Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday of this week, April 3, 2012, you had the honour of tabling in this House the 2012 report of the Auditor General.
The Auditor General, of course, is an officer of Parliament and the reports tabled through you by his office are presumed to be an accurate reflection of the issues his office undertook to examine.
As such, all members of this place operate on the assumption that the contents of the Auditor General's report, tabled by the Speaker, are reliable enough to base not only questions and comments, but also for the government and, if necessary, Parliament, to act upon, whether through administrative reforms or legislative measures. That is my first very simple point.
My second point is that the proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect for the tradition of members. There has to be a presumption that all members of the House are speaking the truth, based upon their knowledge of a particular issue. That assumption is in fact the basis of our parliamentary system.
For generations we have assumed that people could be taken at their word, that when members of Parliament say something in this House, whether they are members of the opposition or members of the executive, we take it as a matter of our ongoing work as parliamentarians that those words are in fact the truth, as members know as they are stating them.
Speaker Fraser, in a decision on a question of privilege, in the Debates of May 5, 1987, stated in part that the institution of Parliament enjoys “the protection of absolute privilege because of the overriding need to ensure that the truth can be told”.
I am beginning from the premise that all members, cabinet members included, who speak in this place are speaking the truth. We have to assume that when the Prime Minister of Canada is speaking in this place, he is speaking the truth. We have to assume that when the Minister of National Defence is speaking in this place, he is speaking the truth. When the Minister of Public Works and Government Services is speaking in this place, she is speaking the truth. When the Associate Minister of National Defence is speaking, he is speaking the truth.
I am reminded of Speaker Milliken's ruling on March 9, 2011, which dealt with the issues of the contradictory statements of the Minister of International Cooperation regarding the Christian charity, KAIROS. In his ruling, where he ruled that there was a prima facie case of privilege, Speaker Milliken said:
—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.
He then went on to quote from a ruling delivered by Speaker Jerome on March 21, 1978, which said:
—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.
At the time the member for Scarborough—Rouge River indicated to the House:
That 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.
Mr. Speaker, Milliken also said:
—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.
The Speaker went on to say that in his view there was sufficient doubt to warrant a finding of prima facie privilege in that particular case.
If these arguments are correct, and I would argue that they are, we have a problem that requires attention, and I believe a ruling with respect to the matter of truthfulness in statements by members of the government is now clearly warranted.
Yesterday I raised this matter as it concerns the Auditor General's 2012 report. Chapter 2 of that report, entitled “Replacing Canada's Fighter Jets”, contains the following at page 3 under the heading “The departments have responded”:
National Defence, Industry Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada have accepted the facts presented in the chapter. Both National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada disagree with the conclusions set out in paragraphs 2.80 and 2.81.
I would draw the House's attention to the last sentence, which states that the two departments in question disagree with the conclusions set out in paragraphs 2.80 and 2.81 of the report of the Auditor General.
Given the severity of the situation that has been raised in regard to the issue of the F-35, and bearing in mind that the two paragraphs to which I will now refer appear in the Auditor General's report under the heading “Conclusion”, I wish to place these two paragraphs on the public record prior to raising the specific matters as privilege. I am quoting now from the Auditor General's report in full. These are the two paragraphs in which we are told by the Auditor General of Canada, which he confirmed this morning in committee when asked this question, that the departments in question challenge the conclusions of the Auditor General, namely paragraphs 2.80 and 2.81:
National Defence did not exercise due diligence in managing the process to replace the CF-18 jets. National Defence did not appropriately consult Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) on the procurement implications of the 2006 MOU for the third phase of the JSF Program or develop an appropriate plan for managing the unique aspects of the acquisition. Problems relating to development of the F-35 were not fully communicated to decision makers, and risks presented to decision makers did not reflect the problems the JSF Program was experiencing at the time. Full life-cycle costs were understated in the estimates provided to support the government's 2010 decision to buy the F-35. Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians.
For emphasis, I am going to repeat that statement:
Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians.
The report then continued:
There was a lack of timely and complete documentation to support the procurement strategy decision.
Paragraph 2.81 reads as follows:
PWGSC did not demonstrate due diligence in its role as the government's procurement authority. Although it was engaged by National Defence until late in the decision-making process, PWGSC relied almost exclusively on assertions by National Defence and endorsed the sole-source procurement strategy in the absence of required documentation and completed analysis.
Those are the two sections, which I have just read into the record.
Since this report was presented to the House, the government, through the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, the Associate Minister of National Defence and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, has responded. The following are representative of the line of argument by the government.
The Associate Minister of National Defence said, “We do in fact accept the conclusions of the Auditor General, and we will in fact implement his recommendations”. The Minister of National Defence said, “We have said that we accept his conclusions”. The Associate Minister of National Defence said, “we accept the conclusions of the Auditor General”. The Minister of Public Works and Government Services said, “I say to the member that our government believes very strongly the Auditor General's recommendations and conclusions were accurate, and we agree with them”. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said, “The government has clearly expressed, through the ministers here, the views we have that we accept the findings of the Auditor General and the recommendations”.
At no point has any member of the government stated in this place that both National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada in fact “disagree with the conclusions” of the Auditor General, a declaration that is clearly self-evident in the report itself.
In fact, as I have indicated, statements made in the House have been categorical. The government, according to the record of this place, accepts the conclusions of the Auditor General, which as a point of fact is misleading, erroneous and, if I may say so, best suited to an unparliamentary term.
The point I raise is not a matter of interpretation and it is not a matter of debate. It is clear that two completely different and contradictory versions of reality are being presented in the House by the government.
In response to oral questions, the government accepts all conclusions of the Auditor General, while in a written submission to the House through its response to the Auditor General's report, the government rejects several critical conclusions of the Auditor General.
These two versions of reality cannot both be true. One in fact must be a falsehood. While it is not for the Speaker to determine what is fact, what is clear is that the two versions of reality leave the House with significant confusion on this issue. Indeed, I would argue that these two versions seem to be an attempt to deliberately confuse the House.
It should be noted that the ministers in this House were apprised of the findings of the report prior to it being tabled in this House, as demonstrated by the fact that the report contains statements from the departments affected and how they have responded.
It is my contention and first argument, based upon the conflicting versions of reality delivered by the government in this place in response to the Auditor General's report concerning the F-35 procurement process, that in fact this is not just a question of my privileges—it is not a question of personal privilege—but a question of the privileges of this House.
I also want to make an additional argument, because I think it is critical that the House comes to grips with this question.
If in fact it is true that the government accepts the conclusions of the Auditor General's report, the Government of Canada is admitting that for a period of 21 months it misled the Parliament of Canada. By way of debate, the government is saying,“Well, it's okay because there are no consequences, there are no financial consequences to this, so it doesn't matter”. One minister of the crown even got up to say, “Don't ask us questions about this. Only ask us questions about something which really matters, like the economy.”
There is nothing more fundamental to this House than the fact that this House be told the truth by its government.
Something else surfaced in the media today.
The Auditor General made a presentation to a parliamentary committee today, but he also said things to the media outside the House. He surprised us all by telling the media that members of the executive council were aware of the facts and of the costs related to the contract even as they attacked opposition members and an officer of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. This means that for a long time, the members of the executive council knew that what they were saying in the House of Commons was not true.
Frankly, I cannot imagine a harsher, clearer criticism of the government. The government cannot say that, while it accepts the conclusions in the report, they do not really matter. If it accepts the conclusions in the Auditor General's report, it must accept the facts that are clearly stated within it: the government did not tell the truth to members of the House of Commons. On the contrary, it repeatedly attacked members and officers of the House even though it knew the truth.
That is why I believe that there is clearly a matter of privilege here.
It is not a matter of privilege for one member of this House alone. This has to do with the fundamental obligation of a government to tell the truth, to tell the truth to Parliament.
The Auditor General has concluded that, in fact, Parliament was misled. If the government accepts that conclusion, I would argue, Mr. Speaker, that you have no alternative but to find that there is a question of privilege.
If the government now recoils and says it continues to object to the two paragraphs that I have read out, then we also have a question of privilege, because what the government is stating in this House is completely contrary to what it is arguing in the document itself. The government cannot have it both ways. We have to be clear on this.
It does not end here. We cannot have a Parliament without truth and without consequences. There has to be a Parliament with truth and with consequences.
Just to be clear, Mr. Speaker, if you find it is a question of privilege, I will be coming forward with a motion for the House to consider, with respect to how we deal with the matter.