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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was military.

Last in Parliament September 2021, as NDP MP for St. John's East (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Won his last election, in 2019, with 47% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Questions on the Order Paper June 8th, 2021

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, I believe there is consent that I be given an opportunity to intervene on the question of privilege raised yesterday by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, there does seem to be a bit of a habit forming circumstance with the government, not wishing to share information and documents that are within the purview of members of Parliament.

The government talks the talk on a lot of things, but it does not walk the walk. This is another example of that by the Liberal government.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, for starters, it is very unfortunate. We are talking about a constitutional proposition here. In fact, I am a little surprised by the resistance we are seeing today, especially given that the members of the committee were unanimous in their support for this motion and action, led by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

It is a little surprising, and I do not know why they are resisting the way they are. It should be a matter of course. Knowing that the protections were there, the concern of the committee was to ensure there would be no reason to be concerned about national security before releasing any documents.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I suspect the reason it has come to this is because the government itself was well aware of this debate going on in our committee, and instead of the government giving instructions to the Public Health Agency to co-operate on the basis of precedence, the government decided to stand by and let the matter fall the way it does. Why it has to come to an opposition day motion is a question perhaps the Conservatives can better answer. There are various other ways of doing it; I think they just decided this was most expedient.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, I did not actually hear the intervention to which he objects. If his reporting is correct, I would certainly agree with him that is probably unparliamentary and certainly uncalled for in this House and in this debate.

As to the question of whether it is the minister's office or bureaucrats we are talking about, I do not think it matters terribly. It was determined by the committee that the advice given to the Public Health Agency was not in keeping with the rules and parliamentary procedure and that the committee was entitled and in fact it was within its power to request them and it needed them for its work.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills, who is also my colleague on the Canada-China committee, does make a distinction.

At that time, there was a clear opportunity, because of the wording of that motion, for the historic ruling of Speaker Milliken to be made after considerable debate and deliberation. That motion was in December, as the member noted, and the decision of Speaker Milliken was made on April 27 of the next year after a number of manoeuvres, motions and actions, as well as considerable debate on the issue, which resulted in a ruling that did in fact say that the House had full power to have these documents made available. He offered an opportunity for the parties to consider the way in which those documents—

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to join in this debate today. I think it is an extremely important debate, having to do, principally, with the powers of the members of Parliament to do their duty to hold the government to account and to be, as has been determined, the ultimate arbiter of democracy in this country, once having been elected. I say this after listening to some very fulsome speeches, particularly by senior, experienced members of Parliament like the member for Wellington—Halton Hills and the member for Montarville discussing these important matters.

I share with the member for Montarville a question, I suppose, as to why we are doing this as an opposition day motion, as there was not an order of reference to the House from the parliamentary committee, the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. I think it could have been dealt with that way. Perhaps it has something to do with why the government seems to have politicized this, as opposed to treating it as a serious motion with respect to the duties of parliamentarians, which is how I wish to treat it. I think this is something that should be treated that way by the House.

After all, we are dealing with the result of a unanimous decision of the Canada-China committee, after much deliberation, consideration and various amendments to the motion to ensure that it would be unanimous. We were unanimously of the view that the committee needed and was entitled to the documents in their unredacted form, so that we could carry out the committee's duty of due diligence with respect to whether the government, through PHAC, was withholding documents that we needed in order to do our job.

We have to put it into the context of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. The committee was formed for a very good reason, given the circumstances we were facing in the fall of 2019 with the situation with China. A number of things had come up that were of great concern, particularly the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, as well as relationships of concern and matters that had been raised. For example, there were concerns about the co-operation between the People's Liberation Army and the Canadian Armed Forces for a training exercise, which was subsequently cancelled due to security concerns being raised by some of our allies.

We heard testimony at the Canada-China committee regarding foreign influence within Canada and intimidation of Canadians, Chinese students and other Chinese nationals in Canada, which raised concerns. We had concerns about whether this had been dealt with properly by government agencies, police forces and others. We had concerns regarding the influence of China, through its agencies and other efforts, on research and intellectual property capture at our universities and other institutions.

This matter came up with respect to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The committee was concerned about the level of collaboration with Chinese researchers, in particular with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, and then the indications of co-operation with researchers who were associated with the People's Liberation Army, as well, and its other lab in China, which is engaged in research with a military point of view.

These concerns were serious. They were legitimate. They were relevant to the relationship between Canada and China, what measures Canada was taking to protect itself and whether it was doing a proper job doing so. These are matters of great concern, and the committee, under its obligation to carry out this task assigned to it by Parliament, was doing this work. As it happened, we all know what the Public Health Agency of Canada decided when we asked for documentation behind the notorious incident, in the sense of being well known and concerning, of the two individuals, researchers, being escorted out of the laboratory in Winnipeg and the subsequent termination of their services by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This was something we were looking into in good faith to attempt to discover the factual basis and to see whether the concerns that were raised were dealt with appropriately and whether there were other concerns Canada might have with respect to this matter that were not being properly looked after. In fact, as was pointed out by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, our job, in part, is to ensure that if there is something wrong, and there clearly was something wrong, this kind of activity would not occur again.

This is a normal carrying out of the function of Parliament that is supported by law, by our Constitution and by our rules of procedure. As has been pointed out, it is very well established, but it was not very well established for a long time. It was established by Parliament in the classic and seminal ruling of Speaker Peter Milliken in April 2010, on a case involving the necessity of a parliamentary committee, another special committee, seeking documentation in support of an inquiry into Canada's activities in Afghanistan in relation to its obligations toward prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

This was of a much higher level of concern and evaluation, and the refusal of the government of the day to make those documents available to the special committee on Afghanistan ultimately resulted in orders of the House and subsequent activities, which I will not go into in detail. However, the importance of the ruling of Speaker Milliken was that, under the Constitution, particularly section 18 of the Constitution, under the Parliament of Canada Act and under the rules and procedures of our House, this was something that very clearly needed to be delineated and was delineated by the Speaker.

This information, of course, was available to our committee and the rulings of our committee. When we made the inquiries that have been outlined by the member for Montarville and the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, we did not receive the documents, and the reasons we were given had to do with statutes such as the Privacy Act and some reference to the context of national security. Well, that does not necessarily give rise to concerns about national security, but we were deprived of these documents.

In the ordinary course of the law, the decisions that were made by the Public Health Agency in refusing to make these documents available were, in fact, already determined by parliamentary procedure and by our own procedural rules: that the Privacy Act does not, in fact, relate to a reason for members of Parliament not having access to these documents.

In its report “Access to Information Requests and Parliamentary Privilege”, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reported, back in 1991, as early as then, that “[s]ince parliamentary privileges form part of the Constitution, laws must be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with them, and where there is a conflict between privileges and statutory provisions, the statutory provisions are 'of no force and effect'”. Therefore, assertions by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and by Mr. Stewart on its behalf, that it could not make documents available to members of Parliament on a parliamentary committee have already, in fact, been overruled, ruled to be of no force or effect.

The specific ruling set out in our Constitution Act, 1982, in section 52, says, “The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of that inconsistency, of no force or effect”. What was being presented to our committee by the Public Health Agency of Canada, on behalf of the Government of Canada, was that it was bound by the Privacy Act not to make available documents to us, as members of Parliament, yet our own Constitution clearly says that such laws are of no force or effect.

That is what we were faced with as a committee, which is why it is not a surprise that the members of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, including, as has been pointed out by me, experienced members such as the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, the member for Montarville and of course the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was on the committee as well, another senior member of Parliament, and the other members of Parliament unanimously supported a motion to not accept the rationale and reasons given by the Public Health Agency of Canada to refuse to make available documents in a non-redacted form.

We do not often see such definitive statements about legal matters, but it is pretty clear that the ruling of Speaker Milliken, a very seminal ruling that probably stands ahead of all others in the annals of parliamentary democracies under the Westminster model, is important. In the quotations provided to us in the rulings given by Speaker Milliken and other authorities, there are no limits on the powers of committees to require the production of papers by private bodies or individuals, provided the papers are relevant to the work of the committee as defined by reference. When select committees ordered papers to be produced by national industry, private solicitors all provided and produced papers related to a client. Statutory regulators have been ordered to produce papers whose release was otherwise subject to a statutory restriction.

It is clear that Parliament is not bound by this legislation and, as has been ruled, there are no limits on the powers of Parliament to get access to documents. Precautions need to be taken, and I think our committee, in making its motion, and the motion before us today, provide for some provision to ensure that documents will not be made public unless the committee, having had the opportunity to review the documents, is satisfied that they can be made public.

It is clear the motion before the House today indicates that the committee, although it may have the power to make documents public, does not have to do so in order to make recommendations or findings. That would sufficiently protect any national security issue of revealing details of an ongoing investigation. In lieu of making any information public, the committee may still rely on it for the purpose of making findings and recommendations in any subsequent report to the House. I think that is there for a purpose. It is there to ensure the committee can carry out its due diligence under its duty to do so and also hold government to account, and that if this measure needs to be brought to the attention of the House, it can do so without making any information public that should not be made public.

I think we have made it very clear that, under the committee's jurisdiction and under the powers that are granted to it by the constitution, our rulings of Speaker Milliken and the privileges of Parliament, this is within our purview as members of Parliament to carry out this function.

There are some who may not agree with that. I think we have seen arguments made in the past about that, but it is up to the House itself or members of the House to determine the appropriate way to safeguard the national interests in these questions. We have a situation where the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations has the means to do that through the experience of senior members of this House, as well as the advice of the parliamentary law clerk, who is Parliament's lawyer.

The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel is giving legal advice to members of Parliament. Members of Parliament in this circumstance, represented by four parties in the House that have party status, are all present and have made a unanimous motion calling for these papers to be available to them in fulfilment of their parliamentary duty. It seems to me this is a matter of constitutional and parliamentary concern, as well as an important matter in dealing with Canada's relationship with China. The committee ought to be able to carry out its work and do so in a proper manner.

I regret that certain members of the Liberal Party who have spoken, in particular the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, have sought to turn it into a partisan issue. That is regrettable. We have to recognize there are serious moments in this House when we have to look at the privileges of members of Parliament, take them seriously and put aside partisan differences in the pursuit of ensuring that we have a Parliament that can operate under the rules based on precedents and recognize that in our parliamentary system, Parliament is supreme. It is Parliament that has the ultimate power and control over whether a government is in office or not. This is not a motion of confidence obviously, but it is a question of whether the House ought to support the motion of a committee asking for documents to be made available to it in the ordinary course of conducting its business.

It is clearly a matter properly before the committee. It is one that is of great importance and important enough for a unanimous decision of the committee to pursue this question by having access to the proper documentation that is necessary for it to conduct its study.

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Madam Speaker, I listened while the member used her time to talk about the pandemic, viruses and vaccinations, in particular, but I did not hear her address the question of the special committee carrying out its duty and due diligence, and looking at the goings-on at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Does the member believe that this committee has the obligation and the power to require these papers to carry out its duty under the Constitution and under the rulings of previous speakers of the House?

Business of Supply June 1st, 2021

Madam Speaker, I first want to thank the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills for his motion. It comes from a unanimous decision of our Canada-China committee, which I fully support, and our party will be supporting it today. I would also like to say that I am particularly pleased to see that it comes from the Conservative member.

I know the member was present and part of the government at the time, in 2009 and 2010, when Speaker Milliken made a ruling about the powers of Parliament to have access to documents that were in the control of the executive. The member's government opposed that. Am I able to conclude that his party has changed its views on the powers of Parliament and parliamentarians to have access to documents of this nature?

Business of Supply May 31st, 2021

Madam Chair, I will now talk about Ethiopia and the Tigray situation. The last statement from the government was April 8, yet there has been widespread rape by soldiers, and the Ethiopian and Eritrean military have cut off humanitarian access to most of the region's four and a half million people.

Will the government call for a ceasefire to put pressure on the Ethiopian government?