Madam Speaker, I rise to respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman respecting the government's response to Order Paper Question No. 600.
I submit that the matter raised by my hon. colleague is a 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, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition:
....the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a Member is in contempt for 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 question of privilege raised on April 4, 2017.
On January 30, 2017, the government tabled its response to Question No. 600, which states the following:
All Canadian Armed Forces personnel serving at Operation IMPACT Kuwait locations received Tax Relief effective 5 Oct 2014 (date at Which the original risk scores became effective) to 1 Sep 2016.
Operation IMPACT (Iraq) has had Tax Relief since 22 Aug 2014, date at which the original risk score for this location became effective. Operation IMPACT (Baghdad) has had Tax Relief since 17 Apr 2015, date at which the original risk score for this location became effective.
Let me explain the risk scores and the process for tax relief.
The risk allowance is to compensate for the risk and is based on the probability of a hazard occurring and the severity of its impact. The Departmental Hardship and Risk Committee sits quarterly to review eligible operations and to assist each submission of risk scores.
Tax relief is applied based on three risk levels. Low risk levels below 2.00 are not eligible to be designated for tax relief. For medium risk levels from 2.00 to 2.49, the Minister of National Defence can request that the Minister of Finance designate the mission for tax relief. For high risk levels of 2.5 and above, tax relief is automatic.
The member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman stated on April 4, 2017, in reference to Question No. 600:
The answers to this question means that the troops that were deployed by the Conservative government had all their danger pay and tax relief benefits.
I would like to draw to the attention of members that the tax relief benefits were implemented retroactively during our government's mandate, in February 2016, which is why, during question period on March 8, 2017, the Minister of National Defence stated:
I would also like to correct the member in terms of the previous government's actions on this. It actually sent troops into Kuwait without the tax-free allowance, something we had taken up.
When asked about this topic again in question period on March 21, 2017, the minister responded:
I just wish he had the same passion when he sent the troops to Iraq without the tax-free benefits.
...the previous government was the one that actually sent our troops to Iraq without the tax-free benefit.
The minister's statements are in fact consistent with the response to Question No. 600. The reason the minister said in the House that the previous government sent out troops without the tax-free benefit is that our troops did not receive this compensation immediately upon their arrival in Kuwait.
The current minister had to first request that the Minister of Finance designate the mission for tax relief, which he did in February 2016. Tax relief was then applied retroactively to the beginning of the mission in October 2014.
As such, Canadian Armed Forces personnel serving in Kuwait received retroactive tax relief effective October 5, 2014, the date at which the original risk scores became effective, to September 1, 2016.
To reiterate the facts, the risk scores for Operation Impact were first assessed by the Departmental Hardship and Risk Committee on June 11, 2015. At that time, Kuwait locations Ali Al Salem, Al Jaber, and Arifjan were all assigned a risk score of 2.13. Because their risk scores were greater than 2.00 but less than 2.50, on January 26, 2016, the Minister of National Defence requested the Minister of Finance to designate Operation Impact Kuwait locations for tax relief. The Minister of Finance concurred with the request on February 16, 2016, and the tax relief was applied retroactively starting October 5, 2014, as well.
Allegations of breach of privilege are often dismissed as disputes as to the facts. For example, on May 7, 2012, the Speaker ruled on the question of privilege regarding statements respecting the proposed acquisition of F-35 fighter jets. He referenced page 510 in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which 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.
Therefore, on May 7, 2012, the Speaker ruled as follows:
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 follows:
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. I believe that the member is drawing a false parallel to the Speaker's ruling of February 1, 2002, concerning the statements made in the House by the then minister of national defence regarding Afghan detainees. In that ruling, the Speaker stated:
...in deciding on alleged questions of privilege, it is relatively infrequent for the Chair to find prima facie privilege; it is much more likely that the Speaker will characterize the situation as “a dispute as to facts”. But in the case before us, there appears to be in my opinion no dispute as to the facts. I believe that both the minister and other hon. members recognize that two versions of events have been presented to the House.
This case is different from the one before the House. First, there are not two versions of events. What the Minister of National Defence stated in the House on March 8 and 21 of 2017 is consistent with the response to Order Paper Question No. 600. Second, there is no confusion as to whether the minister deliberately misled the House, since the minister's responses in question period and the response to Order Paper Question No. 600 provide the very same information.
Accordingly, I submit that 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.