Madam Speaker, I regret that I am not having a happy Friday. As a result, I am rising on a point of order with respect to answer Question No. 954 that was tabled yesterday.
Question No. 954 was submitted on April 3, and sought information on how the “Guide for Parliamentary Secretaries”, published by the Privy Council Office in December 2015, applied to trips made by two parliamentary secretaries. While this was a simple straightforward question, incorporated into the answer was a remark that was totally unrelated to the question. Further, I would argue that this unnecessary insertion had the effect of tarnishing the reputation of a former member of this House of Commons and constitutes an improper use by the government of the process of written questions.
In making the case for sponsored travel for parliamentary secretaries, the following appeared in the answer to Question No. 954, which states:
Moreover...John Baird, while he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, travelled to Washington...a trip that was sponsored by the American Israel [Political Action] Committee.
I suppose the government was trying to make the point that what was good for the Conservative goose is good for Liberal ganders. However, according to the list of sponsored travel submitted to the Speaker himself on March 23, 2016 pursuant to 15(3) of the “Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons”, it indicated that Mr. Baird went on this trip on February 28, 2015.
On February 3, 2015, a full 25 days before the trip in question took place, Mr. Baird announced in this House his resignation from cabinet effective immediately.
This is not just sloppy research. I contend it is an attempt by the government to use a parliamentary tool, not to aid a member as it is intended, but in an unorthodox manner to distort the facts and smear the reputation of a former member of this House.
Chapter 3 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, 6th edition, states, “More tentative are such traditional features as respect for the rights of the minority, which precludes a Government from using to excess the extensive powers that it has to...proceed in what the public and the Opposition might interpret as unorthodox ways.” That is exactly what has happened here.
Whether or not someone was a minister of the government at the time is not a debatable fact. Having factually wrong, damaging information about a former member in a response to an Order Paper question does not just happen. These responses are reviewed by top advisers to the Prime Minister, the Privy Council Office, and in particular the office for the coordination of parliamentary returns. Those parties are all meant to verify that a response is accurate. Normally they do an admirable job, with some notable exceptions that I have brought to your attention in the past. It is not believable that such an erroneous, vindictive, false statement about a former member of the House was drafted or prepared by Privy Council Office officials. They are far too professional in their work to ever have made such an egregious and obviously factual mistake. This was clearly the work of one of the Prime Minister's partisan advisers, who was trying to make a political statement at the expense of a former member, and of the truth.
I ask that you look into this serious matter and come back to the House with a ruling.
I would also ask that the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the answer, as it was signed by his own personal parliamentary secretary on his behalf, to correct the record, and to apologize to the hon. John Baird.
In addition, I would like to reserve my right to raise this matter as a question of privilege in the event that the government insists on misleading the House on this matter.