Mr. Speaker, I rise today because I want to participate in this debate and address the motion proposed by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. The motion proposes that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs study the facts surrounding the statements made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. I propose at the outset that we already know the facts. The question is what we do about it.
A study by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs would be redundant and a waste of time, in my submission. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is one of the busiest committees, producing more reports than any other standing committee. The committee already has numerous projects on the go, including studies arising from private members' business and a question of privilege related to Elections Canada. The committee is examining changes to the Standing Orders and is currently studying Bill C-23, the fair elections act.
At the present time, the committee is under siege by an NDP filibuster aimed at delaying the fair elections act, Bill C-23. This is unfortunate because Bill C-23 is a very important piece of legislation. This bill would protect voters from rogue calls and impersonation with a mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating elections officials, and increased penalties for deceiving people out of their votes. It would allow the commissioner to seek tougher penalties for existing offences and empower the commissioner with new offences to combat big money, rogue calls, and fraudulent voting. It would crack down on voter fraud, make rules easier to follow, allow for small donations in and big money out, respect democratic election results, uphold free speech, and provide better customer service for voters.
Getting back to the motion before the House, I would like to draw everyone's attention to a quick review of the facts that led to this question of privilege. On February 6, during debate on Bill C-23, the fair elections act, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made a statement in the House about voter identification cards. He rose in the House on February 24 and corrected the record. The next day he added, “...I recognized that this was an error on my part”. He then sincerely apologized to all Canadians and all members of the House for the statement he made. He added that it was never his intention in any way to mislead the House, for which he has the greatest amount of respect.
As we know, it is a long-standing tradition in the House to accept the word of a member and to accept his or her apology. Notwithstanding that tradition, on February 25, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley rose in the House on a question of privilege charging the member for Mississauga—Streetsville with contempt; this, of course, after the member for Mississauga—Streetsville had delivered his apology to Canadians and all members in the House.
The government House leader responded by making the following point. He stated:
...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 so that nobody is left with inaccurate perceptions.
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.
That is the obligation that exists upon members. That is an obligation to ensure that nobody is left under false impressions. That is an obligation he has discharged. That is the obligation upon all members here, and for that reason I think that alone is sufficient to rebut any concern that there has been a contempt.
I will end the government House leader's quote there.
Also in that debate, the member for Kingston and the Islands recognized that the only reason the House was engaged in the debate on the matter was the fact that it had been raised by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who took his duty and obligation to correct the record seriously.
Instead of accepting the apology from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, the NDP House leader chose to raise the matter as a question of privilege, putting the onus on the Speaker to rule.
When the Speaker finds that there is a prima facie question of privilege, the task of formulating the question to the House falls to the member who raised the issue. In this case, it was the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. As we all know, his privilege motion sets aside all business of the House. I believe he could have found another way to express his displeasure, without engaging all of us in the process, debate, and drama of a question of privilege.
The debate on his motion does not only use up the precious time of this House, but it proposes to use up a great deal of the precious time of a committee. This exercise is wasteful and unnecessary.
I will be encouraging members to vote against the proposal from the NDP for three reasons. One, the member who made the misleading statements apologized and voluntarily corrected the record. That is a very important point for all of us to realize. He apologized and voluntarily corrected the record.
Two, there is no merit in a committee study since all of the facts are known. He made a statement and he apologized for it. The real and only question left for the House to decide is how it wants to move forward on this issue considering the facts before it.
This brings me to the third reason to oppose the motion. The one outcome we want to avoid is to create an environment where MPs are punished for doing the right thing. The right thing for this House to do is to accept the member's apology and move on.
However, I am afraid it is too late for the high road at this point. The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has the entire House going down his road.
What does the NDP want to accomplish with a committee study? I looked at the procedural references the NDP House leader cited in his presentation to his question of privilege. In his intervention, he cited a reference from page 115 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition.
His citation references a case from December 6, 1978, where Speaker Jerome ruled that a government official deliberately misled a minister and that constituted a prima facie question of privilege. The member for Northumberland—Durham, who raised the question of privilege was invited to propose his motion to the House. The motion was defeated, and the matter was not sent to committee.
The NDP House leader also referenced a ruling from October 19, 2000, regarding misleading statements made in the House. Speaker Parent stated that he could find no support for a claim that the privileges of the House had been breached; so no committee study resulted from that.
He included a ruling of our current Speaker from May 7, 2012. The Speaker did not arrive at a finding of a prima facie question of privilege there either.
There was, however, a committee study that resulted from a ruling he referenced from February 1, 2002, regarding two statements made by the then minister of defence. In that ruling, Speaker Milliken noted the need for clarity in House proceedings and the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House. He also stated that integrity of information was of paramount importance since it directly concerned the rules of engagement for Canadian troops involved in the conflict in Afghanistan, a principle that goes to the very heart of Canada's participation in the war against terrorism.
A motion was moved referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and almost a week later, on Thursday, February 7, 2002, it was adopted.
The committee heard from a number of witnesses in that case. It heard from the member who raised the matter, Mr. Brian Pallister. It heard from the Clerk of the House of Commons, and the law clerk and parliamentary counsel of the House of Commons. It heard from the hon. Art Eggleton, the former minister of national defence; the deputy chief of the defence staff; the deputy minister of the department of national defence; the chief of the defence staff; the deputy clerk of the Privy Council, counsel and security and intelligence co-ordinator; the clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet; the assistant deputy minister, global and security policy, department of foreign affairs and international trade; and J.P. Joseph Maingot, former law clerk and parliamentary counsel, House of Commons, and author of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada.
In addition, members of the committee were invited to submit questions in writing for Commodore Jean-Pierre Thiffault, commander of the Canadian joint task force in southwest Asia.
That is an impressive list of witnesses. Obviously, there are some similarities between this question of privilege and the question of privilege in 2002, but I believe members would recognize the many significant differences. There might have been more meat on the bone in the 2002 case than the straightforward facts of this case.
Also, I think it is worth mentioning that the status of the two members involved is significantly different. The 2002 case involved a minister of the Crown. A minister enjoys a special role in providing information to the House.
That said, and despite all that was involved in the 2002 study, and all that was at stake, the committee had to focus on the task at hand, the issue of two contradictory statements made in the House.
The report back from the procedure and House affairs committee stated:
We are not concerned here with the Minister's performance as a minister, nor with the chain of command or lines of communication in the military, the Department of National Defence, or the Government.
The committee also felt it was necessary to point out the following:
Parliamentary committees charged with examining questions of privilege must exercise caution and act responsibly in drawing conclusions. They must guard against allowing partisanship to colour their judgement. The power to punish for contempt must not be exercised lightly. It exists for those rare occasions when Parliament’s ability to function is impeded or compromised.
One could, in the case before us today, connect some dots and come to the conclusion that this is not about statements made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. Other agendas are at play here, agendas that are clouding the judgment of the NDP. I am certain that most reasonable people would agree that the case before us is of a different scale in importance than that in 2002. Even still, the conclusion of the committee in 2002 was simple and to the point. It stated:
After a thorough review of all the circumstances, the Committee has come to the conclusion that the Minister made a mistake....
It concluded that no contempt of the House was committed.
What are the facts surrounding the statements made by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville? He made a mistake. He rose in the House and said, “I recognized that this was an error on my part”. He followed that recognition of fault with an apology to the House and to all Canadians. He made it clear that he did not intend to mislead the House.
I submit that a committee study of this case is not necessary. It only makes sense in the mind of the New Democrats, who fervently obstruct anything constructive that comes on the floor of the House and to our committees. I understand that the role of the opposition is to oppose, but in this case, it has crossed the line.
As the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs warned, in 2002, we in the House must also guard against allowing partisanship to colour our judgment in the matter of privilege. We must not execute our power lightly.
The NDP should refrain from using this question of privilege to fight its battle against the fair elections act. It only exposes its fiend, outrage, and phoney crusade in its opposition to legislation that will put everyday Canadians, not big union bosses, in charge of their democracy.
I have a number of quotations from people across the country. I have documentation from Elections Canada, in cases where it has found fraud in past elections in this country.
As well, I hear the words of my constituents, who speak on a daily basis. I can tell members that they do not want election fraud any more than anybody else in this House. Supporting the fair elections act would go a long way to giving back fair elections to Canadians.
We all know that things happen during elections that should not happen. That is what the legislation, Bill C-23, would address.
With respect to the question before us, I encourage all members of the House to see past the partisan colours of their party. Let the House get back to business, and let the committees get on with their agendas. There is no place in committee for this matter. It has been settled. The member stood up and he apologized.