Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, on February 17, in the midst of a Liberal opposition day on this issue, the government tabled a series of very unsatisfactory documents, which nevertheless contained a certain amount of information. It was not the information requested by the committee, and that proves that the government's argument of cabinet secrecy was bogus.
That was also very clear in April 2010, when the Speaker handed down his ruling on the government's refusal to provide parliamentarians with the documents about allegations of torture in Afghanistan. The Speaker was very clear. He quoted Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, including a paragraph found on page 281:
But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.
Even if these documents, according to the government, could not be made public, the government should have assumed its responsibilities and proposed—to the opposition and the entire House—a mechanism for providing access to the information. That was not done. It simply said that they were cabinet confidences. Initially, it hid behind this authoritarian argument without wanting to provide the documents requested; later, it provided information that was very incomplete. This contradicts the government's argument that all the information in all these documents is a matter of cabinet confidence.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has just tabled the binders that were delivered to the committee on March 16. Once again, the pressure is on. The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice are appearing before the committee. The government is trying to find a way to derail the debate and create a distraction, and so they table the documents in the House.
The Minister of Public Safety was very clear: these documents contain exactly the same information as the documents tabled in the House by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on February 17.
I have had a chance to go over those documents. I would say that reproducing the legislation about which the Standing Committee on Finance and the House of Commons were asking for information took up about 90% of the huge binder. That is a lot of paper for almost nothing.
Furthermore, for each piece of legislation, instead of writing a paragraph, they wrote two pages that say basically the same thing, with the exception of one or two acts where the information is contradictory. As for the rest, there is no more information, and the Minister of Public Safety confirmed this.
This means that the binder tabled on March 16 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs does not answer our questions any more than the documents tabled on February 17 at the request of the Standing Committee on Finance and the House of Commons.
I would remind the House that the Speaker issued his ruling on March 9. What was unacceptable on February 17 led to the Speaker's ruling to the effect that there were sufficient grounds for finding a question of privilege in relation to these documents. Thus, it is very clear that the documents tabled on March 16 do not correspond to what the Speaker had in mind when he gave his ruling.
The government disobeyed the rules of Parliament and did not comply with the order given by the Standing Committee on Finance and by the House of Commons. This amounts to contempt of Parliament. I will not conceal the fact that we were prepared to go much further at the time by withdrawing our confidence in the government because of this. We will likely have the opportunity to go ahead with this in the coming days, if not in the next few hours.
We in the opposition are not the only ones who think that the government failed to fulfill its obligations to parliamentarians. I would remind the House that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, testified before the committee on March 16. He clearly stated that the Parliament of Canada owes a fiduciary duty to the Canadian people, and therefore a duty to administer public monies on their behalf, and that Canada's Constitution established and affirms this duty.
The Standing Committee on Finance simply fulfilled its obligations and fiduciary duties regarding the use of taxpayer dollars to the Quebec public by requesting information, particularly with regard to certain justice legislation, the cost of the F-35s, and the effects of the tax cuts that were announced in previous budgets and that are still found in the budget announced yesterday.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer's point of view is very clear. With regard to the justice legislation, he said that “the government has not provided an adequate response to the finance committee request.... Full compliance with the request requires....”
He then listed a series of elements that show the government did not comply with the Standing Committee on Finance's order.
With regard to the procurement of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, the Parliamentary Budget Officer once again said that “the government has not provided an adequate response to the finance committee request.”
The Parliamentary Budget Officer thus clearly indicated that a mistake was made.
I would like to close by saying that the documents that we were given on February 17 and March 16 are clearly deceitful. The Conservatives want us to believe that estimates were not made because there were too many imponderables, particularly with regard to the justice legislation. However, that is not the case. Each time a minister presents a bill to cabinet, there is an appendix setting out the costs. The Conservatives are therefore hiding the truth from us. This government no longer has the confidence of the House or the public.