It is time for statements by members. The member for St. John's East will have eight minutes remaining in the question and answer period when we return to this bill.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
I would remind hon. members to address their comments to the Chair rather than their colleagues.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
Questions and comments. The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
Mr. Speaker, when the Marois government decided to put an end to all chrysotile mining, our government showed leadership. Obviously, we no longer had any reason to oppose the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on the list of products subject to the PIC procedure of the Rotterdam Convention.
We showed leadership by announcing $50 million in funding to diversify the economies of Thetford Mines and Asbestos. This economic diversification will not happen overnight, as my colleague would have us believe. I hope that they will support the budget and that the member for Richmond—Arthabaska will stand up for his region.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
Mr. Speaker, I too would first like to wish all my colleagues in every party a happy new year.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-457, An Act to repeal the Clarity Act, which was introduced by the member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
It proposes to repeal an act that was intended to give effect to the requirement for clarity in referendums relating to secession by a province of Canada. I think it is unfortunate that the member for Richmond—Arthabaska is using every means necessary to revive debates from the past. Moreover, when Bill C-457 was introduced, my Bloc colleague stated that the purpose of his bill was “to right an historical wrong for the Quebec nation, because this federal Parliament created conditions meant to tell the Quebec nation how to go about exercising its self-determination“.
As a member from Quebec, I understand that this act has always been a sensitive issue for Quebeckers. However, the way ahead does not lie in trying to revive debates like this one, particularly in the current economic climate. Bill C-457 takes us backward, to the constitutional debates of the past. Our government is looking ahead, toward the future of Canada, and in particular toward what is most important to Canadians: job creation, growth and economic prosperity.
The opposition’s priorities are not what is important to Canadians. From coast to coast, Canadians have spoken clearly: they want a government that focuses on the economy, and that is what we are doing. Thanks to our government, Canada’s debt is by far the lowest and our job creation record is the strongest in the G7, with more than 900,000 net new jobs created since July 2009.
In Quebec alone, our government has created over 200,000 net jobs since July 2009. The principle of federalism recognizes the diversity of the constituent parts of our country and the autonomy of the provinces in building our society, acting within their own jurisdiction and using the powers granted to them under the Constitution.
Federalism is a political system that enables a society to progress and prosper as long as the federal and provincial governments abide by the constitutional division of powers and clearly understand the function of each level of government. Our government is well aware that a strong federal government has to focus on its fundamental responsibilities. That is what we have done since 2006, and that is what we will continue to do.
Since our government first came to power it has practised open federalism, which respects the division of constitutional powers, limits the use of the federal spending power and encourages co-operation among all levels of government. Canadians, including Quebeckers, have benefited from our vision of open federalism.
Our successes include the adoption of a motion by the House recognizing Quebec as a nation within a united Canada, the representation of Quebec within the Canadian delegation to UNESCO, and the co-operation of all of our federal partners in the economic action plan. In addition, Quebec will be receiving more than $17 billion in federal transfers this year, representing a 44 % increase over the previous government.
Bill C-457 is a step backwards, but we are firmly focused on the future. Let us be very clear: in introducing this bill, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska was trying to reopen old debates. Our government does not believe that Quebeckers and other Canadians want to reopen constitutional debates from days gone by.
Like the rest of Canadians, Quebeckers have shown that they want to move forward and want the focus shifted to other challenges. Our government is committed to doing just that, by focusing on what is most important to Canadians—job creation, growth and economic prosperity.
The time provided for government orders has expired. The House will now proceed to statements by members.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that our government continues to focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity and I am encouraged today by the debate and the fact that the opposition parties are supporting the bill.
Our government continues to provide support for families, be it by taking over one million Canadians off the tax rolls, providing over $3,000 of tax cuts to the average family, or instituting the working income tax benefit and the universal child care benefit. These are all initiatives that have helped the families I talk to in my riding of Mississauga South.
I wonder if the member for Richmond—Arthabaska would comment on how important all of these measures have been, in terms of a declining poverty rate in Canada?
Mr. Speaker, it is a shame to think that the Bloc would use the privilege afforded by this place to play the same tired politics of division with Canadian unity and the very traditions we hold dear, but that is exactly what it does, time and time again.
Unlike the four remaining Bloc MPs opposite, I, for one, am proud of our country's heritage and I am sincerely disappointed that a member of the House would suggest that the Governor General is responsible for something he has no control over, for nothing else than cheap political gain. There is simply no question that this motion has nothing to do whatsoever with correcting an anachronism in the tax code, which our Conservative government has already done, but everything to do with attacking Canada's proud royal traditions in this, the year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. That is why the government must oppose the motion.
It is no secret that the member opposite has deliberately timed the introduction of this debate to coincide with this momentous occasion. While Canadians view the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the throne as Queen of Canada, as a time to celebrate our country's rich tradition and impressive achievements, the Bloc never misses an opportunity to try to tear the country apart.
The true intent of the member's motion is apparent in his reaction to our government's Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal program. During this year's celebrations, 60,000 deserving Canadians will be recognized for significant achievements and outstanding service to their communities, while honouring Her Majesty for her service to Canada.
Instead of fulfilling their duties as members of Parliament to recognize the contributions of their constituents to Canada and their communities, the Bloc members have hijacked an important and worthy program instead for political grandstanding. Not only have all four Bloc MPs sent the medals back, denying their constituents recognition for their selfless and outstanding service, but the member opposite has gone so far as to call them a “monarchistic joke”.
Unlike the separatist Bloc Quebecois, our Conservative government appreciates the monarchy's fundamental importance to our democratic history and tradition. As Canadians, this history and tradition defines and unites us.
That is why this year our government was proud to welcome His Highness, the Prince of Wales, to Canada this past month, to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen's service to our country for the past 60 years, inspiring Canadians and bringing them closer together. For some, Her Majesty is the Crown. She is the only queen they have ever known.
That is why it is so important we mark this year, this milestone, in our history. It is not only a celebration of the Queen, but also a celebration of what it means to be Canadian.
Despite the Bloc's red herring attempt to discredit our proud and united tradition of constitutional monarchy, I am happy to assure Canadians that our government has acted to ensure that the Governor General's salary is subject to tax in the same manner as the salary of all Canadians.
I should note that despite what is implied by today's motion, the Governor General had no say in the matter and could not have unilaterally corrected it. While it is true that the Governor General was for many years exempt from paying tax on income earned from the office, our government has acted quickly and fairly to correct this historic anachronism out of a sense of duty to the Canadian taxpayer and not as a thinly veiled attack on the Queen's representative in Canada.
We have already introduced legislation to end the income tax exemption for the Governor General's salary, which will subject it to tax in the same manner as the salary of every other Canadian. This measure will apply to the 2013 and subsequent taxation years.
This treatment is consistent with recent measures in other Commonwealth countries to make the salary of their governors general subject to income tax, such as Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2010. Indeed, the Queen herself has voluntarily paid tax on her private income in the United Kingdom since the early 1990s, setting an example for her representatives in Commonwealth countries around the world.
Since 2006, our government has been squarely focused on creating a tax system that fuels job creation and growth in the economy and allows Canadians to keep more of their hard earned money. Our tax system rewards Canadians for reaching their full potential and gives individuals and families the flexibility to make the choices that are right for them.
The words of Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's 26th Governor General, perfectly capture the fundamental relationship between taxes and indispensable government services to which all Canadians are entitled:
—I've always had the feeling whenever I hear people say they don't want to pay any income tax, I always wonder well, how do we get our medical care, or how do we get to the schools that we go to...How do we do all the things that we can do to make sure everybody gets their fair share? How can we do it? Well, income taxes do that.
While the former Liberal government did not fulfill Madam Clarkson's apparent desire to be taxed when she served as Governor General, I can assure her that our government would have done it.
Our Conservative government recognizes the fundamental importance of taxes, a responsibility and a benefit to be shared by all Canadians, and has rightly extended this duty to the Governor General.
I would remind members opposite that this side of the House flatly refuses to play politics with our Canadian democratic traditions. The Governor General plays a key role in promoting our national identity by supporting and promoting Canadian values of diversity, inclusion, culture and heritage, both at home and abroad. He or she encourages Canadians to build a compassionate society and work together to create strong and generous communities, fostering national unity.
It is abundantly clear why the separatist Bloc has chosen this, the year of the Diamond Jubilee, to launch this partisan attack on the Queen's representative in Canada. While our government has acted fairly to correct an outdated provision contained in the Income Tax Act, the Bloc wants nothing more from the motion than to gain media attention for its lamentable attempts to denigrate Canadian constitutional tradition, just like its refusal to honour outstanding achievements with the Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Members should not take my word for it. They just need to ask the deserving constituents from Richmond—Arthabaska, Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, Ahuntsic and, most important, Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, whose service to their communities still goes unrecognized by their elected representatives.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 5, 2012, by the member for Toronto Centre about statements made by the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and the Associate Minister of National Defence, regarding the proposed acquisition of F-35 fighter jets.
I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and the hon. members for Richmond—Arthabaska, Scarborough—Guildwood, Malpeque, and Saanich—Gulf Islands for their comments.
In raising this question of privilege, the member for Toronto Centre contended that an opinion attributed to two government departments in chapter 2 of the Auditor General's spring 2012 report to Parliament was at variance with statements the Prime Minister and certain ministers have made to the House on the same matter, namely that the government accepts all the recommendations and conclusions in the Auditor General's report. The part of the report that is in question reads as follows:
...National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada disagree with the conclusions set out in paragraphs 2.80 and 2.81.
Based on this, the member for Toronto Centre claimed that the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, as well as the Associate Minister of National Defence had presented “two completely different and contradictory versions of reality“ to the House. Noting that it is a fundamental obligation of the government to tell the House the truth, the member stated that the government seemed to be attempting to deliberately confuse the House.
With respect to the cost projections of the F-35 fighter jets, the hon. member for Toronto Centre also claimed that, if the government does indeed fully accept all of the Auditor General’s conclusions and recommendations, then it is, in fact, agreeing with the Auditor General’s assessment that “some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians” and thus that Parliament had been misled. He went further, alleging that ministers were aware of the facts and thus knew that what they were saying in the House was not true. In reply, the government House leader explained that the departmental responses to the Auditor General’s conclusions were those of the departmental officials, rather than the government itself. He said, “The position of the government is not the position taken by the officials in those departments.”
The charges being levelled against the Prime Minister and three ministers are serious. They go to the very essence of the need for clarity in our proceedings and the need to ensure that information provided to the House by the government is such that the ability of members to carry out their duty of holding the government to account is not diminished or impeded.
The issue of ministerial responsibility and accountability has also been raised by several members. The Chair would like to set aside this aspect of the matter immediately. As all members know, constitutional issues of this nature are not matters for parliamentary procedure, and they are well beyond the range of matters the Speaker can be asked to rule upon.
In reviewing the other arguments being advanced, it would seem that the Chair is being asked to ascertain whether what was said in the House was truthful. However, I must remind members that in such circumstances the Chair's role is clear and indeed very limited.
In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 510 it states:
The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
There are in addition many relevant rulings from my predecessor Speaker Milliken, and I will quote from several of them. The first, from January 31, 2008, is found at pages 2434 and 2435 of Debates. In it, he stated:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. The same holds true with respect to the breadth of a minister’s answer to a question in the House: this is not for the Speaker to determine.
Again on February 26, 2004, at page 1076 of Debates, he confirmed:
As hon. members know, it is not the Speaker's role to adjudicate on matters of fact. This is something on which the House itself can form an opinion during debate.
The member for Toronto Centre himself acknowledged this parliamentary convention when he said, “While it is not for the Speaker to determine what is fact”.
So what then are the parameters of the Speaker’s role when faced with such allegations?
Speaker Milliken summed it up quite succinctly on April 21, 2005, when he said at page 5412 of Debates:
In the present case, I must determine whether the minister's responses in any way impeded members in the performance of their parliamentary duties and whether the remarks were intentionally misleading—
Then, on January 31, 2008, Speaker Milliken again had cause to state, at page 2435 of Debates:
As hon. members know, before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.
It has become accepted practice in this House that the following elements have to be established when it is alleged that a member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House: one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House.
It is with this very high threshold in mind that I have carefully reviewed all the interventions on this matter, as well as statements made to the House and replies given during oral questions by the Prime Minister and the various cabinet ministers involved.
With regard to the first argument advanced by the member for Toronto Centre, the Chair has difficulty accepting the view that because ministers are stating that they accept the findings and agree with the conclusions of the Auditor General, which include, in part, a statement written by the Auditor General relating that two departments disagree with him, that this in and of itself is evidence that these same ministers have deliberately misled the House and intended, in doing so, to impede members in the performance of their duties.
What the Chair has before it is a statement by the government House leader that, having taken into account the findings of the Auditor General, the government has decided that it rejects the position previously taken by officials as conveyed in the report. As I pointed out earlier, the minister has stated rather starkly that “the position of the government is not the position taken by the officials in those departments”. Accordingly, with respect to this aspect of the question, the Chair cannot find grounds for a prima facie finding of privilege.
The second argument made by the member for Toronto Centre was that because the government agreed with the Auditor General's assessment that “Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians”, this meant that the House was misled. He further claimed “...for a long time, the members of the executive council knew that what they were saying in the House of Commons was not true”.
In looking at this aspect of the question, the Chair must return to the words of the Auditor General himself, whose report states categorically in paragraph 2.80 that “Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians”. However, let us not forget the very high threshold required before there can be a finding of prima facie privilege. As I said a moment ago, it must be clearly established that in making the statement complained of, the member in question knew it was incorrect and intended to mislead the House in making it.
It is relevant to note, in reference to this latter point, that the Auditor General also says, in the very same paragraph of his report, and here I am repeating a passage the member for Toronto Centre himself read to the House:
Problems relating to development of the F-35 were not fully communicated to decision makers—meaning ministers—and risks presented to decision makers did not reflect the problems the JSF program was experiencing at the time. Full life-cycle costs were understated in the estimates provided to support the government's 2010 decision to buy the F-35.
Obviously, the Auditor General has raised concerns about the information provided. He is pointing out that in his opinion less than complete information was provided to ministers and to members.
On this point, drawing from a somewhat analogous case from 2004 found in Debates at page 1047 in reference to statements contained in a report of the Auditor General indicating that Parliament had been “misinformed” and “bypassed”, Speaker Milliken pointed out that no evidence had been produced to show that “departmental officials deliberately intended to deceive their superiors and so obstruct hon. members in the performance of their duties”.
Not only has the government House leader stated that the government agrees with the Auditor General in this respect, the minister has gone even further stating:
—as a government, as ministers, as a cabinet, we have a right and an expectation that the advice we receive is something on which we can rely. This is something that, in this case, the Auditor General made some findings on. We happen to agree with those findings in the end.
So, ultimately, the Chair has before it two clear statements: the first contained in the report of the Auditor General that some costs were not fully provided to ministers and members; and the second, by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons accepting the conclusions of the Auditor General.
In my view, no clear evidence has been presented beyond this and, thus, the Chair has no choice but to conclude that it cannot find that ministers knew or believed that what they were telling the House was not true or that it was intended to be misleading. In other words, the criteria of demonstrating that ministers knew their statements to the House were incorrect, and that they intended to mislead the House, has not been met.
Accordingly, bound as I am by the very narrow parameters that apply in these situations, and without any evidence that the House was deliberately mislead, I cannot arrive at a finding of prima facie privilege in this case.
The House will be aware, however, that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has, as part of its ongoing mandate, the responsibility to review and report on all reports to the Auditor General. The House knows that the committee is seized of the report that has given rise to this question of privilege and is at present proceeding with its examination of the report.
I remind the House that a determination that a breach of privilege is not prima facie at this time in no way interferes with the right of any hon. member to raise a new question of privilege should the committee arrive at findings that shed new light on this matter, or should other pertinent information become available.
I thank members for their attention.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.
There is no debate on applications for emergency debate and not having received notice of request for one from the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, I cannot hear the member at this time.
I have no doubt that members take these concerns very seriously.
One of the criteria in O'Brien and Bosc in setting out how the Speaker determines whether or not to grant an emergency debate mentions that when matters are being investigated by other administrative bodies, they are generally rejected. Given the fact that it is my understanding that these matters are being investigated by Elections Canada at this time, I do not think it meets the criteria for that reason.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on November 16, 2011, by the hon. member for Mount Royal regarding the negative impact an organized telephone campaign survey conducted in his constituency has had on his work and reputation.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Mount Royal for having raised this important matter, having responded to the comments of other members and having provided the Chair with additional material in support of his allegations. The Chair would also like to thank the Government House Leader, the House Leader of the Official Opposition and the members for Richmond—Arthabaska, Saanich—Gulf Islands and Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for their comments as well as the member for New Brunswick Southwest for his interventions.
In presenting his case, the hon. member for Mount Royal states that several constituents had contacted him about survey calls they had received from a telephone number identified as Campaign Research Inc., asking if they would support the Conservative Party in the “impending, if not imminent, by-election”.
He has also informed the House that similar calls were placed to citizens in the Westmount—Ville-Marie constituency. The hon. member for Mount Royal stated that this telephone campaign led his constituents and other voters to think that he had deserted his post, and overshadowed his parliamentary work. Noting that the House has the right to the services of its members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference, he claimed that the confusion created among his electors was damaging his reputation and his credibility.
In the case before us, no one disputes the fact that there is no pending by-election. Yet the hon. member for Mount Royal explains that he has been put in an ambiguous situation through this telephone campaign. He says:
Simply put, how am I, or any member, to effectively represent a constituency if the constituents are led to believe that the member is no longer their elected representative? How can one correct the confusion and prejudicial damage that has been done in the minds of those who may think I am no longer their representative in Parliament or no longer discharging my duties?
To support his argument, the member cited a ruling of Speaker Bosley, as found on page 4439 of the Debates of May 6, 1985, which states:
It should go without saying that a Member of Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending to cause confusion as to a Member’s identity creates the possibility of an impediment to the fulfilment of that Member’s functions. Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege.
The Chair finds striking the repeated emphasis that the member has placed on the importance of this issue not only for himself but for all members. This point has also been stressed by other members who intervened. Because of the Chair's primordial concern for the preservation of the privileges of all members, this is a matter worthy of serious consideration. As your Speaker, one of my principal responsibilities is to ensure that the rights and privileges of members are safeguarded, and this is a responsibility I take very seriously.
The member for New Brunswick Southwest argues, on the contrary, that the House should not even be seized of this question because “...it lies outside its authority”. He claims that:
—the...conduct of political parties should not be judged by the House or by its members....The best place for this to be judged is among Canadians, not in the House...
The Chair has no doubt that Canadians are indeed judging this matter, just as they are constantly judging this House by what happens here and what is said here and by the attitude that members display toward one another.
It does not matter that the resources of the House of Commons itself were not used to carry on this particular campaign. On this point, let me point out that the rights and immunities of individual members can be breached by a wide range of actions and that such actions are not limited, as has been suggested, to actions taken in the House or actions involving the use of House resources.
At the same time, in listening to the arguments on this question, I have seen that a certain confusion seems to exist with regard to the extent of the powers of the Speaker in dealing with questions of privilege. Several members have ascribed to the Chair seemingly vast powers that neither I nor my predecessors have ever possessed. The role of the Chair is actually very limited, as the hon. member for Mount Royal has himself pointed out, citing O'Brien and Bosc, at page 145:
—the issue put before the Speaker is not a finding of fact, it is simply whether on first impression the issue that is before the House warrants priority consideration over all other matters, all other orders of the day that are before the House.
In cases where a member alleges that he has experienced interference in the performance of his parliamentary duties, the Speaker’s task is particularly difficult. As O’Brien and Bosc states at page 111:
It is impossible to codify all incidents which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege.
Furthermore, in ruling on questions of privilege of this kind, the Chair is obliged to assess whether or not the member's ability to fulfill his parliamentary functions has been undermined. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 109, notes that my predecessors have stressed the importance of establishing a direct link to parliamentary duties in such cases, stating that:
—rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary functions of the Member were directly involved. While frequently noting that Members raising such matters have legitimate grievances, Speakers have consistently concluded that Members have not been prevent from carrying out their parliamentary duties.
In the Bosley decision cited by the member for Mount Royal, the Speaker was confronted with a situation where the former member of Parliament was identified in a print advertisement as the sitting member: the very identity of the sitting member was at issue.
In the case at hand, the Chair is entirely sympathetic to the situation faced by the member for Mount Royal. There is no doubt that he has been bombarded by telephone calls, emails and faxes from concerned and confused constituents. However, the Chair has great difficulty in concluding that the member has been unable to carry out his parliamentary duties as a result of these tactics. The member for Mount Royal has been extremely active in the House and in committee. By raising the matter in the House as he has done, the hon. member has brought attention to a questionable form of voter identification practice and described in detail the negative impact it has had. Indeed, his interventions here in the House on this very question have garnered, as he himself points out, extensive sympathetic coverage in media across the country.
In a ruling delivered on August 12, 1988, Debates, page 18,272, Speaker Fraser stated that:
Past precedents are highly restrictive...and generally require that clear evidence of obstruction or interference with a Member in the exercise of his or her duty be demonstrated in order to form the basis for a claim of a breach of privilege.
Speaker Milliken, in a ruling from February 12, 2009, also stressed this point:
—adjudicating questions of privilege of this kind, the Speaker is bound to assess whether or not the member's ability to fulfill his parliamentary functions effectively has been undermined.
As I considered the member for Mount Royal's case, a second ruling by Speaker John Fraser has resonated particularly for me. On May 5, 1987, Speaker Fraser concluded:
Given all the circumstances in this case, I am sure that the Minister's capacity to function as a Minister and Member of this House is in no way impaired. I point out to honourable Members that this is the real issue of privilege, although there are obviously other matters that surround the particular fact in this case....the Chair has to look very carefully at the exact point of privilege.
In today's case, too, the so-called surrounding matters have given me pause. I am sure that all reasonable people would agree that attempting to sow confusion in the minds of voters as to whether or not their member is about to resign is a reprehensible tactic and that the hon. member for Mount Royal has a legitimate grievance.
I would hope that his airing of this grievance and the discussions this case has provoked—here in the House and in the media—will lead to two results. On the one hand, managers of legitimate exercises in voter identification should be more careful in the information they disseminate to the people they contact. On the other hand, Canadians contacted this way should be more wary and judge more critically any information presented to them by unsolicited callers.
I can understand how the member for Mount Royal and others are seeking relief from the climate of cynicism, not to say contempt, about parliamentary institutions and practice that seem to prevail. But I fear that such relief is not within my gift: the Speaker's powers in these matters are limited, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated.
The words of Speaker Fraser in a ruling of December 11, 1991, seem particularly apt in these circumstances:
The Chair can devise no strategy, however aggressive or interventionist, and can imagine no codification, however comprehensive or strict, that will as successfully protect the Canadian parliamentary traditions that we cherish as will each member's sense of justice and fair play. Especially at this time of crisis of confidence in our parliamentary institutions, our constituents deserve and will tolerate no less.
Accordingly, after studying the precedents in these matters, I am not able on technical grounds to find that a prima facie case of privilege exists in this case.
I would like once again to thank the hon. member for Mount Royal for bringing this serious and important matter to the attention of the House and of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak again to Bill C-20, the fair representation act.
I spoke at second reading to the bill, and I gave it my full support. It is a very important bill, not only for my province of Ontario but for the fairness in representation for all Canadians. The minister has spoken eloquently about the need for the bill, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. I would also commend my colleagues who have spoke today during this debate.
As representatives of our constituents, we should have a special interest in the bill. Anyone who has contributed to this debate so far has done so in a constructive manner.
This afternoon I would like to provide the House with some context for report stage debate on the amendments that have been moved or proposed. I do that by sharing some of what has been heard at the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am honoured to be the chair.
After we heard from the minister who was very helpful at the committee, answering our questions, we heard from the Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. I note that this morning my colleague from Hamilton Centre thanked the minister for his helpfulness at committee, and I agree with him.
I am happy to hear the sort of collegial remarks that have come from my colleague. We certainly need more of what the member for Hamilton Centre said and how he demonstrated it this morning. In our committee, the member has also been similarly very helpful, reasonable and pleasant to work with. The member is a credit to his party and to the House.
Back to the committee on procedure and House affairs, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared so he could give us his views on how Elections Canada would manage this process, its role in assisting the independent boundaries commissions to do their work and how Elections Canada would handle the new timelines proposed in the bill. He, too, was helpful. Of course that is what the committee strives for, to get the information from those who will end up doing the work.
What was most important was he told us that the passage of the bill before February 8, 2012, when the process is scheduled to begin, was by far the best scenario. That is why we have moved quickly to study the bill and that is why we have made the bill a priority in the House.
By moving quickly to ensure its passage before February, we will avoid having the boundaries commissions repeat their work. This is important from a cost standpoint and also for clarity. Having the boundaries commissions start the work under one formula and then having to stop, change the formula, change the timelines and repeat what they have already been done would be a waste of time and taxpayer money.
Having the boundaries commissions start their considerations on the new electoral map under one set of assumptions only to change them midstream would also muddle this process for Canadians. We want clarity for our constituents. Ensuring the bill is passed and in operation at the beginning of the process will ensure that.
The Chief Electoral Officer was quite clear about that. He was also clear that the new timelines proposed in the bill, on the whole, would help Elections Canada to be fully prepared for the next general election. He did mention that Elections Canada would be working very hard to meet these timelines in the bill, but that it was certainly possible, given it met the same final timeline in the last readjustment.
That is an important point as well. Elections Canada needs sufficient time to prepare for the new boundaries, as do all of the parties, as do Canadians. It is in the best national interest to ensure that we move quickly to ensure everything is in place.
The Chief Electoral Officer also confirmed for us that almost every one of the new timelines proposed in the bill was recommended by his predecessor, Mr. Kingsley, who also appeared at the committee to verify this information. Our committee has and continues to study the reports.
The point has particular relevance today, as the opposition has proposed some amendments to the timelines in the bill. We should put those timeline amendments to the side. The fact is we did not pull these new timelines out of thin air. The operation for the process under the current timelines was examined by the Chief Electoral Officer and the recommendations for change and improvement were made. Our committee has made some similar recommendations in the past, as did the 1991 Lortie Royal Commission report.
These timeline proposals are not new and they have not been brought forward without due consideration or study. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They have been studied and recommended multiple times by multiple bodies over the past 20 years.
I am quite confident that these changes will be positive and will not have the negative side effects about which the opposition has speculated. By its reaction to these proposals, it is almost as though many in the opposition have not read the various reports that the committee has produced. Nor does it seem like they have paid much attention to the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer over a number of years.
I can only conclude that the committee will have to find flashier, more interesting ways to engage our colleagues with discussions, studies and recommendations so that in the future they pay attention to some of the reports that have been issued by the committee. I will see what the committee can do to ensure that all of our colleagues are better aware of the good studies and recommendations that exist.
The committee also heard from the chief statistician, Mr. Wayne Smith. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Mr. Smith was also highly helpful and a very thorough witness. The committee's time with him was constructive and very informative. He outlined for us how Statistics Canada's census count and population estimates worked. He outlined their differences and told us about the strengths of each measurement.
Like the Chief Electoral Officer, he was very clear on two very important points.
First, he told us that it was absolutely Statistics Canada's view that the population estimates were a more accurate assessment of the population from province to province than the unadjusted census figures that would be available on February 8, 2012. Due to some statistical and methodological factors, this is the case. Having the chief statistician before the committee may be a fairly dry meeting, but it did get some very good information. There are more accurate province-by-province population numbers in the estimates than there are in the census.
Second, he confirmed that the only data source that was sufficiently accurate for the purposes of drawing the electoral boundaries themselves was in the census. That makes sense, since the census has street-by-street population data. No other data source would be anywhere near as accurate as that. Through the passage of the bill, we will find that we will soon be using the best possible data available for each separate stage of the process. It is only fair that we do the right thing with the information we have been provided. We have the data sources available to use the best data at each stage, so in fact we will do that.
It seems like common sense to me, but the member for Richmond—Arthabaska moved an amendment to remove the population estimates from the bill. I am at a loss to explain why he thinks that is a good idea. I certainly do not think it is a good idea and the committee heard from the chief statistician as to why it was not the right course of action. We think that amendment should be put to the side as well.
To conclude, as the minister and my colleagues have said, the bill fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. It fulfills our promise to Canadians from the last election. It will bring faster-growing provinces closer to representation by population, while protecting the seats of slower-growing provinces and providing the seats to Quebec in proportion to its population. The new formula corrects a long-standing imbalance in democratic representation among the different provinces of our federation. It is reasonable that its provisions make sense.
As we have seen, many of the concerns raised in the debate and the amendments by the opposition are not based on the facts heard at committee. I hope all hon. members in the House will agree and will support the bill.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska has 30 seconds.
Resuming debate. The member for Richmond—Arthabaska has five minutes remaining for questions and comments.
The hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska will have five minutes remaining when the House resumes debate on the motion.
It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the member for Malpeque, on November 4, concerning the tabling of a document by the President of the Treasury Board.
I would like to thank the member for Malpeque for raising this matter, as well as the hon. Minister of State and Chief Government Whip, and the members for Richmond—Arthabaska and Winnipeg North for their comments.
The facts of this case are as follows. During oral questions on Friday, November 4, 2011, questions were posed which made reference to the resignation of a member of the Auditor General’s internal audit committee in protest over the appointment of the new Auditor General. In one of these questions, the member for Bourassa named the individual concerned. Then, after question period, the President of the Treasury Board tabled a document that detailed a political donation this individual had made, referring to him by name twice.
In raising this point of order, the member for Malpeque condemned the minister's action, claiming that:
It is fear and intimidation. It can put the chill of fear into public servants and individuals in Canada donating to a political party that a minister will use that against them. By implication, it can be damaging to a person's reputation.
In response, the Chief Government Whip pointed out that since the document contained publicly available information, no confidentiality had been breached and no offence committed.
Before dealing with the substance of the point of order raised by the member for Malpeque, I would remind the House that ministers enjoy considerable latitude and may, at their discretion, table a wide range of documents in the House.
Standing Order 32(2) states:
A Minister of the Crown, or a Parliamentary Secretary acting on behalf of a Minister, may, in his or her place in the House, state that he or she proposes to lay upon the Table of the House, any report or other paper dealing with a matter coming within the administrative responsibilities of the government, and, thereupon, the same shall be deemed for all purposes to have been laid before the House.
Accordingly, it is clear that the President of the Treasury Board was acting within the established rules of the House in tabling a document for the information of members.
However, the information in the document tabled by the President of the Treasury Board, though publicly available, remains information about an individual in his capacity as a private citizen. Therefore, the Chair would like to take this opportunity to remind all members of what my predecessors had to say on similar matters.
As Speaker Fraser outlined in a ruling on May 5, 1987, the freedom of speech members of the House enjoy is an “awesome and far-reaching privilege”, one that allows our “parliamentary system to operate free of any hindrance”. But he added, at page 5766 of the Debates, that:
Such a privilege confers grave responsibilities on those who are protected by it. By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place.... All Hon. members are conscious of the care they must exercise in availing themselves of their absolute privilege of freedom of speech. That is why there are long-standing practices and traditions observed in this House to counter the potential for abuse.
This same caution is taken up in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 616, which states:
Members are discouraged from referring by name to persons who are not Members of Parliament and who do not enjoy parliamentary immunity, except in extraordinary circumstances when the national interest calls for this.
Cognizant of this fundamental principle and having acknowledged that there is no rule that prohibits mentioning individuals by name in the House, my predecessors have warned members of the potential risks of referring to members of the public in the House.
On April 24, 2007, on pages 85 and 86 of Debates, Speaker Milliken said:
It is incumbent upon all members to exercise fairness with respect to those who are not in a position to defend themselves. That being said, the Chair finds no grounds for further action in the present case.
On May 26, 1987, at page 6375 of Debates, Speaker Fraser went even further, stating:
It is not simply that such people could be slandered, with impunity, without any redress available to them, but that wrongdoing may be implied simply by making a personal reference.
On the same occasion he reminded the House of the immediacy with which remarks are widely communicated, stating:
...We are living in a day when anything said in this place is said right across the country and that is why I have said before and why I say again that care ought to be exercised, keeping in mind that the great privilege we do have ought not to be abused.
I need not elaborate on the fact that what was true in 1987 is even truer today.
It is these wise cautionary remarks that have prompted me to use this occasion to remind all hon. members to use great care when referring to or singling out an individual who does not have a voice here in this House and to avoid circumstances when, by such reference, an individual could have his or her reputation damaged without having the opportunity to respond.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order, and I do apologize to my hon. colleague. I should inform you that there have been consultations and I am hopeful that the House will give its consent to the following motion: That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, when the House begins debate on the second reading motion of Bill C-16, an Act to Amend the National Defence Act (military judges), one member from each recognized party and the member from Saanich—Gulf Islands, who shall divide her time with any of the following members, the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, the member for Ahuntsic, and the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, may speak to the second reading motion, after which the said bill shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
The electoral district of Richmond--Arthabaska (Quebec) has a population of 100,116 with 80,362 registered voters and 224 polling divisions.
This action requires you to be logged into Politwitter. No regisrtation is required, just authenticate using your Twitter account.