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RULING ON THE QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE RAISED ON DECEMBER 13, 2010, BY THE MEMBER FOR SCARBOROUGH²GUILDWOOD (MR. MCKAY) CONCERNING ALLEGEDLY MISLEADING STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTER OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION (MS. ODA) AND THE FORMER PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE MINISTER OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION (MR. ABBOTT)
February 10, 2011
I am now prepared to rule on a question of privilege raised on December 13, 2010, by the hon. Member for Scarborough²Guildwood (Mr. McKay) concerning allegedly misleading statements by the Minister of International Cooperation (Ms. Oda) and the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, the Member for Kootenay²Columbia (Mr. Abbott).
I would like to thank the hon. Member for Scarborough²Guildwood for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader (Mr. Lukiwski), and the Members for Kootenay²Columbia (Mr. Abbott), Guelph (Mr. Valeriote), Laurentides²Labelle (Ms. Deschamps), Longueuil²Pierre-Boucher (Mr. Dorion), Toronto Centre (Mr. Rae), Ottawa Centre (Mr. Dewar) and Scarborough²Rouge River (Mr. Lee) for their interventions.
The Member for Scarborough²Guildwood charged that the Minister of International Cooperation and her former Parliamentary Secretary made statements in the House that were deliberately misleading with regard to who had been responsible for a
government decision to reject a funding proposal for the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, known as KAIROS.
He measured those statements against a response to a written question, testimony in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and an internal CIDA document obtained through an Access to Information request. Guided by Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, Third Edition at pages 653-4, the Member for Scarborough²Guildwood stated at page 7144 of Debates: ³In order to establish a prima facie finding that a breach of privilege and contempt has occurred, three elements must be present: one, it must be proven that the statements were misleading; two, it must be established that the member at the time knew the statement was incorrect; and three, in the making of the statement, the minister intended to mislead the House.´
In response, the Member for Kootenay²Columbia apologised for his statement, made to the House on March 15, 2010, that ³CIDA thoroughly analysed KAIROS¶ program proposal and determined, with regret, that it did not meet
the agency¶s current priorities.´ He characterised his statement as a mistake, said that he had not known that it was misleading and concluded that he had not intended to mislead the House. I thank him for his timely apology, and consider any allegations against him to have been satisfactorily addressed.
For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader maintained that the matter was not one of privilege but rather of debate as to facts. As to the proceedings of the Standing Committee referred to, the Parliamentary Secretary emphasised that, as no report had been made to the House on this matter, it would be inappropriate for the Chair to take note of those proceedings.
In a ruling I gave on January 31, 2008, I stated at page 2435 of Debates: ³...before finding a prima facie breach of privilege in situations such as these, the Speaker must be convinced that deliberately misleading statements were made to the House.´
For the question of privilege now before us, the Chair is, in essence, being asked to assess the accuracy of the Minister¶s answers to questions in the House. In any such circumstance, it has been well established over time that the Speaker has a limited authority. House of Commons Procedure and Practice on page 510 clearly explains it by stating: ³The Speaker ensures that replies adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language. The Speaker, however, is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions. In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.´
It was based on this practice of ours that, on January 31, 2008, on page 2435 of Debates, I stated: ³...any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a Minister¶s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not for the Speaker to judge.´
This is not to say, however, that there are not circumstances when the Chair could determine, given the proper evidence, that statements made to the House have indeed breached the privileges of the House. In fact, the Member for Scarborough²Guildwood neatly laid out the standard of proof that would be required to demonstrate that the House has been deliberately misled.
It was with these principles in mind and, ultimately the need to determine that there was intent to mislead, that I undertook to review all of the evidence that could be taken into consideration in this case. Again, however, the Chair was limited in its ability to act on the full range of that review since much of the proceedings referred to in Members¶ submissions were never officially pl aced in the hands of the House. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader was not mistaken in his assertion that any and all statements made in committee, even when those have been repeated verbatim in the House, remain the business of the committee until such time as it elects to report them officially to the House. This is a longstanding practice and I would refer Members
to a ruling I made on June 14, 2010, at page 3778 of Debates, where I stated: ³...if there are issues about the proceedings in the committee, it is incumbent upon the committee itself to deal with them and, should it deem it necessary, to report to the House on the matter.´
Furthermore, while a copy of an internal CIDA document obtained through an Access to Information request was provided to me, it was not tabled in the House, and thus is not officially before it.
As a result, in this particular circumstance, the Chair has been left in a delicate position. As noted earlier, the Chair reviewed all of the documents available. In doing so, to fully grasp the allegations being made, particular attention was paid to the committee testimony of the Minister and senior CIDA officials, and to the internal CIDA document obtained through an Access to Information request made available to me by the Member for Scarborough ± Guildwood. The full body of material gives rise to very troubling questions. Any reasonable person confronted with what appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely
concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt the integrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
However, despite the obvious frustration expressed by many of the Members who have intervened in this case, and the profoundly disturbing questions that evidently remain unanswered in the view of these same Members, the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical, but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House. With regard to statements made by the Minister, this material is limited to a few answers to oral questions and one answer to a written question, not to any comments in committee.
In the circumstances, with this key limitation in mind, and in the absence of a committee report on the matter, the Chair cannot find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the Minister¶s statements to the House were deliberately
misleading, that she believed them to be misleading, or that she had intended for them to be misleading. Accordingly, I cannot rule that the Minister deliberately misled the House, and therefore I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank hon. Members for their attention.