Mr. Speaker, I am rising to add to the initial response by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to Thursday's question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Avalon in relation to the answer he received to his written Question No. 176.
First, I would like to challenge his question of privilege on the ground that he did not raise it at the earliest opportunity. The response to which he takes exception was provided to the House on March 6, 2014. While I can see that there was a two-week adjournment shortly thereafter, the hon. member then waited until the fourth sitting day after the March break, or three full calendar weeks after his question was answered, before coming forward with his question of privilege. In short, the member's question of privilege should fail on this ground alone.
Nonetheless, I would like to address the substantive issues he raised. The hon. member for Avalon has claimed that there is a prima facie case of privilege here based on his assertion that he, in the performance of his duties, has been intentionally interfered with, obstructed, and impeded. Yet the hon. member has not indicated which duties have been so impeded or in which manner he has been impeded in relation to those duties. This is simply a matter of being dissatisfied with the response that was provided.
Last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons quoted from page 522 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, on this matter. I want to add to this a few precedents.
Mr. Milliken, at page 3,255 of the Debates of February 6, 2003 said:
...as hon. members know, there is no provision in our rules for the Speaker to review the content of responses, nor would that be appropriate. In this regard I would simply state that any member not satisfied with the response provided by the government may raise supplemental questions either orally or in written form.
In his second ruling that day, Mr. Speaker, your predecessor said, at page 3,256:
It is not within the powers of the Chair to judge the adequacy of an answer.
Finally, Madam Speaker Sauvé said, in her ruling at page 12,836 of the Debates of November 17, 1981:
Furthermore, the quality of the answer as given is not generally within the responsibility of the Speaker, who should not be asked to pass judgment on the substance of an answer to a question, be it oral or written.
Before wrapping up, let me respond to the member's assertion that there has been a change in practice with questions answered by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The hon. member told the House in his submissions:
I have placed a past order paper question concerning projects funded in part or in full for my riding through ACOA. On each occasion, the minister has provided a detailed list of all approved projects within the riding. This just is not the case.
I have a response from 2011:
Insofar as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency...is concerned, with regard to grants and contributions in the riding of Avalon from April 1, 2011 to December 10, 2012, ACOA does not track approved projects by federal ridings. Information on projects approved by ACOA in Newfoundland and Labrador can be found on the Agency's website, by search criteria and by geographic location....
Then it gives the website. So the hon. member's assertion that there has been some change is patently false.
The hon. member told the House that he has placed a past order paper question, and he was provided with a detailed list of all projects approved within the riding. Later in his arguments, he indicated, “The question I asked, in 2010, was answered and the information was provided”. If members were to check the records of the House for the third session of the 40th Parliament, which captures the year 2010, they would see that the hon. member for Avalon asked about a dozen written questions that calendar year. Two of them are identified as relating to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
On March 5, 2010, he asked written Question No. 91, which requested:
...projects approved for funding in Atlantic Canada...broken down by the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador....
The government's response, in the range of 600 pages, was a table outlining approved projects, which were largely coded by province.
That same day, the member also asked written Question No. 92, which requested:
With regard to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and, more specifically, the Recreational Infrastructure Canada (RInC) Program administered by ACOA in Atlantic Canada:...(d) what were the names, addresses and submission dates of the applicants submitting an application...from the constituency of Avalon...?
While the government's response did include a one-page chart with specific projects, it is important to note the following qualifications that were in the body of that response. Firstly, the answer advised that:
...the names, addresses and submission dates of the applicants submitting an application...on or near the constituency of Avalon are included in the attached list....
Later, the nuance was followed up with this line:
It should be noted that the Agency tracks RInC projects by geographic location, and not by electoral district.
Again, we have the exact same response that we do not track by electoral district.
Let us come forward to the present day and written Question No. 176, which asked:
...what applications have been received from the riding of Avalon...including (i) the specific projects that were approved or rejected in each fiscal year...?
In response, I answered, and this is at page 3580 of the Debates:
...with regard to applications received from the riding of Avalon...ACOA does not track projects by federal ridings. Information on projects approved by ACOA in Newfoundland and Labrador can be found on the agency’s website.
As I said, nothing has changed. ACOA did not and does not track projects by riding.
The one-pager prepared in response to Question No. 92, probably because it was a more narrowly crafted question, seems to have been a courtesy extended to the hon. member for Avalon by doing a quick search of projects that were “on or near” his own riding. This is quite some distance from the four-year fishing expedition he presented in Question No.176.
This particular fishing expedition was even broader than the past one, because he was seeking information on all applications received, including those that were rejected. With respect to the latter category, I understand that answering it would have required the agency to figure out who might have been from Avalon and from there contact each one of them to see if they would agree to allow their personal information to be divulged in order to follow the Privacy Act and the principles of the Access to Information Act. There is simply no reasonable way of accomplishing this within the 45-day deadline he requested under the Standing Orders.
In my answer, the hon. member for Avalon is directed to the agency's website for a list of all approved projects in Newfoundland and Labrador. From there, the hon. member can generate a list, just like the one he would have had as part of the 600-page response he got in 2010, from the website.
Surely, the hon. member knows his constituency well enough to be able to assess from this comprehensive list which of the projects are located in his own riding and which fall into one of the six other ridings in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
In conclusion, the hon. member for Avalon has not raised his issue in a timely manner. He has not given any indication as to how he has been impeded. He has not argued anything here other than dissatisfaction with the response provided. Finally, he has blurred the distinctions between the 2010 questions he cited and his most recent question.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I believe you can easily rule that there is no prima facie case of privilege to be found here.