Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to Wednesday's question of privilege from the hon. member for Avalon.
The hon. member argues that subsection 463(2) of the Canada Elections Act should apply to me as a consequence of a request made under subsection 457(2) of the act.
As the government House leader said Wednesday, this issue is effectively a question of accounting interpretation. Some reports have erroneously speculated that the contentious issue between my 2011 campaign and Elections Canada is in relation to transfers between the Selkirk—Interlake Conservative Electoral District Association and my campaign. I can tell the House that this is not accurate.
Elections Canada is in receipt of all documentation relating to these transfers. These transfers include election costs incurred by our campaign but paid for by the association and reimbursed by the campaign. These costs include sign inventory, telephone bills and installation, office rent, new signs, a website and office equipment.
My campaign has complied with the Canada Elections Act. My campaign has been straightforward with Elections Canada and has worked in good faith. All of my documents have been filed in a timely manner, and appropriate amendments were made in accordance with the rules laid out by the act.
This is an accounting dispute between the campaign and Elections Canada regarding the value of certain used highway signs that were originally installed several years ago.
Elections Canada approved my campaign returns for the 2006 and 2000 elections but has now changed its interpretation and is contradicting its own ruling, which is not consistent with the act's provisions.
The Canada Elections Act provides me with the legal ability to challenge Elections Canada. I will be exercising my right to be heard by a court of law. My campaign will be challenging Elections Canada's new interpretation and looks forward to having our return properly adjudicated in a court of law.
As such, I have brought an application to Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench under section 459 of the act. That application was filed on May 23, 2013 in Selkirk, Manitoba. I look forward to receiving a judicial ruling on my campaign return, which will ultimately provide direction to Elections Canada and my campaign to resolve our impasse.
Paragraph 459(1)(a) of the act provides that a judge may make an order “relieving the candidate or official agent from complying with a request referred to in subsection 457(2)”.
Should the court grant my application under section 459, it dispenses with the requirement of section 457(2). In other words, it would be as if there never was any condition precedent triggering subsection 463(2) of the act.
It is my understanding, Mr. Speaker, that you have adopted, in my view, the clearly correct position that the bringing of proceedings under section 459 acts as a stay on subsection 463(2).
Page 307 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, describes the Speaker's role:
...to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.
I believe that your position on section 459 upholds the rights of members under the Canada Elections Act and as members of the House. In any event, Mr. Speaker, you would not be alone in that interpretation of the effect of section 459.
In the Chief Electoral Officer's May 23 letter to you, a document that is circulating in the public domain through the media, Marc Mayrand appears to agree that an application under section 459 has that material impact, namely that subsection 463(2) is put into abeyance pending the resolution of a court challenge.
In the fifth and sixth paragraphs of his letter, Mr. Mayrand says:
A person who has received a request under subsection 457(2) may make an application to court seeking relief from the requirement to make the correction. However, to my knowledge, no application has been made in this case.
In the event that the corrected returns or an application to a court is subsequently filed, I will advise you accordingly.
Later, on May 27, Stéphane Perrault, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, wrote to you. My counsel was copied on the letter, so I have a copy. I am hesitant to quote from private correspondence, but I think it is important in making my case.
In the last paragraph of the first page, Mr. Perrault said of the letter from May 23 I quoted earlier:
The purpose of the letter was to provide to you, as Speaker of the House of Commons, the information that would assist you in taking whatever action or position you believe to be appropriate in the circumstances. This includes whether it would be appropriate for [me] to continue to sit pending the outcome of an application under s. 459, should one be filed (to date, we have not received notice of such an application).
When I say “me”, I mean me as the member for Selkirk—Interlake.
As I said earlier, my application was filed on May 23. Mr. Speaker, the filing of my application was finally confirmed to you by the Chief Electoral Officer in his letter to you dated May 30.
My application is now before the courts. Therefore, I would respectfully submit that the sub judice convention should be respected.
Citation 505 of Beauchesne's parliamentary Rules & Forms for the House of Commons of Canada, sixth edition, advises that:
The purpose of this sub judice convention is to protect the parties in a case awaiting or undergoing trial and persons who stand to be affected by the outcome of a judicial inquiry. It is a voluntary restraint imposed by the House upon itself in the interest of justice and fair play.
O'Brien and Bosc, at page 100, comment on the sub judice convention in the context of questions of privilege:
The sub judice convention is important in the conduct of business in the House. It protects the rights of interested parties before the courts, and preserves and maintains the separation and mutual respect between the legislature and the judiciary.
Meanwhile, Erskine May, 24th edition, at page 441, succinctly lays out the following proposition:
Subject to the discretion of the Chair and to the right of the House to legislate on any matter or to discuss any matters of delegated legislation, matters awaiting the adjudication of a court of law should not be brought forward in debate.
Mr. Speaker, your own ruling on March 27, 2013, at pages 15292 and 15293 of the Debates, described a very clear parallel to my circumstances today. You said:
As Speaker, I must endeavour to find a balance between the right of the House to debate a matter and the effect that this debate might have. This is particularly important given that the purpose of the sub judice convention is to ensure that judicial decisions can be made free of undue influence.
Later in your ruling, sir, you concluded the following:
...the fact remains that the heart of this question of privilege is still before the courts, which have yet to make a finding. I believe that it would be prudent for the House to use caution in taking steps that could result in an investigatory process that would, in many ways, run parallel to the court proceedings, particularly given that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is already a party to the court proceedings and would be a central figure in any consideration the House might give this matter.
Like the hon. Attorney General in the case from three months ago, I am clearly a party to these court proceedings, and I have a very clear interest in their outcome, an interest that is of proportionally greater personal significance to me than the Attorney General's in that case.
In this instance, though, any finding of a prima facie case of privilege would not only amount to a parallel proceeding but would also interfere with the outcome of my court application. A decision by this House would clearly prejudice my interest in court, which prompts me to reference the sub judice convention.
The torqued rhetoric from some members in this chamber and outside crosses the line on two fronts. I think it violates my privileges as a duly elected member of Parliament for Selkirk—Interlake, and it jeopardizes my right, guaranteed under the Constitution, to a fair court process.
The opposition parties always say they respect the law and stand up for the Constitution, and they cry foul whenever they think their parliamentary privileges have been violated. However, they never think, not for a minute, about throwing all of that out the window for partisan purposes when they try to deny me my basic rights and compromise my due process in court.
Let me be very clear. I have not broken any law. I believe that I am in compliance with the Canada Elections Act.
My election as a member of Parliament was confirmed by the returning officer and the Chief Electoral Officer. The return of the writ is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the accounting method that should be applied to used highway signs, and that matter is before the court. This dispute does not change the fact that I have been returned as the member of Parliament for Selkirk—Interlake.
In conclusion, I would respectfully submit that the chair can dispose of this issue on the grounds of the role section 459 of the Canada Elections Act plays, an interpretation apparently shared by the Chief Electoral Officer, an officer of Parliament, and his deputy, and also under the sub judice convention.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to reject the baseless and cynical question of privilege claimed by the hon. member for Avalon.