I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 27, 2018, by the hon. member for Langley—Aldergrove concerning the government's Canada summer jobs program.
I would like to thank the member for Langley—Aldergrove for having raised this matter, as well as the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for his comments.
When raising the issue, the member for Langley—Aldergrove explained that many people and organizations in his constituency are not on this year's list of recommended projects for the Canada summer jobs program due to their beliefs, faith, personal conscience, or opinion, which are guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This, he argued, impeded his ability to administer the program on behalf of his constituents and thus constituted a contempt of Parliament.
Members will remember that, immediately prior to the matter being raised, I reminded the House and, in particular, the member for Langley—Aldergrove, that a requisite condition for a prima facie matter of privilege is that it is raised at the earliest opportunity. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Third Edition, explains at page 145 what is expected of members in terms of the timeliness of raising a question of privilege:
The matter of privilege to be raised in the House must have recently occurred and must call for the immediate action of the House. Therefore, 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.
While the member stated that he “just received the list” as proof of the timeliness of the issue, he gave a very detailed account of his communications with Service Canada about the program, which would indicate that he had been aware of the issue for quite some time.
I also recall the member speaking to the issue in the House on several occasions before giving notice to the Chair of his intent to raise a question of privilege, including during statements by members, back on February 13; during the debate on his party's supply day motion of March 1; and during the budget debate on March 20. It is therefore very difficult for the Chair, then, to accept that this matter could not have been raised earlier. As Speaker, I am no more persuaded to do so by the argument of the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands that they did not want to waste my time.
To be clear, the condition of raising a question of privilege at the earliest opportunity is not an arbitrary one. In a ruling delivered on January 30, 2018, I addressed this at page 16516 of the Debates:
There is a tacit understanding that, if a matter goes to the heart of a Member’s or the House’s privileges and immunities, or that contempt is involved, it is of the highest importance and should be addressed urgently.
Speaker Sauvé also explained it well in a ruling on May 26, 1981, when she stated at page 9924 of the Debates:
There has to be a balance in relation to a question of privilege. If an hon. member has a question of privilege, then it has to be dealt with very rapidly. If we defer questions of privilege for several days and they are serious, then I wonder what the meaning...of a question of privilege is. If it is urgent, it is urgent and therefore has to be heard immediately.
On that basis alone, the Chair cannot find that this question of privilege constitutes a prima facie contempt of the House.
As for the substantive arguments brought forward, a close review reveals that the member for Langley—Aldergrove is effectively taking issue with the eligibility criteria of a government program.
What is being challenged is neither a rule nor a practice of the House and is thus an issue to which the authority of the Chair does not extend. On November 22, 2016, I stated at page 7084 of the Debates:
It is equally clear that when members request redress with respect to rules external to the House, as Speaker I can neither interpret nor enforce them. It has long been the case that the Speaker's role is limited to ensuring that the body of rules and practices that the House has adopted are respected and upheld.
My predecessor also made this point on May 12, 2014, at page 5220 of the Debates , when he stated:
It is equally clear that it is not within the Speaker's authority to adjudicate on government policies or processes....
[T]he distinction between governmental procedures and House procedures remains and must be acknowledged.
Additionally, for privilege to be involved, it must be demonstrated that members, or the House as a whole, were impeded in the performance of their parliamentary duties as they relate to a proceeding in Parliament. As Bosc and Gagnon state at page 119:
In instances where Members have claimed that they have been obstructed or harassed, not directly in their parliamentary roles, but while being involved in matters of a political or constituency-related nature, Speakers have consistently ruled that this does not constitute a prima facie case of privilege.
Accordingly, I cannot find this constitutes a prima facie contempt of this House.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.