‘It is incumbent upon all members of Parliament to be informed before they vote’

Picking up where the discussion left off yesterday, Nathan Cullen returned to his point of privilege this afternoon after QP, repeating his concern that MPs are not receiving the information they need to assess C-38.

Peter Van Loan, Elizabeth May and Wayne Easter added their interventions.

Below, the transcript.

Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, arising from a point of privilege that we raised just recently, it is incumbent upon us to respond to the government’s intervention on this point. As you will remember, Mr. Speaker, and the Table, the point of privilege had directly to do with the access to information that the opposition, and in fact all members of Parliament, require for the vote that is coming quite shortly, with respect to Bill C-38.

The point of privilege that was raised is a significant one because it talks about the central role of members of Parliament from all sides and, in particular, the role of the opposition to hold the government to account. We looked very carefully to the House leader’s response from the government. Perhaps he was ill-prepared or ill-informed, but his points bear no merit to the case that we presented, and we wanted to ensure that you understood the case as put forward by Canada’s official opposition. In particular, the government House leader raised the issue of time.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, points of privilege have to be brought at the earliest possible moment. The fact is that since the budget has been introduced, we have sought through every available means that we have at our disposal–questions on the order paper, in question period, at committee, through the Parliamentary Budget Officer–to find out what the implications are of this particular piece of legislation; in particular, the cuts to services, the cuts to employment that Canadians will be facing.

That information exists, Mr. Speaker, as you know, in our deposition of just yesterday. The government has refused to offer that information for what we believe is bordering on bogus terms that came from the Privy Council Office directly, which works, obviously, hand-in-hand with the Prime Minister.

It is unlawful for the Privy Council Office to refuse this information from parliamentarians and from the Parliamentary Budget Office. The timeliness of this was required that as we waited for the government to provide the information that it is legally obligated to do. It was only at its final refusal in letters dated April 12 and then confirmed on May 9 that we knew that we had a point of privilege in front of us.

We have demanded, and continue to demand, that the government release this information so that we do not have members of Parliament voting blind on a piece of legislation. Again, it is incumbent upon all members of Parliament to be informed before they vote. The fact that Conservatives seem to have no problem voting blind is a concern to me, but not our problem. Our concern, in the opposition, is that we have everything available to us before we vote.

The third point, and this is an important one, is that in the intervention from the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister’s chief bureaucrat, it is illegal to break section 79.3.(1) of the Parliament Canada Act, which is to hold known information from parliamentarians; in this case, holding it directly from members of Parliament and also through an officer of Parliament in the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We have been demanding this information for quite some time.

The last point is that the government House leader made some response that we needed to cite any particular section or provision of the bill, but he knows better than this. And as you know and I, Mr. Speaker, the point of privilege is intervention on the rights of all members of Parliament to perform our duties. The particular example here with Bill C-38, the Trojan Horse bill, is one more example that privilege applies in the individual or the collective when members of Parliament are unable to perform our functions on behalf of Canadians while the government knowingly withholds information that is pertinent to the vote that we are about to take. This is significant. You know it is, Mr. Speaker, and Speaker Milliken, in one of his last rulings before leaving this place, also recognized the importance of that fact. In that particular case, it had to do with Afghan detainees. In this case, it has to do with the budget.However, the consistency of withholding information is the same. This is problematic, not just for the particular government in place now, but for the function of Parliament and for the sanctimony with which we hold this place.

In order to do our jobs for those we represent every day, we must have the information that exists. The information exists. It has existed for some weeks. The government has refused, in all stages, at every opportunity we have given it, to respond in an honest and forthright way.

The second act these folks moved in government was the accountability act.

This breaks their own act but, more important, it breaks the right and respect that we have for this place and the privilege that members of Parliament have to seek the truth to understand the information available to us so that we can vote with a clear conscience. That is a principle of Parliament. That is one that we will consistently hold.

I seek to you, as you will make your ruling in some hours to come, that this is a breach of privilege in the individual and the collective case.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to belabour the point. I just want to support the point of privilege that was just made by the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition.

I think we should be quite, as I was, shocked by finding that requests from our Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose job it is to advise parliamentarians so that we can do our work reviewing how the public purse is being dispensed and the impacts of the decisions we make in this place on the full functioning of the apparatus and the architecture of our government and the fact that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been unable to obtain information that should be readily available to his office, as it should be to all of us, represents a breach of privilege and, indeed, a further contempt.

Peter Van Loan: Mr. Speaker, just very briefly, in further response to this point of privilege, which as I said seems a little out of place, the reason I challenged the NDP House leader to cite which provisions of the bill or which sections were impugned by the lack of information he was looking for, which normally comes through appropriations, is because he is saying we cannot go forward with the bill because he does not have the information related to it.

I do not see any of the information he is seeking being related specifically to any provision of the bill. As I said, the disclosure of government spending on programs like this is normally done through appropriations bills. That how it is provided to Parliament, not through legislative structures in a budget implementation bill. I am sure the NDP House leader, as he becomes familiar with this process, will come to appreciate that.

The other element I did want to address very briefly is the notion of the contrast with the other situations he raises. He raises situations where there had been a resolution of a parliamentary committee or of Parliament’s sending for papers. This budget bill went to the committee. The committee did its evaluation. The committee did not send a request to the government for papers, for information, for any of the things he here is today seeking. I do not see that those situations are at all analogous.

The core issue is that what he is talking about is not part of a budget bill. The core issue is that what he is talking about is part of an appropriations bill. It is the information that gets disclosed to Parliament through the appropriations process. Therefore there is really no merit to the point of order that was raised here.

Wayne Easter: Mr. Speaker, I just want to add to the discussion. In the last Parliament, the government ended up being charged with contempt for not providing proper information, basically, is the bottom line. This is very similar to that. The government has a record of not providing information to committees, to the Parliamentary Budget Officer and to this House. I think that is a very serious issue.

When we are asked to vote on a bill that covers some 70 pieces of legislation in one omnibus bill, and Parliament, which is representative of Canadians, is not provided with proper information, that is indeed a very serious issue.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I have not had time to fully answer the government House leader’s point, but I would refer to him section 578 of Bill C-38, for which we have not had any effort to assess the impacts, which will be severe on Canada’s economy and environment. Mr. Speaker, I again refer you to clause 578 within Bill C-38.




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‘It is incumbent upon all members of Parliament to be informed before they vote’

  1. thanks to members of opposition, there are attempts here at proper parliamentary process – I wish the Government treats these issues with due respect

  2. This is all a bunch of bulls..t. These twits who call themselves politicians look like a bunch of spoiled Montreal students. Right now the Conservatives are the government.If anyone with an ounce of common sense sees over a thousand amendments originally as nothing but polictal acting they are dumb. May a one member party with 300 of her own.Does she realize that she just lost the next election .The people on the west coast do not buy this act

    • Please do not speak for people on the West Coast.

      • Neither should you, thanks.

        • Uh. She wasn’t.

    • She actually won the election for her riding, which is why she is sitting where she is and standing up on behalf of her constituents.

      Does NOBODY understand our political system anymore?

  3. It isn’t just about politics gar, it is about preventing a ridiculous grab bag of wide-sweeping laws from coming into play. But hey, I’m sure you are all for Canadians being arrested by the FBI on our own soil, tossing out environmental regulations and telling foreign-owned companies to “play nice” when they exploit our resources, more prison time for non-violent offences, etc.

    This isn’t about backing your favourite political party, it is about Canada. The omnibus bill is bad politics and is based purely on ideology instead of facts. I don’t understand how people can defend this as “finally getting something done”. I’d rather stick to the status quo than have this monstrosity forced on us.

    • Yes, if you support the omnibus bill, you’re a bad Canadian. If you oppose the omnibus bill, you’re a good Canadian standing up for all that is right and good. This isn’t about partisan politics.

      • OrsonBean. You cannot seriously approve of every single change in this Bill. For example, let’s take the outsourcing of environmental oversight for smokestacks to the American Environmental Protection Agency. Fine, I don’t care about smokestacks all that much, but here’s the thing. Let’s say a particular smokestack is owned by a Canadian division of an American company. Let’s say the American company’s American plant isn’t running at full capacity. Now, call me crazy, but there just might be some political interference here, what with wanting the jobs the Canadians are doing brought back to the American plant. What could be easier than demanding that Canadian plant be shut down because there is something wrong with their smokestack? Even if there isn’t anything wrong with it, by the time the Canadian division exhausts their appeal and arguments on the issue, the jobs will have long gone back to the American plant. Even if the Canadian division wins their appeal on the smokestack, they’ll be shuttering the place. Because this is what happens when you outsource Sovereignty. You end up not having any.

        • Did I say I approved of every single change in the bill? If you don’t like it, vote against the bill.

          • No. And I don’t get a vote, but neither do you. But you seemed to be suggesting that you approved of the bill (and its all or nothing). If you don’t approve of the bill, why not call your MP tomorrow to let him/her know?

          • Ummm, because I’d rather do something that I enjoy? Like have a beer?

          • I didn’t know you can’t have a beer while simultaneously having a telephone conversation.
            I hope you’ll be proud to tell that to your grandchildren.

          • My MP is a Liberal, so I really don’t see the point, Drama Queen.

          • You used to have thoughtful,insightful and respectful things to say. Now you issue sweeping broadsides, name call and heckle from behind a bottle of beer.
            What the hell happened to you? You’re starting to sound like Dean del Mastro fer crissakes.

          • Here`s a guess about what happened to him.
            He is sick and tired of the constant bitchfest from liberals on this board.

          • I am sick of the constant obfuscating denial bitching by the government in the HoC and I’m equally sick of the sad sack bitchiness of the opposition – it does nothing for those of us seeking accountability .
            IMHO, the opposition needs to get off the stupid bitching track and raise calm reasoned debate that will either promote the same from the government, or highlight their desire to continue along this ignorant path.

            I like it when Conservative posters use reasoned counter argument because it helps me to see the other side. Not all Harper does is bad, but he is a piss poor seller of his ideas; why else would he stack all this wide ranging legislation into an omnibus bill? This is government by stealth and if you’re not concerned then you should be, because the precedent it sets will simply result in even worse omnibus bill abuse down the road – and your party won’t be in power forever.

          • Indeed, all good people need to learn to bend over when the government speaks and don’t complain because there’s no lube.

          • It seems kool-aid is his actual drink of choice.

          • So where exactly is it that I express support for the Conservative government, or bill c-38?
            Or are you just pulling non-facts out of your butt again?

          • Perhaps you could explain your original remark, Bean? It sounded like you were accusing anyone who opposes the way the legislation contained in the bill is being bundled, as being simply a blind partisan.

          • Trolls with thin skins: A very special episode of Maury.

      • Seriously? How is opposition to this thing in any way, shape or form ‘partisan’? C-38 has something for everyone, if you like to be righteously indignated.

        Let’s suppose you support, say, the proposed changes to EI but are vehemently opposed to the ‘WTF?’ changes in the Fisheries act. Or support “Responsible Resource Development ” (whatever that is, in this context) but still think 65 is a reasonable retirement age. And let’s say your strong feelings about either of the latter issues swing your position on this thing to the negative, you’re a partisan? Because that’s what your dull rhetorical device of Good Canadian/Bad Canadian seems to suggest. Pp, “If yer agin’ it, yer jest a hopeless partisan.”

        Don’t know about you, but giving Cabinet, especially this bunch of goombahs, the power to overturn arms-length regulatory bodies over a festive Star Chamber repast of tea and crumpets is highly offensive. So is giving the FBI, or DHS, or DEA, or NSA, the right to arrest Canadians – on Canadian soil – a complete jawdropper. Let’s not even get into the stripping of oversight of CSIS (for ‘reasons’ of ‘efficiencies’. Right.)

        But, hey, why consider any of that when there’s good ol’ victim-hood to be savoured.

        • Yeah, there’s nothing partisan at all about your post. It’s a veritable paragon of balance, even-handedness and restraint.
          After all, even the most scrupulous non-partisan rightly refers to the current federal Cabinet as “this bunch of goombahs”.
          Thanks for coming out.

          • All you ever do is post sarcastic replies to peoples comments and then call them out for misunderstanding your point (by using more sarcasm).

            You used to be a little more constructive is you posts. Now you are nothing but a troll. People would be best advised to ignore you.

          • Whatever, Chief. If most Canadians fully understood what was in this bill, it’s doubtful the thing would pass. So, they’ve been kept in the dark and fed crap. Like mushrooms.

        • Bean only has one device.

        • So where is it in my post that I ascribe victimhood to myself? Or did you just pull that non-fact out of your ass?

      • Still can’t argue what people say so have to put words in their mouths, eh?

      • If you notice, Jimmy didn’t say anything about whether it was “unCanadian” or not; you’re trying to “read in” what isn’t there. As usual.

        But since you raised it…Cons have no trouble calling anyone who questions their politics as unCanadian. Or accusing them of siding with pedophiles. So why shouldn’t we use the same kind of rhetoric?

        Oh wait, that’s right: If you’re not a CPC supporter, you’re a traitor to this great nation. Sorry; forgot myself for a moment.

        • “So why shouldn’t we use the same kind of rhetoric?”
          Do you actually have to have that explained to you?
          OK, I’ll explain: because it’s douchey.

          • Well, since I was only following your lead,,,

          • I can’t belive I have to explain this to you, but the difference is, I was being sarcastic about it.
            You, on the other hand, seem to actually believe that any and all Conservatives, Conservative voters, Conservative supporters etc. are stupid, sheep, bad Canadians, evil, etc. etc.

          • I got the sarcasm… and I got the intent – you were trying to attribute to those who oppose the CPC the very same tactics that your beloved party uses constantly, even though the person you were addressing had said no such thing. That’s just a variant of the same name-calling that the CPC has been using ad nauseum. And “douchey” is a mild term for it.

          • They’re not my party, Keith. Wrong again.
            But, to the substantive point, there’s over-the-top anti-Conservative hyperbole constantly on display on this comment board, every day (e.g.,Harper is Hitler, all Conservatives are stupid, evil, sheep, hate Canada, are destroying Canada As We Know It, blah blah blah). So it’s hypocritical in the extreme for these people to be whining about same on the part of the Conservatives. That factual observation hardly amounts to a pro-Conservative statement. It’s a pox on all houses IMO.

          • Except it’s never a pox on all houses, is it? You only ever do it to those who criticize the CPC.. not to those who criticize the liberals, after all.

            You only try to claim that you don’t like all of them after people start calling you out on being a pathetic shill, with the whiny “But I never said I supported them!”

          • It’s basically that way, Einstein, because there are virtually no pro-Conservative posters on this board, in case you haven’t noticed. You may note that many moderate conservatives who used to post here long since left. Gee, I wonder why. I’m merely reacting against the stifling ideological orthodoxy that exists on Wherry’s comment board.
            It’s called groupthink.

          • Please. Like Rick Omen, BGLong, S_C_F, Mike514, Gaunlion, etc simply don’t exist any more. Not to mention the whole host of sock puppets that like to come out and play in nearly every article. Go check out the S.13 article if you want an example. I’m sure you’ll be applying your sardonic wit against some of them too, eh? No? Big surprise.

            Not to mention that all anybody has to do is go through your comment history to see that you’re not against partisans specifically. You’re also against the Liberal party in general.

            So take your “I’m not being partisan” crap and shove it right back up your arse where it came from.

            I don’t know what’s worse, actually, that you think any of us would buy it, or that you do.

  4. I feel bad for them.

  5. I am so proud of our members of the opposition. It is totally undemocratic for the government not to provide ALL MPs with the information that they need to made a clear vote on each issue. And the Conservative government brings in the Accountability Act and then totally disregards it. This is the most arrogant, unaccountable, contemptuous, lying government I have ever seen.

  6. Conservatives please take note…

    If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Abraham Maslow

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