The Chair heard the comment but was not exactly clear on what the hon. member for Hamilton Centre had said. At the time, the Chair was also mindful that the hon. member for Hamilton Centre was replying to heckling from the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville, which also falls outside the rules.
I did not clearly hear what the member for Hamilton Centre said. If that is what he said, then I would encourage him to retract it. It does happen from time to time in this place. The Chair can review the tape to see whether that is in fact what was said, but the Chair would also remind all hon. members that when one of their colleagues has the floor, they are to respectfully listen and not heckle. That is also an expectation.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. It is an honour to rise in the House today to speak on the troubling situation in Iraq. I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting the request for an emergency debate on this serious situation and to discuss the government's ongoing response.
The spread of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, has been accompanied by heinous acts of brutality against Iraq's religious minority communities. In August, we witnessed the harrowing scenes of tens of thousands of Yazidis stranded in the Sinjar mountains, men, women and children who fled en masse under the threat of torture, enslavement and death at the hands of ISIL.
The persecution of Iraq's Christian communities has been no less brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have now fled their homes, having been faced with the stark choice of the advancing Islamist militants: submit to Islam, flee, or be killed.
By some estimates, we are now witnessing the near total disappearance of Christians from the region. Whereas the population included more than one million Christians prior to 2003, including over 600,000 in Baghdad and tens of thousands more in Mosul and in Kirkuk as of late July, these numbers are estimated to have dwindled to less than 400,000 with many more having now fled Iraq as the violence has accelerated over the past six weeks. The incredible loss that this represents for Iraq, for the region and for the world cannot be overstated.
The 2,000-year-old Iraqi Christian community was founded by the immediate successors to the Apostles. It has made substantial contributions to the economic, intellectual and cultural heritage of the Middle East. However, most crucially, the pluralism fostered by the existence of these communities alongside their Muslim neighbours is a crucial ingredient in fostering the tolerance, respect and pluralism that Iraq must embrace for it to achieve everlasting stability. Without a stable presence of Christians and religious minorities in Iraq, the chances of building a democratic country grounded in respect for the rule of law is greatly diminished.
We recognize that the perpetrators of these acts of violence are adherents to a twisted religious ideology motivated by a belief in a divine call to war against the enemies of Islam. This is a spreading cancer. The hateful ideology that motivates ISIL is also fuelling violence in East Africa, in Nigeria, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East. While the government has rightly directed the Canadian military to support our friends and allies in stopping ISIL's advance on the ground, military force alone cannot root out the long-term threat posed by Islamic extremism.
For this reason, the government is also focused on advancing the cause of religious freedom in Iraq as part of our overarching response to the crisis. This means that beyond our short-term efforts to protect religious communities that have fled the violence, we recognize that a stable Iraqi government, grounded first in religious tolerance and ultimately in religious freedom, is the only reliable way out of this spiral of violence, persecution and death being fostered by the extremist views of the Islamists.
The majority of Muslims in Iraq and throughout the world deplore the false interpretation of Islam in whose name the violence is being perpetrated. However, they must also recognize that the extremism flourishes in an environment without respect and tolerance for religious diversity and religious difference. Legal and social restrictions on religious freedom, including the prohibitions against blasphemy and apostasy that we have seen elsewhere in Muslim majority countries, cannot be allowed to take hold in Iraq; not just because they infringe on the rights of Christians and other minorities to practise their faiths, but because they discourage the liberalizing voices within Islam that are crucial to countering the influences of the extremists in the long term.
This is precisely why the government has committed to advancing freedom of religion as a central component of our response to the situation in Iraq.
Through the Office of Religious Freedom, we will be working over the medium- and long-term to promote interfaith dialogue, to encourage understanding and respect between Iraq's religious communities, and to help build a political and social framework that allows all Iraqis to express their faith freely and without fear. To that end, over the next two to three months, the Office of Religious Freedom is working to identify, in collaboration with implementing partner organizations, a number of initiatives to assist in these efforts. We will also be reaching out to friends and allies to build recognition of the important role religious freedom will play in ensuring long-term, sustainable peace in Iraq and the ultimate defeat of Islamist-fuelled violence.
Our ambassador for religious freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, is also conducting outreach with the Canadian-Iraqi religious community, including members of the Syriac and Chaldo-Assyrian churches, the Yazidis, representatives from the Jewish community, and Shia and Sunni Muslim community leaders, to identify how best to help Iraq's threatened religious communities and support longer term tolerance and freedom. Ambassador Bennett has also held a fruitful discussion with a number of faith-based aid organizations, such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need, to explore opportunities for a partnership with Canada on the ground. As a multicultural and multi-faith society, Canada is uniquely called to promote the peaceful coexistence of Iraq's various religious and ethnic communities. We have a rich and proud tradition of diversity, respect and tolerance, a tradition that has yielded peace and prosperity for our people. Through our engagement in Iraq, we will honour this tradition by acting against hate and persecution, by championing the values of pluralism and religious freedom, and supporting Iraqis as they work to build a more stable future.
As the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, which includes CFB Petawawa, I am proud to acknowledge the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, CSOR, which is headquartered in Petawawa. CSOR was established in 2006 and is the first new Canadian regiment to be stood up since 1968 when the Canadian Airborne Regiment was created. On that note, the politically motivated decision to disband the airborne regiment was wrong. In today's troubled world, I know that Canadians would benefit from those skills.
As Canadians are aware, CSOR members have been deployed to Iraq to advise and provide intelligence first-hand to the Canadian government about the situation in Iraq and the threat posed by ISIL. On behalf of the Canadian government, I wish to thank the Petawawa families of serving soldiers for the important role they play in keeping the home fires burning.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville really talked about this measure as being symbolic. He talked about it as being perhaps a bit of a stunt that would impact very few workers.
NDP provincial governments had the jurisdiction and the ability to make changes when they were in power. What did those governments actually do when they were in power and could have made those changes? As we know, the parties are very closely aligned provincially and federally. What was the reality for those provincial governments?
Mr. Speaker, on that note I will ask to split my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville and I apologize to the Chair for not indicating that at an earlier point.
The earlier speaker from across the aisle was talking about our government having done nothing for workers. The wage earner protection program protects the wages, vacation pay, severance pay and termination pay owed to workers if their employers go bankrupt or into receivership. This has benefited thousands of Canadians. The statistics are this. Since its inception in 2008 and up to July 31, 2014, more than 74,000 Canadians have received $174.8 million in WEP payments. This is the wage earner protection program that our government brought in as legislation, contradicting what was said earlier by the previous speaker. These are wages that are owed to employees by employers who became bankrupt or went into receivership.
To further support employees in the federal jurisdiction we implemented the Helping Families in Need Act. This gives employees the right to take unpaid leave if they have a child who is critically ill, is missing, or has passed away as a result of a probable criminal offence. It is clear that in recent years we have expanded the labour standard protections for all employees in federally regulated enterprises because we have their best interests at heart.
The question of reinstating a federal minimum wage is a moot point. Establishing the minimum wage lies in the capable hands of our provincial and territorial governments who are better positioned to apply a local lens to such policy decisions. Workers in the federal jurisdiction are getting a fair wage under a system that works. There is simply no reason to change it. Therefore, that is why I propose to defeat the motion and I ask the support of my fellow members.
Mr. Speaker, in a moment I will seek unanimous consent to table a document.
During members' statements, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville called on the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin to apologize. I want to point out that the member already apologized, which was appropriate.
I would mention, and I think it is ironic, that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has never apologized for deliberately misleading the House on Bill C-23.
I seek unanimous consent to table this document, the response from the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. He did the right thing.
When is the member for Mississauga—Streetsville going to do the right thing and apologize for his comments in the House of Commons?
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be able to participate in this important debate today on the topic of the temporary foreign worker program.
At the outset, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga—Streetsville.
I want to be clear about where we stand. Canadians must always be given the first crack at available jobs.
The temporary foreign worker program is largely employer-driven. It is meant as a short-term solution for Canadian employers, who should only use it as a last resort when it is absolutely impossible to fill positions with Canadian workers. That is a critical point.
The program is not designed to take jobs away from Canadians and it must never take jobs away from Canadians. As a government, we are obliged to ensure the program is not abused in this way. That is an obligation that we welcome. That is why the Minister of Employment and Social Development felt the need last week to take action to put in place a moratorium on the access of the food services sector to the temporary foreign worker program pending the government's ongoing policy review of this program.
The minister's actions came in the wake of serious allegations of abuse in this particular sector. We underline this government's commitment to combat such abuse and to ensure that employers always make efforts to hire Canadians first before making use of the temporary foreign worker program. That is why the food services sector is now facing a moratorium on the temporary foreign workers program. It is a temporary moratorium that will last until our government finishes its ongoing review.
When our government hears allegations of misuse, allegations about the labour market being distorted, or allegations about Canadians being displaced, we take action, unlike the NDP, which keeps asking for more temporary foreign workers for businesses in their ridings while at the same time calling for the program to be shut down.
It is simply stunning to listen to the New Democrats bring forward this kind of motion, because it does not seem to fit with their continuous calls for more temporary foreign workers in their ridings. We have had calls from the NDP deputy leader and MP for Vancouver East and the NDP MPs for Halifax, Ottawa Centre, Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Skeena—Bulkley Valley—
Mr. Speaker, I must say I am rising today with great exasperation and frustration on a question of privilege pursuant to section 48(1) of the Standing Orders, regarding misleading information that the Minister of State for Democratic Reform has provided to the House. I say I am exasperated because members know as well as I do that in the past few months, my colleagues and I from the NDP official opposition caucus have had to stand up many times in the House to denounce misleading comments by members of the opposite side.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to read from a statement you made yesterday in the House: “As has been suggested, the information shared in this House does hold extraordinary value as it forms the basis upon which decisions are made in the House”.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall that we raised a similar question of privilege in March 2012 with regard to the comments made by the then minister of Human Resources and Social Development, who said that there was no quota system for recovering EI payments when in fact there was.
We also raised a similar question of privilege in October 2013, when we brought to the House's attention the Prime Minister's misleading statements concerning his office's involvement in the Wright-Duffy scandal.
We raised a question on the 100% fabricated evidence from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who said in this House he had witnessed cases of voter fraud when, in fact, he simply had not.
Finally, just two weeks ago we raised a similar question regarding misleading comments from the minister of state for finance, who manipulated numbers to justify his party's opposition to the NDP's CPP expansion plan.
My colleagues and I do not just raise these questions of privilege for fun, far from it. I would rather not have to rise in the House and waste the precious little time that we are given for debates—which is often cut short by this government—to ask the House to look into misleading comments once again made by a minister.
However, as the opposition House leader, it is my duty to raise these questions and to hold the government responsible for what it tells the House and Canadians.
Therefore, it is with some irritation that I want to present to you today the facts concerning the specific case at hand: the comments made by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
During question period in this House on Wednesday, April 2, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform was asked why he was ready to disenfranchise thousands of Canadians by removing voter ID cards as possible forms of identification for voters. This is what the member replied on April 2:
There are regular reports of people receiving multiple cards and using them to vote multiple times. That, too, can be found on the Elections Canada website.
If this were true, it would indeed be concerning. As we all know, voting multiple times is a serious legal offence. That is why the NDP followed up on his statement. We searched Elections Canada's website and we asked witnesses at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, currently studying Bill C-23, if there were, in fact, cases of people using multiple cards to vote multiple times.
The answer we found is unambiguous. There is only one documented case of this, as we well know, which was a gag by the Quebec TV show Infoman. Therefore, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform is blatantly misleading the House when he said there are “regular reports” of voters voting multiple times.
We tried to give the minister of state a chance to correct the record during question period on April 3, the following day, when the leader of the official opposition, the NDP leader, asked him to give us examples of these “regular reports of people receiving multiple cards and using them to vote multiple times”. At that time, the minister of state actually changed his story.
On April 3, he replied:
In fact, there are documented cases where people received multiple voter information cards. I gave the example, which was documented by the French CBC, where two Montrealers each received two voter information cards and therefore each voted twice.
In his reply, the minister of state could only resort to citing, again, one single example that exists of voters voting multiple times, but he changed his story from “regular reports of people receiving multiple cards and using them to vote multiple times” to “cases where people received multiple voter information cards”.
In his answer on April 2, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform was referring to the reports showing that there are cases of people receiving more than one voter card. However, none of these reports say that the people in question actually used these to vote more than once. The minister of state knew this, and therefore misled the House when he manipulated the information to add, from his own fertile imagination, that people had used their voter cards to vote multiple times.
Mr. Speaker, if you are still not convinced, allow me to tell you about the many witnesses who appeared before the committee and who all told us that there was no evidence of systemic or organized voter fraud.
Harry Neufeld, the former chief electoral officer of British Columbia, said:
“There was no evidence of fraud whatsoever”, in the cases he reviewed, and that he has “only been privy to a handful of cases of voter fraud” in his entire career.
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, also said that there was no systemic or organized voter fraud.
How, then, can the Minister of State for Democratic Reform claim that Elections Canada has documented multiple cases of voter fraud?
I will not take the time here today to mention all the precedents where it was found that prima facie contempt had occurred when members misled the House. I will spare members in the House from that today, since we have talked about those cases before when other similar incidents occurred, incidents which are unfortunately far too frequent.
Let me simply remind the House that, according to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, on page 115, “...Misleading a Minister or a Member has also been considered a form of obstruction and thus a prima facie breach of privilege”.
Moreover, and this is the essence of the matter, the Parliamentary Practice, 22nd edition, by Erskine May states the following on page 63 that “...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.
Mr. Speaker, I see that you are getting tired of this, as are New Democrats, and so are Canadians. Canadians are tired of the misleading comments from the other side. We are tired of the Conservative government’s misleading the House in order to justify its wrong-headed policies.
The opposition to the unfair elections act is mounting and virtually unanimous. Conservatives stand to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters who, by many assessments, are coincidentally not usually Conservative voters. To justify this, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform had to resort to making up stories in the House because he simply could not find real evidence to bring forward. All he has is one single gag by Infoman.
The Minister of State for Democratic Reform has, one, offered misleading statements to the House; two, did so knowingly; and, three, he did so with the deliberate intent to mislead parliamentarians. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to find that a prima facie contempt of the House exists in this case.
More than that, Mr. Speaker, since the problem of ministers knowingly misleading the House seems to be becoming endemic in the Conservative government, I would appreciate receiving guidance from you as to how we can put an end to the practice of government benches providing misleading information to parliamentarians and to the Canadian public.
Mr. Speaker, last week, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform claimed:
There are regular reports of people receiving multiple voter cards and using them to vote multiple times. That...can be found on the Elections Canada website.
The only problem is that it is not true. The minister was making up stories about alleged voter fraud, just as the member for Mississauga—Streetsville did just a while back.
If the Prime Minister still believes it is unacceptable for ministers to knowingly mislead Parliament, what will the consequences be for that false statement?
Mr. Speaker, I will not take too much time, but I want to respond to the government's response to the question of privilege raised by the member for Victoria earlier this week. Having consulted the blues—and I hope this will be part of your decision-making process over the next few days—I can say that very little of what the government actually raised is relevant or pertinent to the question of privilege that was raised by the member for Victoria.
The Conservatives cited some studies that they say purport to reinforce what the Minister of State for Finance might have said, but the reality is that we are dealing with a matter of grave importance, and it is the right of parliamentarians to base our decision-making on sound evidence provided by members from all sides of the House. That is of paramount importance.
There was precedent cited by the member for Victoria that is clear on the point of the importance and the right of parliamentarians to have sound evidence provided by ministers. What we heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, aside from citing a few procedural citations, does not in any way conclusively provide a rebuttal to that point.
The reality is that when there is a matter of debate—for example, the citation of studies that draw different conclusions—it is true that there is no role for the Chair to arbitrate. The parliamentary secretary's evidence on the CPP in this morning's intervention might fall into that category. He cited a report that we may disagree with, but it is fair for him to cite that report.
That is not what the Minister of State for Finance did, and the member for Victoria stated this. The minister clearly misstated the findings of the report done by his own department, and from the access to information request that was concluded, and cited by my colleague from Victoria, it is clear that he did so. The Minister of State for Finance clearly misstated the findings in the knowledge and with the intent to mislead his fellow parliamentarians.
We have not heard an explanation from the minister of state himself as to how he could have been so completely off the mark in citing the study that he did, and because we have not heard that response, I do not think we can reasonably dispose of this matter in any other way besides holding a hearing at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The Minister of State for Finance could come back to the House and say he was not briefed on the file properly and that is why he misled the House, or that he mixed up the facts, or even that he did not understand the conclusions of the report done by his department. It happens sometimes that the members opposite on the government side misstate facts. He could have stated that in the House. He has not done that. Therefore, the intervention this morning by the parliamentary secretary citing numbers from another report simply does not change the fact that the Minister of State for Finance stood in the House and deliberately tried to mislead it in citing a report that simply does not provide the conclusions he stated.
The government may not like the fact that the finance department study confirms the NDP's position that, “In the long run, expanding the CPP would bring economic benefits”. The Conservatives are stuck with that. Just like the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, as members will recall, could not get away with presenting false evidence to support the government's agenda, neither can the Minister of State for Finance do the same. The minister misled the House intentionally. The ATI request proves that fact and despite the intervention by the parliamentary secretary this morning, the reality is that New Democrats believe a prima facie case of breach of privilege exists.
Mr. Speaker, he is proud of doing nothing for Bingzhang Wang.
Yesterday, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform claimed that there were regular reports of Canadians voting multiple times that could be found on Elections Canada's website. The only problem is, it is just not true.
The only case that the minister can actually cite is a skit from a comedy show. The minister is spinning the same tall tales as his colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville, who was caught making things up a few weeks ago and had to apologize. What will it take for Conservatives to see the abject failure of this minister and withdraw this anti-democratic bill?
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the trend on the Conservative side has been to pull what we call a Mississauga—Streetsville. In other words, they invent things that really are not true. The member knows full well that in my case, for eight years now, I have been having my direct website connected with my verified complete expenses, as have all NDP MPs. It is the only caucus in which all MPs are directly tied in to House of Commons disclosure. The member knows this.
What is curious is that he neglected to mention the number of Conservatives who have refused to participate in the partial and unverified disclosure the Conservatives were doing last December. In fact, a rough count, and journalists are looking into this now, shows that almost a third of the House of Commons caucus, and of course many more Conservative senators, given all the scandals they are embroiled in, are not even part of this partial voluntary scheme the Conservatives cooked up to try to put a little smoke and mirrors around expense disclosure.
I am going to ask the member a question. We are on television, so he has to give an honest answer. Does he realize just how many members of his caucus do not even subscribe to the partial smoke and mirrors disclosure the Conservatives put forward? Can he tell the House how many Conservative members are not even engaged in the partial disclosure from last December?
Mr. Speaker, I sat in the House all day today and had the opportunity to hear members' views on both sides of the House. As I listened to them speak, a couple of premises came through. I have heard members opposite say that this is not about the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, then I have heard some pretty uncharitable comments about the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. I have heard others say that he apologized deeply for what he did, then I heard others say that it was not a good enough apology or that it was not an apology at all.
In fact, I recall the member for Vancouver Quadra, just a few moments ago, saying that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville did not apologize at all. I found that very interesting.
I would like to read if I may, the apology, to ensure that it is put on the record. I have found that we are imperfect beings trying to do perfect jobs, or at least as perfect as we can. I think my colleague opposite, who just made some comments about how we do what we do, said in some of her earlier comments that we do not always get it right. That is true.
In any event, let me, if I may, address what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville actually did say. He said:
I would like to sincerely apologize to all Canadians and to all members of the House for the statement that I made. It was never my intention, in any way, to mislead this House, for which I have the greatest amount of respect.
I might end my comments this evening with that quote again, just to make the point of what he said.
Am I here to challenge his motives? My goodness, in all the years I have been a member of Parliament, I have seen and heard members on both sides that have frankly given rise to shameful conduct in this House. The Speaker has had to sort out a person for over-speaking or calling people names or attributing titles to them that, quite frankly, were not deserved. It is the lowest of parliamentary conduct for all of us in this House when we resort to that level of name-calling, and frankly, babbling.
My Cape Breton mother once said to me, and she said it very sincerely, “Ed, you have two things in your life. You have your name and you have your integrity, and you don't mess up one without messing up the other”.
I think of the member for Mississauga—Streetsville and I think about the circumstances he has found himself in. Here is what has happened. He over-spoke, misspoke, call it as one might, then too late for some, he withdrew the comment. After he withdrew the comment, he apologized, and he apologized, I thought, with a sincerity that frankly this House could benefit from if we listened.
By the way, am I here to canonize the original comments or the member for doing that? I do not think so. Do we not think that this member, by having to go in front of the House, as he has had to do, and saying what he has had to say, was correct to do that? Frankly, he had no choice. He had to do it. Was it the right thing? It was absolutely the right thing to do.
Let us be measured, colleagues, by always doing the right thing, even if sometimes it takes a little longer.
The other point is that the whole country, at least some of those who watch CPAC, and I hope every Canadian does, would be aware that this member of whom we are speaking, our colleague, had to stand in front of this House and sincerely apologize in front of this House, in front of all of us, and in front of Canadians. For those who say that this is not about him, that is not what it has sounded like to me.
If members do not think that is paying a price for doing something, I can assure them that it absolutely is, whether or not he stood up after that and made representations about why he might have done what he did. Frankly, we are all here as members of the House of Commons to ensure that we protect the integrity of this House and represent Canadians the best way we can.
Was that Canada's finest moment or this House's finest moment? I would suggest not. However, what cheek to say what is in his heart or what he meant by that? I am prepared to accept it at face value when someone says to me, “I deeply apologize”. I want to come back to the words, “...sincerely apologize to all Canadians and to all members of the House...”.
I am prepared to accept that member's statement at face value. I am not sure why others would not. If I said that to members, I would hope that my colleagues would accept it with the same spirit and intention as I meant it.
Here is what is troubling. In response, here is what a few folks have said. I mentioned that the member for Vancouver Quadra said that there was not an apology made. I heard the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley say, “Let us take the words directly from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. He said in his alleged apology...”.
For shame. By what right would any member imagine that it was an alleged apology, unless we were trying to play politics? I am sure that is not the intent of members opposite and not the intent of members on this side either.
The member for Toronto—Danforth said, “The second thing is the retraction. I am not going to call it an apology because that is not the way it was phrased”.
I am going to go back to the phrase “I would like to sincerely apologize”. I am not going to second-guess our colleague.
By the way, our colleague happens to be a Conservative, but he is our colleague. I am not going to impugn his motive when he gave an apology. I am not sure why we would want to do that unless there was some kind of gain. I wondered about that, because I have heard comments back and forth. A lot of what I heard today did not refer so much to the member for Mississauga—Streetsville as to the issues surrounding the fair elections act. I respect that members on the other side of the House may not necessarily agree with our position on that, and that is fair. However, it feels to me like this situation is being used as a whipping post to make a different point at the expense of a member. How low does that go? That is just not right. When individuals give us their word, we accept that word. We have an obligation to do that.
I know that the thought was to take this to committee to see how much more we could get out of it. When the member stands up and says that he made an error and then says that he withdraws that comment and after that apologizes, is there more that would come from committee than has been explored in this House?
The Speaker referred it originally to this House to review. We are kind of like a court. I am not sure if I would call it a tribunal or a preliminary court. When that happens, we actually get to hear the evidence. We have what the individual said on record, not only the misstatement but the apology. When we get both of those sides, we as members of the House can evaluate whether we accept it. However, to impugn motive, when we do not know what it was, is the part I have the most difficulty with. Could it have been exaggeration and excitement or whatever? I am prepared to say to any member of the House that if he or she has anything to tell us and comes back and says “I sincerely apologize”, I would accept that.
We all know that, when someone withdraws a comment, sometimes at the urging of the Speaker, sometimes not, or apologizes for over-speaking, we all applaud that individual. We thank that person for showing class and dignity for doing that. It begs the question why we are not prepared to offer that same class and dignity.
I said in an earlier question that to err is human and to forgive is divine, something my Cape Breton mom taught me. Why can all of us not just do that? When somebody deeply apologizes, why can we not accept that at face value, unless there is another motive behind it? It would not be proper for me to assign any motivation behind that.
Ironically, we might not have heard about the member's comment except he stood up and said “oops”. I am not trying to make an oops sound casual here. What I am saying is that, if the member had never stood up and said he made a mistake, apologized, and withdrawn his comment, we might not ever have known. However at least he had the class to do that.
We could show more class ourselves by taking him at face value. That is an obligation of every member of Parliament. Any of us could find ourselves in that position. If we find ourselves in that position, would it not be nice to see a bit of charity from the other side? Would it not be nice for members on the other side to say they understand that might happen and accept at face value that the statement is being withdrawn and the individual is apologizing?
I imagine being in this place and in that position. Would I want members to condemn me for the rest of my life, saying I lied, that I misled the House, that I did inappropriate things? That would not be fair or proper. That would not show any charity at all. It would not show what we as members of the House of Commons should be doing, which is getting on with the business of the House and never letting anything slide that should not slide.
We should acknowledge the fact that the member stood up and retracted his comment and apologized. I would challenge any member to do that if found in that position. Would a member not want me to forgive him or her? I would ask a member to forgive me if I over-spoke. I would hope to have the support of the House were I to make that mistake. Not being perfect, I may well make many mistakes. I have been here long enough to have made a few, and I am sure a few more will happen.
I would like to remind my colleagues that the member has been humbled in the House. I want to repeat his apology just so it is crystal clear. I want to read his apology, so no one in the House can say he did not apologize. It is important that it be re-read for the record. As I read it, I would ask all members to listen to it one more time, because if any of us were in the same situation, we would expect that same sense of charity that I would expect we would offer to him or to any member of the House if found in that circumstance. Here is his apology:
I would like to sincerely apologize to all Canadians and to all members of the House for the statement that I made. It was never my intention, in any way, to mislead the House, for which I have the greatest amount of respect.
I have the deepest respect for the House of Commons and all members within it. I am proud to call them all colleagues, whether they are in my party or another party. I would ask that the same sense of spirit go forward as we make every effort to clear this issue and get on with the business of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question and for raising this issue in Parliament to begin with.
We would be in a very different position, if yesterday we stood in the House, and in response the member for Mississauga—Streetsville took the floor and answered the questions we had. We might have taken the floor again and asked more questions, and who knows, pointed more fingers. He might have stood up and said “I accept what you're saying to me, and here's my explanation”.
If his voice had been here to explain, I do not think we would be where we are today. Instead, we do not have that voice. We have members on the other side saying, “I believe this is what he meant. I believe that he didn't mean to mislead us”.
It does not matter what they believe. How about that we actually find out? That is the whole point that the Speaker is making here. If only to air out the facts, we need to bring this to committee. We need to find out what happened because our entire parliamentary system and how we engage in debate could be undermined. I am not saying it is, but it could be. That is why we need to go to committee. Again, if the member's voice had been added to this debate, we would not be here.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Halifax for her comments in her speech.
I find it curious. The government interrupted the debate earlier today, for some number of hours. However, we had some debate on this yesterday; we are debating it for a number of hours today. Yet, with all that opportunity, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who is at the heart of this conversation and took only 30 seconds or so some days ago to issue his version of events, has failed to appear.
Now the Conservatives are talking about voting against this ruling to pass this on to the committee so we can understand what happened. Why did the events change? Why did he make something up and two weeks later say it did not happen? Is Elections Canada involved, et cetera? He has chosen not to make his case.
Conservatives are saying they have heard everything that they need to hear. It was a 30-second half apology from the member. The Speaker qualified in his ruling that in making the statement he did that the member intended to mislead the House. That is the qualification for why we are having this debate. That is serious. In defending his reputation, the Conservatives are pretending that somehow he is a victim and that his reputation is being besmirched. I would have thought that the next logical step, then, would have been for the member to appear and correct the—
Mr. Speaker, the third little spot in a row to stand up and talk about this point does not exactly scream diversity, does it?
Earlier, I asked my colleague from Welland a question. As I mentioned, I hoped that I would have a longer period of time because I want to get this out. I want to air this.
What we are talking about here, is my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley moved that there be a prima facie finding of contempt. The Speaker found that the matter merited further consideration by the appropriate committee. We have a motion. We have a decision. The Speaker then invited the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley to move the traditional motion. That is what happened. The Speaker is referring this issue to committee.
I have found it very curious, over the past day and a half, that Conservative members have stood up in the House and by the way they are arguing and presenting the “facts”, which I will put in air quotes, it sounds like they are disagreeing with the Speaker. They are saying that it is not contempt. It was not to mislead. I just heard the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley say that he believed the member meant this, and that he believed that the member did not mean that.
It sounds to me like they are disagreeing with the ruling of the Speaker to send this to committee. I have not understood this argument. I have not understood how or why they would bring this forward.
However, now it is starting to become clear. Procedurally, I did not understand that it was possible to vote against the Speaker's ruling, but I now understand that this is exactly what we have here.
We live in a day and age where communication is instant. I can read media reports well before the newspapers are printed the next day. I will read from a Globe and Mail article by Josh Wingrove. The first paragraph says:
The Conservative government is signaling it will vote down a motion to study whether one of its MPs misled the House of Commons, rejecting a finding by the Speaker that the issue deserves a closer look if only to “clear the air.”
That was my "ahah" moment. Maybe I am slower to get to it than others, but the Conservative government is going to vote against this. That is unbelievable to me.
We have a spokeswoman from the whip's office saying that all of the facts are known on the issue, so there is nothing for a committee to study, and there is little to be gained by sending the issue to committee. There is also a quote from the government House leader, who said:
The question you have to ask is if that is actually going to serve any utility? There’s really no dispute...Certainly, one cannot picture anything that will come of great utility from further discussion of the matter.
They are going to vote against this. I find that pretty unbelievable.
First of all, I heard my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley say he believed that this is what the member meant and he believed that the member did not mean to mislead us. If he believes it, how about we have it aired out? How about we actually talk about it and figure out what is going on? Why did he make these statements? What was the intention here?
Let us go back to what the Speaker said:
...the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
Those are not very many words. They are two sentences, but those two sentences have a lot of weight. Members “must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties”. Parliamentary duties. Parlement. We are here. This is a place where we use words, where we talk, and where we have debate. It is a place of words.
I know that in the U.K., where our parliamentary tradition comes from, there is no paper. It is all in the spoken word. We are nothing but our words. We are nothing but our integrity and our words. Parlement.
We have a situation here where someone has diminished not only their own integrity but also the integrity of Parlement, of Parliament, and the ability for us to rely on our words, put weight on them, and believe in them.
I think that the Speaker made the right ruling and I do not know how the vote is going to turn out. Maybe there will be some rogue MPs on the Conservative side, but it looks like they are going to vote it down, and I find that truly outrageous.
There is another thing that I find truly outrageous. I am at what I perceive to be the end of the debate. I was here yesterday at the beginning of the debate. I heard the Speaker's ruling and then the response from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is speaking, I would take that to be the words of government. That is not an individual private member speaking on a private member's motion; that is the word of government.
I was sitting in this very chair and I could barely stand to listen to the argument put forward. I have a lot of respect for the parliamentary secretary, I think he is a good guy, but the arguments he was putting forward were really sending me pretty close to the edge. There was one point in the debate where, I do not know if you noticed, Mr. Speaker, I actually threw up my arms and screamed. I do not see it recorded in Hansard, but it happened, because I was overcome with how preposterous the argument was that the parliamentary secretary was putting forward.
Now I have the opportunity to dissect the argument he was putting forward and I have been looking forward to this. He started by saying the following:
A few things have been said this afternoon that I think have not been accurate, and I want to try to set the record straight.
That is a good goal, but did he actually set the record straight? I do not think so, because he went on to say:
The other thing I want to point out, and I do not think it really needs to be pointed out to members, particularly any member who has been here for any length of time...there are opportunities when all members, and I emphasize all members, tend to torque their language a bit, perhaps to embellish or to exaggerate. Is that something we should encourage? Certainly not. Does it happen regularly? Yes, it does.
He talked about torquing language, embellishing, exaggerating, and asked whether it is something we should encourage, “I have exaggerated, I will stand here in the House of Commons and admit that I have exaggerated”, but let us look at what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said:
I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then—
Maybe he can see through walls:
—walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.
He states again, referring to the minister:
I will relate to him something I have actually seen.
This is not exaggeration, this is not torquing, this is not embellishing. This is saying something that did not actually happen.
I will go back to the parliamentary secretary's speech. He went on to state:
I am suggesting that this happens perhaps all too routinely in this place, but should it then be considered contempt? My friend opposite continues to make the point that it was contempt. Again, that is simply not accurate. The Speaker has merely referred this to committee for an examination.
I am going to go back to what the Speaker said. He stated:
...the fact remains that the House continues to be seized of completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members, who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information with which they are provided to perform their parliamentary duties.
Members should get ready because I am going to be going back to these two quotes a lot. The parliamentary secretary continued:
The problem we now have before us is that because the member for Mississauga—Streetsville came back to this place and corrected the record, he is now facing possible sanction
That is not the problem we have here. The problem is not that this guy might get his wrist slapped. The problem is that he stood up in the House, not once but twice, and said, “I have actually witnessed people doing these actions”. It is unbelievable.
The parliamentary secretary went on to state:
What the consequence or the net result of this may be is that the truth begins to be pushed underground.
What? How is the truth being pushed underground when the statements were not based on truth?
If somebody comes in and says “I did not actually see that”, how are we pushing truth underground by actually exposing it to light? How would we be pushing truth underground by actually referring this to committee and saying “Hey, member for Mississauga—Streetsville, what happened here? Why don't you tell us in your own words? Were you all excited about things? Did you want to contribute to the debate? Did you want to catch the eye of the Prime Minister?”
We actually have to have this discussion at committee. I do not think the truth is being pushed underground at all.
The parliamentary secretary then goes on, but there is so much material to work with that I am going to go to a point further on in his debate.
Since the Chair has not found the member to have lied, even though my colleagues opposite keep trying to tell that tale, they perhaps should stand up and set the record straight, because the Chair did not find the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have deliberately misled this House
In other words, he did not find that he had lied, merely that the committee should take an examination and try to clarify the comments surrounding the member's statements of February 6.
I will go back to the piece of paper in my hand. The Speaker found that there were contradictory statements, and I do not think we can put enough emphasis on the fact that we have nothing but our integrity and the words that we say in this House. Our laws are created based on Parliament, on the fact that we get to stand here and speak and use our words and tell our stories from our ridings. One would hope that those stories were actually true.
The parliamentary secretary then went on to say:
While I know the opposition wants to convince Canadians that there is some nefarious reason behind the comments of my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville, I would purport to you and everyone else in this place that he merely did what so many of us have done previously: in the heat of debate, he had simply gone overboard.
Mr. Speaker, you have heard me admit to exaggeration. I am sure that, under duress maybe, most of us in this House would admit to exaggeration, but we are not talking about being in the heat of debate and simply going overboard. This is not the heat of debate. I am looking at the quotes from the member for Mississauga—Streetsville. This is not a vigorous back-and-forth. This is not a moment in which all of a sudden someone says, “Oops, I didn't mean to say it that way.” This is two interventions, and I will repeat the words.
I have actually witnessed other people....
It was not even something like “This could happen, and, like, I have seen some folks picking up the cards, and maybe this happened.” He said, “I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards”. He said, “I will relate to him something I have actually seen.” This is not the heat of debate. This is not a bit of an exaggeration. This is saying something that was not based on fact.
The member admitted it was untrue. I cannot get over the arguments put forward by government that this is just about a bit of torquing, a bit of exaggeration. The Conservative members are saying that if they exaggerate, they should not be punished for exaggeration.
First of all, it is not an exaggeration. Second, we are not actually talking about punishment. I do not believe that the Speaker, and I have his words here, said “And therefore, we send this man to committee to be punished”. No, not at all. He said we actually have to send this to committee. What we are doing is we are sending it to committee.
The Speaker does have a line in there about at least clearing the air. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville stands up, he says that he did not mean to say what he said, he wanted to set the record straight, and then nothing more. There is no more.
This is what we do. We get to the bottom of things. We air things out at committee. Sometimes we travel. Sometimes we hear from Canadians. Sometimes we hear from expert witnesses. In this case, we have to hear from the person himself who actually said these statements. We need to know why, what was going through his mind, and what was happening here.
The line that made me throw up my hands in exasperation was, “Would I like to see everything said in this place said in a reasoned, sensible manner, devoid of the partisanship that we see all too often?”.
I am going to skip to a little later to where the partisan piece came up in his speech again:
Opposition parties are trying to score some political points here, and I do not begrudge them that. It is what opposition parties do. They opposed Bill C-23, the fair elections act. We understand that. We understand that they are trying to do everything in their power to delay, obstruct, or perhaps even kill that piece of legislation. I get that. However, that is what I believe is truly behind the motion we are debating today.
Really? Then I think the Speaker would have probably seen through that. If the Speaker thought that this was just to delay, I hardly think he would have found this to be a prima facie case.
I want to go back to the scoring of political points, that we would like to see things devoid of the partisanship that we see all too often. The opposite is true here. If we look at the statements that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made, that is the example of what the parliamentary secretary is talking about. Those statements are an example of someone trying to score political points. Those statements are an example of the partisanship that we see all too often.
The member was trying to score political points, saying things that were not true to support a position after the fact. If we want to talk partisanship, if we want to talk political points, I think we should go back to these statements: “I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards..”.
Why would he say that? Was it being said to cause mischief, to validate the Conservatives' points after the fact, instead of having a hearing on whether we need changes to the Elections Act?
I will finish with the parliamentary secretary saying the following:
In conclusion, I agree, and I believe my colleague the member for Mississauga—Streetsville would also agree, that if one does not speak accurately in this place, records should be corrected. If one does not speak with accuracy on any point, whether it be legislation or during debate, it should not be tolerated. However, when is it right to punish someone for correcting the record? When does one become a victim for speaking what one needed to say, which was to correct the record?
Oh, so the member for Mississauga—Streetsville is a victim here. Right. The big, bad opposition is ganging up and punishing him. Give me a break. That is the wickedest twisting of words that I have seen in some time.
I believe that the Speaker was right in his ruling. I think we need to have an airing out of this. We need to understand what the member was doing. I do not think he was a victim. I do not think we are trying to punish. I think we are trying to get to the bottom of something in Parliament, where we use our words to talk about these issues, to debate these issues, and to represent Canadians.
The electoral district of Mississauga--Streetsville (Ontario) has a population of 130,033 with 85,008 registered voters and 225 polling divisions.
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