That is right and that is the point. That is exactly right and that is why members from the opposition should get it straight. This is Canada. This is not the United States.
Not only in the U.S. under the constitution are the ambassadors examined, but also members of the cabinet and also members of the supreme court in the United States. That is in the constitution of the United States. Now what is in the constitution of Canada? We know that it is the Prime Minister, the executive branch of government, that appoints those three groups of people: the ambassadors, the cabinet and the supreme court.
So the word ethics is in the U.S. senate direction under the constitution that determines what the senate committee will report to the senate and to the government. They have an ultimate veto. In other words, the president of the United States has to go back after the senate determines that someone is not appropriate and the president of the United States has to delay it and go back to it the next year.
What is in the Canadian act? What is in Standing Order 111 in the House of Commons? What are the words found there? I do not hear anybody from the opposition mentioning what the words are. The words were determined by a standing committee headed by a member of the official opposition, supported by the NDP, and were voted on by every party in the House wholeheartedly and passed. What were those words? The words were “qualifications and competence”. That is from Standing Order 111 of our standing orders. It gives the committee 30 days after the tabling of the name of the nominee or the appointee to a position by order in council.
Here is the point. Under our rules, Beauchesne for the Canadian House and Erskine May for the British house, if we look at citation 863, there is a famous paragraph. What it states is that any witness who appears before a standing committee cannot claim not to answer because his answer might incriminate him. He cannot say that. A witness cannot refuse to answer on the basis that he or she took an oath in a cabinet. No, our rules are very clear, as are the rules in the British house, as are the rules in the Australian house. It is in citation 863. Members can look it up. It says a person cannot claim as an excuse a contract or solicitor-client privilege. It also states, in one clear sentence, that in regard to the excuses used for witnesses not to answer in a court of law, because in a court of law there are certain things that a witness can say and refuse to answer, that is not the case before a standing committee of the House of Commons.
That famous Newfoundlander James McGrath, who was a PC but pretty straightforward and a good thinker, chaired the committee in 1986, just after--
If the hon. member would listen he might learn something.
It was just after the charter was brought in. Members of the House of Commons, if the hon. member will remember correctly, brought in a unanimous report. In that unanimous report, which Mr. Blaikie cannot remember, although I am not supposed to mention the name of the hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona, he cannot seem to remember very clearly, he took part in it and he should remember it. He should remember what is in the committee, but anyway--
Mr. Speaker, it is odd that in the course of lecturing others about parliamentary decorum the member should break one of the fundamental rules of the House.
I would remind the hon. member that, as he said, I was a member of that committee, I am the last member of that committee in the House, I remember what we recommended, and it is far different from the codswallop that the hon. member is trying to put before the House now.
Mr. Speaker, the first committee that examined this question was held in 1976. Members of that committee included the hon. Stanley Knowles and also the hon. Walter Baker and James Jerome, and also myself in 1976, so I predate the hon. member by about 10 years.
The hon. member has raised an interesting question: What was in that report? What was in that report is exactly this: that the power of veto would be used for regulatory bodies such as the CRTC. Does the hon. member remember that? He recommended a veto power by committees for appointees to the CRTC, to the Canadian Transport Commission, to regulatory bodies, to positions of the House of Commons. Just imagine that, but this was a very good recommendation.
The final recommendation the committee made on veto, which all members of the House agreed to, concerned not only regulatory bodies, but also the privacy commissioners, commissioners that are appointed by cabinet.
The point is this: that what the committee recommended unanimously was that there would not be a veto for positions that included ambassadors or anybody else and that is what is in our standing orders. That is what the opposition agreed to and that is now what it is disagreeing with.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is an opposition day of debate. I ask the members, in particular the member who just got through babbling on for 20 minutes, to try to get to the point. We do have another point of order coming up that is rather lengthy.
Of course the Chair is very interested in getting to the point. I thought we got to the point. The hon. member for Gander--Grand Falls has completed his remarks. It was perhaps a circuitous route to get to the point he wanted to make, but we will now hear from the government House leader.
Hon. Ralph Goodale (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I note that my great friend from Newfoundland always has such a calming influence on the House of Commons that I am delighted to be able to speak after him on the very important point he has made. I have four quick points I wish to make very briefly.
First, having listened to the discussion over the last number of minutes involving people who were participants in the committee work earlier today, what I hear from those representations is obviously a disagreement among committee members with respect to work that went on in the committee this morning. Some obviously are satisfied with what the committee did, others are dissatisfied, but it is important to note that what we have here primarily is a dispute among members with respect to the satisfactory nature, or not, of the committee's work.
Second, it would appear that some members in the committee wish to pursue a line of questioning that has to do with certain allegations and accusations. I think that in all of the representations that have been made, it has been conceded that while different members may have different views with respect to those allegations and accusations, they are in fact in the category of things that are unproven and unsubstantiated, allegations or accusations that members may or may not believe but are not in the realm of that which is proven.
Third, it appears to me from the time during which I was able to watch some of those committee proceedings through the television service of the House of Commons that the ambassador designate provided a very fulsome and extensive description of his view of his qualifications and his aspirations as a representative of Canada overseas. He was very fulsome in coming forward with his description of those things. I would note that in fact it was a three hour meeting, which provided a very substantial opportunity for views to be expressed and questions to be asked.
Finally, I would note that in any event, as is well established by the procedures of the House, a committee is in fact the master of its own procedure. There is obviously a complaint about the committee's work on the part of some members, but I would observe that whether a member is particularly happy or unhappy with what a committee has done, a complaint about the nature of the work does not constitute a question of privilege. In fact, what we are left with is a disagreement among members about what that work was, the overriding consideration being that the committee is in fact the master of its own procedure and is able to determine these things for itself.
Mr. Speaker, just briefly because I know you probably would like this to end and so would the official opposition so they can get back to the business of their opposition day, I have a few things to say.
I would not want you to pay too much attention, Mr. Speaker, to the remarks of the hon. member from Newfoundland, because he was refuting an argument that nobody is making. Nobody is arguing that the committee has the power to veto the appointment of Mr. Gagliano as ambassador to Denmark. As fine an argument as that is and as well grounded in the facts of the McGrath report as it is, it is completely irrelevant to the claim being made on the floor of the House here today, which really is about what would constitute the full power of the committee to review, not to veto, the appointment of Mr. Gagliano.
What is being argued here is basically that by virtue of the decision that was taken in committee today, the committee is not able to live up to the responsibilities that it is assigned by the standing order that came out of the McGrath report, not some imaginary standing order that the member from Newfoundland has done such a great job of refuting, but the real standing order, which says that there shall be an ability to:
examine the qualifications and competence of the appointee or nominee to perform the duties of the post to which he or she has been appointed or nominated.
It would seem very odd to me that in fulfilling this kind of responsibility it would be against the rules to inquire of anyone about the job the person just had, about the responsibility the person just finished executing. That is the nub of the debate here: whether or not the ruling in the committee today prohibits members from asking questions about the newly appointed ambassador's former responsibility. That is the question before the House, not whether or not there is a veto, not whether or not we are the United States, and not all the other things that the member from Newfoundland brought up to sort of puff up and fill the House with gas and have us diverted from the real point.
I would urge you to rule on the real point here, Mr. Speaker, and not on the straw man that the member from Newfoundland has erected for our entertainment but certainly not for our enlightenment.
Mr. Paul Szabo (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I was at the three hour committee meeting. The member for Portage--Lisgar made reference to past accusations against Mr. Gagliano. I think that with due care there have been no accusations against the former minister.
In fact, this issue has to do with allegations and innuendo. Other than the Groupaction issue which has come up now, all of the other allegations or innuendo are all matters which have been before the House previously, all matters which have been disposed of by the ethics councillor or otherwise disposed of.
The last speaker, the member for Winnipeg--Transcona, also questioned whether the prior job was relevant to the ability to do the job. He is quite right, Mr. Speaker, and I think you would agree that the experience and expertise of an individual is relevant. What is not relevant though is whether or not we can dig into allegations and innuendo. There have been no charges laid; there have been no legal proceedings. There have been no questions that have been unanswered.
Mr. Speaker, from this standpoint the issue is a matter of using allegations as the basis for questions and fishing rather than using proven facts and evidence that is prima facie.
Finally I point out that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services did not, as a headline suggests, blame some issue on some previous member. All he simply did was to refer to the fact that there have been three directors general and two ministers since this event occurred. That was a spin of the media and certainly not the representation of the minister.
The chairman of the committee was very forthright with the committee. He read out the terms of reference and also outlined in great detail exactly what we could do in terms of the examination under question. There was also a reaffirmation by the clerk of the committee and there was a ruling. As soon as the issue came up in the first instance by the member for Portage--Lisgar, it was challenged on the basis that the chair had laid it out. There was a challenge to the chair and the chair's decision was sustained.
The committee fully exhausted the grounds on which it could explore this thing. It did not exclude references to any aspects of the job and prior jobs of Mr. Gagliano, but it certainly dealt directly with allegations and innuendo as being inappropriate in regard to that examination.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, PC/DR)
Mr. Speaker, I concur with the suggestion that this issue of the veto has been really put forward as an attempt to lay out some rabbit tracks, so I will not delve into the gaseous emissions from the Newfoundland member.
With respect to the actual report and the relevance of the committee work I think what is important in your ruling on this point, Mr. Speaker, is the ability of the committee to bring forward a negative report, that is, if members of the committee wish to bring forward a negative finding and in order to do so need to expound upon the evidence that would enable them to do so.
This goes to the very root of committees work, its ability to garner evidence that allows it to bring forward a negative report, a dissenting report, other than that which the Liberal dominated majority of the committee may decide upon. That is the crux of the matter here. It is important that you, Mr. Speaker, take that into consideration.
As for the delay, I will not touch upon the Janus faced tears of the official opposition House leader when he suggests that somehow this is an important matter to discuss. Of course it was important for him to delay a supply day motion on behalf of the PC/DR coalition just last week so I will leave that to the Chair.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for hearing us. I have a great deal of respect for the chair of our committee, but my question goes beyond my respect for her, because I believe—and this is what I would like you to consider—that the committee was not able to exercise its powers pursuant to Standing Order 111(2).
The order reads, “—examine the qualifications”, therefore he is accountable, “and competence—”.
If in the French version, there is a distinction between skills and competence. The only way to examine someone's competence is to look at their experience. There is no other way. If we cannot consider their experience, there is no way of gauging their competence, and if that is the case, we are not able to exercise our judgment.
Then, the French version refers to the ability of the appointee or nominee to perform the duties. We said, and it is a fact, or at least it is a fact in Quebec, that the reputation of the hon. Gagliano is seriously tarnished and damaged. This is a fact. This is not an allegation, but a fact. The committee, and its review, cannot ignore this, and we cannot help but ask the ambassador for his thoughts about carrying out the duties of his future position.
Therefore, we were not able to do our job, and that is what I want to point out to you.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Mercier for raising this question, as well as all of the hon. members who took part in the discussion: the member for Burnaby--Douglas, the member for Winnipeg--Transcona, the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, the member for Cumberland--Colchester, the member for Gander--Grand Falls, the member for Mississauga South, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. I hope I did not forget anyone.
I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House later with my decision on this important matter.
We can carry on. The hon. member for Portage--Lisgar has another question of privilege.
Mr. Brian Pallister (Portage--Lisgar, Canadian Alliance)
Mr. Speaker, on February 28 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister raised a question of privilege claiming that the dignity of the House was in question and suggested that it had something to do with statements I made outside the House.
I have the utmost respect for the House, its members and the authority of the Speaker. I have the utmost respect even for the member for Leeds--Grenville but I take offence to these kinds of accusations.
The member's charge of contempt involves my charge of contempt against his colleague, the Minister of National Defence. His case appears to be more a prima facie case of tit for tat than it is one of contempt.
I raised my question of privilege against the Minister of National Defence because I believed that parliament deserved, and its members required, truthful and precise information. The fact that it was a minister of the crown involved made it that much more serious because the principle of ministerial responsibility provides the foundation of our constitutional system for the control of power. Providing parliament with accurate information and being responsible for that information is a key responsibility of a minister.
The parliamentary secretary would have us believe that he is protecting the dignity of the House. The way I see it and the way Canadians will see it is that the Prime Minister through his parliamentary secretary is trying to protect the Minister of National Defence and the reputation of his government. If he were interested in the dignity of the House he would not be trying to censor the opposition from exposing his government's disrespectful and dismissive view of the House and its members. As John Diefenbaker once said:
If parliament is to be preserved as a living institution, His Majesty's Loyal Opposition must fearlessly perform its functions. The reading of history proves that freedom always dies when criticism ends.
My accuser is noticeably upset with my charge of contempt against his colleague, the Minister of National Defence. He desperately wants the criticism of the way his government is handling this issue to end but it will not end. If anything, the way in which the government has responded to this criticism will encourage it.
My responsibility and the responsibility of members on this side of the House is to protect Canadians from the tyranny of the majority. Such tyranny must be guarded against. We saw ample evidence of that this morning in the committee examining the ambassadorial appointment of former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano.
The government has aborted the committee's inquiry into the defence minister's conflicting statements about prisoners in Afghanistan in order to prevent further embarrassment for the minister. Liberal MPs vehemently opposed requests for more evidence after going through a preliminary round of 11 witnesses. The Liberals on the committee used their majority to defeat motions, to call witnesses, to gather more facts, to get more information, to recall the minister, and to resolve questions raised by contradictions between his testimony and that of the Canadian military chief of staff.
Mr. Joe Jordan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If the member were to review the transcript and look at the point of privilege I raised he would see that it was a very specific issue. The issue was that the language that was being used on the question of privilege one was allowed in making the charge before the Speaker by using phrases like deliberately misled when making the charge.
My question of privilege pointed out, and I backed it up with transcript evidence, that it continued outside this place, that is the use of words and phrases like, lied and deliberately misled, which were unparliamentary. My question of privilege dealt with the issue of whether a member of the House can say outside the House what the member is not allowed to say inside the House. It is as simple as that. The re-arguing of the issue that was before the committee does not have any relevance to the point of privilege.
As far as I am concerned the issue is very straightforward. If it cannot be said in here members cannot say it outside the House. That is the issue, Mr. Speaker, that you need to rule on.
The hon. member for Leeds--Grenville had an opportunity to bring his case to the House through the Chair. I would hope and will do my best not to allow a debate to take place. I would like to hear further from the hon. member for Portage--Lisgar.