Mr. Speaker, as I was saying when I got up before, I listened with interest to the point of privilege raised by the Liberal House leader with regard to his stolen rocket toys, and I was tempted to say that you were being invited to boldly go where no Speaker before has gone, or perhaps that the Liberal leadership campaign is heading to the ends of the earth, to infinity and beyond.
In any event, I feel compelled to rise to respond briefly to last Tuesday's remarks from the hon. members for Scarborough—Guildwood and Malpeque in relation to the question of privilege from the hon. member for Toronto Centre relating to the Auditor General's spring 2012 report.
The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood suggested that there is much confusion. After reviewing his comments, I want to help him out with the clear argument I advanced.
First, both hon. members attempted to associate my comments with the notion that ministerial accountability has been dispensed with. That is, of course, patent nonsense. My comments about a distinction between officials and ministers related to the content of the Auditor General's report, and I reference the Auditor General's own publication on how his reports are prepared. As those two hon. members should recall, the issue was one of the branches of their own leader's argument.
Ministerial accountability remains a key principle in our form of government. To give just one example of this, the government's expenditures are presented to Parliament for approval through the estimates process. Expenditures on a replacement for our CF-18 fleet will, if and when such a purchase is undertaken, come to Parliament like all other government expenditures, including, I would note, our current operational costs for CF-18s.
Ministers defend estimates here in the House and at committee. Indeed, I understand, for example, that the hon. Minister of National Defence has made no less than eight committee appearances on National Defence estimates, including one right here in committee of the whole in this chamber.
Next, some of the quotations offered last Tuesday were taken badly out of context. I want to point to a couple. First, both the leader of the third party and his defence critic have quoted from a March 9, 2011, decision of Mr. Speaker Milliken. It might be worth observing that the quotation offered comes from the portion of his ruling where he was summing up the arguments that had been made. It did not come from the portion that was his actual decision. Therefore, the probative or useful content of that in terms of representing the ruling is obviously minimal.
In my opening comments a week ago, I summed up the arguments of the leader of the third party for the purpose of marshalling my own comments, which followed. However, the hon. member for Malpeque seemed to quote that back the next day, as if I were saying that Parliament was misled. No, that is the exact opposite of the conclusion of my comments. To quote me quoting the leader of the third party is hardly an instructive view of what I was representing to this House. I will not further rebut those or other comments, although I could. I simply wanted to get all of that on the record.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are taking this issue very seriously, and that you will undoubtedly be thoroughly reviewing what has been put before you.
As for the speech given by the hon. member for Toronto Centre on Thursday afternoon, I think my comments from a week ago effectively address his intervention.
Before sitting down, I do want to cut through the clutter of the debating points that were offered to remind ourselves what the substance is of a ruling on a question of privilege. Citation 117, subsection 2 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, advises that:
It has often been laid down that the Speaker's function in ruling on a claim of breach of privilege is limited to deciding the formal question, whether the case conforms with the conditions which alone entitle it to take precedence over the notices of motions and Orders of the Day standing on the Order Paper, and does not extend to deciding the question of substance—whether a breach of privilege has in fact been committed....
In other words, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Toronto Centre is seeking from you permission to give priority treatment to a motion to refer this issue to a committee to study. Curiously, he is seeking to do something that had already started when he raised this issue on April 5.
As I said last Monday, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is now seized with the study on the Auditor General's report. While I am on my feet, perhaps it would be useful to give an update on this committee's work. At its planning meeting last Tuesday, it was agreed to have the Auditor General appear before the committee, appear one more time, I might add. Mr. Ferguson appeared on Thursday morning for the second time this month. Moreover, deputy ministers and senior officials are scheduled to attend tomorrow.
In closing, let me commend to the chair the February 25, 2004, ruling by Mr. Speaker Milliken, which I quoted from last week. As I said last week, let us let the public accounts committee get on with its important work.