Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to draw your attention to a procedural matter relating to Question No. 974, which I submitted on November 4, 2022.
For the sake of time, I will spare reading the text of the question into the record, but my point of order relates to a passage found on page 523 of Bosc and Gagnon, which states:
While oral questions are posed without notice on matters considered to be of an urgent nature, written questions are placed on the Order Paper after due notice, with the intent of seeking from the Ministry detailed, lengthy or technical information related to “public affairs”...Members may request that the Ministry respond within 45 calendar days, generally by adding a sentence to that effect either before or after the text of the question, or by so indicating to the Clerk when submitting the question.
Standing Order 39(5)(b) states:
If such a question remains unanswered at the expiration of the said period of 45 days, the matter of the failure of the ministry to respond shall be deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee. Within five sitting days of such a referral the Chair of the committee shall convene a meeting of the committee to consider the matter of the failure of the ministry to respond.
The key word here is “unanswered”. I indicated my desire to have the question answered in 45 days, and at this point the question cannot be legitimately considered answered. To date, the government has failed to provide any answer on the substance of key aspects of my question. Due to this, I would argue that, per the Standing Orders, after 45 days my question remains unanswered and should be deemed to not have a response.
Before section 5(b) of Standing Order 39 came into effect in 2001, governments routinely ignored the 45-day deadline to answer questions. Following the adoption of this rule, the government began to respect the 45-day deadline. However, it appears that the government has found a way to circumvent this rule to thwart the intended protection offered by Standing Order 39(5)(b).
Your rulings have established that access to information from the government is a fundamental privilege of a parliamentarian. It is also a critical aspect of the functioning of our system of democracy. When the government flaunts its responsibility to provide this information, the system fails, and this is why, in a related matter, many members of the Press Gallery are raising concerns about the breakdown of the access to information system requests.
Coming back to the matter at hand in this place, my point of order simply asks you to rule that, when the government substantively ignores the substance of an Order Paper question, it should be considered a failure to answer for the purposes of Standing Order 39(5)(b). That way the government's refusal to answer a written question can be referred to a committee for review.