House of Commons Hansard #2 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commons.

Topics

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to say hello to you and to everyone. I am very pleased to be here today. Before I begin, I must give a special thanks to the people of Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis for putting their trust in me. I am honoured. This is the fifth time I have been elected in this riding.

The throne speech makes no mention of the labour shortage, and yet Canada is under a lot of pressure. The labour shortage is hurting our economy. All sectors are affected. Businesses have had to cut production and some have even had to turn down contracts. In my riding, 91 businesses have 1,402 job openings. Groupe Coté Inox, Exceldor and Plastiques Moore are three of these businesses. They know this reality first-hand. That is on top of runaway inflation and surreal debt.

Why does the government still claim to be a credible economic actor? What will it do to fill our businesses' vacant positions? As my colleague was saying, we have the same number of jobs but no one to fill them.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

November 23rd, 2021 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sophie Chatel Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague and congratulate her on being elected.

Together, Canadians have done extraordinary work to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Second World War. Only that tremendous effort enabled us to save our economy and maintain the progress we have made. Of course we still have work to do. We have all heard about the job shortage, and together we will find better solutions. For starters, we need to invest in immigration programs, make those processes easier, and ensure full employment in our communities. We all know that will be a challenge, and I hope I can count on my colleagues to help us overcome it.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

René Villemure Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, a minute is all I need to comment on the throne speech, because saying that the speech had no substance whatsoever would be an understatement.

I want to acknowledge the people of Trois-Rivières who placed their trust in me. They put their trust and their future in the hands of someone else and I thank them for that. I also thank the volunteers who worked with me and without whom this would not have been possible.

Those issues that were urgent before the election are no less urgent today. Climate action is urgent. Just look at British Columbia. However, if the throne speech is any indication of the government's climate plan, then this government will miss the mark yet again.

Addressing illegal gun trafficking is urgent. Just look at Montreal. However, there was no indication in today's speech that the government is willing to do whatever it can to stop the violence.

We are at the very beginning of the session and the government already seems out of breath. The Bloc Québécois is reaching out once again, hoping that the government's measures are more than just words, words and more words.

Urgent action is needed. Will my colleague work with us to make sure that the government's policies are up to the task?

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sophie Chatel Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Trois-Rivières and I congratulate him on his election win.

I have to say that the climate crisis is indeed at the heart of every action this government takes. This has been true since 2015 and will remain true going forward. It is also at the heart of our economic policies. We have already invested over $100 billion in climate action, and we will increase the effectiveness of our measures. Working together to address this crisis is one of the ways we will achieve our goals.

With regard to guns, we are going to abolish assault-style weapons, and we will work with those provinces that want to restrict handguns. Violence in our cities and towns must stop.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, qujannamiik.

First, it was incredible to hear a part of the throne speech delivered in Inuktitut. Canada is richer for it and my sincere congratulations to Her Excellency Mary May Simon. I love that a quilliq was lit beside her and that I could smell it from where I stood.

I also want to thank all the Nunavummiut who voted for me, supported me and trusted me to represent them in this House. Qujannamiik.

Uqaqtittiji, as I flew from community to community, one constant message was heard, “We need housing and we need it now.” As members are aware, Nunavut has been facing a housing crisis for decades. Nunavummiut have been seeking help from the federal government to build more and better quality housing.

Uqaqtittiji, I would like to know when the Liberal government is going to move from planning to actually funding more housing for Nunavummiut, first nations, Métis and Inuit across Canada.

Qujannamiik.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sophie Chatel Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, the housing crisis is indeed a problem across Canada, but it is particularly serious in our indigenous communities.

It is important that the government acts on all fronts, and especially in our indigenous communities. I have two indigenous communities in my riding, and affordable housing is even more urgent in those communities.

We have committed as a government to do more on housing and more for indigenous communities facing various crises. Housing is one, but mental health is another crisis. We commit to work with the indigenous communities to resolve those crises.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Shelby Kramp-Neuman Conservative Hastings—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my family, the volunteers and the good people of Hastings—Lennox and Addington for granting me this great responsibility in sending me to this House.

The Liberal government has presided over record inflation. Sadly, this is crippling Canadian businesses, families and farms. Hastings—Lennox and Addington is not exempt from this. Out-of-control inflation, debt and the cost of living caused by the irresponsible Liberal government is unacceptable.

Many businesses, families and seniors in the communities in my riding are struggling and are on the brink of bankruptcy. They need meaningful leadership. They need help. Canadians deserve to know when the government will finally listen and take concrete action against this cost of living crisis.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sophie Chatel Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian economy was facing, along with the whole world, the worst crisis it has faced since World War II, and look at where we are now.

Look at where we are now. We are strong because of this government. We are stronger and we will build better, and we will build without leaving anyone behind. That is important.

Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

3:20 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Erin O'Toole ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, as leader of the official opposition and leader of the Conservative Party, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all members of the 44th Parliament for being here today and for some of the first questions we heard in this debate.

The Conservative opposition is concerned by what was not in the Speech from the Throne. We are concerned by the fact that millions of Canadians will continue to be left behind by the Liberal government, which has no plan to fight inflation, in a throne speech that recycles many of the lofty promises we heard six years ago.

Next week, I am going to give my response to the throne speech, and I am going to explain why members on this side of the House are concerned about what we heard today.

I will speak further about our response to Speech from the Throne, but right now, I move, seconded by the opposition House leader:

That the debate be now adjourned.

(Motion agreed to)

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, the last time the House met was on June 23.

At that time, a serious question of privilege had been raised, because the Liberal government had defied the order of the House to table documents related to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

On June 23, my colleague, the whip for the official opposition, was the first to inform the House of an act that is completely unacceptable for any parliamentarian. For the first time in our parliamentary history, the government used the judiciary to attack the legislative branch. For the first time, the government used the justice system to prevent an order of the House from being adopted.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was looking at my iPhone, and I saw that there was a case involving the Attorney General of Canada versus you, Mr. Speaker. Your name was there. It seemed so unbelievable that I had to check with my esteemed colleagues on the Conservative leadership team three times to make sure that what I was reading was true. It was unbelievable, but unfortunately it was true. The government was taking the House of Commons to court to prevent it from implementing a decision that had been duly voted upon by members.

June 23 will therefore always be a sad day for all parliamentarians.

I therefore rise today to once again raise this important question of privilege regarding the fundamental right of the House of Commons to enforce this decision.

What we have seen is totally unacceptable. Why, for the first time in Canadian parliamentary history, did we see the government knocking on the door of the justice system to make sure the House of Commons could not do what it had to do? I will always keep in my memory the famous picture of the document I saw on my iPhone with the Attorney General's name versus the Speaker's name. It was totally unacceptable, but that is the tradition of the current Liberal government and we cannot accept any part of that inside this House.

I would like to quote page 81 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition:

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.

What follows is interesting:

Instances of contempt in one Parliament may even be punished during another Parliament.

In concrete terms, the Prime Minister's decision to dissolve Parliament for his own personal gain and vanity resulted in an almost identical Parliament, but at a cost of $600 million to Canadian taxpayers. All that for what amounted to a cabinet shuffle in the end. Dissolving Parliament does not kill a question of privilege.

I recognize that for many of us, our minds are still on the Speech from the Throne, which the Governor General just delivered, but I wanted to raise this question of privilege as soon as possible, bearing in mind your ruling on September 30, 2020.

Let me quote page 353 of the Debates, finding that the question of privilege that had been raised when the House opened on the third day of the session failed to meet the necessity for timeliness.

I raise this important question of privilege at the first opportunity as it concerns not only the official opposition members, but all parliamentarians here in the House. The current government failed to recognize that the House is more important than anything else when we talk about parliamentary debate, parliamentary democracy and the parliamentary rights of the people who are sitting in the House.

Let us recall the facts surrounding the infamous Winnipeg lab scandal.

In March, the then president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Iain Stewart, was a witness at the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, where its members were unsatisfied with his answers. On March 31, the committee ordered the agency to produce certain documents. The agency would only partly comply with the order.

On May 10, the committee issued another order to give the agency a second chance, but the agency failed to abide by the order at two more committee meetings.

On June 2, the House adopted the motion that the Conservatives, the official opposition, moved in the House. The motion called on the House to issue an order for these documents.

The agency again refused to comply fully. The then Minister of Health claimed she had referred the matter to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

I therefore raised a question of privilege on June 16, which the Chair allowed.

The Chair, recalling Mr. Speaker Milliken's historic ruling in respect of the Afghan detainee documents, ruled that the House had every right to compel the production of documents.

The Chair also ruled that, contrary to that case, which arose from a recklessly drafted Liberal opposition motion, the House had taken the necessary steps to balance parliamentary responsibility with the protection of national security and to promote dialogue with the government on this issue.

As for the Liberals' attempt to sidestep the House order with a referral to the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, you stated clearly that it did not fulfill the House's order.

In response, I moved a motion to find the agency in contempt and to order Mr. Stewart to appear at the bar of the House to receive on behalf of the agency the Speaker's admonishment, and to deliver the ordered documents. That motion was adopted by the House the following day.

On June 20, a day before he was due to appear at the bar, Mr. Stewart provided notice to the Attorney General, under section 38.01 of the Canada Evidence Act, that the agency ”was required to disclose of sensitive or potentially injurious information in relation to a proceeding before the House of Commons and a special committee.”

On June 21, Mr. Stewart appeared here, at the bar of the House of Commons, to receive the Speaker's historic admonishment on behalf of the agency.

However, the chair also received a letter from Mr. Stewart's counsel advising that Mr. Stewart was unable to produce the documents and as a consequence of his notice to the Attorney General, “statutory prohibition and disclosure remains in effect until either the Attorney General authorizes the disclosure or the Federal Court orders it.”

We unfortunately came to learn that in this case, the Attorney General was on the government's side and not on the side of Canadians or even the House of Commons.

Because the government was systematically refusing to hand over the documents set out in the order issued by the House, I raised a second question of privilege, and I would like to have that question examined again.

In the interest of time, I will need to refer members to the fuller submissions, by which I mean the House on June 7, June 15, June 21 and June 23, concerning these matters, along with submissions of the chief opposition whip on June 21 and June 23. Beyond that, there have been subsequent developments on this file that I also hope to highlight.

On June 21, the then government house leader was the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier. I want to pay all my respects to my former counterpart. He wrote to the Chair and notified the House that, in the government's opinion, the House's power to send for persons, papers and records was subject to implicit statutory limitations.

To resolve the impasse, he proposed two options that were not forthcoming in response to any of the four earlier motions, including my first question of privilege. I will come back in a few minutes to those so-called options. Additionally, unknown to the chamber at the time, counsel, on the Attorney General's behalf, simultaneously applied to the Federal Court for an order under the Canada Evidence Act to prohibit disclosure of the remaining information.

That was done without the knowledge of the House of Commons.

We were then served with court documents. On June 23, the media reported on the government's Federal Court application, bringing it to public attention.

In response to several points of order on this matter, you stated the following in the House, and I quote from page 9062 of the Debates:

I want to confirm that the argument is that the legal system does not have any jurisdiction over the operations of the House. We are our own jurisdiction. That is something we will fight tooth and nail to protect, and we will continue to do that.

That is exactly what every parliamentarian should bear in mind, what every person who is duly elected by the people should know and bear in mind, especially those who have the privilege of exercising the supreme authority, in this case with respect to the executive. These people must bear in mind that they are first and foremost members elected by the people, that they are first and foremost accountable to the people and that, above all, they should not have shown contempt for the House of Commons as they did.

Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, you were there at the time, and you made the decisions and provided arguments that were quite appropriate in this terrible situation when the House of Commons was being attacked on all sides by the Liberal government.

Later that afternoon, the law clerk appeared as a witness before the health committee. In response to questions, he noted that, to his knowledge, the government's Federal Court application was an unprecedented court proceeding concerning a document production order. Then, he was instructed by the Speaker to challenge the Federal Court jurisdiction on the basis of parliamentary privilege, which vests in the House exclusive authority on that matter.

More troubling still is the fact that the government took advantage of the summer break to launch a direct attack on all 338 members of the House of Commons, including themselves, as it happens.

It was totally disrespectful the way the government at the time attacked the House of Commons while we were not sitting. By the way, just by a miracle, the government decided to postpone and shut down everything, and prorogue the House of Commons with an unnecessary election. This is the Liberal tradition, and never has any government gone so low in attacking the House of Commons.

A hearing on that motion was later scheduled for September 16 and 17, but when the Prime Minister called his cynical and self-serving general election, the government discontinued entirely its federal court application given that the House order fell with the dissolution of Parliament.

I want to share with the House how masterfully the Speaker's counsel, at paragraphs 25 to 29 of the motion, demolished the government's claim that the Canada Elections Act applies to the House order. It said:

“Only Parliament itself has the authority to abrogate, modify or limit parliamentary privilege. Any intention by Parliament to [do] so must be evidenced by clear and incontrovertible means. Section 38 of the [Canada Evidence Act] discloses no such intention. To the contrary, the clear intent of [section] 38 is that it does not apply to the House of Commons and its committees, which do not fall under the definition of ‘proceeding’ that is central to the [Canada Evidence Act] process.

“‘Proceeding’ under [section] 38 of the [Act] is defined to mean ‘a proceeding before a court, person or body with jurisdiction to compel the production of information’. Had Parliament intended for this definition to include the House and/or its committees, and thereby to abrogate, modify or limit its privilege to send for persons, papers or records, a clear and incontrovertible intention to do so would have been required. No such intention was demonstrated or expressed.

“Further, during debate in the House of Commons on the Bill that introduced [section] 38 into the [Act], the definition of ‘proceeding’ was amended with the explicit stated purposes, as confirmed by [Stephen Owen] the then-Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada ‘of clarifying [Parliament’s] intention that parliament’s privilege to send [for] persons, papers and records not be affected by this legislation’.

“The earlier proposed definition of the term ‘proceeding’ in the Bill would have applied the [Canada Evidence Act] process to Parliament by incorporating the definition of ‘judicial proceeding’ set out in [section] 118 of the Criminal Code that expressly included a proceeding ‘before the Senate or House of Commons or a committee’. The amendment to the Bill confirms Parliament’s intention that [section] 38 of the [Canada Evidence Act] not affect parliamentary privileges, including the power to send for persons, papers and records. The amendment was made specifically to recognize and affirm that parliamentary privilege was not affected by this legislation.

“Accordingly, the [Canada Evidence Act] process has no application to the House of Commons’ privileges, including its power to send for persons, papers and records, which remains unfettered.”

That was a very long quote, but it explains exactly what we are here for today. I would like to express my appreciation for those who, on behalf of all parliamentarians, chose to do the right thing to protect the right of all members, the right of the House of Commons and our privilege, which we must vigorously defend against people who irresponsibly take it upon themselves to attack Parliament's authority. Unfortunately, those people are currently the Government of Canada, thirty-odd members of which find themselves in an incredible conflict of interest. Those people participated in a vote, and they lost, but they are challenging that decision in court even though they themselves are members of Parliament. As the documents submitted to the Federal Court have made abundantly clear, such actions are totally unacceptable.

I would like to note the questionable approach, to put it politely, behind the legal arguments the government has used throughout this entire saga. For one thing, it used the same sentence with two different possible meanings depending on its point of view. In Federal Court, the Attorney General stated that “a court, person or body with jurisdiction to compel the production of information”, as set out in section 38 of the Canada Evidence Act, includes orders of the House of Commons and its committees.

However, beforehand, the government had taken the view that the same phrase, that is, “a court, person or body with jurisdiction to compel the production of information”, as it appears in paragraph 8(2)(c) of the Privacy Act, does not capture parliamentary production orders.

My colleague, the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills, has often pointed to that exemption in the Privacy Act for a government to disclose information.

However, on May 10, Christian Roy, executive director and senior general counsel at the Department of Justice, told the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations:

Basically, we recognize the jurisdiction of committees to request documents and to call witnesses. That said, in terms of paragraph 8(2)(c), we're talking about a jurisdiction to compel. There's a difference of opinion here. We don't recognize the committee's jurisdiction to compel in this area.

Either the sentence includes the House and its committees or it does not. It cannot be both. They want to see which way the wind is blowing. In cruder terms, a person who is two-faced has twice as many cheeks to slap. That is exactly what the government was doing.

Turning back to the Speaker's Federal Court motion, the stakes of the matter are very well articulated at paragraphs 30 and 31.

“The present Application seeks to involve the Federal Court in an impermissible intrusion upon the independence of the legislative branch, which would violate the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of powers.

“The concern is particularly acute here, where the Attorney General of Canada seeks to have the court prevent the disclosure of documents requested by the House of Commons ‘except as previously authorized’ by the government. This is antithetical to the House of Commons’ central role of holding government to account and strikes at the core of parliamentary privilege that serves to protect the House of Commons’ ability to fulfill its constitutional functions without outside interference.”

Bearing in mind this clear and compelling argument, this is where a lawyer might say, “I rest my case.”

However, there are other elements we must take into account. The fact that the government openly defied the authority of the House of Commons constitutes a prima facie attack on Parliament and its most fundamental rights.

To fully understand what is going on, we must gauge the magnitude of the utterly unacceptable act this government committed. That calls for a little history lesson. Let us go way back in time so we can contextualize today's debate.

This incident happened in 1704 in England's House of Commons and is known as Ashby v. White.

It asserted that “any attempt to challenge its jurisdiction would amount to a breach of privilege,” as explained at paragraph 16.2 of the 25th edition of Erskine May.

Subsequently, in Stockdale v. Hansard, a case well known in the law of parliamentary privilege in relation to the House's right to print papers, a select committee, appointed by the House of Commons of the United Kingdom to consider this litigation, recommended at paragraph 78 of its report:

That by the law and privileges of Parliament, this House has the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to determine upon the existence and extent of its privileges; and that the institution or prosecution of any action, suit, or other proceedings, for the purpose of bringing them into discussion or decision before any court or tribunal, elsewhere than in Parliament, is a high breach of such privilege, and renders all parties concerned therein amenable to its just displeasure, and to the punishment consequent thereon.

This recommendation was subsequently adopted by the Commons on May 30, 1837.

In the initial litigation, Messrs. Hansard lost. As a result, as paragraph 16.3 of Erskine May explains, the House “agreed that, in case of future actions, the firm should not plead and that the parties should suffer for their contempt of the resolutions and defiance of the House's authority.”

All of that is to say that the very action of openly challenging the House's authority in court is, in my view, a contempt of the House with established precedents backing up that perspective.

As I said, that was the first time in the history of Canada's Parliament that a government did such a thing, and it is appalling. Worse still, we are clearly fully aware that this remains a precedent buried deep in our British parliamentary system—

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Order. The hon. member for Ajax on a point of order.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are in a new Parliament. All proceedings in the previous Parliament ended at dissolution. The facts that the member is raising were the subject of discussion in the previous Parliament, and those studies and motions are no longer in effect. I would therefore assert that a motion or committee report would be necessary in order to proceed with the point of order. It is premature; it is not in order at this time.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to outline something. We have a question of privilege and I have been getting a lot of details. This is not riding on the point of order, but I want to remind the hon. members that it is to give us an idea that there is something we can pursue and it is prima facie, that is, there is a case that we can pursue after. What I am hearing is that more of a full case is being argued, with a lot of details that I think we do not need. Let me rephrase that: We do not need them at this time. I am sorry; I saw the look on the hon. member's face.

At this time, I would like to ask the hon. member to be concise and wrap up, and then we can move on from there.

The hon. member for Ajax does have a good point. This is from the previous Parliament. However, if someone wants to bring it up again, we have to bring it up as prima facie, determine whether it is a case and take it from there.

I will go back to the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent and let him wrap up.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I can assure you that it is not my face that is speaking; I speak when I have something to say. However, I appreciate the fact that you are looking closely at the reactions of members of the House of Commons.

I want to say to my counterpart that I welcome him in his new role. I am a veteran here because I was here before. I am joking because I know that he has a lot of experience, more than me, and I appreciate the fact that he is the new House leader. I am sure we will have a lot of fun.

That said, I welcome everybody in the House and invite them to be very attentive to what we have to say, because what we are talking about is why we are here in the House of Commons. The member raised a point of order, but I just answered that point of order a few minutes ago. I invite him to read again what I had to say. I am sure he will find an answer to his point of order.

I will quickly summarize what I want to say about that. The argument that the government will likely raise is that it made the House an offer, but that offer does not stand up, especially since the government itself revoked it.

There are many other elements to address. Most of them were submitted to the court under your authority, meaning the authority of the House of Commons, when this government decided to take legal action against the House. We did not know about these elements before the House rose on June 23.

That is why we intend to remind the House of the key elements of this situation. Never in the history of Canada has a government used the justice system to diminish the role of the House of Commons and prevent the House from doing its job. That is a very serious concern because Canadians want to know what happened at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Never in the history of Canada has the executive branch used the judiciary to attack the legislative branch. However, there is an example of that in modern history. It happened in July 1974 when a document released at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington triggered the Watergate scandal.

It was United States v. Nixon.

The President of the United States went to court to prevent elected representatives from Congress from accessing certain documents. That is exactly what the Canadian government is doing right now, and I would like to remind it of one thing: the President of the United States left office after that ordeal.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I thank the hon. member. The Chair will take all of that into consideration and come back to the House with a ruling.

The hon. member for La Prairie is rising on the same matter. We are trying to determine whether there is a question of privilege and I would like to remind the hon. member, before I recognize him, to be as brief as possible.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the question of privilege raised by my hon. colleague from Louis‑Saint‑Laurent. Could I have four or five minutes to speak, or is that too long? I would like to explain the Bloc Québécois's position.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I would ask the member to be very brief.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to your attention certain points that I believe are essential for your consideration with regard to my colleague's question of privilege.

On the last day of the last Parliament, you promised the House that in the event of its dissolution should the government call a general election, the Speaker of the House of the new Parliament would review and rule on the questions of privilege that remained unanswered.

We are currently debating one such question regarding the failure by the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada to table documents requested by a formal order of the House on June 2, 2021. I believe that this question needs to be given priority, especially given its importance in maintaining the authority and dignity of the House of Commons and protecting constitutional rights, both the collective rights and privileges of the House and those of elected representatives as individuals.

I want to remind the House of two points. First, the government failed to comply with the orders issued by the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on March 31 and May 10, 2021, and the orders issued by the House of Commons on June 2 and June 17, 2021. Second, the Speaker admonished the Public Health Agency of Canada's top bureaucrat for contempt. It is quite worrisome that the Liberal government's response to the House of Common's order was to take legal action against the House in Federal Court to seal the requested documents. For all these reasons, we cannot let this stand.

I repeat that this is about protecting the authority and dignity of our institution, and the Speaker has a duty to protect the constitutional rights of the legislative branch. The authors of the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice addressed this point on page 82, stating that disobedience of a legitimate command of the House must be considered contempt, especially when a witness without reasonable excuse refuses to provide information or produce papers required by the House.

I would like to quote what you said on June 21 about this matter:

The privileges held by the House of Commons are an integral part of the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Parliament of Canada Act. These rights include the right to require the production of documents. Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, committees of the House exercise these same rights when carrying out their respective mandates.

Although he was ordered to produce documents at least four times, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada failed to respect the will of the House, which is significant, and voluntarily failed to produce the requested documents relating to the security breaches at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and the firing of the two scientists from the lab.

The June 17 order was very clear that two things had to happen. First, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Mr. Stewart, was to attend at the bar to receive the deserved admonishment for the repeated failure to comply with the previous orders of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Second, he was to table the required documents, which, unfortunately, has not yet happened.

We debated it at length on the last day of the previous Parliament. The arguments that were made and the references that were mentioned give Parliament the full authority to use its power to enforce the orders adopted by the majority.

In closing, given the foregoing comments, we ask you to protect the parliamentary rights and privileges of the House and the elected representatives who make it up, to preserve the authority and the dignity of the House, which is no small matter, and to rule accordingly under the circumstances so that the order of June 17, 2021, is duly respected and the documents are properly submitted to the House.

The Bloc Québécois therefore supports the official opposition's proposal in this regard.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:55 p.m.

Ajax Ontario

Liberal

Mark Holland LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will say to the opposition House leader that absolutely we have excellent conversations. I appreciate the opportunity to begin working with him. I congratulate him on his reappointment to that position.

To the opposition House leader of the Bloc, who was just speaking, we similarly have had very strong conversations, as we have with the House leader for the NDP. I think we will have ample opportunity to be able to discuss these matters in detail.

The problem that arises, and this was the point I made earlier, is that in the absence of a motion or a committee report that would be necessary to proceed in this, it is simply premature.

I would state that this is not to be before the House at this time. This is not a matter that should be dealt with here, at this moment. However, I would encourage the House leaders, who are going to be meeting in about an hour, to continue the conversation in that forum, as that would be the appropriate place to continue the conversation.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is nice to hear that discussions are going on and about to happen, and hopefully they are fruitful.

The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway is rising on a point of order as well.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I actually rise to speak to the point of privilege raised by my hon. colleague from the official opposition. Before I start, I would take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people of Vancouver Kingsway for doing me the honour and privilege of electing me to represent them. I will be mercifully brief and concise.

Yesterday, on the opening day of the 44th Parliament, we heard repeated invocations from all sides of this House about the need to honour and respect this institution and each other. We were reminded of the foundational principles of this place. Those principles include democracy, the rule of law and the supremacy of Parliament. No government of any stripe is entitled to ignore these fundamental principles of our nation. To do so is an act of autocracy and a repudiation of the basic tenets of our nation, for which so many fought and died.

If a majority of members in this place vote to produce documents that they deem necessary to carry out their duty to the people they represent, who elected them to be here, then this must be complied with. This is regardless of how embarrassing or inconvenient a government of the day may find such a request. Indeed, that is often when it is most important to comply.

It is about accountability. It is about transparency and it is about respect for Parliament. New Democrats will always support these cherished cornerstones of responsible government. As such, we support this claim of privilege and respectfully ask you to uphold it in our name.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to thank the hon. member for being brief and concise, the way that it should be.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is rising on this issue as well.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be even more brief and concise than my friend from Vancouver Kingsway to say on the record that the Green Party is equally concerned and supports the concerns of the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, the hon. member for La Prairie and the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway. Time has gone by, and it is hard to assert that this matter is premature.

Alleged Non-compliance with an Order of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before beginning with the hon. member for Barrie—Innisfil, I just received something here about the Speaker's role and exactly what the Speaker is supposed to do.

It ought to be explained that the issue that is before the Speaker is not finding of fact. It is simply whether a first impression of the issue that is before the House warrants priority consideration over all other matters of the day that are put before the House. I just want to make sure that we understand exactly what the process is and why we are bringing it up. We make sure that the issue is very pressing and then we run with it. When any new items come up, we want to make sure they are important, and that is something that the Speaker will have to rule on and determine.

I am not saying it is or it is not. I am just saying this is the process and I want to make sure everyone understands so we do not go into too many details that will not leave us anything to debate afterwards.

The hon. member for Barrie—Innisfil.

Allegations Concerning the Clerk of the HousePrivilegeSpeech from the Throne

4 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating you on your election as Speaker. As we all know, it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility to conduct oneself in an impartial manner, and I have the utmost confidence in your ability to do that. Congratulations once again.

I am rising on a question of privilege today concerning the very troubling allegations published this month respecting the Clerk of the House. I am sure we have all watched or read Ashley Burke's reporting on these matters. It was based on at least 10 different credible sources as well as primary documents, but it is important to put the most pertinent details on the record of the House.

Broadly speaking, the allegations fall into one of two distinct but no less troubling categories. One concerns a management style that has led to a rapid loss of top talent and deep experience from the table, and the other concerns demonstrations of partisanship through the Clerk's comments and actions.

I understand that some of the complainants' letters, cries for help really, have even recently made it into some Parliament Hill inboxes, and it is my respectful view that all told, these allegations amount to a prima facie case of privilege, which the House must address urgently.

I will be focusing on the partisanship allegations, but I cannot turn a blind eye to what the CBC confirmed. Three senior figures at the table took sick leave and then early retirement, while a fourth senior official is now on sick leave, owing to the Clerk's management style.

According to CBC, Colette Labrecque-Riel—