Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon on a question of privilege on the manner in which the Minister of International Trade has been treating Parliament and due process in relation to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the EU. The flagrant disrespect of Parliament shown by the minister and her government is alarming and unwarranted, but more importantly, the impact of this disrespect has obstructed me in the discharge of my duties as a member of Parliament.
I will, through the course of my remarks, ask the Speaker to agree with my belief that there exists a prima facie case that my privileges as a member of Parliament have been breached, and I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion should the Speaker agree with my intervention.
Before getting to the matter at hand, I would like to remind the House that obstruction in the discharge of parliamentary duties can take many forms, both physical and non-physical. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, tells us, at pages 108 and 109:
If an Hon. Member is impeded or obstructed in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties through threats, intimidation, bribery attempts or other improper behaviour, such a case would fall within the limits of parliamentary privilege. Should an Hon. Member be able to say that something has happened which prevented him or her from performing functions...there would be a case for the Chair to consider.
I will beg the House's indulgence to provide the proper context of what has happened and give an account of events leading up to this question of privilege. I will start with the facts of the matter at hand.
To begin with, the Government of Canada adopted a policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament in 2008. That policy sets out specific guidelines and timelines on how international treaties will be presented to Parliament for debate and consideration. In section 6.2, “Tabling period for Treaties”, the policy states:
b. For treaties that require implementing legislation before the Government can proceed to ratification, acceptance, approval or accession...the Government will:
Observe a waiting period of at least twenty-one sitting days before the introduction of the necessary implementing legislation in Parliament;
On Friday, October 28, the Minister of International Trade put an act to implement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union and its member states and to provide for certain other measures on the Notice Paper, even before having signed the treaty. The Government of Canada signed CETA two days later, on Sunday, October 30. The Minister of International Trade tabled CETA in the House on Monday, October 31, and not 21 sittings days but about 21 seconds later, she introduced Bill C-30 to implement the provisions of CETA.
The Minister of International Trade and the government are aware of this policy and obligation to Parliament. They have respected it as recently as this fall with regard to the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. On September 19, 2016, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade laid upon the table a copy of the free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine and an explanatory memorandum.
Twenty-eight sitting days later, which was this morning, as it turns out, and in full compliance with the policy, the Minister of International Trade introduced Bill C-31, an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine. However, in the case of CETA, the government acted in direct violation of its own policy when it came to the tabling of the treaty and the introduction of the implementing legislation that followed immediately afterward.
Furthermore, the policy statement in the government's policy is as follows:
The Minister of Foreign Affairs will initiate the tabling of all instruments, accompanied by a brief Explanatory Memorandum in the House of Commons following their adoption by signature or otherwise, and prior to Canada's expression of its consent to be bound by ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.
This policy provision was followed when the Canada-Ukraine FTA was laid on the table and is something we are used to hearing the minister and her parliamentary secretary announce when they table international treaties, agreements, and other similar documents in the House. The explanatory memorandum is an important piece of this process, so important, in fact, that it has its own provisions in the policy on tabling of treaties in Parliament. Section 6.4 of the policy states:
An Explanatory Memorandum will accompany each treaty that is tabled in the House of Commons.
a. The purpose of the Explanatory Memorandum is to provide the House of Commons with information regarding the content of the Treaty.
The document tabled by the minister on Monday was over 1,700 pages long, so an explanatory memorandum is particularly important in this case. Further, a long list is given of what materials must be included in the explanatory memorandum.
Among other items, the policy states that the explanatory memorandum will cover the following points.
First is subject matter. Second is a national interest summary. Third are policy considerations and how the treaty's obligations and their implementation will be consistent with the government's policies. Fourth are federal-provincial-territorial jurisdictional implications. Fifth are time considerations, with any upcoming dates or events that make the ratification a matter of priority. Sixth is a brief description of how the treaty will be implemented in Canadian law, including a description of the legislative or other authority under which it will fall, and seventh is a description of the consultations undertaken with the House of Commons, self-governing aboriginal governments, other government departments, and non-governmental organizations prior to the conclusion of the treaty, as appropriate.
There may have been 1,700 pages tabled by the Minister of International Trade on Monday, but there was no explanatory memorandum accompanying them, blatantly showing that the Government of Canada was negligent in fulfilling its obligations under this policy.
The government responded to a question on the Order Paper from the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster in a particularly alarming way. The member for Battlefords—Lloydminster put a question on the Order Paper on May 3, 2016. Among other things, Question No. 193 asked:
With regard to the Minister of International Trade and the Canada-European Union: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement: (a) when did the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development start drafting an Explanatory Memorandum for tabling with the treaty; (b) what deadline was given to the department in order to draft an Explanatory Memorandum; (c) will the Minister table a copy of the Canada-European Union: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and Explanatory Memorandum, and, if so, when;
The minister's honesty about violating her own policy is commendable, however alarming. She responded on September 19 by saying:
Mr. Speaker, with regard to parts (a) and (b), Global Affairs Canada, GAC, has not been tasked with drafting an explanatory memorandum for the tabling of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA.
This question was first asked in May and was responded to four and a half months later with a response essentially indicating that the government intends to violate its own policy obligations to Parliament.
The government had time to react. The minister could have realized that Canada was in the process of negotiating a complex and multilayered treaty with 28 countries and that she would have an obligation to fulfill when she tabled the treaty, but she chose not to. Even after she responded to the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster on September 19, she still had another 42 days to instruct her officials to respect Canadians and their duly elected representatives in Parliament, but she chose not to.
Clearly, there was enough time to prepare. Europe is indicating that it is still not on board with CETA, so the timelines that are being presented to us provide more than enough time for the minister and Global Affairs to fulfill this obligation to me as a parliamentarian and to everyone who sits in the House.
On May 5, 1987, at page 5766 of Debates, Speaker Fraser stated:
The privileges of a Member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties and functions.
Seventeen hundred pages is a lot for any parliamentarian to digest. We need to do a full analysis. We need time to do so, and the time that is normally allocated needs to be respected by the minister for all members in the House so that we can have the full information and analysis necessary to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this agreement.
Furthermore, the international trade committee is now being asked to pre-study the bill four days after the 1,700-page document and the 131-page bill were tabled. That is unacceptable.
I am aware that the minister's own policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament is not governed by the Standing Orders of the House, but given the context of what has transpired over the past week, it is undeniably true that my ability, and the ability of all members of Parliament, to properly discharge our functions, to properly study and analyze more than 1,700 pages of text, and to adequately scrutinize government proposals and legislation are being impeded by the Minister of International Trade's deliberate decision to violate her own policy.
She had time to remedy the situation regarding the explanatory memorandum, and she did not. She had time to table the treaty and wait 21 sitting days before introducing the legislation, but she did not.
I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would be the first to agree that all members of Parliament are equal in their privileges in this House of Commons and that no one should be interfered with or disadvantaged in any way in the discharge of their duties as a member of Parliament, especially by other members in this House.
Mr. Speaker, if you find that there was a prima facie breach of my privileges as a member, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.