I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 30, 2018, by the member for Milton regarding the government's response to written Question No. 1316, tabled in the House on January 29, 2018.
I want to thank the member for Milton for having raised the question, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for his response.
The member for Milton explained that she had submitted a written question asking the Minister of Environment and Climate Change for the titles of the individuals who had approved a particular tweet from November 7, 2017. In response, she received what she described as a non-answer, as it lacked the specific information requested. She explained further that the information she was looking for was recently provided to the CBC by the government through an access to information request. This she characterized as a deliberate attempt by the government to deny information to her and the House, and thus, a contempt of the House.
In response, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that it is not the role of the Speaker to judge the quality of answers provided to Order Paper questions and that the answer was in fact duly tabled as per the rules of the House. He was also of the view that, through the two different processes—that is, written questions and access to information requests—different questions were asked and, thus, different answers provided.
The right of members to obtain timely and accurate information from the government, through whatever means, is essential to the proper functioning of our parliamentary system.
My predecessor made this point clearly on May 26, 2015, when he said, at page 14137 of Debates, and I quote:
Members place great importance on obtaining full and accurate information through answers to their written questions, a procedure that exists in part to allow members to fulfill their obligations as parliamentarians.
Despite this, the fact remains that under current practices the Speaker’s authority is limited in this respect. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice mentions at page 529:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.
In a ruling dated February 8, 2005, which can be found at page 3234 of Debates, Speaker Milliken further explained:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.
While I cannot conclude that there is a prima facie question of privilege, all members must have easy access to precise, relevant and complete information. Commensurate with this obligation is the government's responsibility to provide that information to members in support of their work as parliamentarians.
I thank members for their attention.