Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question of privilege concerning the leak of the contents of Bill C-49, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts, which was introduced yesterday. It has become an established practice in the House that when a bill is on notice for introduction, the House has the first right to know the contents of that legislation.
As Speaker Milliken explained on March 19, 2001, at page 1840 of the Debates:
In preparing legislation, the government may wish to hold extensive consultations and such consultations may be held entirely at the government’s discretion. However, with respect to material to be placed before parliament, the House must take precedence. Once a bill has been placed on notice, whether it has been presented in a different form to a different session of parliament has no bearing and the bill is considered a new matter. The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent rule which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.
The required confidentiality expected before the unveiling of this bill was simply not respected due to the government's so-called pre-positioning for Bill C-49 earlier this week.
Allow me to explain.
First, for context, all the information the House had when a notice for the bill was tabled Friday afternoon was that it would bear the long title, “An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and other Acts respecting transportation and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”. Considering the wide scope of the activities of Transport Canada, a title like this one could be used with respect to any mode of transport or any type of activity the department undertakes. However, despite the ambiguous bill title, yesterday's Toronto Star revealed that this legislation would be called the “Transportation Modernization Act” and reported many of the bill's details. That short title, set out in clause 1, only became known to us once the bill was tabled, well after yesterday's Toronto Star had gone to print.
Furthermore, the CBC website, on Monday evening, stated, “The...government will introduce legislation for a passenger bill of rights Tuesday in a move that will set a national standard for how airline passengers are treated in Canada”. The bill's summary reads, on page 2:
With respect to air transportation, it amends the Canada Transportation Act to require the Canadian Transportation Agency to make regulations establishing a new air passenger rights regime and to authorize the Governor in Council to make regulations requiring air carriers and other persons providing services in relation to air transportation to report on different aspects of their performance with respect to passenger experience or quality of service.
CTV National News offered more information to its viewers on this legislation during its broadcast Monday night. It stated, “CTV News has learned the government will mandate minimum levels of reimbursement for travel disruptions and lost luggage.” I was watching the news at the time and was extremely surprised to see such detail being made public for a bill that had not yet been made public in Parliament. Later in the same CTV report, I heard, “Under the bill Transport Minister...will table tomorrow, airlines would provide clear and transparent rules so passengers know when they're entitled to compensation; airlines would compensate travellers for flights delayed or cancelled, though not for weather or air traffic...”
Turning to clause 19 of Bill C-49, we see that CTV News was reporting on the proposed new paragraphs 86.11(1)(a),(b), and (c) of the bill.
Meanwhile, on CBC's The National, viewers were told, “CBC News has learned the legislation is also expected to stop airlines from charging parents extra to sit with their kids.” In this case, CBC was reporting on the proposed new paragraph 86.11(1)(d) from the bill, which says, “respecting the carrier’s obligation to facilitate the assignment of seats to children under the age of 14 years in close proximity to a parent, guardian or tutor at no additional cost.” This is specific detail of the legislation that could not have been guessed at ahead of time by the CBC. Details of the bill were clearly leaked.
Furthermore, the CBC report noted “don't expect exact compensation levels tomorrow. They won't be written into the law.”
If you were watching CTV Monday night, Mr. Speaker, you would have known that “The exact rates for compensation under the new rules will be set at a later date by the Canadian Transportation Agency and reviewed regularly.”
This was in reference to the proposed new subsection 86.11(1) of the bill, which reads, “The Agency shall, after consulting with the Minister, make regulations in relation to flights to, from and within Canada, including connecting flights.”
It is clear this was no simple, accidental leak, though that would also be inexcusable, but, rather, this appears to be the result of a systemic advance briefing of the media about pending legislation as there would be no other way for them to know such specific detail about the bill. Details such as airlines not being able to charge extra for parents to sit next to their children, or that the fines would not be detailed in the bill, or that airlines would be forced to compensate travellers for delays and missed flights could only be known by the media as a result of a leak.
As the Conservative Party critic for transport, I cannot hold the government to account if I learn about the content of the legislation through the news and not through Parliament. That is why this is so important.
As Speaker Milliken said in the ruling I cited earlier:
To deny to Members information concerning business that is about to come before the House, while at the same time providing such information to media that will likely be questioning Members about that business, is a situation that the Chair cannot condone.
Speaker Milliken also found a prima facie case of privilege in connection with advance leaks to the media about a bill to be introduced, on page 6085 of the Debates for October 15, 2001.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, you also had occasion to find a prima facie case of privilege last year, on April 19, 2016, on the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-14, the assisted dying bill. On page 2443 of Debates, the Chair stated:
In this instance, the chair must conclude that the House's right of first access to legislative information was not respected. The chair appreciates the chief government whip's assertion that no one in the government was authorized to publicly release the specific details of the bill before its introduction. Still, it did happen, and these kinds of incidents cause grave concern among hon. members. I believe it is a good reason why extra care should be taken to ensure that matters that ought properly to be brought to the House first do not in any way get out in the public domain prematurely.
Thus, the available precedents lead me to conclude that this incident constitutes a prima facie question of privilege...
The House considered and passed a motion to refer that matter to the procedure and House affairs committee, which has yet to report on the situation. I understand it was last considered in September, when the Liberal majority voted down a number of motions intended to allow the committee's investigation to continue.
It is incumbent upon us, as the opposition, to call out the government for these abuses of Parliament, and to place before the Chair any perceived breaches of the privileges of the House of Commons, since you, Mr. Speaker, are the defender of the rights and privileges of the House.
Based on the facts I have presented, and the clear precedents on this matter, I believe you should have no trouble in finding a prima facie case of privilege.