Mr. Speaker, after the good wishes expressed by several of the members to each other and to all, I would like to reflect that and do the same for all of my colleagues. Meanwhile, I do need to continue with the grievance that I have.
Before I read into the record some of the actual words that occurred at committee, I want to make it very clear that my question of privilege this morning has to do with my freedom of speech, my ability to express myself on issues.
As I mentioned earlier, I was a substitute member on the ethics committee last Tuesday when this particular incident happened.
I want to point out to you, Mr. Speaker, on page 71 of Marleau and Montpetit, there are these words:
By far, the most important right accorded to Members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings. It has been described as:
...a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.
Further to this point, I would refer you to a ruling by Speaker Fraser on May 5, 1987:
The privileges of a member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfillment of his or her duties and functions.
My contention is that the actions of the chair impeded me from debating the motion and from convincing my colleagues on the committee why this motion should be out of order. The chair's obstructionist tactics caused the committee to descend into disorder to the point where I was not able to participate in the debate.
I believe it is important, in that context, to point out that when the chair finally gave me the floor to address the issue that was before the committee, I got to speak four words before he interrupted me, four words. What were those offensive words that caused him to interrupt me? When he said I had the floor, I said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman”, four words, and then he interrupted me. He was on such a roll of interrupting members who were speaking that it just seemed natural for him, when I opened my mouth, to interrupt me. Admittedly, what he said was nothing to do with my debate. It was a procedural thing, but he interrupted me after that. Then he said again, “You have the floor, if you wish”. Well, I guess I wished, because I had asked to be on the speaking list and he had recognized me. Then I said again, “Thank you”.
It is important in the context of this debate to hear what I said at the committee. That is why I want this in the parliamentary record. This is a quotation from the record of the committee of what I said:
Mr. Chair, you know that over the years you and I have worked together in many different venues, different committees and different functions. I would like to say that for the most part in those years I have had a good, healthy respect for you. Before I go into the topic of the debate today, I'd like to make a little comment here.
Mr. Speaker, I then went on to say:
I've observed that I've been here as long as you have and some of the other members around the table that in the House the Speaker gives wide latitude on giving individual members the freedom to make their speeches without interruption. It's really very wide. Even if someone stands up on relevance on a point of order, almost always the Speaker returns it to the member speaking and just gives him a little chastisement but lets him make his speech--
The reason I said that was that I observed that the chair was always interrupting members when they spoke. I wanted him to give me some kind of commitment that I would be able to make my point without being interrupted and cut off. That is why I was doing this. Interestingly, at that point he cut me off. All I was asking was that I would not be cut off and with that, he did.
There is a switcher in committees who turns the mics on and off. The switcher usually sits just behind the chair. In this particular instance that was also the case. The chairman of the committee turned around and motioned the switcher to switch my mic off. All he had to do was interrupt me. I am used to stopping. In fact, I have this cute little saying “don't talk while I'm interrupting” and it is totally meant in fun. When I was young I was taught that when someone else is speaking, one does not interrupt. All the chair had to do was say, “order” or whatever, and I would have stopped speaking, as I did earlier today when we approached members' statements and Mr. Speaker, you said you were going to cut my mic off right when I was talking about that. It was a bit of a humorous moment. The chair interrupted me and gave me quite a long lecture, actually longer than the speech that I had made at that point. He once again returned the floor to me at which time I said two sentences before my mic was clicked off once again. This is a direct quotation of what I said:
I have a couple of things, Mr. Chairman, that I would really like to have on the record. This means that I'm asking you, please, to not shut off my mic while I'm speaking. As an MP, who is--
I was going to go on to say, “I have the privilege of expressing myself”. I wanted to cut off his tendency to not allow anybody to speak. I was appealing for that and I wanted to get even just the warmest, fuzziest commitment from the chair of the committee that he would allow me to speak. He could have even gone on to say that as long as I was in order and all that, which I already know, but he did not say that. Instead, he cut me off and said “Mr. Epp, order”. I stopped talking because he was now going to speak. Then he gave another lecture about how he is the master of the committee. I want to quote a bit from that. He said:
I encourage you, this is the second time now, and this is giving latitude just like the Speaker does. I want you now to move to your contribution to the debate on these motions and whether it will assist members in deciding whether any or all of these motions or amendments should be adopted.
I had a very important point that I wanted to make. When we are in committee, or even in the House, what is the purpose of our words? I sometimes kid with my grandkids that grandpa works in the word factory, that every day we get a quota and we are not allowed to go home until we have met our quota. It is just a bit of humour with my grandkids. We use words in this place. I understand in my limited knowledge of the French language that “parler” means “to speak” and this is Parliament. We are here to speak. We are here to debate. We are here to persuade with our words. That is the purpose of this place. As the Standing Orders say, and as the comments which I quoted earlier say, this is a fundamental privilege.
When we have an issue before the House on which we want to persuade someone, it is also important that votes be conducted fairly. I wanted to get this on the record. I was interrupted. Then I said, “I want to point out that when we come to take a vote on this motion then the chair, I believe, should originally be impartial”. The reason I use the word “original” is if there is a tie vote, then of course the chair of the committee has to break the tie just as the Speaker does here. I wanted an assurance that it was understood and I wanted this on the record.
What the chair did on this particular occasion was, because there was a motion on the floor and there were not enough Liberal committee members present, the chair did not call the meeting to order on time. In fact, he delayed the meeting for seven minutes until Liberal members dragged themselves in there. He finally called the committee to order.
The chair was not impartial at the beginning of the meeting. He should have started the meeting on time as was scheduled, but he chose not to do so. There was quorum. We had sufficient members. The obvious reason was that the chair wanted to wait until there were enough members present to win the vote the way he wanted before he was called upon to break a tie. I was going to point that out.
I also want to point out that later on one of the Liberal members left. Members of the Conservative Party are here after all to persuade Parliament and to make sure that the vote on this motion does not carry because it is clearly out of order and beyond the mandate of this committee. We have to persuade, but also when the vote is conducted, it has to be a fair vote.
We want that vote to be defeated on high principle, that the committee is out of order in actually even addressing this issue. It is beyond its mandate. Parliament has not given it that mandate. The House of Commons has not given it that mandate. Members have taken it on themselves.
Through the tyranny of the majority on the committee, minority parties are in majority there, it has moved a motion that is out of order and you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that it cannot be considered by you until the committee presents its report, but that is what we find offensive. What they are trying to do with this motion, that is out of order, is trying to achieve a goal that they could not do if it were ever ruled in advance. That is the thing that is very--