Mr. Speaker, we are certainly not here today debating if yesterday's behaviour or conduct was appropriate. I think we would all say that what we witnessed yesterday was not what we wanted to see in the House.
However, today I rise to speak to a question of privilege raised last evening. That question of privilege concerns the actions of the Prime Minister in regards to last evening's incident.
I would begin by noting that the Prime Minister yesterday, and today, at the first opportunity, rose to offer his heartfelt apology for his actions, for which he took full responsibility. I spoke to him at length last night, and other people on his team, and there is no doubt that the Prime Minister's apology is both fulsome and extremely sincere.
Yesterday was a highly emotional day on many fronts. Many of us had been listening to Canadians about their thoughts on the medical assistance in dying bill, which is before the House at this time. Frustrations with the progress of the bill and other matters have caused emotions to run very high on both sides of the House, both in the front benches and also in the backbenches.
The Prime Minister has made commitments and followed through on them to try to make the House a more functional and respectful institution. He is, however, like everyone else who is sitting here, fallible. He has never professed to be anything but that. He let his emotions take a hold of his better judgment and conducted himself in a way that he himself said was unacceptable.
We do in the House have a tradition that we take members at their word and accept their truthfulness in their statements. The Prime Minister's apology was unreserved and absolute. I think that everyone who has met the Prime Minister, and those who know him, know that he sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve, and that he is an honourable man in every sense of the word.
Let us go over what happened yesterday, and I hope we can kind of put a few facts to the situation.
As the chamber prepared to vote, there was some obstruction in the aisle, apparently intentional, delaying the proceedings. The Prime Minister then rose, crossed the aisle, and intervened to expedite the Conservative's whip's progress so the vote could proceed. In the course of this intervention, the Prime Minister unintentionally made contact with the member for Berthier—Maskinongé.
The member for Berthier—Maskinongé was understandably upset by the incident and left the chamber. I can completely appreciate what she was going through. The member did not record her vote as a result of these events. The outcome, we can agree, was absolutely not right, and we saw that.
The member for Berthier—Maskinongé stated that she was unable to vote. She was undoubtedly shaken up by this very unfortunate incident. Therefore, I believe one action that could be taken would be to seek unanimous consent for the member's vote to be recorded in the manner in which she wished to vote. I can assure the House that if such a motion were to be made, that this side of the House would absolutely agree with it.
Twice, if not three times, the Prime Minister has sincerely apologized for his inadvisable actions. Physical intervention is never appropriate in this chamber. However, in so far as the Prime Minister made contact with the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, and in so far as he may have thereby interfered with her privilege as a parliamentarian, it was unintentional. This is the truth. Video of the event will absolutely confirm this.
As well, I found it of great benefit yesterday when I was in the House to hear a fair account of the event from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. The member had a close and clear view of the situation, in which she was not involved. In addition, not belonging to any caucus involved, that independence may afford her a greater degree of objectivity in observing, assessing, and describing the events. I would quote her remarks as follows:
What we saw was unacceptable, but let us keep it in perspective. What I saw that was unwise and unacceptable was that Prime Minister deliberately trying to move a vote along. There was some mischief. Let us face it. There was some mischief on the floor... there was an attempt to slow down the vote. There is no doubt about that, but it was innocent mischief...
The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands continued to say that:
I am trying to keep this in perspective....It was most unwise of the Prime Minister to attempt to move along the vote by moving along the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. That movement was clearly contact that was unwanted.
The second contact with my friend, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, which was certainly the one that was the most emotional for the member involved, was clearly, from my perspective, and I confirm what the member for King—Vaughan said, unintentional. I have to say that I saw the Prime Minister following the hon. member, trying to reach her, saying how very sorry he was, that he had not seen her behind him. That is the truth. Members can like it or not like it, but nothing that happened here today reflects well on us.
That is a fair and reasonable account of the situation. To summarize, there was some mischief delaying the proceedings. The Prime Minister chose to intervene. He agrees this was inadvisable and unacceptable, and has offered an unreserved apology to the House for his actions.
In the course of his interventions, the Prime Minister made unintentional contact with the member for Berthier—Maskinongé. That was an accident. However, the member was justly aggrieved at the contact, no matter it was accidental, and for that, the Prime Minister has also apologized not only to the chamber but personally to the member for Berthier—Maskinongé.
The Prime Minister is very sorry. He said:
Mr. Speaker, I want to take the opportunity, now that the member is able to return to the House, to express directly to her my apologies for my behaviour and my actions, unreservedly.
The physical integrity of members of the House is and must be imperative. This is at the heart of our democracy. Cooler heads must prevail. We must not lose our respect, our sense of collegiality, and our sense of shared purpose. That statement would justly apply to attempts to delay or disrupt our democratic proceedings. However, that statement would also apply to our responses to disruption.
The Prime Minister's actions to intervene were inadvisable and unacceptable. The accidental results were inappropriate, and I must underline that. So far, the Prime Minister has apologized on several occasions. However, I would take issue with any member who would suggest the Prime Minister intentionally made contact with the member for Berthier—Maskinongé. To make such a suggestion is not letting cooler heads prevail. It is not making a fair and reasonable judgment of the situation. To allege that this was an instance of gender-based violence is making light of violence.
I can tell members that I know a lot about violence. For the past 24 years, before entering public life, I was the coordinator of the Codiac RCMP victim services program. I have worked with thousands of victims of violence: victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual violence, victims of random violence, and the list goes on. I certainly do know the consequences of violence. I have also provided crisis counselling, crisis intervention, and risk assessments for many of the victims I have worked with. Also, I was the chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women. My role was truly to promote women's rights and equality.
What took place yesterday was inadvisable, but to call it gender-based violence, to make exaggerations and misrepresentations about the nature of the incident is really irresponsible and wrong. It does not help us take the culture in this place where it needs to be, and it does a disservice to victims of violence.
In this chamber, none would condone violence, but this was not gender-based violence. Calling it such is wrong, and two wrongs do not make a right. We have a duty to stick to the facts, to find the truth, and to form our judgments from the truth.
I have called the account of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands fair and reasonable. I think we all need to endeavour to work hard to be fair and reasonable. The political process does not always encourage these qualities, and today, I hope the temperature will go down a bit. We all need to focus on the work that needs to be done, the work we need to do as lawmakers.
We need to work together. We have so much work that needs to be done. On two occasions yesterday, the government asked for unanimous consent to pass the motion to have this matter dealt with by the appropriate committee of the House, that being PROC, the procedure and House affairs committee. Twice that consent was not given.
The outrage shown by the opposition, both real and enhanced, has led us to where we are now. I cannot see what other action the Prime Minister can take to put this matter to rest.
The House must continue to do the work that we are elected to do. I hope that we can move past this unfortunate incident with assurance that such actions will never ever happen again. Tensions have undoubtedly been running very high. With the stress of meeting the Supreme Court's tight timeline on a vitally important piece of legislation at this time of year, things have been getting intense. I again say that we all need to take a breath and let cooler heads prevail. Let us keep our focus on doing the public's work for the public good. That is what Canadians expect of us.
It is a special honour and responsibility for all of us to be here. We must move forward. The apology has been made. Let us get the work done.