That the question of privilege regarding the free movement of Members of Parliament within the Parliamentary Precinct raised on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that your ruling today is truly a testament to your position as Speaker, and to the Speakers who have gone before you. Truly, the role of the Speaker is one of the utmost principles in our parliamentary democracy, and I think today, in the long line of Speakers who have gone before, you have found the appropriate ruling.
After all, often the role of the Speaker is determined to be one of a referee, and we often hear that referred to in tour groups and among university lecturers. However, the role of the Speaker is so much more than that. The Speaker is truly the defender of the rights and privileges of this place.
I am reminded from time to time of the words of a great English Speaker, William Lenthall, who said with great conviction to the King in his place in his time, when met with King Charles I, the executive of the day:
...I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am....
Today the Speaker made such a ruling and stood up to the face of opposition from the government ministers.
Let me begin my remarks by saying that I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for Battle River—Crowfoot.
It is in a way unfortunate that we have to have a redo of this debate. This debate was properly started last week when the Speaker did rightly find a prima facie case of privilege, and it is troubling in two manners: first, the nature of the incident itself, that two members of Parliament were prevented from undertaking their duties of voting in this House; and second, by the unfortunate actions that were undertaken by the government in preventing this matter from coming to a vote.
As the Speaker rightly found in his ruling, this is unprecedented. Never before in the history of this place has a matter of privilege been dealt with in such a way. Never before in this place has the government shut down and prevented all 338 members of this House from voting on a matter of the privileges of us as parliamentarians. Every other case of privilege has been dealt with one way or another through a vote, either in the affirmative or in the negative, but not in this case.
This is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate for so many reasons. If, as members in this House noted before, the government is allowed to proceed in this manner on this case, how many times going forward will votes on questions of privilege be prevented from coming to a vote in this House by the duly elected members of this House?
I want to state the great respect I have for this institution and for those who serve this institution. I want to state as well the respect I have, specifically, for the parliamentary protective service, in whom I have the utmost of confidence for defending us and keeping us safe as parliamentarians.
In my short time as a parliamentarian—I have only been elected for about a year and a half—I have always felt safe in the exercising of my duties here in this place, and indeed, another speaker in last week's debate, quoted from the back of our ID badges, and I think it is worthwhile to reread that into the record:
Under the law of parliamentary privilege, the bearer has free and open access at all times, without obstruction or interference to the precincts of the House of Parliament of which the bearer is a member.
In fact, the law of parliamentary privilege is enshrined constitutionally in section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, also more commonly known to us in its original title, the British North America Act, 1867.
Let us remember exactly what took place on budget day. Two members of Parliament, at least, were affected. We know of at least two. There could have been others as well. There was indication from the Speaker's original ruling that there were others potentially on the buses who were also denied access. However, at least two members, the members from Milton and Beauce, were unable to attend a vote in this House, in this place.
The outcome of that particular vote is not relevant. The fact is that they were prevented from doing their duty, the duty that they as elected members of this place are entrusted to do on behalf of their constituents. All of us have that duty to the constituents we are honoured and privileged to represent.
Let us imagine for just a moment how this could have played out differently. Imagine there had been a vote of confidence and members were prevented by one way or another from attending this place to vote. Certainly in this case there is a majority government and one or two members not exercising their vote may not seem like a significant matter. Let us think back into the not-so-distant past to May 2005. There was a budget vote, a confidence vote in this very House. The Paul Martin Liberals were on the ropes. It looked as if they could be defeated. A couple of lucky floor crossings and the support of an independent member of Parliament meant that it ended up in a tie vote. Mr. Speaker Milliken at the time was forced into the position of breaking that tie vote in the affirmative. One vote would have made the difference, in that case, of an election, the dissolution of Parliament, or the continuation of that government. It would have been one vote.
In fact, in this Parliament not too long ago on Bill C-10, on a Monday morning, or afternoon by the time we voted, we had a tie vote in this House on a piece of government legislation. One vote would have made the difference between that piece of legislation moving on to third reading and that piece of legislation being defeated in this place. The Speaker at the time was forced to once again break a tie. Interestingly, in a majority government, that does not happen very often, but it happened in that case. I would point out that it is somewhat ironic that the government is currently proposing changes, and one of the changes it has mentioned is perhaps sitting earlier in the morning, but if we use the example of Bill C-10, that vote was in the early afternoon, so I would be surprised how many members might be in this House at that time.
We are faced with the question now of where we go from here, where we move forward in the appropriate manner. As my motion clearly states, it is appropriate at this point that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as it is the appropriate location. I know there have been flimsy procedural efforts for the committee to self-direct to undertake its own study of privilege, but as we know, the Standing Orders clearly state that matters of privilege do not fall under the mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee, and it falls on the House to direct the appropriate committee to undertake a study of the privilege. After all, the rights and privileges of this House are a matter for this House to undertake.
I do feel a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day; we are redoing the same battle again and again, the same debate that has been undertaken. I have been told I am better looking than Bill Murray. I am not so sure about that, but I will say this. On a matter as important as the privileges of this House, a procedurally flimsy effort by the government to shut down the debate is truly unfortunate. Two members were denied the right to vote and now, by the Liberals' efforts, the attempt was to deny 338 members the right to vote. That is truly unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that it is being done at the same time that the procedure and House affairs committee is undertaking a Standing Order change, a change that would be done unilaterally without the support of opposition parties. The government states that it wants to have a discussion on the matter. A discussion can only happen if both sides are listening and discussing. The privileges of this House are of the utmost importance to each and every member of this House. It is not a matter for the government to decide. Rather, it is a matter for this House to decide by way of a vote.