House of Commons Hansard #2 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pandemic.


Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8)(a), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 67 petitions. These returns will be tabled in an electronic format.

COVID-19 Economic Recovery ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Delta B.C.


Carla Qualtrough LiberalMinister of Employment

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-2, An Act relating to economic recovery in response to COVID-19.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Papineau Québec


Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I rise today in the House to pay tribute to the late Right Hon. John Turner, Canada's 17th prime minister.

I knew John my whole life, and he believed fiercely in the values that make us who we are as Canadians, values like treating everyone with dignity and respect and always being willing to stand up for what is just and right. Today we remember him as a House of Commons man, a strong advocate for equality and a champion of our democracy.

We live in an extraordinary country, thanks in part to people like John Turner. John learned to love democracy very early in life. From his earliest years, his mother taught him the importance of public service.

Throughout his career, first as a lawyer and later as a politician, he was always the epitome of elegance and humility. John treated every person with dignity and respect. No matter how busy he was, he never forgot anyone's birthday.

As a member of Parliament, John had the privilege of serving three different provinces. Thanks to his mastery of the law and the democratic process, he was able to overhaul the Criminal Code. His work for the Department of Justice paved the way for legal aid in Canada, ensuring that every person could defend their rights, regardless of their economic or cultural background. These changes transformed the lives of millions of Canadians.

It was obvious to anyone who spoke with John how much he loved Canada. John always talked about his country with immense hope and optimism. For him, Canada was a place where people helped and respected one another, a place where equality was a way of life.

It was just last year that John was on the Hill to celebrate his 90th birthday with people from across the political spectrum, and I remember that he was still passionate about strengthening our democratic institutions. He used to say that “Democracy doesn't happen by accident.” He was right.

John knew that keeping our democracy strong and free meant we needed to put in the hard work to keep it that way. He believed in the incredible power of young people to get involved in our democratic process and encouraged them to do that wherever he could. John knew that Canadians, regardless of age or background, formed the heart of our country and that our future depended on all of us working together for everyone.

Today, as we mourn his loss and reflect on his legacy, let us all remember our ability to give back to our own communities.

To John's wife, Geills, and their children Elizabeth, Michael, David and Andrew, to his grandchildren, his sister Brenda Norris and brother-in-law David Kilgour, your husband, loving father and brother was a great Canadian. We are all so lucky you shared him with us.

I invite my fellow Canadians to join us in signing the virtual book of condolences, and together, let us continue to work to defend and strengthen our democracy. As John once said, let us not take this country for granted.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the official opposition and the Conservative Party of Canada, I have the honour to pay tribute to former prime minister the Right Hon. John Turner.

Some people leave their mark on this place in a way that outlasts them by decades. To walk the halls and see their portraits is to be reminded daily that we stand where they stood.

The tributes that have poured out for Mr. John Turner in the last week could easily lead one to believe that the very existence of the modern Liberal Party is his greatest legacy. So many veterans of the Martin and Chrétien campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s took to television, to social media, and to local radio and newspapers this week to pay tribute to the man they give credit for getting them involved in politics.

Their stories had one common theme. They spoke to a plain truth that John Turner never forgot and that so many who held the same lofty offices as his have never known. John Turner cared about individual Canadians, and not just those he encountered in the halls of power, where he spent more than 20 years as attorney general, finance minister, prime minister and leader of the opposition. Stories this week have been set in airplanes, taverns, church basements and coffee shops, stories of a man who took the extra time to know Canadians' stories and remember their names.

We have a tendency in moments like this to turn men into monuments, and with a prime minister who was an Olympic athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, that would be very easy to do. However, to Canadians who shared their stories this week of a man who remembered their names years after first meeting them, of a politician who inspired them to get off the couch, of an adversary without a shred of malice in his heart, the John Turner who comes through is one who always had more interest in being a person than he ever had in being a portrait.

I will relate a story. It is very interesting, and when I first heard it I questioned whether it was actually true. When I tell the story, I think those who have not heard it will share in my awe.

As the story goes, the young Liberal MP John Turner and his wife were vacationing in Barbados. While on the beach one morning, Mr. Turner's wife noticed a man out for a swim who appeared to be in trouble. The surf was rough that day. There was a strong undertow and the elderly man was not a strong swimmer. Mr. Turner's wife anxiously alerted her husband to the situation. Without hesitation, the young MP, who was a competitive swimmer in his university days, plunged into the surf. Grasping the man in a life-saving hold, he struggled against the undertow and finally made it back to shore.

Once on the beach, Mr. Turner set out to give the man mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When the resuscitated gentleman came to his senses, who was the person Mr. Turner had saved? It was none other than the Progressive Conservative leader, former prime minister and then leader of the opposition John Diefenbaker. Is that not unbelievable? It is one thing to run into a colleague on a holiday, especially an opposition colleague, but it is another thing to save that individual's life. What an amazing and wonderful story.

They say that the greatest compliments are those that come from our staunchest adversaries, and in spite of being one of his fiercest adversaries, former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney had this to say about Mr. Turner:

The fact that he was a gentleman set him apart.... He was leader of the opposition...and while we had many battles...there was no malice in the man. He was a man of principle, so he brought a great sense of dignity both to himself and to the various jobs he held.

He always conducted himself with dignity and with elegance, so I think he's going to be remembered, of course, as a prime minister, but also as a parliamentarian, who contributed a great deal to Canada in the course of a highly successful life.

As I say, he brought to politics a very, very good mind and a vision for Canada. He brought all those values, including integrity and dignity, to his job. He symbolized, I thought, much of what was best about Canada.

What wonderful words from former prime minister Brian Mulroney about the Right. Hon. John Turner.

In closing, history has taught us that we always knew where John Turner stood. It did not matter if it was the prime minister he served, the Canadian people he faced or the party that he dedicated his life to. He did the hard job for every prime minister he served, and from what I have heard, when he disagreed with them they knew it. In fact, John Turner was the last finance minister to have resigned from cabinet on principle. Mr. Turner had all the qualities one would want in a Canadian statesman, even when people disagreed with him, and sometimes especially when people disagreed with him.

Our public life is richer because of the contributions the Right Hon. John Turner made. May he rest in peace.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, John Napier Turner was born in England in 1929. He emigrated to Canada with his mother in 1932 after his father died.

A true athlete, he qualified for the 1948 Olympics in London but was unable to compete because of a knee injury. Although sprinting was his speciality, his political career was more like a marathon.

John Turner entered politics for the first time in 1962, when he was elected to represent the Liberal Party of Canada in the riding of Saint-Laurent—Saint-Georges, on the Island of Montreal. Six years later, in 1968, this ambitious man ran to succeed Lester B. Pearson as the leader of the Liberal Party. However, it was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who became the Liberal leader and then prime minister.

As the justice minister under that government, John Turner decriminalized abortion and homosexuality. These changes to the Criminal code were a major step forward for the rights of women and the LGBT community. It was also in his capacity as justice minister that Mr. Turner applied the controversial War Measures Act during the October 1970 crisis. In 1972, he became finance minister, a position he held for three years.

Members will recall that John Turner was not happy about Quebec not being a party to the constitutional agreement of 1982. While his Liberal Party colleagues were adamantly opposed to recognizing Quebec's distinct character, John Turner was in favour of the Meech Lake accord. That is why Jean Chrétien, his long-time political rival, accused him of not standing up to Quebec.

In 1984 John Turner finally achieved his dream, replacing Pierre Elliott Trudeau as the leader of the Liberal Party and becoming Prime Minister. Although his time as Prime Minister was short, lasting only 79 days, John Turner loyally remained the leader of the official opposition until 1990 and finally retired from politics in 1993.

His important contribution to politics deserves recognition.

On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends mourning his loss today.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, today we are paying tribute to John Napier Turner, who made major contributions to politics in Canada.

With the passing of John Turner we mourn a prime minister of Canada and a man who made incredible contributions to public life as a minister of finance, a minister of justice, and briefly as a prime minister and as the leader of the opposition in his decades of public life.

As the House is well aware, John Turner was larger than life outside of politics as well. He was a Rhodes scholar, a talented athlete and a skilled lawyer.

Ed Broadbent, a former leader of the NDP, who served with him in Parliament, said of him that of all the party leaders he had known, John Turner had the deepest respect for Parliament and for its democratic rules and procedures.

In the end, though, he never did take a seat in Parliament as a prime minister, 11 seats down from your seat, Mr. Speaker.

We can talk about his contributions. We can certainly talk about his background. However, I would like to speak about his being an inspiration to so many Canadians. I know this because of my own family history. My father, who is now 98 and still married to my mother, who is 97—we have good genes in New Westminster—was a long-time school administrator and teacher, and someone who won a high school basketball championship in British Columbia and was a school board trustee in New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby. He had never run for higher office, but when John Turner became the leader of the Liberal Party, he was inspired and sought and won the Liberal nomination. He ran for the Liberals in that riding, 20 years before I ran for the NDP. Though that election did not turn out as either my father or John Turner had planned, the reality is that John Turner inspired hundreds of candidates across the country and millions of Canadians in the elections of 1984 and 1988. If members were to visit my parents' home in New Westminister, B.C., they would see many pictures of John Turner with my father.

That inspiration John Turner developed and provoked in so many Canadians is something that lives today. His deep respect for democracy was something I think all Canadians admire. The reality is that our democracy is as good and as strong as the calibre of the representatives Canadians choose for themselves.

John Turner was an exemplary public servant and will be greatly missed.

The NDP caucus and our leader offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of John Napier Turner.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like the unanimous consent of the House to also offer condolences on behalf of the Green Party.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Do we have unanimous consent?

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I also want to thank all of my colleagues.

It is a great honour for me to address the chamber to pay tribute to my friend, John Turner.

I, obviously, am from a different generation, and in case anyone thinks I have changed sides, I am wearing red today in honour of John Turner. I do not know how I became so lucky to be considered worthy to be one of the few opposition MPs invited to what I think will go down in history as an extraordinary event, his 90th birthday party on June 10 last year.

John Turner did not approach reflections on his 90th birthday as someone who was out of it, who was not paying attention, who was just reflecting on the past, but gave a speech that was a clarion call to democracy. To his last days, he was engaged in the life of this country. He loved Canada so passionately, and his contributions to this country must not be underestimated. When he was Minister of Justice, he gave us legal aid. He said that everyone had to have access to the law, that they had to have access to a defence. He also took the first step on the very long road to LGBTQ rights by ending the criminality of same-sex relations in this country through a change to the Criminal Code.

He did much, and he was remembered and celebrated at that birthday party, as we have now heard, by Brian Mulroney by video and other living prime ministers who were present, including the Right Hon. Joe Clark, who gave a spectacular address, the Right Hon. Paul Martin and the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien. It was an extraordinary evening.

I want to give my condolences to Geills; Elizabeth; granddaughter, Fiona, and to my dear friends, Laura and David Kilgour, family members of someone who exemplifies what it means to be a great Canadian. John Turner is the exemplar of what that looks like: John Turner was a great Canadian.

Rather than spending anymore time saying things about him that I have learned, I have to say that he fought so hard against the creation of the PMO as a big-time institution. He was there, working for our current prime minister's father. Indeed, Tom Axworthy famously relates how when he was working for Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Tom was sent with a message from John Turner, Minister of Finance. Turner said to him, “You just go back there and tell the boss that I don't need some junior G-man from PMO coming around here to tell me what to do.” Those were the days. It has taken a while.

I want to end what I am saying by quoting what John Turner told us on his birthday. It goes to the essence of what he meant by saying that democracy does not happen by accident, as the Prime Minister has mentioned. He said that often:

I don't like the use of the term “backbencher” when describing MPs. It is the MP who holds a prominent position in the House of Commons. My thinking on this is honed from the Magna Carta—one of the greatest pieces of democracy ever. Written in 1215, it laid out the essence of democracy in Great Britain and became the template of democracy worldwide.

Then, reflecting on the Magna Carta and the importance of the people voting, and the people who are elected occupying the position of government, he said:

It's so different today, where Prime Ministers

—and here I want to make sure that is plural, so that no one thinks they are being singled out—

act in a manner that I can only describe as unilateral.

The most important part of democracy in my view is that “people govern people”. We have to hold that principle sacred...where debate and opinion of people matter.

...democracy does not happen by accident.

I thank John Turner for his constant reminder that we have to contribute to our society and give back. He lived under principles of faith as a devote Catholic. He understood that what we do to each other, we can expect to be done unto us, and we have an obligation to the entire family of humanity.

Eternal rest grant unto him. Light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Hon. John TurnerRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I am grateful that we are able to come together today to pay our respects to our colleague as members of the parliamentary family. During and even beyond his long political career, John Turner was a passionate defender of our parliamentary democracy.

Together let's commemorate the life of Canada's 17th prime minister.

I invite all hon. members to stand to observe a moment of silence.

[A moment of silence observed]

Hong KongPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.


Kenny Chiu Conservative Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition from Canadians concerned with the passing of the national security legislation in Hong Kong. It is their belief that the passing of this law is in gross violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the one country, two system framework. The petitioners call upon the government to impose appropriate sanctions under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act.

Human Organ TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back. I am presenting two petitions today. The first is in support of Bill S-204, which was put forward in the Senate by Senator Salma Ataullahjan. The bill would make it a criminal offence for Canadians to go abroad to receive an organ for which there has not been consent, and it would also create a provision to make someone inadmissible to Canada if they had been involved in organ harvesting or trafficking. This is an important human rights bill. Efforts have been made to pass similar versions of this bill in this and the other place for over 10 years.

Physician-Assisted DyingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, the second petition speaks to the government's priorities with respect to health care in January and February when it could have been focusing on improving seniors care and preparing for a response to the pandemic. The government's focus was instead on removing vital safeguards associated with the government's euthanasia regime. The petitioners raise concern about the government's plans previously in Bill C-7 to eliminate a 10-day reflection period and also reduce the number of witnesses required. The petitioners believe that these were important safeguards that need to be in place and question the government's priorities with respect to removing safeguards when there are so many other vital health care issues that we should be focused on.

Maternity LeavePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

September 24th, 2020 / 10:30 a.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions that I would like to table today. The first is signed by over 2,600 Canadians and calls on the government to extend paid maternity leave for a minimum of three months for mothers in Canada during the pandemic, and noting that many of them are not receiving adequate health care due to the redirection of these health resources as a result of COVID-19. As well, many are not able to get affordable, quality child care at this time. As such, the petitioners note that COVID-19 has significantly impacted their physical and mental health and call on the government to allow mothers who are currently on 12 months of maternity leave the option of switching to 18 months of maternity leave.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has over 6,000 signatures. The petitioners call for action from the government for people who are struggling with family separation because of the delay in spousal sponsorship applications. People are desperate to reunite with their loved ones, yet the immigration process for spousal sponsorship has ground to a halt. They call on the government to create a special temporary resident visa for applicants, with reasonable eligibility criteria and conditions, and to allow spouses and their children from visa required countries to easily apply for the STRV online and to issue and deliver multi-entry STRVs electronically and expeditiously. We need to ensure that the capacity to process applications is increased and that we address the lengthy delays that exist. Prompt action is required.

OpioidsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to table a petition on behalf of residents from Cumberland and Courtney. They call on the government to declare the current opioid overdose and fentanyl poisoning crisis a national public health emergency under the Emergencies Act in order that the government can manage and resource this crisis with the aim of reducing and eliminating preventable deaths from poisoned fentanyl. We have lost over 147 residents in British Columbia in August alone. The government has not declared it a public health emergency despite the fact that over 15,000 Canadians have died since 2016. The petitioners want the government to reform current drug policy and decriminalize personal possession. Last, they want the government to create with urgency and immediacy a system to provide safe, unadulterated access to substances so that people who use substances experimentally, recreationally or chronically are not at imminent risk of overdose due to a contaminated source. These petitioners are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and cousins of people who have died and lost loved ones. The government needs to take action.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples to present the following petition. It relates to an aspect of the climate crisis and calls on the government the deal with how we send our money to developing countries and how that money should be allocated.

The petitioners recognize that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly indicated that the impact of accelerated global warning has disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable. This is increasing inequities, particularly for women, in the developing world. Approximately a third of Canada's climate finance has been in investment projects for adaptation and is, very specifically, missing some opportunities to allocate money as grants instead of loans.

The petitioners call on the Government of Canada to commit at least 50% of Canada's public climate finance for developing countries to adaptation and at least 15% to projects that target gender equality as a primary objective.

Health CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to stand today to present a petition by seniors advocates in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

COVID-19 has exposed the degradation of care to seniors and the instability of the workforce.

The petitioners are calling on the government to include long-term care in the public health system by creating national standards for care and staffing levels under the Canada Health Act and ensure accountability; eliminate profit-making by government-funded long-term care facilities, ensure funds are spent as allocated and ban subcontracting; standardize equitable living wages and benefits, and implement single-site employment for all staff; strengthen government oversight, and initiate strong penalties and clawbacks for facilities not complying with the regulations; and require independent family councils with protect rights.

I would like to thank Penny MacCourt in my riding. There are 2,500 signatures on this petition.

Health CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before proceeding, I just want to remind all members that when presenting petitions we ask that they be as brief as possible and have a synopsis. We only have limited time, and we want to make sure that all members get to present their petitions.

I wish to inform the House that, because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 20 minutes today.

Provision of Documents to the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.


Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today on a question of privilege concerning the Liberal government's disrespect of an order of the Standing Committee on Finance requiring the production of records related to the Prime Minister's half-billion-dollar WE scandal.

At its July 7 meeting, the finance committee adopted the following motion:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), the Committee order that any contracts concluded with We Charity and Me to We, all briefing notes, memos and emails, including the contribution agreement between the government and the organization, from senior officials prepared for or sent to any Minister regarding the design and creation of the Canada Student Service Grant, as well as any written correspondence and records of other correspondence with We Charity and Me to We from March 2020 be provided to the Committee no later than August 8, 2020; that matters of Cabinet confidence and national security be excluded from the request; and that any redactions necessary, including to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents, as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter, be made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.

On or about August 8, the government provided the finance committee's clerk with about 5,600 pages of materials. These documents were subsequently released to committee members on August 18, mere minutes before the prorogation of Parliament. It is important to understand that these pages often included several copies of the same emails and, worse, many of the pages featured blacked-out, redacted, obscured and hidden content. It is those redactions that trouble me, and they should trouble every member of Parliament.

I will quote Speaker Milliken's highly publicized Afghan detainee documents ruling from April 27, 2010. This is on page 2042 of the debates. He said:

Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built. In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and in fact an obligation.

The finance committee exercised its privilege and obligation to get to the bottom of this extraordinarily troubling WE scandal wherein the Prime Minister handed his friends $543.33 million in a contribution agreement to run a paid volunteer scheme, instead of trusting Canada's hard-working public servants to administer the CSSG.

The order I quoted, which passed, allowed for cabinet confidences and national security content to be excluded. All other vetting was to be done by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. Of course, a contract to a children's charity for a youth volunteering program would not involve national security, but it is simply a standard form for motions generally used at committees lately.

The government, however, contravened the committee's order, as is explained in the law clerk's own August 18 letter to the finance committee:

The letters accompanying the documents for each department stated that redactions had been made to protect Cabinet confidences in accordance with the motion adopted by FINA. In addition, the letters and documents indicate that the departments had also made redactions to protect personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act, to protect third party information and information on the vulnerability of their computer or communication systems, or methods employed to protect their systems. These latter grounds for exemption from disclosure are contained in the Access to Information Act.

Upon reception of the documents on August 9, 2020, you provided them to my Office so that we could make the necessary redactions to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as public services as contemplated by the production order. However, as mentioned above, the documents had already been redacted by the departments to protect personal information and on other grounds.

Here comes the kicker:

As my Office has not been given the opportunity to see the unredacted documents, we are not able to confirm whether those redactions are consistent with the order of Committee.

Further down the page, Mr. Dufresne adds the following:

As mentioned above, the department made certain redactions to the documents on grounds that were not contemplated in the order of the Committee.

A moment ago, I referred to the finance committee using a familiar form of motion. I should pause here to note that the entire pattern of document redactions is also familiar. On February 26, the health committee adopted a document production order seeking records concerning the Liberal government's preparations for the current pandemic. In response, the government provided significantly censored documents, covering up key details about the Liberals' failures to prepare Canada adequately against COVID-19. That episode required Mr. Dufresne to write a similar letter to the clerk of the health committee noting the government's open defiance of a parliamentary committee exercising its constitutional rights.

For a government that preaches transparency and openness by default, its track record of blocking out inconvenient facts speaks louder. However, one significant evolution since the health committee's experience is that here the government tried to deflect responsibility elsewhere for the redactions.

According to an article on August 27 on CBC News entitled, “Commons law clerk says government went too far in redacting WE Charity documents”:

Last week, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office told CBC News that the redactions were done by the parliamentary law clerk, who was following the committee's direction to remove documents covered by cabinet confidentiality and personal information about Canadian citizens.

The Prime Minister's Office was trying to deny its complicity in the cover-up concerning these documents. In fact, this seems to have been a talking point circulated among Liberals.

On the evening of August 19, I was part of a panel discussion on CBC's Power & Politics along with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He repeated the Prime Minister's Office's alternative facts and told viewers that night, “The motion included a proviso that redactions should be done as necessary to protect certain interests, including privacy interests, etc., and those should be done by House administration, including the Office of the Law Clerk. That is exactly what happened in this case. The motion was followed to the letter. Redactions were done not by the government and not by political staff but by House of Commons objective officials.”

The denials of the Prime Minister's Office have been exposed as bald-faced lies in the law clerk's letter. Those denials were also given voice by the parliamentary secretary, who had likely been unwittingly briefed and scripted by the PMO to believe that they were true.

It is my respectful submission, Mr. Speaker, that two separate grounds for a prima facie contempt of Parliament are made out in these facts.

First, as the law clerk and parliamentary counsel informed the committee's clerk on August 18, the government disrespected a lawful order of a committee of the House of Commons to produce documents. This is, for reasons I will argue, an appropriate case to come directly before the House.

Second, the Prime Minister's Office and the parliamentary secretary, in attempting to deflect criticism from the government's redaction of those documents in disobedience of a committee's order, made misrepresentations about the work of a table office of this House and risked damaging his reputation in the process.

Allow me to offer you, Mr. Speaker, some of the applicable precedents and procedural background to these issues.

As to the first ground, the breach of a committee order, the law clerk's own letter helpfully offers a succinct explanation of the situation. This is what it says:

We note that the House's and its committees' power to order the production of records is absolute and unfettered as it constitutes a constitutional parliamentary privilege that supersedes statutory obligations, such as the exemptions found in the Access to Information Act. The House and its committees are the appropriate authority to determine whether any reason for withholding the documents should be accepted or not. One such measure is the Committee's decision to have my Office make the necessary redactions to protect personal information and the public servants providing assistance in this matter.

Page 137 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, explains the source of this authority:

By virtue of the preamble and section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, Parliament has the ability to institute its own inquiries, to require the attendance of witnesses and to order the production of documents, rights which are fundamental to its proper functioning. These rights are as old as Parliament itself.

Bosc and Gagnon add, further down on that same page, that:

For the purposes of an inquiry, the committee may send for any papers that are relevant to its order of reference.

This right to order the production of documents is unlimited. At pages 984 to 986, Bosc and Gagnon elaborate that:

Public servants and Ministers may sometimes invoke their obligations under certain legislation to justify their position. Companies may be reluctant to release papers which could jeopardize their industrial security or infringe upon their legal obligations, particularly with regard to the protection of personal information. Others have cited solicitor-client privilege in refusing to allow access to legal papers or notices.

These types of situations have absolutely no bearing on the power of committees to order the production of papers and records. No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of that power rooted in House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.

Tension between government and Parliament on the interaction between the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act on the one hand, with the document production orders on the other, is as old as the laws themselves.

Some books were not available from the Library of Parliament due to COVID limitations, so I am drawing from digital text.

For example, the first report of the former Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections from the third session of the 34th Parliament states, at page 9 of the Journals for May 29, 1991:

After careful consideration and consultation, the committee has concluded there is nothing in the Privacy Act to prevent the House of Commons from issuing an order for the production of unexpurgated versions of the two reports.... The House, in our opinion, has the the absolute power to issue an order requiring the solicitor General to provide the two reports in their entirety.

Disregarding a committee order is a very serious matter. Page 239 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, explains this:

Disobedience to rules or orders represents an affront to the dignity of the House, and accordingly the House could take action, not simply for satisfaction but to ensure that the House of Commons is held in the respect necessary for its authority to be vindicated. Without proper respect, the House of Commons could not function. Thus, disobedience may well be considered contempt.

In substituting its own judgment for the finance committee's or the law clerk's, the government has overstepped its authority and flouted the will of the finance committee.

Sir John Bourinot in his first edition of Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, wrote at page 281:

But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the House to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the Houses.

In the Afghan documents ruling, the chair articulated at page 2,044 an approach to raising those “reasons very cogent”, namely to make the case through the persuasion of debate and the offering of amendments to the motion under debate.

In the end the government does not have the final say for, as Speaker Milliken put it:

The House debated the matter and voted to adopt an Order for the production of documents despite the request of the Government.

In usurping the role assigned to the law clerk, the Liberal government's evasion of accountability represents a grave affront to the dignity and authority of the House of Commons.

Page 138 of Bosc and Gagnon speaks to the present situation stating, “If such an order is ignored, the committee has no means to enforce the order on its own. It may report the matter to the House and recommend that appropriate action be taken. It is then a decision of the House whether or not to issue an order for the production of papers.”

Obviously, the committee was unable to report its situation directly to the House because the Prime Minister shut down Parliament through prorogation quite literally within minutes of the documents becoming available. In fact, it has become perfectly plain for all to see the motivation for prorogation was to shut down committee investigations getting too close to the Prime Minister for his own comfort.

If the Speech from the Throne was about presenting a refreshing agenda reflecting the COVID pandemic, the Prime Minister simply could have prorogued Parliament the night before last, or yesterday morning for that matter. He did not need to shut down Parliament on August 18. The only thing that accomplished was killing committee investigations cold in their tracks.

This brings me to page 152 and 153 of Bosc and Gagnon, which I want to address directly. They state, “Speakers have consistently ruled that, except in the most extreme situations, they will hear questions of privilege arising from committee proceedings only upon presentation of a report from the committee which deals directly with the matter”.

I would respectfully submit the present situation is one of those extreme cases where the Speaker's direct intervention is warranted. This is not a matter in which we can just pick up tomorrow where we left off.

Page 977 of Bosc and Gagnon explains, “Certain specific conditions must be met to continue with a study begun during a previous session or Parliament.... Finally, committees must be constituted; that is, they must be assigned members and a Chair must be chosen.”

The finance committee has no members and it has no chair. In fact, if the Liberals were being particularly cynical, they could exploit Parliamentary tactics to keep our committees from considering substantive business until November.

On December 4, 1992, the House considered a question of privilege concerning the intimidation of a subcommittee witness. In making his argument, then Liberal deputy House leader Don Boudria said at page 14,630 of the Debates:

I wish to bring to your attention in the unlikely event that you would be tempted to rule that this matter should be dealt with at committee, that in fact the committees are in the process of winding down for the Christmas period.

This evidence was brought before a sub-committee which has terminated its proceedings for the next few months. Therefore, the evidence on this could only be heard before committee in a number of months from now at the earliest, if at all, in the event of a prorogation of Parliament later.

For his part, Mr. Speaker Fraser argued at page 14,631, ruling, “Some mention has been made that this matter arose in a committee and hon. members will have heard me say many times that usually matters should be put back to committee. My own feeling is that under the circumstances which have been explained to me that is not the convenient or appropriate thing to do at this time.”

Mr. Speaker, your most recent privilege ruling concerned a complaint about something that has previously arisen in committee of the whole and Bosc and Gagnon explain on page 919 its relevance to the present case, stating, “Once that committee has completed its business, it ceases to exist.”

In your ruling on July 22, 2020, at page 2,701 of the Debates you said, “I accept that the particular circumstances of this situation, notably the challenge surrounding the committee of the whole format, do make it appropriate to bring the matter to the Speaker.”

We are, I would argue, in substantively the same position today with standing committees such as the finance committee. Committees were terminated with prorogation and have not yet been reconstituted, and may not be for some time.

I respectfully submit that you ought to extend by analogy your July ruling, not to mention Fraser's 1992 ruling, to the present circumstances of unconstituted standing committees. Prorogation denied the committee the opportunity to meet and to report this abuse by the government to this House. The time necessary to reconstitute committees and the delays that could be attempted compound this problem. The House must have a means to address behaviour contemptuous of committees.

Having made out the grounds for finding a prima facie contempt, I want to speak briefly on the remedy. When members rise on questions of privilege, the Chair always hears that they are prepared to move an appropriate motion. I, too, am prepared to do so. However, I quote Speaker Milliken, who asked rhetorically in the 2010 ruling I cited, at page 2,044:

The authorities I have cited are unanimous in the view of the House's privilege to ask for the production of papers and many go on to explain that accommodations are made between those seeking information and those in possession of it to ensure that arrangements are made in the best interests of the public they both serve.

...Is it possible to put in place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interests of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.

This notion of a prima facie ruling forcing an opportunity to reach a negotiated settlement before addressing the matter before a motion and vote was echoed by Speaker Levac of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on September 13, 2012, at page 5 of the Votes and Proceedings. It is a ruling that should ring bells for some Liberals across the way, specifically for staffers in the Prime Minister's Office. It concerned the Dalton McGuinty government's defiance of a document production order related to the gas plant scandal.

Many of the folks at the heart of the Ontario Liberal operation later picked up and headed down the 401 to Ottawa, some with outrageously high expense claims I should add, and they brought their political playbooks to the nation's capital. One of them who did not make it to Ottawa though was Dalton McGuinty's chief of staff. He was instead sentenced to imprisonment for his role in destroying gas plant scandal records, so it should go without saying that opposition members of Parliament are anxious to lay hands on the full records of the sweetheart deal between the Prime Minister's friends at WE and the Canadian taxpayers.

The Conservatives are prepared to be constructive and reasonable if it means getting expeditious access to the documents in question. Perhaps in the time you are deliberating on these issues we may be able to reach an adequate compromise. To throw out an idea, I note that among the ranks of the official opposition are several privy councillors. One or more of them, on the strengths of their Privy Council oaths, could view the documents to be able to provide assurances to other MPs that the government's grounds for redactions are legitimately claimed.

I recognize that solution may not work well for members of the other two opposition parties. Perhaps an alternative would be for the government to simply allow the House law clerk and his team of lawyers a chance to view the original documents so they can provide MPs with these assurances. I note in passing that the law clerk's own special adviser and counsel previously served as chief of staff to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, so I could not imagine the Liberals having a serious objection to this course of action. Nonetheless, my point is that there are solutions staring us right in the face, if only the Liberal government would engage us on them.

However, if discussions cannot reach an expeditious compromise, I am fully prepared to put a solution forward by way of a motion for the House to decide.

Next, I would like to turn to the second ground for a prima facie contempt finding: the Prime Minister's Office's lies about the law clerk redacting the documents.

Bosc and Gagnon explain this contempt at page 81, which states:

There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege: tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House, such as disobedience of its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its Members, or its officers.

It is worth noting here that the corresponding entry in Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, fourth edition, at page 763, clarifies that the reference to libels extends to slanders. However, in any event, Bosc and Gagnon, at page 81, elaborates upon the scope of contempt of Parliament as follows:

The House of Commons enjoys very wide latitude in maintaining its dignity and authority through the exercise of its contempt power. In other words, the House may consider any misconduct to be contempt and may deal with it accordingly....

Throughout the Commonwealth most procedural authorities hold that contempts, as opposed to privileges, cannot be enumerated or categorized.

To be clear, Mr. Dufresne is, of course, a table officer of the House. Citation 219 of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, sixth edition, reminds us, “The Officers in the service of the House of Commons are the Clerk of the House, the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, the Deputy Clerk, and the Clerks Assistant.”

The Prime Minister's Office, in its effort to spin its way out of a scandal, which has enveloped the whole of government and claimed the career of a finance minister, lied about the work of Mr. Dufresne, attempting to lay blame at his feet. What is more is that the Prime Minister's staff enlisted a member of the House, the member for Parkdale—High Park, to go on television to spread their spin about the law clerk. Maingot, at page 250, writes, “As in the case of a court of law, the House of Commons is entitled to the utmost respect; thus, when someone publishes libellous reflections on the House, they will be treated as contempt of the House.”

Indeed, in a case concerning the defamation of a table officer, Mr. Speaker Tusa of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, on June 24, 1987, at page 79 of the Journals, found a prima facie case of privilege about remarks which “may have harmed the credibility of the Legislative Counsel and Law Clerk”. In that case, the legislative assembly subsequently adopted the following motion:

That this House accepts the apology of the Minister of Justice with respect to his public remarks attacking the credibility of the Legislative Counsel and Law Clerk, and confirms that those remarks constituted a breach of the privileges of this Assembly.

Madam Speaker Sauvé articulated a view on October 29, 1980, at page 4213 of the Debates, on an appropriate threshold when falsehoods were deployed. She stated:

Members will appreciate that the expression “false” is subject to but one interpretation in the House of Commons Debates, that is, pejorative, and it is considered unparliamentary when referring to another hon. member. While the word has less sinister meanings in the context of contempt, it seems to me that to amount to contempt, representations or statements about our proceedings or of the participation of members should not only be erroneous or incorrect, but, rather, should be purposely untrue and improper and import a ring of deceit. To be false in the context of contempt, and interpretation of our proceedings must be an obviously, purposely distorted one....My role, therefore, is to interpret the extracts of the document in question, not in terms of their substance, but to find whether, on their face, they represent such a distorted interpretation of the events or remarks in our proceedings that they obviously attract the characterization of “false”.

The Prime Minister's Office quite clearly knew who was responsible for redacting the documents provided by the government to the finance committee when it was spinning journalists and putting out the justice minister's parliamentary secretary on TV panels.

We are not talking about the woman or man on the street in North Bay who might be following our proceedings from afar through the news. Instead, we are talking about a central player in the scandal implicating an esteemed officer, a table officer of the House, in a distorted interpretation of events, purposely untrue and bearing a heavy ring of deceit.

As Saskatchewan's Mr. Speaker Tusa said on May 23, 1989, at page 94 of the Journals, “it is the duty of the House to protect its officers.” That goes to the essence of my question of privilege.

Members of Parliament have many things said about us in the course of our work. However, we also have many platforms, including the most awesome of them all, the floor of the House of Commons, to respond and defend ourselves. Our table officers, who provide us with such solid support and service, on the other hand, have no such outlet and, if they tried, could risk compromising their neutrality. That is why it is incumbent on us, incumbent on the House, to protect our clerks at the table.

That is why I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to find a prima facie contempt in respect of the Prime Minister's Office and the parliamentary secretary's defamation about the role played by the law clerk in blocking government transparency and breaching a committee's order. We must protect the hard-working staff of the House from being exploited, in this case exploited for political gain, when there is a lie at the heart of such exploitation.

If you find a prima facie contempt, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move an appropriate motion.

Provision of Documents to the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I thank the hon. member for his submission. I will take it under advisement and return to the House.

Provision of Documents to the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that the government did in fact comply with the motion as adopted by the committee. However, it is disappointing that in a time that we are facing a second wave of a pandemic, the Conservatives want to use this time in the House to play partisan politics and talk about the WE Charity rather than focus on providing the help that Canadians need.

I will get the opportunity to review the many comments put on the record by the member opposite and will provide further comment in the coming days.

Provision of Documents to the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for La Prairie wishes to speak to the question of privilege.

Provision of Documents to the Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.


Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, we would like to reserve the right to respond to this question of privilege at a later date.