Mr. Speaker, I am rising to respond to the question of privilege raised by the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek on May 17, 2017, on the alleged premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-49, the transportation modernization act.
The member alleges that the media reports on the bill prior to its introduction constitutes a breach of the privilege of the House. Our government holds parliamentary privilege in the highest regard and takes seriously any allegations that privileges were not respected.
In the case before the House, I submit that the government took great care to ensuring that the details of Bill C-49 were not prematurely divulged prior to its introduction.
I would like to draw the attention of members to the extensive consultations that were held on the review of the Canada Transportation Act. In fact, these consultations began under the previous government. As part of these consultations, over 480 meets and roundtable discussions were held and over 230 written submissions were received between June 2014 and December 2015. The current Minister of Transport supplemented this work with a wide-ranging set of consultations, holding 10 major round tables across the country between May and November 2016, as well as holding engagement sessions on social media.
Following these extensive consultations, the minister made a speech on November 3, 2016, which outlined his vision entitled “Transportation 2030 - A Strategic Plan for the Future of Transportation in Canada”.
Following the launch of the transportation 2030 strategy, the minister continued to meet with a wide range of stakeholders in the transportation sector, gave speeches and media interviews, and spoke in the House about issues he intended to address through upcoming legislation. That is to say, any reporter or interested stakeholder would have had a very good idea of what issues were to be addressed in Bill C-49.
Before turning to the facts of the matter before the House, I would point out that the Speaker must judge the extent to which the issue has infringed upon the ability of members to discharge their parliamentary duties. Page 145 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:
In deliberating upon a question of privilege, the Chair will take into account the extent to which the matter complained of infringed upon any Member's ability to perform his or her parliamentary functions or appears to be a contempt against the dignity of Parliament.
On October 4, 2010, the Speaker ruled that it is indisputable that it is a well-established practice and accepted convention that the House has the right of first access to the text of bills that it will consider. At no time were the specific details of the bill made public. In fact, the minister and his staff refused to comment on the specific details of the provisions of Bill C-49, which was reported by a number of media outlets.
The member cites the March 2001 ruling by Speaker Milliken, which is a clear acknowledgement of the government's prerogative to consult with stakeholders and Canadians in the development of government policy. The ruling states:
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.
I submit this is precisely what the government has done with respect to Bill C-49.
The case that the member cites is drastically different than the situation before the House. The 2001 ruling referred to by the member involved a minister of the crown who gave a detailed briefing on a government bill to the media in advance of the introduction of the bill. Moreover, members and their staff were not permitted to attend the briefing. As a result, members were unable to respond to media inquiries on the content of the bill. This situation sits in stark contrast to the situation before the House.
Let me take a few moments to show why this is not a legitimate question of privilege.
First, in the evening of May 15, the CBC website stated, “Passenger bill of rights will set national standard for air travel”. Stating the general goals of proposed legislation is not a detailed description of the specific measures contained in the bill.
I would submit that this is a general statement of the objective to address an issue. There was no reporting on what the national standards would be or the modalities of scheme. In fact, this would be impossible, since the bill simply authorized the development of regulations to address this issue.
Similarly, CTV News referred to minimum standards for reimbursement for travel disruptions and lost luggage but did not, and I submit could not, refer to what the minimum standards would be, since these standards would be set through the regulatory process. This was confirmed by a CBC report and on CTV News. I am not sure how the member believes that the disclosure of the proposed standards would be in regulations constitutes in any way contempt of this House.
In instances such as this one, where the government has consulted extensively on the development of policy, there are bound to be cases in which an issue, such as air passenger rights, would be made public prior to the introduction of a bill. What differentiates a bona fide contempt of the House through the premature disclosure of the contents of a bill and the case before the House is that no specific details were released.
Moreover, the minister and his staff were clearly cognizant of the imperative of not disclosing the specific details of the bill to avoid a contempt of the House.
For example, I would refer to the May 14 Globe and Mail article where the minister's office denied to comment on the specifics of the bill until properly introduced. Again, in the Canadian Press article of April 11, the minister's spokesperson is quoted as declining to say if the legislation would set industry-wide standards, or raise compensation levels offered in the United States or Europe.
The difference between divulging specific details of a bill and speaking about current issues that may be addressed in a bill should not be lost on members. Speaking about general issues to be addressed in a bill without divulging the specific content of the bill is not only permissible but reasonable. While the government consults on issues which may be made public during the course of consultations, the specific details of provisions to address such issues are only made public following the introduction of the bill. This is precisely the case before the House.
I would refer to the Speaker's ruling of April19, 2016, with respect to the premature disclosure of the content of Bill C-14, where the Speaker highlighted that the specific details of the bill were prematurely disclosed, which had the effect of impeding members in the discharge of their parliamentary duties.
The government brings forward bills that were mentioned in the party's electoral platform, Speech from the Throne, Budgets, mandate letters, or were subject to public consultations. Would a bill to implement an initiative announced in one of the aforementioned policy proposal be automatically be deemed to constitute a prima facie question of privilege once the bill has been introduced?
That cannot be the intent. Media reports leading up to the introduction of Bill C-49 did not reveal specific measures. Nor did these reports act in any way as to impede members in the discharge of their parliamentary duties.
In conclusion, the matter raised by the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek does not meet the threshold of constituting a prima facie question of privilege.