Mr. Speaker, I am at the matter that you asked me to address specifically, so I am going to take a bit of time to ensure I answer all your questions.
Normally, committee problems are left for the committees themselves to sort out. However, there are exceptions. The words of Mr. Speaker Fraser on March 26, 1990, at page 9756 of the Debates are very instructive. This is what he said:
The Speaker has often informed the House that matters of procedural issues that arise in committee ought to be settled in committee unless the committee reports them first to the House. I have, however, said to the House that this practice was not an absolute one and that in very serious and special circumstances the Speaker may have to pronounce on a committee matter without the committee having reported to the House.
This principle was acknowledged more recently by Speaker Milliken in his May 10, 2007, ruling, at page 9288 of the Debates, where he said, “Nevertheless, circumstances do exist in which the importance of a question may require intervention by the Chair.”
Such circumstances arose in a case where Mr. Speaker Fraser found, at page 14629 of the Debates for December 4, 1992, a prima facie case of privilege concerning the intimidation of a witness following her committee appearance by the CBC.
I would also like to refer the Chair to Mr. Speaker Milliken's ruling on November 29, 2010 at page 6560 of the Debates. In that case, as some members may personally recall, an individual on the staff of a finance committee member had divulged to lobbyists information about recommendations. Despite the employer member's sincere and unequivocal apology about the staff's actions, a prima facie case of privilege was found by the Speaker, who said:
This matter is thus not merely of direct personal concern to the member from whose office the leak came or even of concern to the finance committee which reported the leak. As I see it, this is a situation that is of importance to the whole House and all hon. members. It has an institutional dimension that cannot be ignored given the circumstances. The Chair must therefore determine whether it appears that the ability of members to carry out their parliamentary duties has been impeded.
Having considered carefully the arguments presented, I have reached the conclusion that, in this instance, members of the Standing Committee on Finance, individually and collectively, appear to have been impeded in their work. Accordingly, I have no alternative but to find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
Now to borrow Mr. Speaker Fraser's words about very serious and special circumstances, the situation involving the justice committee and the Liberal cover-up I would submit is one of those cases. To borrow Mr. Speaker Milliken view about an institutional concern, I would argue that this present situation is a fundamental and an institutional one.
Indeed, the point reminds me of the important ruling by Mr. Speaker Fraser on October 10, 1989, at page 4457 of the Debates, respecting presumptuous government advertising. This concern is doubly so in light of the letter published last evening on behalf of the Liberal members of the justice committee. Key words often quoted from that ruling should be reiterated, “we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.”
Just let me roll back on this and why it is important. The fundamental issue of in camera is that only decisions that are deemed in “yes”, meaning that only motions that are voted in favour of, are then released to the public. When that Liberal staff member went out and distributed this motion to members of the press individually, the presumption was made that this motion would pass in committee. That is what I am referring to here.
On this aspect of presuming a committee decision, allow me to draw the Chair's attention to the ruling by Mr. Speaker Zwozdesky of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, at page 292 of the Journals for December 2, 2013, concerning a government brochure which presumed, among other things, a decision to be taken by a legislative committee. In his ruling, the Alberta Speaker said:
It is clear to your chair that the advertising in the brochure I referenced earlier did presume that a decision had been made by the Members’ Services Committee...That decision had not been made, in fact. That decision had not been made until the following Friday. Let me make sure I said that correctly: I am of the opinion that the advertising in the brochure presumed a decision that had not yet been made by the Members’ Services Committee.
The continued absence of adherence to some of the proprieties of this institution causes your chair a great deal of grief and anguish....I would hope that the dignity and authority of this Assembly and of its delegated committees would be given greater respect from this day forward. Accordingly, your chair finds that the advertising undertaken by the government on page 6 of the aforementioned brochure, The Building Alberta Plan, does constitute a prima facie case of privilege.
In conclusion, I would respectfully submit that the Liberals' effort at the justice committee this morning to turn the channel away from the SNC-Lavalin scandal which has consumed this government constitutes a breach of privileges of the House.
Should you find a prima facie case of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.