Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege, pursuant to section 48(1) of the Standing Orders. The matter I wish to raise is, in my view, very serious.
The Speaker and his predecessors have ruled on numerous occasions that deliberately misleading the House is a grave affront to the rights and privileges of this place. I believe that the member for Crowfoot, the Minister of State for Finance, has deliberately and repeatedly misled the House in interventions made in the House of Commons, specifically those regarding the repercussions of the NDP's plan to increase the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan.
Members of the House are well aware of the rights and immunities afforded to parliamentarians so that they can carry out their duties as members of Parliament. However, for the sake of clarity, let me remind my colleagues that on page 75 of Erskine May's A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, “parliamentary privilege” is defined as follows:
...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 the House, and one that chips away at the foundation of our parliamentary democracy and the requisites for healthy debate.
Let me take a moment to provide the House with an account of what has taken place. Following my remarks, I will ask you to find this as a prima facie case of 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.
On December 9, 2013, the House was debating an NDP opposition day motion, placed in my name, asking the government to support a “phase-in of increases to basic public pension benefits under the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans” ahead of the meeting of finance ministers that took place in December 2013. This we asked in the face of a serious retirement crisis facing this country, and an apparent consensus at that time of provincial and territorial finance ministers that such a measure was necessary to ensure the income security of retired Canadians.
During the debate of this motion, the Minister of State for Finance said the following:
Departments have said that under the NDP plan, up to 70,000 jobs will be lost. That is straight from Finance Canada. They have also talked about other provincial plans, whereby between 17,000 and 50,000 jobs would be lost. Those are not figures we alone are citing; those are the figures cited by finance departments.
He then went on to state:
...Finance Canada officials estimate that the NDP plan would kill up to 70,000 jobs.
The hon. member repeated that figure today.
He also said, referring to a Prince Edward Island plan to increase the CPP:
One recent provincial proposal, according to Finance Canada, would threaten and could kill between 17,000 and 50,000 jobs.
These misleading numbers were repeated by the minister of state in the media, notably in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Financial Post on December 4, 2013. The op-ed was also put on the finance department website until the media noted its partisan nature, and it was subsequently removed.
Documents obtained through an access to information request and released late last week have now revealed that the Minister of State for Finance was deliberately drawing false conclusions about alleged job losses associated with the increase in CPP. There is not, in fact, any study of the NDP or the P.E.I. plans for CPP expansion. The minister of state suggested that the finance department had assessed the NDP and P.E.I. plans, when in fact it had done no such thing. The numbers used by the minister of state have no relation to either of these plans and, in truth, come from studies of a plan that does not exist, a plan “fully implemented in one year, without prior notification”.
To be clear, the numbers given by the Minister of State for Finance come from a study based on the assumption that the expansion of the CPP would occur within one year without notification to employers. However, the P.E.I. and NDP plans both propose phase-in periods to avoid any shock to the economy. The minister of state knew this, yet he misled the House by omitting to note that the basic assumption behind his numbers was different from the real NDP and P.E.I. plans. Thus, the minister of state was making misleading statements when he said that the job loss numbers he used referred to the NDP and P.E.I. plans. They did not.
It is important to note that this is not an issue of whether the studies in question are accurate; that is not a matter of debate. This, rather, is a question of whether the minister of state misrepresented the very studies he cited. He said that there were studies of the NDP and P.E.I. plans to expand the CPP; there were not.
For the record—and this is likely beyond the scope of your mandate, Mr. Speaker, to rule on this situation—the minister of state also completely omitted the fact that according to internal research by the federal Department of Finance, there would in fact be economic benefits from expanding the Canada pension plan. A briefing note from the Department of Finance from December 13, 2013, addressed to the then minister of finance said:
In the long run, expanding the CPP would bring economic benefits. Higher savings will lead to higher income in the future and higher consumption possibilities for seniors.
Mr. Speaker, there is an extremely disturbing trend with the Conservative government of deliberately providing misleading information to the House to justify wrong-headed policies. You will recall that it was barely a few weeks ago that you ruled that there was prima facie contempt of the House when the member for Mississauga—Streetsville falsely stated that he had witnessed cases of fraudulent voting when in fact he had not, all to justify his party's misguided unfair elections act.
Once again we have learned that the Minister of State for Finance provided misleading information to parliamentarians and the public at a crucial point in time when federal and provincial ministers were debating the expansion of the Canada and Quebec pension plans. He made up numbers to justify his government's ideological opposition to the NDP's plan. Once again we see a case of a government that invents partisan-based facts to refuse to elaborate good, evidence-based policies. It is irresponsible for the government to maintain the facts around the CPP and QPP when our country is facing a retirement crisis.
Mr. Speaker, members need to be certain that they are receiving the information they need to adequately represent voters, and they must be able to have confidence in the information provided, especially when it is provided by ministers and ministers of state. Likewise, the Canadians who follow the debates and who count on their MPs to make laws need to be able to believe in the truth of the information shared in this place.
To think that it is somehow acceptable for members of the government to come into the House and make up stories as justification for their wrong-headed policies is simply ludicrous and should not be allowed to simply pass by unnoticed. That is why I am raising this question today, hoping the necessary measures will be taken so that the situation does not repeat itself in the future.
In his ruling on February 1, 2002, in an analogous 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 the Speaker was referring include, but are not limited to, 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 as follows:
...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, on March 3, 2014, you ruled that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was in prima facie contempt of the House for providing misleading information. This is what you stated:
This incident highlights the primordial importance of accuracy and truthfulness in our deliberations. All members bear a responsibility, individually and collectively, to select the words they use very carefully and to be ever mindful of the serious consequences that can result when this responsibility is forgotten.
You also recalled that members:
...must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided in order to perform their parliamentary duties.
Let me also remind the House that on that day as well, as in a handful of rulings since 2011, you had stated the following regarding the conditions that have emerged surrounding misleading statements in the House:
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.
This seems like a very straightforward case, and I am sure all members would agree. The first of these conditions has been met, since the minister of state claimed in the House that the Department of Finance had estimated that the NDP plan to increase the CPP and QPP would kill jobs across Canada, when in reality his number did not at all come from a study of the NDP plan, and the finance department actually concluded that expanding the plan would bring long-term economic benefits and higher income for seniors. This we now know, thanks to documents released through an access to information request by the Canadian Labour Congress.
I believe the second of these conditions is also met, since the minister of state had access to the entire study and thus knew that the numbers he used as projected results of the NDP plan came in fact from a completely different study of a plan that did not exist and that was significantly different from the NDP plan. However, the minister of state chose to misrepresent the facts, which brings me to say that the third condition is also present.
The minister of state deliberately chose to bring these so-called facts to the House and repeatedly stated that the numbers from the Department of Finance applied to the NDP and P.E.I. plans to expand the CPP, even if he knew that was not the case.
Why would he do this? I believe it is obvious. Just as when the member for Mississauga—Streetsville wrongfully said he had witnessed cases of voter fraud to justify his government's unfair elections act, in the present case the minister of state used these misstatements of fact to justify his government's wrong-headed opposition to a policy that many experts and provincial governments believe to be key in addressing Canada's retirement crisis.
Members of this 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.
We have come to the point in the Conservative government's life cycle when the Conservatives are simply spinning their wheels. We saw it with the unfair elections act, when they created solutions to problems that do not exist and made up stories in the House to try to persuade members to vote a certain way on that flawed bill. Now we have one more case of the government misleading parliamentarians and Canadians. To justify his government's wrong-headed policies, the Minister of State for Finance cited what he said in the House were studies on the NDP and P.E.I. plans to increase the CPP, when in fact what he cited were not studies of these proposals but rather a dubious assessment of a plan that would be fully implemented in one year without notification to employers.
Time and time again the Conservatives' lack of judgment has been exposed, but despite all of this, instead of changing their behaviour to fit the rules of the game, they are changing the rules of the game to fit their behaviour.
In conclusion, I would like to leave the final word not to me but to another hon. member of this place, who said the following:
I would suggest in the strongest possible terms that members of the House of Commons must be able to rely on the information they receive in response to questions placed to ministers. This goes to the very cut and thrust of the responsibilities of members of the House of Commons. A high standard has to be met....
These are the words that were said on January 31 and February 1, 2002, by the hon. member for Central Nova, who incidentally is now the Conservative Minister of Justice. These are wise words, in my submission, and I hope that the minister and all other hon. members will begin to follow them.