Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the question of privilege related to the statements made in the House of Commons by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the ruling you just delivered to the House of Commons. I will read it in detail later, but I wanted to make some introductory comments based on what I have heard today and the debate that preceded this.
We have just now moved the motion of contempt that has been found in the House against the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. As you noted in your ruling, the criteria or threshold that we use in the House of Commons to find a prima facie case of contempt is a very high one. It is in fact not easy to do. Canadians might be surprised by this, but the rules that govern the House, as pointed out by the Conservatives and you, is to give members the benefit of the doubt. In many instances, and it is in the nature of healthy debate, that there are differences of opinion and differences of interpretation of fact, and if every time a member of Parliament were called out in contempt for a variation of evidence, then we would be here all day.
The three criteria that you have laid down are very specific and very difficult to accomplish, as the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has somehow managed to do. It has to be proven that the statement was in fact misleading; that the person who gave the misleading statement knew at the time that it was misleading; and that in giving that misleading statement, the member of Parliament knowingly attempted to mislead the House of Commons and Canadians. To accomplish all three, as the member did not once, but twice, in referring to so-called evidence that he had personally witnessed with regard to the unfair election act, is quite an accomplishment, not one that anyone in the House should seek to do, and yet he has managed to.
The reason we take time in the House this afternoon, and here I suspect some of my colleagues will do so and I would hope that members from the government side would do so as well, to address this issue is that it is now being referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. As to when that committee will take this up, I would suggest that it will be informed not only by your ruling but also by the contributions that have been made to the debate to this point.
I wanted to point out the following very specifically. I know that the government House leader will be very attuned to this, because in defending the Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville, he made a number of points that the committee will have to grapple with in relation to his defence of the member. I will cite this because it has some bearing.
He said the following in response to our question of privilege:
As everyone is, I am sure, aware, the presumption in this House is that we are all taken at our word, that the statements we make are truthful and correct. That we are given the benefit of that doubt brings with it a strong obligation on us, in the cases where a member misspeaks, to correct the record.... In this particular instance, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, has done exactly that. Having misspoken in this House and having realized his comments were in error, he has come to this House and corrected the record. ...The fact that we are even discussing this point of privilege, the fact that it has been raised, is only because the hon. member has taken that duty and obligation seriously, has come to this House and corrected the record.
I have two points on this. One is that it seems that the government's frame of reference on this is to congratulate the member for Mississauga—Streetsville for having knowingly misled the House, to say “way to go”, having misspoke, having misled—and here we are not allowed to use the term “lie”—having done these things, he then came back and said that he maybe misspoke, and then tried to move on.
It seems to me that to congratulate members for having done such a thing, and then to stand for 30 seconds and try to dismiss it, would send the absolute wrong signal to all members who participate in debates, that all someone has to do is to make a big speech and show so-called evidence, and not tell the truth, and then come back two weeks later in this case, and say “I misspoke, let us move on”. It does not work. It does not work for the nature of Parliament, for the nature of this House of Commons.
He suggested in his statements that he does not want to encourage any kind of a chilling effect. Here, let us get the three conditions right: if members are proven to have misled the House, if they knew it at the time that they were misleading the House, and that they intended to mislead the House.
If he does not want to create any chilling effect for anyone doing those things, I have an idea. Do not mislead the House in the first place. Do not knowingly go about spreading mistruths about something as fundamental as our Elections Act. Do not say we should congratulate him, well done, for having spoken about something as fundamental as our election laws in an untruthful manner, and then his coming back and having the courage—a word that I will use carefully—to attempt not once, but twice, to correct the record in some off-handed way.
The reason I come back to this is that we will explore how it was that this sudden, new-found love of the truth came to be. I hope the government will encourage this exploration. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, in his intervention in the debate, said that the member should be congratulated, because he had the ability to come back to try to correct the record, saying that he misspoke. Why did he misspeak?
There have been several media reports, which we have to verify at committee. We would hope to call the member for Mississauga—Streetsville so that he can defend his actions. In the accounts we have since had in the media, such as in The Globe and Mail, Elections Canada was notified, because this is a grievous thing he talked about. I have a few citations from the media, if you seek them, Mr. Speaker.
He said that he witnessed electoral fraud. He said that he watched people take the identifications of other Canadians and take them to some party's headquarters, where it had its volunteers take them and vote with that identification, which actually confuses the different kinds of identification that are mailed to Canadians. I believe that my colleague from Toronto—Danforth may explore this a bit.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville said that he watched all of these things take place. He then used this so-called evidence, which he later admitted was not true, to support the government's unfair elections act. That is the evidence they used.
Perhaps the only reason he came back was that Elections Canada said that a sitting member of Parliament watched electoral fraud take place. It wanted to know more, because it sounded like a problem. Maybe there was a problem with voter ID cards and it should get into this. Maybe it should ask the member to come forward to Elections Canada and to Canadians to explain, first of all, why if he witnessed a crime, he did not report it. That seems to be an interesting thing for a tough-on-crime party.
Second, if he witnessed electoral fraud, why would he not have gone to Elections Canada to say that he saw something terrible happen, that he had watched people being disenfranchised, votes being rigged, and ballots being stuffed into boxes? He did neither of those things. He just used it as evidence in a place we call the House of Commons. One would think he would have used more discretion.
In terms of contempt, it is important to understand that the bar is very high. It has been set by you, Mr. Speaker, and previous Speakers, to guide us as members of Parliament.
There are other instances. You referred to one in your ruling. The former minister of defence, Art Eggleton, was found in contempt after talking about the transfer of Afghan prisoners. He was found in contempt, having knowingly misled the House about something as grievous as that.
Members might remember the infamous memo in which the minister at the time, minister Bev Oda, inserted the word “not” and then later said that it had never happened and was not true, when it was in fact completely true. She denied funding for a group as important as KAIROS. That was the effort there.
We now have the member for Mississauga—Streetsville misleading the House, and knowingly doing so, about something as fundamental as our Elections Act. It is not commendable that the member was forced to come back and admit that what he said was not true. It is serious.
I was somewhat taken aback, as I looked over the government House leader's comments, at how celebratory he was of this moment. We seek the motivation behind this. This is something we will be exploring in the committee. It will be of interest to all members of Parliament and to all Canadians.
The word “contempt” is an interesting notion. It is the frame we use when a member of Parliament goes so far. I thought I would look up the definition, because sometimes we throw these words around somewhat casually. I thought I would seek out the definition. Contempt is:
a feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration or worthless, or deserving scorn....
What we are talking about is not the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. We are talking about Canada's Parliament. When we say that someone has been found in contempt, it is the feeling that a person or a thing, in this case it is the House of Commons, is beneath consideration. It is worthless or deserving of scorn.
We, on this side, do not believe that. We believe that this is, in fact, a sacred place, where we seek the truth. We seek to hold the government to account on its spending measures, its policies, and its laws. The law we are considering right now goes to the heart of all of our efforts to serve the public. All of us here stand in free and fair elections.
We just heard another plea for an emergency debate and much consideration.
I heard my friend from Halifax commend the government for its work and efforts in Ukraine, where there are people fighting and struggling, in a struggle that has left many people dead, to sustain and support the idea that people can have democratic governance. We are debating that very issue when we are debating the government's unfair election act.
To have a member of Parliament who is duly and fairly elected come forward and claim electoral fraud in defence of and justification for that bill, then to have him caught out not having told the truth, then to have the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who, as I am, is meant to respect and hold up the fundamental democratic principles of this place, say that the member is not deserving of condemnation but of praise, having been caught somehow and made some half-apology and then had slightly more contrition, is contempt. That is contempt for this place and for all of us as members of Parliament.
The conditions have been met. I will remind the members of the House of where they and their team take this ruling. On page 75 in Erskine May's A treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament, “parliamentary privilege” is defined as the following: “...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,...”
Without these particular rules in place, we cannot do our job. We have found out that this one piece of evidence the government has been using that actual electoral fraud took place, and therefore we need this bill, and therefore members of Parliament should vote for it, is not true. We take members' word as members of Parliament in good faith, and yet we found it not to be true.
Let us take the words directly from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. He said, in his alleged apology:
...I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6.... I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate [and] I just want to reflect...that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox[es]...of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.
Here is what the member was correcting. He said:
...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....
How the member witnessed them going to other campaign offices is a fascinating bit of evidence to me, but so be it. That will be for him to rationalize. He is visiting other campaign offices, I suppose, or maybe he only had access to one. He continued:
....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?
There it is right there: “Does the Minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?” He said that he had cited a problem of voter fraud. He said that he believed that voter fraud was happening, because he watched it happen, so we needed this piece of legislation to clean up that voter fraud, yes? No. It is not true. This is one piece of evidence the government has used.
We have heard the Minister of State (Democratic Reform), a term I use loosely, time and again on questions put by us, to criticisms placed before him by the Chief Electoral Officer, by experts in voting, and by Preston Manning, for goodness' sake. When we have asked this democratic reform minister about these particular problems with his bill, what did he say? He cited evidence of voter fraud. He cited concerns and conspiracy theories that this is a problem, and that is why we need the bill.
This is a solution looking for a problem, and if they cannot find the problem, they invent it. They mislead the House on the so-called fraud they have seen.
Here is the member's other comment. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville 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.
He has had a lot of time to reflect on this. Does he continue down this path? Did he misspeak earlier, or does he double down on this? It is such a good piece of evidence. A sitting member of Parliament actually watched voter fraud go on and people cheat during elections. Well, he doubled down.
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.
This would stop with their bill. What is going to stop? It is this thing that did not happen. Why would we have the legislation?
If a is not true and we raise concerns b, c, and d, then suddenly, b, c, and d start making a lot more sense. If there is not actual voter fraud going on, if the problems the minister keeps citing and the member for Mississauga—Streetsville keeps mentioning are not going on, then there is something else.
What we see from Neufeld, who wrote the report the minister likes to cite, from Canadians, when asked, and from experts in the field who actually deal with this is that this is a partisan piece of legislation.
It is unprecedented in Canadian history. When reforming our election laws, it has always been the fact that whatever the party, whatever the historical situation, political preference, or debates of the day, the government has always engaged the opposition and Canadians broadly. Why? It is because it is not about the Conservative Party of Canada. It is not about its chances of holding onto its slim majority.
It is about the Canadian people. It is about the democratic society we have built and fought for over generations. That is what this should be about, and it is not in this case.
What do we have here? What has this debate become? What is the House of Commons if, when debating something so critical as our electoral laws and the very legitimacy of governments to make law and pass budgets, MPs mislead the House? They come back a couple of weeks later and say, “Never mind that. I misspoke. Let us move on”, to try to persuade members of Parliament and people watching and listening. These are people who care, who do not become cynical. Lord knows, they have enough reasons to be cynical. They have watched the government destroy the census, fire and muzzle scientists, and ignore facts time and again. If the facts do not fit the argument, the Conservatives switch it around and twist logic to the point of breaking.
We have it here again. It is not easy to do what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville accomplished. He somehow managed to do something that only a few members of Parliament in the history of our country have been able to do, which is to be found in contempt of Parliament.
I do not know how he goes back to his voters and says that he represents them well. That is for him to answer. I do not know how the government House leader, the Prime Minister, and all the people who support him on that side feel good about this situation or feel that they have not stepped a little too far this time and been caught.
Who knew that what we say in this place actually mattered? Who knew that people were actually listening, like Elections Canada, like people who participated in the election where he said he watched fraud happen. Who knew that they were watching, and when they heard that there was electoral fraud in that campaign, they felt that they had better do something about that, because if that was true, it was a problem?
Lo and behold, it was not true. Lo and behold, our words do matter when Elections Canada or whoever it was from the Conservative Party contacted the member and said, “I know what you said, and we bend the truth all the time in the Conservative Party, but you actually may have misled. You may have lied. You have to get back in there and apologize and try to cover this over”.
That is because what it does is discredit all the rest of the arguments being made by the government, by the democratic reform minister, and by the Prime Minister as to the necessity of this bill.
As to the alleged problems it is looking to correct, and we have to say “allegedly”, because it has now been proven that one of the government's central arguments, which was made in the House not once but twice, was not true. It was rumour. It was invented.
The member for Mississauga—Streetsville has a lot to answer for. He will do so at the procedure and House affairs committee. We will call other witnesses who can shed some light as to how this was found out. Did he have a moment?
We see this as grievous. We see contempt for Parliament as one of the worst things a member of Parliament can do to this place and its reputation. We need to restore it, not bring it further down.