Mr. Speaker, I rise today to respond to a question of privilege raised by the hon. opposition House leader on March 21, 2018, concerning statements made by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety. My hon. colleague affirmed that the government had misled the House by giving allegedly conflicting versions of what happened with regard to the Jaspal Atwal invitation during the Prime Minister's trip last month.
The House is governed by rules that help to frame the debates that take place here. As mentioned in many rulings, a matter must be raised at the earliest opportunity with the Speaker to be considered a prima facie breach of privilege.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, states at page 145:
...the Member must satisfy the Speaker that he or she is bringing the matter to the attention of the House as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the situation. When a Member has not fulfilled this important requirement, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is not a prima facie question of privilege.
The alleged conflicting statements were communicated on February 27, 2018. The hon. opposition House leader only raised that matter with you on March 21, 2018. That is six sitting days or 22 calendar days after the fact.
On the crux of the matter, I would argue that the matter before us today is not a question of privilege, but rather a matter of debate. In her speech, the hon. opposition House leader referred to Speaker Milliken's 2002 decision where the hon. minister of defence of the time was found in prima facie breach of privilege. What the hon. member failed to mention in her statement is that the PROC committee studied the question and exonerated the minister from the charge laid against him.
It should be noted in the committee report tabled on March 22, 2002, on the question, PROC referred to David McGee's Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, which at page 491 states that when it is alleged that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House, “... it must be established that the Member making the statement knew at the time the statement was made that it was incorrect, and that in making it the member intended to mislead the House.”
Furthermore, I would like to draw attention to your predecessor's ruling of April 29, 2015, which stated at page 13198 of Hansard:
...as your Speaker, I must take all members at their word. To do otherwise, to take it upon myself to assess the truthfulness or accuracy of Members' statements is not a role which has been conferred on me, nor that the House has indicated that it would somehow wish the Chair to assume, with all of its implications.
I would also like to add that in a ruling from January 31, 2008, which can be found at page 2435 of Hansard, Speaker Milliken stated that:
...any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister's response to an oral question is a matter of debate...
As such, I believe that it impossible to state that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Public Safety has misled the House of Commons and that there is no ground to qualify the actions as breaches of privilege. I also maintain that the question of privilege has not been raised in a timely manner. Consequently, I respectfully submit that this is a dispute as to the facts and as such does not constitute a prima facie breach of privilege.