Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order today to respond to the question of privilege raised concerning statements by the Minister of National Revenue with respect to the disability tax credit. I submit that the matter raised by my hon. colleague is in dispute as to the facts and therefore does not meet the criteria for finding a prima facie question of privilege.
According to page 86 of O'Brien and Bosc's House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, the following three elements have to be established when it is alleged that a member is in contempt or is 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. These criteria have not been met in the situation at hand.
On December 5, the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge alleged that the Minister of National Revenue deliberately misled the House when the minister stated, on October 23 and 24, “the law has not changed in any way. How the law is interpreted has also not changed in any way.” I would also draw to the attention of the House the following statement made by the minister and quoted by the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge: “I would like to reassure Canadians that no changes have been made to the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit.” The statements referenced by my hon. colleague made by the minister are completely accurate. Let me take a moment to explain.
Paragraph 118.3(1)(a.1), which deals with credit for mental or physical impairment, has not been amended since this government came to power. In fact, the last amendment to this section of the Income Tax Act was approved by Parliament in 2005. This section provides that certain conditions be met to be considered for a tax credit. For the benefit of the House, I will quote the relevant text in that section, which describes the criteria used by the Canada Revenue Agency to determine whether a person is eligible for the tax credit. It states:
the effects of the impairment...are such that the individual’s ability to perform more than one basic activity of daily living is significantly restricted...or would be markedly restricted but for therapy that
(i) is essential to sustain a vital function of the individual,
(ii) is required to be administered at least three times each week for a total duration averaging not less than 14 hours a week, and
(iii) cannot reasonably be expected to be of significant benefit to persons who are not so impaired
The interpretation has always been clear that a medical practitioner must certify that a patient meets these criteria for a patient to receive the benefit. The eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit have not changed since 2005.
The member referenced an internal CRA document of May 2017, which was designed to give medical practitioners the opportunity to provide more details and explain more clearly how their patients meet the statutory requirements. This in no way represents a change in the eligibility requirements, yet the member across the way points to this memo as the smoking gun. That could not be further from the truth. The letter simply helps the CRA to more clearly establish, with the information provided by medical practitioners, which applications meet the eligibility criteria set out in paragraph 118.3(1)(a.1) of the Income Tax Act.
I have reviewed the precedents set out by my hon. colleague, and I must admit that they are rather incongruous with the situation before the House. Let me review the applicability of the precedents cited by my colleague across the way.
With respect to the December 6, 1978, ruling respecting mail tampering, there were two statements that were at odds. The then minister stated categorically that the RCMP did not intercept the private mail of anyone. Around the same time, a former commissioner of the RCMP stated before the McDonald Commission that the RCMP did indeed intercept private mail in certain circumstances.
In the case before the House, no one is saying that the government has changed the criteria for eligibility for the tax credit. At the risk of repeating myself, the criteria have not been changed in over 10 years.
The 2002 precedent respecting the then minister of national defence's knowledge of the involvement of Canadian troops in taking prisoners in Afghanistan again has no bearing on the matter before the House.
At no time did the Minister of National Revenue make completely contradictory statements about changing the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit.
We have a long tradition in the House of taking members at their word. Allegations of breach of privilege are often dismissed as disputes as to the facts. Page 510 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states:
The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
On May 7, 2012, the Speaker ruled:
Accordingly, bound as I am by the very narrow parameters that apply in these situations, and without any evidence that the House was deliberately misled, I cannot arrive at a finding of prima facie privilege in this case.
In this decision, the Speaker referenced two rulings of Speaker Milliken. The first, from January 31, 2008, is found at pages 2434 and 2435 of Debates. In it, he stated,
any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister's response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. The same holds true with respect to the breadth of a minister's answer to a question in the House: this is not for the Speaker to determine.
Second, on February 26, 2004, at page 1076 of Debates, Speaker Milliken confirmed,
As hon. members know, it is not the Speaker's role to adjudicate on matters of fact. This is something on which the House itself can form an opinion during debate.
I submit that this is the situation with the matter currently before the House.
In conclusion, the matter raised by my hon. colleague is a dispute as to the facts and therefore does not meet the conditions for a prima facie question of privilege.