That concludes question period for today.
Introduction of private members' bills, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Before I go to the member for Ottawa—Vanier, I know the member for Trinity—Spadina is new and I welcome him to the House. If he could direct his comments to the Chair rather than directly to his colleagues, it would be greatly appreciated. Also, the Chair will give you a cue when your time is approaching its end.
The hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Ottawa—Vanier tonight.
I rise tonight to speak about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa where the situation is dire and getting worse every day, where the international response has been inadequate, and where the global community must dramatically scale up its response. The worst Ebola outbreak in history has hit Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and has reached Nigeria and Senegal. It has been blamed for more than 2,200 deaths. Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients, making doctors and nurses especially vulnerable to contracting the virus, which has no vaccine or approved treatment. Without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than the current estimates and set the countries of West Africa back a generation.
As U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, “This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on.” As a result, she has asked the 193 UN member states to come to a meeting with concrete commitments to tackle the outbreak, especially in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.
Health practitioners and scientists know how to contain Ebola and it is important that we must avoid panic and fear, but our collective response to date has not been sufficient. We must tackle Ebola aggressively and in a coordinated manner.
Very briefly, Ebola virus disease, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe often fatal illness in humans. Outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90% and have primarily occurred in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rainforests. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Fruit bats of a particular family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Our health critic and I first wrote to the Minister of International Development on August 3, 2014, about Ebola and asked, among other requests, whether the government would consider providing additional funding to help fight the Ebola outbreak. We were pleased to see the government provided an additional $5 million in funding on August 8, 2014. I am looking forward to receiving answers to our other questions.
The needs on the ground have changed significantly since the beginning of August and Canada can and should be doing more. At that time, the World Health Organization was asking for $100 million, but it is now asking for $600 million to stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months and to prevent the international spread of the virus in West Africa.
Moreover, in many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be two- to fourfold higher than that currently reported, and the aggregate case load of Ebola virus disease cases could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency. The top U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official has warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region.
While I recognize Canada's contributions to date, I would like to know what more the government is considering to assist its international partners to provide aid in the affected regions, particularly as the international response has been inadequate and the world is losing the battle to control Ebola.
The reality is that we need to dramatically scale up international response. Nearly 40% of the total number of reported cases has occurred within the past several weeks. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an international rescue call for a massive surge in assistance on September 5, warning that “the world can no longer afford to short-change global public health.” Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and more equipment.
The European Commission and the U.S. have given more than $250 million in additional funding. The U.S. has a 26-person disaster response team in place, and the U.S. military has trained 230 armed forces of Liberia personnel on the proper use of personal protective equipment, safe handling of patients, securing health sites, and escorting humanitarian and medical personnel. The United States has also sent more than 70 disease control experts to West Africa who are providing technical expertise to national public health institutions and agencies to help protect and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, and have put in place a second Ebola testing laboratory.
Does the government accept that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region? Does the government accept that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment?
Does the government accept that the international response has been inadequate and that we need to scale up international response? Is the government considering responding to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's international rescue call and the World Health Organization's request of $600 million? In light of the United Nation's international rescue call, will Canada do more to help?
Specifically, how is Canada working with other countries, particularly through the Global Health Security Action Group and the global health security agenda? How is the government working across departments and what specific departments are involved in each of preparedness, response and recovery, and what is the lead agency for each? What specific actions are each of the departments undertaking?
What is the government doing to ensure the safety of Canadians travelling to West Africa to undertake humanitarian work, commerce and trade, and to safeguard the well-being of those who are there now in areas where Ebola is spreading? What guidance is being provided to Canadians before they leave and while in areas in which Ebola has been reported? If they think they have symptoms compatible with Ebola, what should they do upon their return to Canada?
How specifically was the April 18 funding of $1,285,000 used to address the outbreak? How many specialists and in what disciplines did Canada send to work with the World Health Organization and/or to West Africa to help? How specifically was the August 8 funding of $5 million to address the outbreak spent?
What specific plans were put in place to monitor the health of the three-person mobile team from Winnipeg's National Microbiology Laboratory as they were brought home from Sierra Leone and afterward in voluntary isolation, and for how long were they in isolation?
Although the risk is low, is Canada ready to isolate and care for someone if affected? Does the Public Health Agency of Canada have a public awareness plan to help Canadians understand the prevention, transmission, and signs and symptoms of the disease?
Canada can and must do more. We are asking the government to show leadership in responding to this deadly, devastating outbreak.
As the United Nations said, a humane world cannot allow Africa to suffer on such an extraordinary scale.
Mr. Speaker, our thoughts and prayers go out to my colleague's family on their loss. I cannot imagine how they are reconciling all their feelings about what has happened in their family. My colleague understands that deep pain and must sympathize with the families of these missing girls.
Nigeria has enormous potential. In my comments, I referred to its GDP of $510 billion. It has enormous resources, yet that country is not investing in its own youth.
My colleague from Ottawa—Vanier talked about the tremendous disparity we saw in Abuja between rich and poor. We saw the palatial homes in Abuja, yet right outside the city was poverty at its worst.
My colleague has invested much of his life in education. I wonder if he has any thoughts on how Canada might work with the Nigerian government to help that country establish an education system for the future that would give its young people hope and opportunity.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague and friend, the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Like all Canadians and people around the world, I am heartbroken about the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria. My thoughts and prayers are with the girls. I cannot begin to imagine how frightened they are. Their anguished families and communities and the people of Nigeria want to bring their daughters home.
In these girls, we see all our children, their hopes and their dreams, and our hearts ache. It is absolutely abhorrent that these girls are alleged to have been abducted to prevent them from attending school. Despite the fact that their school had recently been closed because of terrorist threats, they were so determined to have education they insisted on coming back for exams.
We must all work together to push for more action, both nationally and internationally, regarding this brutal act of violence, this crime, this terror attack, this unconscionable unending nightmare. We must all take whatever steps we can to ensure that the girls are returned to their families unharmed, and that they and all girls in Nigeria can continue their education in a safe environment.
As we all so tragically know, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in remote northeastern Nigeria on April 14, and has since threatened to sell them into slavery. Another eight girls were taken from another village on May 5. We should all ask why Canada condemned a separate terrorist attack in Nigeria on April 14, but waited over two weeks to condemn the abductions of the schoolgirls. In fact, why did the international community at large wait for close to two weeks before expressing outrage?
The UN Secretary General is deeply concerned about the schoolgirls. He repeats, “...the targeting of children and schools is against international law and cannot be justified under any circumstances”. The UN is sending a high-level envoy to discuss how the world body can support the government of Nigeria.
The UN Security Council has also expressed its profound outrage, and condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls, demanded their immediate and unconditional release, suggested some acts may amount to crimes against humanity under international law, and that perpetrators must be held accountable.
Ensuring the return of the girls and holding perpetrators accountable goes a long way to ending impunity, and will send a strong message that Nigeria places paramount importance on the protection of girls.
The members of the Security Council have also expressed deep concern at the terrorist attacks conducted by Boko Haram since 2009, which have caused large-scale and devastating loss of life, and represent a threat to the stability and peace of central and west Africa.
The Nigerian president believes the girls are still in Nigeria. The United States, Britain and France have pledged to send specialist teams of intelligence and communications experts to help Nigeria search for the missing schoolgirls. American and British officials have already arrived in Abuja to supplement an American team already on the ground there. They will help Nigeria's government look for the missing girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to subdue Boko Haram. We have heard today that Canadians are on the ground and aiding in the effort to find the missing girls, and we are thankful.
There are tough questions being asked after an Amnesty International report accused Nigerian military commanders of knowing the terrorist group was on its way to raid the boarding school at least four hours before the girls were abducted, but not able to raise enough troops to respond. The military counters that it was asked to provide reinforcements that came under attack. CNN reports that what it is hearing on the ground supports the Amnesty International report.
The Nigerian government, which has come under growing criticism at home and abroad for being too slow to react, says that it does not believe the Amnesty International allegations are true, but it is investigating.
Sky News reported that the search for the schoolgirls was closing in on a huge forest near the border with Cameroon, and that the girls had been divided into at least four groups, which would make the rescue more difficult. BBC reported last night that the abducted girls had been sighted, and today we saw video of the children.
What makes the abductions so horrific is that they are not an isolated incident on our most vulnerable, on our most precious. Prior to 2011, most attacks on schools in the north targeted infrastructure and were carried out at night when schools were empty. However, since 2012, teachers and students are increasingly targeted by militants, resulting in abductions, killings and threats.
Between January and July 2013, more than 50 schools were attacked. Dozens of school teachers have been murdered, and universities have experienced heavy casualties by gunmen firing indiscriminately, and in some cases using bombs.
Nigeria has 10 million children out of school, the highest number in the world. Almost one in three primary aged children is out of school, and roughly one of four junior secondary aged children is out of school.
The clock is ticking. The more time passes the greater the risk, including the girls being sold into marriage or engaged in the worst forms of child labour, sexual exploitation and violence and recruitment into armed groups. The time to act is now.
The girls must be returned safe and sound. UNICEF, for example, stands ready to work with the Nigerian government and provide psychosocial care and other necessary assistance to the girls and their families.
An attack on one school, on one child, is an attack on every school and every child. When a school is under attack and students become targets, not only are their lives shattered, the future of their nation is stolen. There is a broader issue here: children's rights to live free from violence, and girls' right to an education. What happened to these schoolgirls could happen tomorrow to other girls in other countries.
Let us ensure the government supports the efforts of the Nigerian government to secure the girls safe return to the protection of their families. All of Canada's efforts should be undertaken in coordination with the government of Nigeria and key partners, and should be in line with the best interests of the girls and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
How is the government working with our allies to ensure that our efforts are coordinated and targeted and will help bring these girls home? Will Canada call on and support neighbouring countries such as Cameroon and Chad to coordinate search efforts with Nigerian authorities?
Whether it be Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan or Syria, the government should continue to call for compliance by all parties with international humanitarian law, including the prohibition of attacks on schools, students and teachers. Will Canada support the Nigerian government to bring the perpetrators to justice?
Let us, each and every one of us in the House, raise our voice through this hashtag, bring back our girls movement. Once the girls are safe, will Canada advocate for a post-2015 development goal and indicators that aim to end violence against all children? What will Canada commit to over the next four years at the global partnership for education replenishment meeting on June 26 in Brussels?
Fifty-seven million primary school-age children remain out of school, and half of these children live in conflict-affected areas and disaster zones. We hope that Canada will participate in the summit that will be hosted by France.
The failure to rescue the girls has sparked worldwide outrage. In the words of the Nigerian people, “Enough is enough, the abductions must stop”.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier, who put it very well. These are two fundamental principles that are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is what these acts pertain to. Section 3 talks about our inalienable right to vote. That is why we want to focus on this today.
The members from the NDP have said that they are going to support this. I do not know if they are speaking on behalf of everyone. We are also asking for the backbenchers of the Conservative Party to call for this. I am making an assumption that the front bench is not going to vote for it, but maybe I should not do that, in light of what I have said in debate. I hope the Conservatives feel that this is a fundamental opinion we are putting forward in the House, which is that we cannot limit debate on two fundamental acts so crucial to our democracy: the Parliament of Canada Act and the Elections Act.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 6, 2014, by the member for Sherbrooke regarding a technical briefing offered by the Minister of State in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the hon. House leader for the official opposition, and the members for Ottawa—Vanier, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and York South—Weston for their interventions.
The member for Sherbrooke explained that, at the technical briefing he attended on Tuesday, February 4 on Bill C-23, the interpretation provided was often inadequate and, as he described it, “[a]t times, there was little or no interpretation or it was of poor quality.” This, he felt, had the effect of preventing parliamentarians from participating fully in subsequent debate on the bill.
The member went on to note that the protection of official languages in the House is fundamental to ensuring equality among all members.
For his part, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform recognized that no professional interpreters were present for the briefing, but claimed that parliamentarians had been provided all information in both official languages, including the presentation, information sheets, press releases, and the bill itself.
As has been pointed out by the member for Sherbrooke, the guarantee of access to and use of both official languages in parliamentary proceedings, in the record-keeping of those proceedings and in legislation is no less than a constitutional requirement—a cornerstone of our parliamentary system. As your Speaker, it remains one of my principal responsibilities to ensure that members are not impeded in their ability to carry out their parliamentary functions and that their rights and privileges are safeguarded.
In the case of official languages, the House has a long-standing practice of ensuring the availability of professional interpreters during House and committee proceedings. Indeed, this practice extends to many other activities, such as caucus meetings, briefings or any number of parliamentary activities and events. In such cases, if interpreters are not present, the activity is delayed until they arrive, or, if they are not available, the activity is rescheduled. Likewise, if a technical problem arises with the equipment, proceedings are suspended until the issue is resolved. Members will be familiar with this as it has sometimes happened here in the House.
To the Chair's knowledge, during government-sponsored activities, similar norms are observed. This is illustrated in a case brought to the attention of the House on October 23, 2013, when a technical briefing on a budget implementation bill was organized but cancelled when it became apparent that no simultaneous interpretation was available. In the Debates for that date, at page 303, the government House leader apologized to the House, and stated that:
...arrangements have been made to reschedule this meeting and to hold it properly in both official languages with that capacity available for everyone. It is certainly the expectation of this government that all business be properly conducted in both official languages.
Clearly, in that case, the government viewed the absence of professional simultaneous interpreters as a serious matter.
When a situation is brought to the Chair’s attention, it must be assessed within the somewhat narrow confines of parliamentary procedure and precedents. In this case, the member for Sherbrooke is asking the Chair to find that problems with interpretation prevented members from being able to access departmental information and that this constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
To arrive at such a conclusion, the Chair must assess whether the member has been obstructed in the discharge of his responsibilities in direct relation to proceedings in Parliament.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition, at page 109, states:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
In addition, at page 111, it indicates that:
A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means. In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect the incident or event had on the Member’s ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary responsibilities.
The question before the Chair is simple: does attending a departmental briefing that was delivered without full interpretation meet that litmus test? Speaker Parent's ruling of October 9, 1997, is very instructive, when he states at page 688 of the Debates:
...activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
Today's case is analogous in that, whether a member is seeking information in order to prepare a question or to participate in debate on a bill, the same fundamental definitions and principles apply. Whether a member who is preparing to participate in proceedings—whether through a technical briefing or some other means—is not participating in the proceedings themselves. While such preparation is no doubt important, it remains ancillary to, rather than part of, Parliament's proceedings.
Furthermore, in this case a government department is responsible for the situation which the member decries. On this point, Speaker Bosley stated on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
My own ruling of February 7, 2013, reached the same conclusion, when at page 13869 of Debates, I stated:
It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
The Chair must respect the strict confines of parliamentary privilege in reaching its decision. Therefore, while it appears that the hon. member for Sherbrooke has a legitimate grievance, the Chair cannot conclude that this situation constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
That being said, this decision does not diminish members’ need for full and equal access to information about legislation nor does it discount the value placed on the provision of such information in both official languages.
While I cannot provide the member for Sherbrooke a privilege-based parliamentary remedy to his grievance, he may wish to explore other means at his disposal by direct discussions with the minister or raising the matter with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I thank the House for its attention.
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, particularly for raising the issues of women and children.
As my hon. colleague and friend from Ottawa—Vanier said, the priority is security. Does my colleague think that Canada should increase funding to the UN trust fund to support the African Union MISCA force? Should Canada consider sending technical advisers to assist the force in establishing proper command and control functions, as well as consider providing logistical support, as many of our partners have done and as we have done in the past?
Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the remarks by the member for Ottawa—Vanier. He basically talked about workers' rights in Canada, especially in the public service.
We have been very fortunate in this country to have always had a reliable, non-partisan public service that was, until the last number of years, able to give advice to ministers, without fear of repercussions, in a non-partisan way. However, when I talk to people within the public service in this day and age, there is a tremendous fear. It is as if they are being attacked by ministers, by the President of the Treasury Board, and by the government itself.
There are a lot of public servants in the member's riding. I am seeing a real fear within the public service, and that has to be having an impact on morale and productivity.
I wonder if the member for Ottawa—Vanier is seeing the same thing, which is that ministries clearly do not accept advice they do not agree with. They have the right to turn it down, but instead of accepting that advice as good advice to consider, they seem to turn it around and attack the public service. I think all Canadians are the losers.
Mr. Speaker, co-operatives are businesses that are driven by democratic values and principles. They employ over 155,000 Canadians. They pay taxes on more than $50 billion in revenues, and they create jobs and offer goods and services in all regions.
The difference between the co-operative model and other business models is how the profits are used and that their focus is on long-term strategic planning, growth, and success. Co-operatives are more durable, and research has shown that new co-operatives are more likely to remain in business than any other new enterprises and are more resilient in economic downturns.
I am proud to be a supporter of the Canadian co-operatives industry, and I look forward to working with them to create even more jobs in our communities.
Tonight, please join me and my colleagues from Ottawa—Vanier and LaSalle—Émard in celebrating co-operatives at their annual reception at the Parliament Pub. I will see everyone there.
Mr. speaker, Reverend Moses Coady started the co-operative movement many years ago during the depression in Cape Breton. This effort helped rural communities across the Maritimes to improve their economic and social circumstances.
Mr. Coady led a movement that spread across Canada and around the world. Today, co-operatives in Cape Breton are thriving.
Two weeks ago, our co-operatives' advocate, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, travelled around my riding in celebrating Co-op Week. My colleague accompanied me to credit unions, co-op grocery stores, the United Farmers Co-op country store, the Bras d'Or Farmers Vegetable Co-op and the Victoria Fisheries Co-op in Neil's Harbour.
There are 9,000 co-ops across the country, with 14 in Cape Breton.
As rural Canada continues to struggle with economic hardships and out-migration, the co-operative movement, with more assistance from the federal government, could help them prosper.
I support my colleague's efforts to create a special parliamentary committee to determine the needs of Canada's co-operatives so we can help build on this model for many years to come.
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the observation made by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier when he referenced an article from The Globe and Mail on the weekend about the Chief Justice. The article was on the issue of mentally ill offenders, and it said:
At least once a year, their status is reviewed by expert panels. After treatment, most of them return to society and resume normal lives. But under a federal proposal, it will become more difficult for those designated as high-risk offenders to be released.
Chief Justice McLachlin points proudly to a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision, R v. Swain, as the key move that created a new template for giving mentally ill offenders regular reviews.
“It said you can’t just lock up a person who has been found not guilty by way of their illness, and throw away the key,” she says. “That was the breakthrough.”
Endorsing the review-board system, she says: “The interesting thing is that the hearing process is staffed heavily by psychiatrists and I think it is well-supported by the medical side of things, by the police and by judges.”
At the ‘intake’ end of the system, however, Chief Justice McLachlin says offenders are too often warehoused...
The Chief Justice of Canada, who will likely be tasked with reviewing this legislation at some point in the reasonably near future, has said that the system actually works very well as it is.
Essentially, this is a reaction to an egregious set of facts and ultimately an attack on those who are the most vulnerable in our society, namely those who are mentally ill, dressed up in the name of victims. The ultimate irony of this entire process is that the victims who deserve every sympathy that we can afford them will actually be potentially victimized once more because of the system that the hon. Minister of Justice is proposing.
My simple question is to the Minister of Justice. Why will he not listen to his Chief Justice, who thinks that this is the wrong direction?
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the principle behind the question from my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier.
One of CBC/Radio-Canada's purposes is to be present in every region of the country in French as well. However, the member should communicate his idea directly to Hubert Lacroix and to the board of directors of Radio-Canada.
I know that Radio-Canada will be having a meeting this Tuesday or next. The opposition's suggestion is one that Radio-Canada should hear. He should talk to them about it. I want to be clear: this is a national Canadian broadcasting corporation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
In my time, I would like to focus on two main items. The first is the contention we hear all the time from the government that Canada is doing relatively well. It is quite easy to be doing relatively well compared with the eurozone for example, which is in recession. However, I would acknowledge that relative to many countries, Canada is doing—
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada; the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, Canada Post.
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier who talked about time allocation. When we discuss issues in this bill, there is a lot of subtext and the subtext pertains to stuff that is under the legislation, such as the issue of sharing material across the country that would be normally of the Museum of Civilization or, in this case, the Canadian museum of history.
A lot of members from different parts of the country would like to understand how this will work and have the ability to question that in the House. Naturally, we can follow up with the bureaucrats and that sort of deal, like we normally do as parliamentarians, but we certainly cannot do that now because the legislation has not passed yet. I am not saying that this debate should go on forever, but I would certainly like a bit more information as to how this is going to be implemented. I am sure the minister, who seems to be quite sincere about it, would do it.
One of the questions I have is about the motion that was brought to the House studying Canadian history, which was alarming in the fact that it was very prescriptive in what it would do, very narrow in certain areas. It certainly caused concern. We also heard what the parliamentary secretary said earlier. I do not know why the government would do that within the context of the committee and disrupt a lot of stuff, because now we have the same sort of questions on the museum, which we would like to have answered.
Yesterday, the members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth both rose on a question of privilege regarding the possible premature disclosure of the contents of a government bill prior to its introduction in the House.
Both members referenced an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper that suggested that during the weekly Conservative Party caucus meeting, some Conservative members had expressed concerns about how specific sections of the bill were drafted and had asked that they be rewritten. The members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth suggested that this demonstrated that the Conservative members may have been provided with the actual text of the draft bill in question. Both members emphasized the seriousness of the premature disclosure of bills and asked the Chair to investigate this matter.
In response, the Leader of the Government in the House assured the House that at the caucus meeting held by the Conservative Party that day, no draft copies of the bill or sections of it were circulated or displayed, nor were excerpts provided.
As members know, it is a well-established practice that the contents of a bill are kept confidential until introduced in Parliament, thus making their premature disclosure a serious matter. However, in this case, a careful reading of the arguments presented to the Chair about what transpired reveals that the concerns expressed appear to be based more on conjecture and supposition than on actual evidence.
Furthermore, the government House leader has stated categorically to the House that no copies, sections or excerpts of said bill were in any way made available to those who were in attendance at the caucus meeting. In other words, he challenges the supposition being made, and he insists that there was no breach of confidentiality regarding the bill.
In light of the lack of evidence and the minister's categorical assurances, the Chair considers the matter closed.
I thank members for their attention.
Mr. Speaker, next Tuesday, April 23, St. John Ambulance is hosting its first ever Day on the Hill. I would like to thank the member for Ottawa—Vanier and the member for St. John's East for helping make this day a success.
All parliamentarians are invited to attend one of several meetings to be held that day, to learn about the importance of first aid training and the valuable work done by St. John Ambulance. Members are also invited to a reception that evening, hosted by speakers of both the House and the Senate, where we will honour several people who have done the incredible act of saving a life.
Later this spring, St. John Ambulance will provide free CPR and free AED training to all parliamentarians so that we too will know how to save a life.
Since founding Canada's first St. John Ambulance Brigade in London, Ontario, Canada's tenth-largest city, St. John Ambulance has always had a close relationship with the constituents in my riding and I am proud to support it.
As my Cape Breton mother used to say, “community service is the price you pay to live somewhere”. When the price to pay is learning the skills to save a life, we should all be willing to pay that price. I look forward to working with all of my fellow parliamentarians in making a difference in our communities.
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Public Safety.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on January 31, 2013, by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier regarding the procedures of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada with respect to providing information to members of Parliament.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. opposition House leader and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for their comments.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier charged that government procedures requiring elected officials to seek public information through the minister’s office, while ordinary citizens could obtain the very same information directly from the department, impeded him from carrying out his duties as a member, particularly as this information was required for him to prepare to ask questions during question period. He worried that it was the government’s intention to make it difficult if not impossible for him to serve his constituents.
The member further stated that he believed this disparity in procedures was being applied in such a manner so as to create an inequality of access to information between government members and opposition members.
The parliamentary secretary expressed the view that constituency-related duties of a member are not covered by parliamentary privilege and suggested that there are other ways for the member to obtain the information that he is seeking, namely through written and oral questions.
Given that a member’s access to accurate and timely information is an essential cornerstone of our parliamentary system, it is perhaps not surprising that, in the past, other members have raised very similar concerns about access to departmental information.
Simply put, the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier raises the question of whether an alleged interference with a member’s ability to access departmental information in a timely and equitable manner constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
When the hon. member first raised this matter, he spoke of the need to have a, “level playing field of access to information for the benefit of the constituents we have been elected to represent”.
A careful review of various precedents on the issue of whether parliamentary privilege covers a member's constituency responsibilities reveals that Speakers have been quite categorical in stating that parliamentary privilege applies only in instances where members were participating in what is deemed to be a parliamentary proceeding. On October 9, 1997, at page 689 of Debates, Speaker Parent explained:
The Chair is mindful of the multiple responsibilities, duties and constituency related activities of all members and of the importance they play in the work of every member of Parliament. However, my role as your Speaker is to consider only those matters that affect the parliamentary work of members.
In the same ruling, Speaker Parent added, at page 688 of Debates that:
in order for a member to claim that his privileges have been breached or that a contempt has occurred, he or she must have been functioning as a member at the time of the alleged offence, that is, actually participating in a proceeding of Parliament. The activities of members in their constituencies do not appear to fall within the definition of a “proceeding in Parliament”.
In a ruling on a similar matter on February 4, 2008, which can be found at page 2540 of the Debates, Speaker Milliken came to the same conclusion. Other Speakers have likewise had occasion to clearly define what constitutes parliamentary work or a proceeding in Parliament.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier did in fact attempt to make that very link to the proceedings in Parliament when he said that he needed the information in question as part of his work in preparing to ask a question during question period. It is the view of the Chair that this falls short of established definitions of parliamentary work. Again, Speaker Parent’s October 9, 1997, ruling is very instructive in this regard. He stated at page 688 of the Debates that:
After careful consideration of the precedents, I conclude that activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
For his part, the opposition House leader reminded the House of Speaker Bosley's ruling on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates, in which he declared:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
This is not to say that the hon. member does not have a legitimate grievance or that the departmental response and process that he encountered does not warrant review, if only for its apparent inefficiency. The member may wish to approach the minister to see if a satisfactory accommodation is possible. In addition, as Speaker Milliken once suggested in a similar case, the member could also seek to have the appropriate standing committee inquire about the departmental procedures in place to assist members of Parliament in seeking information with a view to making recommendations for improvement.
However, as Speaker, I am obliged to assess situations of this kind within the strict parameters that flow from our precedents and usages as they relate to parliamentary privilege. It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
Accordingly, in keeping with the precedents cited, the Chair cannot conclude that the member for Ottawa—Vanier has been impeded in the performance of his parliamentary duties and thus I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
I thank all members for their attention on this matter.
The electoral district of Ottawa--Vanier (Ontario) has a population of 101,611 with 81,373 registered voters and 242 polling divisions.
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