Mr. Speaker, I am rising today on a question of privilege concerning inappropriate government interference in the work of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Yesterday afternoon, my office received an email from the hon. member for London West. He forwarded an email chain concerning the preparation of drafting instructions for a report on a study the committee has been conducting on differential outcomes.
According to the committee's website, it was scheduled to meet yesterday afternoon for the purpose of discussing those very drafting instructions.
The email chain originated from the chair's office. It circulates a proposal prepared by the office of the member for London West and involves, understandably, the Liberal members of the committee and their staff. What makes less sense to me is that the email chain, which originated from the chair's office, also includes ministerial staffers Vanessa Cranston, the manager of Parliamentary Affairs for the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Emilie Simard, an issues management advisor for the same minister; and Arielle Mantes, who has an email address in the government House leader's office and is reported in The Hill Times as a member of that minister's staff, but who the online government employee directory says is an advisor in the non-partisan Privy Council Office, also known as the Prime Minister's department, which raises a lot more questions.
Not only were ministerial staff kept informed, but there was actual participation in providing direction. Ms. Cranston, the immigration minister's manager of parliamentary affairs, replied:
I'd like to suggest that we broaden the prepared wording. I find this reads more like a recommendation and our goal for meeting today is to point the analysts in a direction, without explicitly asking for our conclusions to be highlighted.
What did she mean by “our goal”? On whose behalf is she speaking, and what conclusions is she trying to obfuscate? It sounds like not only is the minister's staff trying to direct the conclusions of a parliamentary committee, but also to manipulate the work of non-partisan analysts supplied by the Library of Parliament in getting there.
This direction was in turn forwarded to my employee by the member for London West with the instruction, “Did you take note of this?” It sounds to me like the member is rather concerned that the minister's political enforcer's word is the law.
A new, aspiring government backbencher would naturally want to be on the PMO's good side. It is an open secret around here that the Prime Minister's Office, and ministers' offices, are pulling the strings on committee proceedings: something they deny at every turn, naturally. It is something else to see in cold, hard text, the direction and instruction coming from a senior staffer to the immigration minister.
It is shocking, scandalous and absolutely inappropriate for the government to be interfering like this in the deliberations of a committee and the hard work of our non-partisan analysts. In my respectful opinion, this goes beyond disrespect of Parliament and is actually a contempt of Parliament.
Page 81 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, explains that:
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....
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....
This area of parliamentary law is therefore extremely fluid and most valuable for the Commons to be able to meet novel situations.
Throughout the Commonwealth most procedural authorities hold that contempts, as opposed to privileges, cannot be enumerated or categorized.
Page 83 continues:
Just as it is not possible to categorize or to delineate every incident which may fall under the definition of contempt, it is also difficult to categorize the severity of contempt.
Contempts may vary greatly in their gravity; matters ranging from minor breaches of decorum to grave attacks against the authority of Parliament may be considered as contempts.
The interference shown by the immigration minister's office in the work of the committee, which is actually supposed to be holding him and his department to account, not the other way, rises to this threshold of being found as a contempt of Parliament.
The House must stand up for its rights and its independence. These rights are ancient, hard fought for, and must never be taken for granted. Bosc and Gagnon explain, at page 62, the early part of the arc of development of parliamentary privilege. I quote:
These privileges were found to be necessary to protect the House and its Members, not from the people, but from the power and interference of the King and the House of Lords....
The House of Commons in Canada has not had to challenge the Crown, its executive or the Upper House in the same manner as the British House of Commons.... Nonetheless, the privileges enjoyed by the House and its Members are part of the Constitution and therefore are of the utmost importance; they are in fact vital to the proper functioning of Parliament. This is as true now as it was centuries ago when the English House of Commons first fought to secure these privileges and rights.
Let us not roll backwards to those days when the executive subordinated the legislator to its whims. Let us not find ourselves capable of only doing what business, or writing what reports, the Prime Minister and his cabinet give us permission to. The House must stand up against interference by the executive branch by the current Liberal government at every turn.
Should you find a prima facie case of privilege, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to move an appropriate motion to refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs so that it may conduct an investigation into this behaviour and report back to the House with its findings.
Before resuming my seat, I would ask for unanimous consent to table the emails in question.