Mr. Speaker, I do rise on a question of privilege. I rise today pursuant to Standing Order 48(1).
It has been demonstrated that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has deliberately misled the House. Given the seriousness of the matter, it is my duty as a member of Parliament and House leader for the New Democrats to bring the matter to the attention of the Chair and to the House. Members of the House are well aware of the rights and immunities afforded to parliamentarians, so that they may carry out their duties as members of Parliament. However, for the sake of clarity, let me remind my colleagues that on page 65 in Erskine May' s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, “parliamentary privilege” is defined as:
...the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively...and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions....
What I believe we are looking at here is a contempt of Parliament, one that is an offence against the authority and dignity of this House, one that chips away at the foundation of our parliamentary democracy and the requisite for healthy and honest debate. This is a serious charge. We take it seriously. We would insist that the government also do so.
Let me take a moment to provide the House with an account of what has taken place. In hearing my remarks, Mr. Speaker, I will ask you to find that the grounds exist that this is a prima facie contempt of Parliament, at which point I will be prepared to move a motion to have the matter referred to the appropriate committee for further study.
Yesterday morning, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville rose in the House and said the following:
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act.
I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.
Let us take a look at what it was that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said in the debate on February 6 while the House was debating the government's unfair elections act at second reading, under time allocation imposed by the current government. It seems clear-cut to me and to others that the member was providing misleading statements in the House, given what he told the House just yesterday. In a question for the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said:
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again.... On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
Does the minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?
Later in the day, the member rose again to mislead the House during the questions and comments portion of his own speech. He said:
Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding. I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.
The context of this, and why this is equally important to the fact that the member misled the House, is that he misled the House to justify the reason his government has brought in its unfair elections act. He has brought evidence forward as a member of Parliament, whom we take on faith as telling the truth when he does it, saying this is the reason the government has brought in this bill, to end the vouching system that some tens of thousands of Canadians use properly, by claiming there is evidence of voter fraud that he has seen and witnessed and brought forth as evidence to this House. That is a serious charge. It is a serious charge and may sway members of this House to, in fact, support the government's legislation, when they ought not to if it were not the truth.
Members must know that they have the information needed to do their job well, which is to represent their constituents. The government wasted no time in passing Bill C-23 in the House at second reading by using a time allocation motion. Now, it is fast-tracking it through the committee stage without having heard from interested Canadians and members of civil society from across the country.
To think that it is somehow acceptable for members of the government to come into the House and make up stories as justification for the supposed merits of this terrible bill is totally ludicrous and should not be allowed to simply pass, by having the member rise more than two weeks after the fact, during a private member's business hour, and reveal to the House that this was all, in fact, untrue.
In his ruling on February 1, 2002, on a similar matter, Speaker Milliken stated:
The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.
The authorities to which Speaker Milliken was referring include, but are not limited to, the following: House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states, on page 115:
Misleading a Minister or a Member has also been considered a form of obstruction and thus a prima facie breach of privilege.
Page 63 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May states:
...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
Erskine May is even more precise when a member later admits that the statements he or she made were not true. On page 111 of Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, 22nd edition, it states:
The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. In 1963 the House resolved that in making a personal statement which contained words which he later admitted not to be true, a former Member had been guilty of grave contempt.
Mr. Speaker, on May 7, 2012, and in a handful of rulings since, you have stated the following regarding the conditions that have emerged surrounding misleading statements in the House, which I will cite:
It has become accepted practice in this House that the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House: one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House.
That is a clear and high bar to prove all of those three conditions in order to find a contempt of Parliament: that the statement has to be untrue, that it has to be established that the member knew it at the time to be untrue, and that when making this untruthful statement to the House, the member was intending to mislead the House. This seems to me a very straightforward case, and I am sure all members of the House would agree.
The first of these conditions has been met, since the proof that the statement was misleading comes directly from the member himself when he admitted that what he said on February 6 was false. The second condition has been met since the statements in question have to do with what the member of Mississauga—Streetsville did or did not personally witness. On February 6, he told the House that he was relating something to the House that he had actually seen and then yesterday told us he had in fact not seen these things at all. What we are talking about is voter fraud, something very serious and not casual.
The third of these conditions has been met since there can be no other explanation as to why the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made the misleading statements that he did over two weeks ago, other than to deliberately and intentionally mislead the House on an important piece of legislation that affects all Canadians. He clearly intended to mislead the House by fabricating a story and then tried to use it to justify why members should be voting in favour of the Conservatives' unfair elections act.
Members of the House will remember a case in 2001-02 in which my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, among others, argued that Senator Eggleton—who was defence minister at the time—had deliberately misled the House. It happened during question period, when he was responding to questions regarding how much he knew about when exactly prisoners captured by Canadian troops in Afghanistan were transferred to the Americans.
Speaker Milliken ruled that there was a prima facie case of privilege and referred the issue to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study.
After hearing a former clerk of the House, Bill Corbett, testify about the issue, the committee indicated the following in its 50th report to the House:
...it is not uncommon for inaccurate statements to be made in the course of debate or Question Period in the House. The issue is whether the statements were made deliberately, with the intent of misleading the House or its Members. In the case where a Member later admits to having knowingly provided false information...the issue of intent is clear.
Mr. Speaker, let me repeat that last sentence because it is important in satisfying the conditions you have set out.
In the case where a Member later admits to having knowingly provided false information...the issue of intent is clear.
We are at the point in the life cycle of the current Conservative government where it seems to be out of gas and spinning its wheels. Bill C-23, the unfair elections act, is creating solutions to problems in our voting system that do not exist, when the real problems of our electoral system have often been the ones the Conservatives have perpetrated on the Canadian public.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville went so far as to make up a story to try to persuade members to vote a certain way on this flawed bill. Time and again, the Conservatives' lack of judgment and these types of dirty tricks are exposed. However, despite all of this, instead of changing their behaviour to fit the rules of the game, they are changing the rules of the game in order to fit their bad behaviour.
In a ruling on October 19, 2000, regarding misleading statements made in the House, Speaker Parent stated:
Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.
Mr. Speaker, with the strongest and clearest evidence at out disposal, I would urge you to find that a prima facie case of contempt of Parliament has occurred, at which point I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion to have this case referred to the standing committee.
This bill is a contempt on the voting public. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville has performed a contempt in this House. It is a sad and perhaps tragic irony, but it is a fact. The conditions that this House has laid out—you yourself included, in your statements and rulings to guide all members in the way we conduct ourselves—are the conditions we have applied to this case. It is clear in all three of those very precise indications and tests that the member has misled the House knowingly, which is a prima facie case of contempt. The fact that he did it in a bill that is meant to disrupt and perhaps further erode the confidence of Canadians about our electoral system is tragic.