Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a question of privilege concerning misleading comments made to the House of Commons by the Minister of National Revenue.
On December 13, 2018, the minister told the House that the Canada Revenue Agency “hired 1,300 new auditors”. Again, on February 5, 2019, the minister said, “we hired 1,300 new auditors”. This weekend, Quebec newspapers reported that these numbers were wrong and erroneous.
Le Journal de Montréal reported in an article entitled “Elle répète des chiffres erronés depuis cinq mois” that the real figure is 192 new auditors. That is about one-seventh of what the minister claimed to be the truth. Since January 1, 2016, the number of auditors has increased from 6,265 to 6,457.
Page 85 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, describes the three-part test that must be met to establish that the House has been misled. First, it must be proven that the statement was misleading.
Ted Gallivan, deputy commissioner of Revenue Canada, told the newspaper that auditors were replaced as they retired or moved to other jobs. The minister tries to take credit for replacement hiring as so-called new auditors. Le Journal reported that:
Mr. Gallivan even admitted that, unlike [the Minister], he does not use the figure of 1,000 when praising the work of his department.
The minister's spin is, simply put, false.
The second arm of the three-part test is that it must be established that the member making the statement knew it to be misleading.
When called out on her misleading claims by an intrepid journalist, the minister and her office tried to backtrack. According to Le Journal:
The Minister's staff repeatedly told the Journal de Montréal that the Minister was too busy to grant an interview. In response to very specific written questions, her communications director sent us a short statement in which, lo and behold, the reference to “new” auditors had vanished.
She was caught and she backed down. The original statements were not simply some slip of the tongue, or this newest statement a slip of the fingers on a keyboard.
The newspaper reminded its readers that:
The woman who was appointed minister by the [Prime Minister] in late 2015 has been repeating this statement to anyone who cares to hear it since November.
The article goes on to provide a list of occasions in the House, at the finance committee, at press conferences and in written statements where the minister made her claim of new auditors. You can infer, Mr. Speaker, that the minister, confronted by the real facts, is tacitly acknowledging that her claims were misleading.
Finally, the third test laid out in Bosc and Gagnon is that the statements must have been made with the intention of misleading the House.
The comments I quoted earlier were made during question period. A plain reading of the situation is that they were obviously meant to deflect and parry opposition charges against the Liberal government's failures to take tax evasion seriously. The minister's comments were meant to contain the political damage of her lacklustre efforts to address tax evasion and the Liberal government's reluctance to crack down on the well-connected with deep pockets. However, it is not just members who were misled. It is indeed all Canadians.
The article quotes Toby Sanger, the executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, who said:
When the Minister spoke about more than 1,300 new auditors, I definitely thought that the number of positions had increased by that amount. I feel that I was completely deceived by the Minister...
Mr. Sanger is not alone. The minister has been trying to fool all Canadians but it has not worked.
In closing, I want to add a comment about how this satisfies the requirement for a question of privilege to be raised in a timely manner. As you can tell, Mr. Speaker, my first language is English. I do not sit for a Quebec constituency, so I do not routinely follow Quebec media in real time every weekend. This news, however, has come to my attention upon my return to Ottawa this week for the sittings of the House.
With that said, if you find a prima facie case of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.