The Speaker takes a stand (III)

Yesterday’s debate, in its entirety, after the jump.

Mr. Tim Uppal (Edmonton—Sherwood Park, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the issue of statements by members, also known as S.O. 31. As you will be aware, both myself and the member for Beauport—Limoilou were cut off during our one minute statements by the Chair.

I am aware of a ruling you made earlier today, Mr. Speaker, with regard to decorum in this chamber, and I agree that ensuring the decorum of the House is extremely important. However, I draw your attention to the debate of May 31, 2006, when the former Liberal member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Ken Boshcoff, rose and virulently attacked the current Prime Minister during statements by members.

The former Liberal member for Brant, Lloyd St. Amand, also attacked the government and former staff members of the Prime Minister’s office in statements by members on June 7, 2006, which you could find in Hansard.

Members of the Liberal Party continued these attacks throughout statements by members that day and on subsequent days, which I am sure you could review in Hansard.

There are numerous other examples from the Liberal Party over the past months and years, attacking members on this side of the House, members of their staff, and many others to which you did not intervene or rule were out of order.

I am only asking that the rules be applied equally to all members.

I believe if you review the blues from today’s statements by members, Mr. Speaker, specifically my intervention and the intervention by the member for Beauport—Limoilou, you will find only quotations from past members’ statements published in the public domain, such as yesterday’s Edmonton Journal, which quotes the leader of the official opposition. Even taking into account the ruling made by yourself earlier today, I do not believe that my statement or that of the member for Beauport—Limoilou, come close to the line of what you set out earlier today.

Expressing opinions on quotations from the national media is what we do in the House every day and constitutes robust debate. We may not like to be reminded of what we have said in the past, but Canadians who elected us to sit in the House have every right to hear our statements and opinions on the issues of the day.

If we cannot quote each other in this chamber, if we cannot express our opinions, then what is this chamber for?

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you take the time to review the blues and come back to the House with perhaps more clarification for members on what can or cannot be said, since I do not believe that my statement or that of my colleague have gone beyond the standard you set out this morning.

The Speaker: I thank the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park for his remarks.

I gave a ruling this morning because, in my view, the tone was so consistently negative in Standing Order 31 statements that I felt it was appropriate to change the way it is happening in the House, because there are so many of these statements. That is why I made the ruling I made this morning.

It is fine to quote other members, but then there were additional comments suggesting that the member was unfit to lead or unfit to do something because he had made these statements before, which, in my view, are personal attacks. Those are things that are prohibited under our rules.

I read once again the citation I read this morning in my ruling, House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 364:

The Speaker has cut off an individual statement and asked the Member to resume his or her seat when: offensive language has been used; a Senator has been attacked; the actions of the Senate have been criticized; a ruling of a court has been denounced; and the character of a judge has been attacked.

The Speaker has also cautioned Members not to use this period to make defamatory comments about non-Members, nor to use the verbatim remarks of a private citizen as a statement, nor to make statements of a commercial nature.

In my view, if we keep doing personal attacks on members in the House, then we will have them go on in almost every Standing Order 31 statement, and in my view, I will not be able to maintain order in this chamber, which is my job.

I think it is time to have a shift in these statements, which I hope will happen as a result of this morning’s ruling. I urge hon. members to have a look at the ruling and the wording in Marleau and Montpetit and amend their statements accordingly to avoid attacks on one another in the course of their debates in this chamber, particularly in S.O. 31s, because there is no reply.

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I think it is important for the integrity of your chair to be seen as applying the rules equally, right across the board. It is very important that people in this chamber conduct themselves in a way that make their constituents proud. At the same time, it is also important that members have the right to criticize the ideas of other members.

Part of a democracy is promoting ideas. The other part of a democracy is pointing out the flaws in some of those ideas. In fact, we have an entire section in the Standing Orders dedicated to question period, in which opposition members are rightly encouraged and perform their duty admirably to point out flaws in any government during any era. That is the right of members of the opposition to do that. We invite that sort of accountability.

At the same time, members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats have to be prepared, when they come into this chamber, that some of their ideas will be criticized as well. I do not think any of them would want you, Mr. Speaker, to build an umbrella protection over them to shield them from any criticism. Hopefully the leader of the Liberal Party is not so fragile that he would require such an umbrella to be built.

As such, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to show the kind of respect to the Leader of the Opposition that he believes he is entitled to receive and allow him to defend himself rather than to step in and act as his protector during member’s statements earlier on.

As such, Mr. Speaker, I would encourage you also to have respect for the voters who put us here in the first place. They, after all, have the ability, in an unvarnished manner, to watch the statements we make and judge us accordingly at election time.

What is key in our democracy is that the people are sovereign. When they listen to the statements, the people have the right to judge whether they agree with the way in which we comport ourselves and the content of our utterances.

It is not your role, with respect, Sir, to block the people from making that decision and to decide for them. I would encourage you to show due respect for the people in allowing them to make judgments upon us and our words, rather than making that judgment for them.

Mr. Yvon Godin (Acadie—Bathurst, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate you on your ruling. I do not want to be difficult, but this is nothing new. You sent the parties a letter last week warning them of your intention to ensure that decorum was maintained in the House, especially in regard to members’ statements.

The Conservative Party was the first to be affected. So what? Next time, it will be someone else. We should feel responsible for conducting ourselves properly in the House of Commons and showing respect for one another as individuals. We can have different ideas and policies, but when we start to attack each other personally, it is your job to stop it, Mr. Speaker, and I can only congratulate you on that. I even think not enough is being done.

I am disappointed to see the Conservative Party trying to defend the idea that we should be able to come to the House of Commons and personally insult one another. We can fight over policies and ideas but should not attack one another personally. Members who do so should be prepared to pay the price. It is your job, Mr. Speaker, to assume this responsibility and conduct the House of Commons in a proper way. We receive letters from schools—from students and teachers—saying they do not want to bring anyone to the House of Commons any more because of all the disrespect shown there.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, you are not going far enough. It is your duty to ensure reasonable decorum in the House, but it is also the responsibility of the various parties. We are not better than other people. It is the responsibility of all of us members to ensure that the House of Commons, where we represent the people of Canada, remains a respectable place.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, thank you for your ruling.

Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the two government members make their remarks. In one way, they confirm—they did not deny—that the Speaker has made a ruling that confirms the rules and precedent governing our debate in the House, including members’ statements, that we do not make personal attacks. That should be an open and shut case. The Speaker has ruled on it.

More serious than that, let me read rule 10, which I will abridge slightly, which states:

The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order…No debate shall be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal in the House.

I would point out to members on both sides of the House, but particularly to members opposite, that the Speaker has ruled on a point of order, and I, as one member among many, cannot sit by and allow the Speaker to be challenged, as I think he was being challenged, by both members opposite. It is simply out of order and unacceptable.

The ruling has been made, and I think by far the majority of the House will accept that.

Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ):  Mr. Speaker, I want to add my voice and that of the Bloc caucus to what was just said and what was said by the NDP whip.

You made a ruling this morning. Rulings are obviously always open to interpretation and have to be adapted to the realities of the debates in the House. However, you made your ruling, we accepted it, and I cannot understand why the member opposite is challenging it. In any case, the rules are clear and your rulings cannot be appealed.

I assure you that we in the Bloc Québécois intend to abide by the guidelines you indicated in your ruling this morning.

Hon. Jay Hill (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, on the most recent intervention, I would respectfully point out to my hon. colleague, the House leader for the Bloc Québécois, that yesterday you made a ruling as well—

Mr. Pierre Paquette: It was this morning.

Hon. Jay Hill: I lose track of time.

Mr. Speaker, this morning you made a ruling as well, and his colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois, got up and did not challenge you—he was very careful about that—but he was seeking further clarification, as I recall. I was in the chamber at the time.

So I would just remind my hon. colleague of that, as well as my colleague from the Liberal Party who just spoke.

We are not challenging your ruling. I did not hear that from either of my colleagues. What we were doing was asking for two things.

First, we were asking that you consider looking at the past examples from all parties to make sure that in enforcing your ruling there is consistency. That is all we were asking, on one hand.

Second, I heard my colleague from Edmonton—Sherwood Park, at the close of his remarks, asking, if possible, that you might consider further clarification of where the line would be drawn in your consideration of what would be a personal attack and what would not.

I think all of us, especially those like you and me, Mr. Speaker, who have been in this chamber for a lot of years now, would have drawn the conclusion after all these years that what would be considered an insult by one member could very easily be considered a reiteration of fact by another member. Oftentimes during heated debates in this place, whether it is during statements or question period or even during normal debate, we get into a lot of argument or potential argument about that.

All I am asking on behalf of the government is that you ensure in applying the rules, as I am sure you always do, that there is consistency, that you review what is being done by all parties and that those rulings are applied in a consistent manner, in a manner that is fair from the chair and fair to all 308 members of Parliament.

The Speaker: I think I have heard enough on this point at the moment. My ruling this morning in fact dealt with two issues, one arising out of question period, primarily, but also a Standing Order 31 statement.

I turn to page 363 of Marleau and Montpetit, and I will read another section. This is referring to statements by members.

In presiding over the conduct of this daily activity, Speakers have been guided by a number of well-defined prohibitions. In 1983, when the procedure for “Statements by Members” was first put in place, Speaker Sauvé stated that Members may speak on any matter of concern and not necessarily on urgent matters only; Personal attacks are not permitted; Congratulatory messages, recitations of poetry and frivolous matters are out of order.

The comment goes on to say, These guidelines are still in place today, although Speakers tend to turn a blind eye to the latter restriction.

I suppose that has happened. Unfortunately it appears I may have turned a blind eye to some of the other restrictions, and my ruling this morning was intended to indicate that is not to be the practice.

It represents a shift, and I have made the shift because of complaints from all sides of the House about the lack of decorum, particularly in that part.

I stress that the rules that apply to Standing Order 31 statements may not apply in debate, where members can quote other members and have a debate. In debate, there is reply; there is exchange.

Standing Order 31 is not intended as a debate. It is intended as a group of statements by members about various matters they regard as important, and in my view, that is a separate time from normal debate.

As regards what members say in debate, I believe there is what we call “freedom of expression” in this House. The restrictions, in my view, are less strict. Sometimes there are attacks during debate because members are hammering away at each other on their views on different things, but members get to reply. They can have a debate and discussion and disagree on their views and make those disagreements manifest. That is fine.

However, when we are in Standing Order 31 statements, using the statement as an attack on another is inappropriate. It is happening too often, on all sides. That is why I am concerned. That is why I made the ruling I made this morning. That is why I cut off hon. members today when they were making statements that, in my view, breached that guideline.

I urge hon. members to take a look at Standing Order 31 statements as a different time from normal debate and go back to the roots of what was intended in the statement made in 1983 when the practice was instituted in this House. If not, in my view, we are going to get in a situation where all the statements become attacks on one another and it is going to turn into a particularly unpleasant experience for all hon. members, and I do not believe that is the way it should be. That is the reason for my ruling.

Mr. Pierre Poilievre: Mr. Speaker, just to conclude, first of all, we want to make clear that the discussion in the aftermath of your ruling is in no way to take away from the respect we have for you and your office, and we thank you for the function you perform.

We know your role is a difficult one, particularly in our system where the Speaker is at once the presiding officer of the chamber and also the member of a political party. As such, the Speaker comes under pressure from a political party to make decisions that may favour the outcome of that political party. I am thankful you have resisted that sort of pressure in the past, and we are looking at this decision to examine whether you have succeeded in doing so in the present.

We understand there are members of the opposition who would want to silence any criticism of themselves, but we would invite them into the world of democracy where all of us are subject to criticism in the House. So when members across the way rise to shield themselves, we ask that you remind them of that same democratic principle.

The Speaker: The hon. members can be sure that the intention of the chair is to apply the rule that I believe is in the practice of the House equitably on all sides. So if other hon. members are going to indulge in those kinds of attacks in S.O. 31 statements, I do not care which party they come from, the fact is I am urging them not to do so, and if they persist, they are going to get cut off.

The hon. chief opposition whip also has a point of order.

Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our party and caucus, we believe the Speaker is a great Canadian.

The Speaker: I am afraid that was not a point of order.

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