to websites accessed on the personal departmental desktop computers, laptop computers, mobile phones, tablet computers, or other internet-enabled devices issued to the Minister of Justice and to the Minister of Public Safety: (a) what are the URLs of all websites accessed on said devices between 12:01 a.m. on February 1, 2012, and 12:01 a.m. on February 14, 2012 (all dates and times inclusive), listed by ministry; and (b) at what times were those websites accessed, listed by ministry?
The answer, as provided by the Conservative government, reads:
Bill C-30 does not modify the fact that such information would have to be obtained pursuant to a court order or other lawful authority. Therefore, the information requested will not be provided.
However, as an example, under the proposed legislation, Bill C-30, the following is what would be available to law-enforcement officers.
It then proceeds to list the name of the Minister of Public Safety and the member of Parliament for Provencher, his address, his email address, his telephone number, his IP address and his service provider, Public Works and Government Services Canada.
The response given by the ministers has no link to the question asked. In fact, I was provided answers to questions which I did not pose. I made no mention of Bill C-30 in my question. I did not ask for the IP address or the email addresses of the ministers. I certainly did not request their phone number, mailing address or the name of their service provider. What I did ask for was specific information related to websites accessed by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety from their government issued laptops, desktop computers, tablets and other devices provided and paid for by the taxpayers of Canada. These are not personal instruments of communication. They are the property of the government, paid for by taxpayers. They are not exempt from disclosure.
On this point, we know from media reports that regular accountability audits are conducted by the Government of Canada with respect to the computer usage of public servants, the same public servants who work for ministers. These audits are done to ensure public and government business is being conducted properly and that the websites accessed by public servants are material and relevant to their work. If that type of accountability is necessary for public servants, why not for ministers? It would be difficult to imagine what specific national security provisions would need to be invoked, or should I say invented, that would prevent the public from knowing if ministers access, for example, websites like CNN or even, one can imagine, the CBC?
The government does not have the right to decide which questions to answer and which ones to ignore without explicit legislative authority. Such authority does not exist in this instance.
The failure of the Conservative ministers to answer my question posed under the rules of the House of Commons is a matter of great concern. When I posed my question I was direct and specific. The ministers in question completely avoided answering my direct question and t instead chose to provide answers that had nothing to do with my question. The answers provided are, to be frank, bizarre.
The right of a member of Parliament to ask questions to hold the government to account is fundamental to the very notion of accountability in democracy. I, therefore, request that the Speaker check into this matter and consider providing me with an extra question while the minister revisits and prepares a new accurate answer.