Mr. Speaker, I want to provide some additional comments to those I provided in a preliminary way to the question of privilege that was raised by my former NDP counterpart, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. It has been awhile since the two of us have debated a privilege question, so I am pleased to have this opportunity.
Having reviewed, however, the hon. member's arguments and the precedents on the point, I have no hesitation in saying that there is no prima facie case of privilege here. If anything, the whole question of privilege is nothing but an attempt to deflect attention away from the excellent address that my colleague, the Minister of Finance, made last week and the news it contained, which was news about the strong state of our government's finances, the imminent elimination of the deficit and the relative success of the Canadian economy in the face of very uncertain global economic circumstances. This is news that Canadians were delighted to hear from the Minister of Finance.
However, on the question of privilege relating to that statement being delivered where it was, I would like, from the outset, to read a passage from page 444 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition. It states:
A Minister is under no obligation to make a statement in the House. The decision of a Minister to make an announcement outside the House instead of making a statement in the House during Routine Proceedings has been raised as a question of privilege, but the Chair has consistently found no grounds to support a claim that any privilege has been breached.
There are a couple of points raised by the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley which I specifically want to address.
First, the NDP finance critic argued that the economic and fiscal projections should have been presented to the House “as is custom”. Let me remind the hon. member that since the tradition of an annual economic update started a couple of decades ago, only two updates have been given here in this chamber in the House of Commons. That was back in 2000 and in 2008. No other economic fiscal updates have been delivered in this chamber.
Since the hon. member wanted to take the House down memory lane yesterday, I would like to reciprocate the gesture by reminding him of our government's effort to present the 2007 economic update in the chamber. In fact, we did try to do that. I did at the time seek to get the consent of the other parties to do so. Unfortunately though, since that required unanimous consent, it was notable that there was one party that denied consent to have the economic and fiscal update delivered on the floor of the House of Commons. If the NDP finance critic were to ask his predecessor from the time, and that is the hon. member for Outremont, ironically, he would learn that consent was actually blocked by the NDP.
There is some irony in the New Democrats' standing in the House and complaining that the economic and fiscal update was not delivered here when in the past they have been responsible for the fact that it was not delivered in this chamber when this very government sought to do exactly that.
First, I have often remarked that “do as I say, not as I do” has been the watchword of the NDP's approach to life in the House. That is indeed the case here. In fact, I mentioned that only 2 out of the 20 economic and fiscal updates have been delivered here in the chamber. However, that number would have been higher were it not for the NDP blocking more of them from happening right here in this chamber and setting in place the tradition of it now travelling around the country to communities where people can hear about the good news from our government.
Second, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley cited a “complaint” that was raised in March 1977 to Mr. Speaker Jerome. Let me offer instead quotations from two rulings your learned predecessor gave that same month.
Ruling on a question of privilege from the then NDP leader Ed Broadbent, arguing that the Liberal transport minister should have announced a new policy in the House, Mr. Speaker Jerome said, on page 3579 of the Debates from March 2, 1977:
The only question is whether the minister has a discretion to choose to make statements outside or inside the House.
Not only is it clear that any minister would enjoy that discretion, in fact the language of the Standing Order says particularly that, when the procedures of the Standing Order are to be taken advantage of, a minister of the Crown may make a statement inside the House. That is the language that is used. His discretion, therefore, is not only, as always, to take whatever action he wants outside the House; the discretion even is one of an option for the minister to use the House for that purpose....
The language of the precedents is very clear. Nothing in the Standing Orders in any way interferes with the minister's discretion.
Later that month, on March 31, 1977, Mr. Speaker Jerome said, at page 4515 of the Debates, “The matter seems to have been canvassed rather thoroughly, again”. He went on to say:
—the precedents have been made clear in the past and the language of the Standing Order remains clear that a minister may make a statement in the House...
Then he went on to say:
Clearly, it is optional. So long as the Standing Order remains unchanged, the precedents remain applicable. There is no possibility of the Chair finding on a question of privilege. It would run directly counter to the interpretation of the Standing Order that has been upheld several times...
With respect to my comments yesterday that the Minister of Finance's economic update was not required by any rule of this House, in that sense it is very different from a budget in the budget debate, which is not specifically contemplated in Standing Orders, the Chair may wish to note Madam Speaker Sauve's ruling, on August 4, 1982, at page 20017 of the Debates. She said:
I must remind hon. members that the members of the executive, the government, have the choice of announcing whatever they want to announce in any way they choose unless they are required under the Standing Orders to do otherwise. Of course, this particular area and this particular matter is not covered by the Standing Orders, and therefore although members might not approve of the way the minister has decided to announce...the hon. minister has the choice of his means.
Now, lest the member attempt to argue that given the economic nature of the Minister of Finance's speech, everything changes, let me be clear that it does not.
As I said yesterday, the Department of Finance routinely publishes a number of reports and statistics, year-round. The reports include the "Fiscal Monitor", the "Official International Reserves", the "Quarterly Finance Reports" and, occasionally, private sector forecasts received, to name a few. None of these is the subject of speeches delivered in the House by the Minister of Finance. I am sure, in view of the good news they would usually contain, the NDP would undoubtedly, as it did in 2007, refuse necessary consent for an address of that type.
Following a speech given outside of the House by the former finance minister, Paul Martin, a speech that talked about Canada's financial circumstances and the state of the surplus, Deputy Speaker Peter Milliken, as he then was, opened his September 20, 2000, ruling, at page 8414 of the Debates, with these words. He said:
The Chair has listened to the arguments advanced by the hon. members on this point. I have to say that when this particular chair occupant was in opposition I raised the same point. I am familiar with the argument but I am also familiar, unfortunately, with Speakers' rulings on this point, so I have some bad news for the members who raised this issue.
Mr. Milliken's comments echoed those of Mr. Speaker Jerome, at page 2792 of the Debates , on February 1, 1979. He said:
The hon. member for St. John's West, (Mr. Crosbie), raises a familiar question of privilege related to the action of ministers making statements elsewhere. I say it is familiar, because it is as old as the history of parliament.
The question of privilege from the NDP finance critic is just, as I said, an effort by the NDP to distract from the following key facts: that our government's latest tax cuts and benefits represent close to $27 billion back in the pockets of families over this year and the next five years. In fact, we had a vote in the House on a ways and means motion on just that question. Of course, the NDP and the Liberals opposed those measures.
It is also an effort to detract from the fact that every Canadian family with children under the age of 18 will have more money in their pockets because of these tax reductions and benefits and, of course, the good news that the overall federal tax burden is now at its lowest level in over half a century.
These are certainly things the NDP does not want Canadians to know. That is why they do not want the Minister of Finance talking about it anywhere outside Ottawa, anywhere out where Canadians are doing their normal business, anywhere where Canadians are trying to work hard and make ends meet and appreciate the help that our government is delivering to them.
It is disappointing to see the NDP members disguising that effort to distract behind this bogus question of privilege, which is steeped in the irony of the fact that it is only the NDP that has ever refused the consent necessary to have these kinds of statements delivered in the House and now complain that they are not always delivered in the House.
It is quite clear to me, Mr. Speaker, that no prima facie case of privilege can be found in this case. The facts do not support it, history does not support it and certainly any consistency of behaviour from the NDP does not support it.