Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a question of privilege regarding misleading statements made in the House by the Minister of National Revenue.
On page 111 in the 22nd edition of Erskine May, it states: “The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.”
Speaker Milliken, when ruling on a matter of privilege involving misleading statements in the House, stated on February 1, 2002, “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.”
One of the authorities to which Speaker Milliken was referring was the 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.”
On October 23, 2017, in response to a question during question period, the Minister of National Revenue said, “I would remind my colleagues opposite that the law has not changed in any way. How the law is interpreted has also not changed in any way.”
Again, on October 24, she said, “I want to assure my colleague opposite that the law has not changed. There have also not been any changes to the way the law is interpreted.”
She continued with the same message on October 30, 2017, when she said the following:
I would like to reassure Canadians that no changes have been made to the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit.
No changes have been made to the act or the way it is interpreted, and we are going to ensure that people continue to receive the tax credits to which they are entitled.
Then, on November 8, 2017, she said, “I also want to emphasize that the eligibility criteria for the tax credit have not changed. The rules are the same and apply just as they always have. The law is the same. Nothing has changed.”
She made these claims time and again during question period, on October 30, and on November 7, 9, 21, 22, and 23. She even provided this false information to the finance committee during its meeting on November 23.
I do not believe that anyone could argue that the minister's statements in this House and elsewhere are not deliberate. The minister wants the House to believe that no changes have been made to the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit, as well as the way it is interpreted.
I would like at this time to present to you, Mr. Speaker, an internal CRA memo of May 2, 2017, which was obtained through access to information by Diabetes Canada and forwarded to me. In this memo, the Minister of National Revenue's officials tell a very different story than what the minister has been telling the House. It states:
This is to inform you of updates to the current [life-sustaining therapy] procedures and verses relating to adults with diabetes.
Going forward, follow the procedures below for claims for [persons with disabilities] over 18. [...] Insulin Therapy Procedures will be updated shortly to reflect the changes.
Send a clarification letter when the [medical practitioner] has not indicated any exceptional circumstances to support the 14 hours per week criterion.
Disallow without clarification when
the [medical practitioner] has indicated less than 14 hours per week, or
the [medical practitioner] has included activities that do not count toward the 14 hour per week criterion such as carb counting, and activities related to exercise.
Allow claims when the [medical practitioner] has indicated exceptional circumstances which support the 14 hours per week criterion.
Example of exceptional circumstances; Other chronic conditions that affect the time taken by the [persons with disabilities] to manage insulin therapy or the need for assistance from others to manage insulin therapy, such as poor manual dexterity or poor vision.
Determine end date on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the [persons with disabilities'] condition.
Consult with RO as needed to determine eligibility and for the number of years to allow. Refer to HQ as necessary.
Note: No changes have been made for claims for [persons with disabilities] under 18.
The updates are in the attached and will be put into production tomorrow afternoon.
Procedures and Medical Review Team
On November 3, 1978, the member for Northumberland—Durham raised a question of privilege and charged that he had been deliberately misled by a former solicitor general. Acting on behalf of a constituent who suspected that his mail had been tampered with, the member had written in 1973 to the then solicitor general who assured him that, as a matter of policy, the RCMP did not intercept the private mail of anyone. However, on November 1, 1978, in testimony before the McDonald commission, the former commissioner of the RCMP stated that they did indeed intercept mail on a very restricted basis.
The member claimed that this statement clearly conflicted with the information he had received from the then solicitor general some years earlier.
The Speaker returned to the House on December 6 and ruled the matter to be a prima facie case of contempt against the House of Commons. The Speaker found that the letter from the solicitor general to the member for Northumberland—Durham could be considered a proceeding in Parliament for the purpose of privilege.
In the 1978 case, it was the letter from the minister that contained information that was later revealed to be false during the testimony of the minister's own officials at the McDonald commission. In this case, the minister is saying one thing in the House and her officials are saying something different in an internal memo.
Further, on page 234 of the second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, Maingot states:
before the House will be permitted by the Speaker to embark on a debate in such circumstances...an admission by someone in authority, such as a Minister of the Crown or an officer of a department, an instrument of government policy, or a government agency, either that a Member of the House of Commons was intentionally misled...and a direct relationship between the misleading information and a proceeding in Parliament, is necessary.
In an internal memo, we have the minister's procedures and medical review team clearly contradicting what the minister has been saying in the House of Commons.
On February 1, 2002, Speaker Milliken accepted a minister's assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House, yet he stated that, “Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation.”
He went on to conclude:
On the basis of the arguments presented by hon. members and in view of the gravity of the matter, I have concluded that the situation before us...merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air.
I submit to you that this issue also requires clarification. It is confusing to my constituents, who are being told one thing by the minister and another by officials from the minister's own department. Not only are they receiving false information, they are living the consequences as proof that the minister misled this House.
In conclusion, if you find this matter to be a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.