Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I want to make two brief contributions to this intervention, but before I do that I want to say that, at least from my perspective and I think the perspective of my friend from Parkdale—High Park, this intervention is being made not as government versus opposition versus government. It is actually referenced and focused on Parliament as an institution.
Some day, the men and women on that side of the House may be on this side of the House, and there is a distinction. The men and women on that side of the House are in government. My two remarks are focused on this.
Just as an individual member does not have, cannot have and should not be permitted to have a licence to malign another member under our rules, and everyone here understands that, should that occur in proceedings, which sometimes happens intentionally or inadvertently, the member who is purportedly maligned is able to get up and set the record straight and, hopefully, if a mistake was made, an apology occurs, et cetera.
However, in this case, I want you, Mr. Speaker, to take note that the question of privilege raised here is with reference to the government, not to a member, using its position in question period as a forum to allegedly malign or misinform.
Question period is intended to be an opportunity for the opposition parties or individual members to ask questions of the government. It is not to debate but to ask questions, to actually impose a procedural accountability. Recently, however, there have been many instances, and I will refer to one that happened two or three weeks ago, where, in question period, one of the ministers rose and responded to a question and referred directly to an individual member of the Bloc Québécois. I am not sure I even recall all of the elements of it but it was intended specifically to malign, in some way, a member of that political party in a way that had either zero relevance to the question raised or only marginal or indirect relevance. I thought that was grossly unfair and it happened on more than one occasion.
The one big point I am making is that, just as an individual member cannot be allowed to use freedom of speech in this House to malign, so cannot the government be allowed to use its position in question period to do the same types of things. If it can do that, if it is a free-for-all at question period, if the answers to questions can be totally irrelevant and, at the same time, malign another member, that is the same thing as saying that it is okay for the Crown to undermine a function of Parliament. It is a free-for-all for the government to go right ahead and undermine every member of the opposition it possibly can because that will fulfill its political objective. We cannot let the government do that.
Mr. Speaker, you and the other speakers will say, “If the House does not have confidence in the government, defeat it. We will have an election”. That might be possible today in this Parliament, but what if a government has a majority? Most of the time in this country, our government has had a majority in the House and the opposition members cannot defeat the government. Therefore, if this problem that we are trying to outline here continues to exist and maybe even grow, we will have a situation where the government, the Crown, in majority, has built itself the right in this House to undermine, to malign and actually disrupt and obstruct members of the opposition in doing their job of scrutinizing the government.
Sometimes men and women on this side of the House ask some very tough questions that are worded in some very sharp and pointed ways that offend the government. It is not personal, it is essentially opposition parties doing their job. However, to allow the government to do the same thing and undermine individuals can only end in undermining the functions of the House.
The complaint is on a member who says, “I have been maligned and I think I am being institutionally maligned by a government that has taken on as part of its function the business of gathering information, which, if stated in a certain way in question period or whenever the heck government members get the floor, can only result in the maligning and intimidation of a member of the opposition”. There is the implied threat that if the member gets up, the member will be attacked by one of the government's attack dogs and the entire federal government is working on this as part of its agenda. That is something that Parliament cannot allow. If it goes macro and becomes institutionalized in this place, our effectiveness as a Parliament on behalf of Canadians will be undermined.
I do not know exactly how you, Mr. Speaker, are going to be able to deal with this because it is perhaps a novel point. The question of members maligning other members intentionally or inadvertently arises from time to time and we can all collectively apologize and go to confession for that. However, when the government starts to do it, it is a new ball game and a different type of issue.
Topic: Royal Assent