The Chair (Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP)):
We're no longer in camera. We're going to open the doors.
There was a request by the media late last night to televise this broadcast. Chad worked hard last night and this morning to try to make that possible. We just talked to communications services and as of right now they're unable to televise this. Is that correct, Chad? There will be audio feed, and of course the doors are open so that media can be here.
The request was received at 7 p.m. on the night before committee. We tried and we were unable to do it, just so committee members are aware.
Before we get into the actual witnesses, I'm going to suggest to committee members a couple of guiding principles I've seen work in other committees. First, when we are studying a topic, there should be some attempt, as we go through the witness list, to allow for as much flexibility as possible when we are booking witnesses, because not everyone's going to be available or available on the dates that you want. Second, we should allow the clerk as much discretion as possible to invite a broad range of witnesses to allow for diversity on the topic we're studying, because the best studies I've seen are the ones for which we get a diversity of views in front of us as opposed to a one-track view.
Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would simply point out to Mr. Angus that I understand his concerns, but I'd say they're unfounded. The facts of the case before the court, which I think Parliament needs to hear about, are what will be brought here before this committee. The committee is not going to be rendering any decision ahead of the case going to the court. But I would think, for example, that Mr. Angus might want to know why the public broadcaster is going to court with the Information Commissioner on October 18. Why has that happened? What is the backdrop to that? What is the information they can't get? Why are our taxpayers literally paying to fight taxpayers? This is a federal government body fighting a public broadcaster. I think this is something it behooves our committee to look at. I think it's important, but we're not going to prejudice what will occur on October 18.
With respect to the judge who has been called, I'd like to hear from him about his decision. I think it's entirely appropriate to bring him in to discuss what his findings were. Judges are servants of the public; they uphold our laws. This specific judge has looked at all the evidence before him and has rendered a decision. I think it's important that the committee hears about that decision and why he came to it.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
I'm actually very pleased that my honourable colleague did intervene and ask what the relevance was, because I was wondering if he actually was aware of the sub judice convention. This is why I felt we should understand the roles that have been defined over many, many years of parliamentary and court practice for the courts and Parliament.
As for my honourable colleague, I have such great respect for Dean. We've been on committee for years together, and I know his personal crusade against the CBC. He's been the lead, and I'm not surprised that he was chosen as the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, because—
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I was pointing that out, though, because I think it needs to be seen in terms of the picture. My colleague has been very eager to attack the CBC. He has suggested that we take the billion dollar subsidy and give it to its competitors, which is no doubt why so many Sun Media guys are hoping to come before this committee.
That being said, I've cautioned my colleagues that they have to understand the role they play at this committee. So I have read to them the issue of the sub judice convention. We have the issue and we'll get to it when we get to the witness lists. If they're trying to bring judges before our committee, I think any judge is going to laugh at Mr. Del Mastro on this, because it's obviously a contempt of court. But we'll get to that later.
I want to repeat what I said, because I don't think he heard it, as he was asking if there was any relevance. There are three key elements he needs to be reminded of:
||During debate, restrictions are placed on the freedom of Members of Parliament to make reference to matters awaiting judicial decisions in order to avoid possible prejudice to the participants in the courts. This self-restraint recognizes the courts, as opposed to the House, as the proper forum in which to decide individual cases. Matters before the courts are also prohibited as subjects of debate, motions or questions in the House.
That was the first part. Furthermore:
||The convention exists to guarantee everyone a fair trial and to prevent any undue influence prejudicing a judicial decision or a report of a tribunal of inquiry.
And we look to the role of the chair in the responsibility of exercising restraint because:
|| A Member who feels that there could be a risk of causing prejudice in referring to a particular case or inquiry should refrain from raising the matter.
Now, Mr. Chair, I have great respect for you as chair, and I will be continuing with this process. My colleague has certainly established a record of being a virulent critic of the CBC, and I know he's very eager to use this committee to attack the public broadcaster. However, this will be in the courts on October 18, and it's a reasonable thing, as I've asked, for us to follow and respect parliamentary traditions. We can certainly go on this crusade, and we'll all go along for the ride because there are fewer of us than them, but I'm asking that we do it after October 18. Once the judge has heard testimony and arguments before the courts, then this will be referred, and, who knows, we'll get a ruling back probably early next year.
Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
The hypocrisy of the member, my colleague, is astounding. He seems to think that transparency should abound in government—and I happen to agree with him with respect to that—and everywhere except the CBC.
Now we have a situation, and he wants to impugn my motives and what he believes is actually behind my motivations. My motivations are simply this—and he should also care to see and understand exactly what's happening here, Mr. Chair—that we have a public entity, the CBC, in court against the Information Commissioner of this House, and they are spending millions of dollars fighting each other. Can we at least get some background as to why this is occurring, Mr. Angus?
I don't think that's unreasonable. Having some witnesses come in who are going to give us background will not prejudice an appeals court decision. A justice has already ruled that the Information Commissioner should be able to look at this information and determine whether or not it is subject to section 68.1 or whether it should be released. Those are the facts before us. These are all known to the appeals court. There is no surprise in any of this and it will not prejudice what's going on at the appeals court—it will not.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
We can sit and argue this out to the end of the session today, and then we'll be hearing this after October 18th anyway. So I don't see that there's much to be gained. I just wanted to clarify that he seems to think that people are refusing to have CBC held accountable when we know that in 41 cases the government has gone after the Information Commissioner. So there's certainly not really an example of this government being able to say that they have a clean record in terms of respecting the rulings of the Information Commissioner.
Our Information Commissioner did speak the other day at our hearings. She did believe there was a black hole of accountability in the minister's office. These are all issues we can get into while we're undergoing our work, but I think my honourable colleague has to just refrain from turning this into Conservatives defending the taxpayer and the NDP defending the CBC. I'm talking about the larger principle here of how we're going to establish our committee.
I'm certainly willing to work with my colleague, but I think he should recognize that it will be heard on October 18. He's going to have a break week for Thanksgiving. We'll be able to get back. We can get on this. They can bring all the witnesses they want. There's not much to be gained. I'm just asking that we establish some ground rules of basic respect at the beginning of this session so that we can continue to do the work that Canadians expect of us.
We can go through the procedure of actually voting on such a motion, but I think if that's certainly the will of the parliamentary secretary, and I see the members from government nodding as well, then my suggestion is going to be that unless there are other comments and arguments to be made about this, I'm going to hold all members to that very principle that Mr. Del Mastro has suggested, which is that witnesses we call and the testimony we ask for is very cognizant of what was just read into the record with respect to attempting not to prejudice the case before the courts.
So moving to that, we have a witness list. I believe everyone has the witness list in front of them from all the parties. The clerk has highlighted for me the obvious witnesses who would go against the principle we've just set, those who are directly involved in the court case. I think it would be clearly unfair for the committee right now to ask any of those witnesses to come.
I'll read out the ones that are most obvious to me. Let's do a process of elimination first in terms of how we go through this. We have Mr. Lacroix, from CBC; Madame Legault; and potentially Ms. Bertrand, as well. I see Madame Legault again on the Conservatives' list, and Mr. Casgrain and Madame Lafrance. Those are the ones who immediately pop to mind as being most directly involved with the case and ones who should not be called before this committee prior to them having their day in court.
Is that a complete list? Are there any others that people see on the list who should also be held off until later? We're good?
Barring those for the moment, I see there are some common witnesses who appear between at least two parties: Mr. Morrison and Mr. Lacroix, who we've removed. Is there any conversation around Mr. Morrison? Do you want to go through it this way, or do committee members want to suggest witnesses as we go?
I see Mr. Del Mastro, and then Mr. Angus.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
It has been our longstanding procedure that we respect each other's witness lists, and I'm certainly willing to continue on that path. When I saw Ezra Levant's name there I kind of fell off my chair. I thought, are we turning this into a media circus? But if my colleague wants to bring Ezra Levant, I don't have a problem. I can justify our witnesses.
I think we're going to need to work together on this. Mr. Morrison has numerous opinions on CBC and he has opinions on their freedom of information issues.
We've brought our witness list. If there is overlap, I'd certainly say let's cut it out, if we end up with a massively long list, but I don't think this is a long list. This looks like two to three days of study. So I would just say to my colleagues that I'm not going to quibble with their choices, and we should just get down to business.
Okay. I think I've started us off a bit on the wrong foot by going witness by witness and arguing the abilities of each witness to perform. One of the guiding principles for this committee ought to be to respect what each of the parties believes is an important course of investigation but to also attempt to balance the table in terms of witnesses we have in front of us.
Can I reverse the course here and suggest that barring any obvious problems with a witness that's been suggested by another party, we put this to the clerk as the witness list stands right now, with those exemptions that I mentioned before, and attempt to have witnesses come to us again--due to their own schedules, and we're not going to get everybody--and allow it to go forward unless there are any outstanding problems with witnesses that have been suggested.
Before Mr. Del Mastro speaks, if there is any priority in the witness list and if there is somebody a party is very urgently hoping to hear from, that helps us. We can do that here in the committee or we can do it afterwards with the clerk and just let him know that a particular witness is a top priority and another one is less so.
Mr. Del Mastro.
Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
First of all, Mr. Angus has mentioned Ezra Levant. I would have thought, being that Mr. Angus I don't think overly appreciates the commentary of Mr. Levant, that he would like the opportunity to question him as to his motivations, as would I.
I would expect that someone who has, frankly, taken the swings that they have with respect specifically to access to information would come prepared to defend the things they've said. This won't be about a free ride. It's about trying to understand why, as I said, taxpayers are in fact going after taxpayers on this.
It is correct to say that QMI has in fact brought forward a significant number of access to information requests. We need to understand why they're doing that. Is this actually in the interests of taxpayers or is it in their own interest? I think it's a question that Mr. Angus would want to ask. It's certainly a question I want to ask. I want to understand what is behind some of the issues at hand and why in fact it has gotten to this point, where it's before the courts.
I think it's important to bring the chairman of the CRTC before us. The chairman of the CRTC does request and receive full transparency from private broadcasters with respect to revenues and so forth. The CRTC also requests revenues and so forth from the BDUs--the cable and satellite companies. They contribute to significant funds. One, of course, is the local programming improvement fund. They also contribute towards the Canada Media Fund. Both the CBC and the other broadcasters in the country are recipients of those funds. I think as interested parties...and ultimately, let's be clear, the BDUs don't pay into the Canada Media Fund and they don't pay into the local programming improvement fund. Their customers pay that on their bills, so this winds up being a consumer issue.
I think it's important, especially considering that the CRTC will be considering the local programming improvement fund in the near future, that we find out a little bit about why or if they're interested in seeing transparency and how those funds are being spent. Because ultimately, should there be an adjustment in the local programming improvement fund, that is going to find its way back to Canadians, and certainly the Canadians I talk to, the ones in my riding, are weary. They feel like every time they turn around somebody has a hand in their pocket. We should always be mindful whenever we're going to them and seeking new fees from them.
Again, Michel Drapeau, an esteemed professor at the University of Ottawa, can talk to us about access to information.
It's interesting that Mr. Angus has specifically cited Mr. Richard Boivin, who is a judge. Mr. Boivin heard the arguments before the court and did in fact render a ruling that the Information Commissioner did have a right to review the information that was being requested and to determine whether it was subject to section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act.
For the benefit of members of the committee, section 68.1 protects the CBC on issues such as creativity and journalistic integrity. What the judge indicated when he made that ruling is that the Information Commissioner should be able to look at this data and determine if it's subject to section 68.1 or whether it should be released. That is at the core of what is going before the appeals court.
I think it would be interesting. I think members of the committee would like to understand why the judge came to the ruling that he did and what information was before him and would like to get a little bit of background as to, once again, why this is going before an appeals court.
Otherwise, I think most of the other witnesses are self-explanatory. I would note, as I said, that this is not about funding of the CBC. It's not about programming on the CBC. It's not about Canadian content on the CBC. This is simply about...and the opposition needs to understand that there were two--and only two--crown corporations that were red-flagged for their access to information cooperation, let's call it. Certainly CBC was the one that stood out as, frankly, much worse. They're the only one in court and the only one where taxpayers are funding both sides of the case.
Mr. Angus would acknowledge that at a time when we're talking about fiscal restraint, and certainly we see all the global economic turmoil, a lot of Canadians would be really troubled to know that we are spending an awful lot of taxpayers' money funding both sides of that court case. Maybe we can come to a solution so that that's not happening.
Thank you for the comments.
I'll remind us where we are, and it's just for expediency's sake. Members can make supportive comments about any witness appearing on the list. I'll hear from Mr. Angus next, but I've asked for some leniency from committee members to allow the clerk to put together a study--with the witness list as it is right now, with the exemptions--that will not prejudice us before October 18.
I will make a small comment. If the judge remains on the list and is called, we'll allow the judge to speak for himself, but I'd be very surprised to see someone from the judiciary come in, even to go over the merits of the case that they've already seen, with something sub judice right now.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
I was very interested in my honourable colleague's explanation. There are a number of areas where actually I think we're going to find this an interesting study. I think we have to clarify the record a little bit, and I would just like to do that before getting into the substantive issues regarding what he just raised.
My colleague said that this is not about the funding or defunding of the CBC, when clearly it is. We see Senator Gerstein, the number one Conservative fundraiser bagman, sending out letters to Canadians about whether or not it's worth funding CBC. We see Rob Anders sending out petitions about defunding CBC. I remember last year we ended up in a big committee study because my colleague, Mr. Del Mastro, had suggested taking the $1 billion appropriation for CBC and giving it to its competitors, which certainly Sun Media would love, the number one competitor in Quebec.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Certainly. The fact is that Mr. Del Mastro and I were on the heritage committee for a number of years. The study we're beginning today seems to be the exact study we just had at the heritage committee, because of the direct comments Mr. Del Mastro made about the possible defunding of CBC and giving it to their competitors.
I mention that because it's interesting that we did have CBC before us, and I'll certainly be more than willing to bring the references from the heritage committee hearings, where we went through all the issues of access to information; we went through all these questions. The Conservatives were certainly more than aggressive. This is why I guess I find this a little tedious. In our last committee we went through all these issues, and now it's like a broken record, but we're at it again.
That is important to put in context in terms of talking about respect for the taxpayers: we just did a study. Mr. Del Mastro was on that side, I was over here--I was actually a little further down the line at that point, but both of us participated in this hearing and we talked with CBC and we heard all these issues. People need to understand this isn't anything new; this is certainly a favourite kicking horse, like the Wheat Board.
I want to continue on about the study we had at the heritage committee, because I'm interested, and perhaps we're both still living on the--
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Well, my honourable colleague is.... I'm not going to argue with him. I'll bring the heritage study that we did, the questions that were asked.
I'd like to just continue on, because a lot of this is a repeat of the heritage committee. My colleague wants to bring CRTC. He wants to bring...well, obviously, Sun is going to be all over this. They're going to love this. This is their number one competitor. But Bell, Rogers, Shaw....
I think it's interesting--we did, again, deal with this at committee--because there are a lot of questions, as my honourable colleague says, about the local improvement fund. The CRTC is a black hole of information. You can't get any.... The CRTC doesn't even seem to keep reports, as far as I can see from the numerous freedom of information requests to CBC, about basic accountability.
So I think this is good. Let's bring the CRTC. Let's bring Shaw. Let's bring Rogers and Bell, because the issues--and again, I'm surprised it's being brought here, because I still think it's under the purview of the heritage committee, where we did look at this--are basic issues, such as what's your Canadian content? What's your local programming? How many newsrooms are there? Those are elements that Canadians want to know, because they've paid into the system with the private broadcasters. They want to know what the CRTC has done in terms of holding these various broadcasters to account. There are many black holes.
My colleague focuses on CBC, but he'll remember, from when we did these studies, that getting some basic information.... This isn't competitive information. This isn't attempting to find out what their corporate competitive advantage is. Unlike probably some of the requests that are made at CBC, it's ensuring that they're following the basic standards that have been set out.
The Canadian taxpayer pays a lot into the system; as my colleague says, the local improvement fund. We pay a lot of money into that, and we want to know that it's going to local programming, that it's going to local television.
That all seems to me to be under the purview of the heritage committee, but I appreciate my colleague for bringing this here, because I think it will give us a broader picture. I'm certainly more than willing to support bringing in Mr. von Finckenstein and bringing in the other BDU players. If we're doing that, then obviously we're expanding this mandate somewhat, and I'm not opposing that. I think it'll give us a fairer picture.
So after all those interruptions, I was just trying to tell my honourable colleague that I supported his witness list.
I thank the honourable member for having moved his motion. However, I'm of the opinion that as moved the motion is inadmissible for the following reasons--and I'll be as explicit but as expedient as I can.
I believe that the motion goes beyond the mandate of the committee, specifically with regard to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vi), which states:
|| the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders; and any other matter which the House shall from time to time refer to the Standing Committee.
These are our directives from the House.
It is important to understand the definition of public office holders. There's some distinction between the code of conduct and the act itself. Two different groups fall under two different codes, if you will.
The definition of public office holder.... With regard to the mandate of this committee, because that is what we're meant to look at, the Standing Orders refer to the definition as described in the Conflict of Interest Act 2006, where a public office holder is referred to as a minister of the crown; a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary; a member of ministerial staff; a ministerial advisor; a Governor in Council appointee other than the following persons: the Lieutenant Governor...and there's a proceeding list that I won't read out. The fourth is a ministerial appointee whose appointment is approved by the Governor in Council; and finally, a full-time ministerial appointee designated by the appropriate minister of the crown as a public office holder. Those are the designations of a public office holder under the Conflict of Interest Act.
The Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons guides all members who are not public office holders—so with the exception, for those of us here, of Mr. Del Mastro—in all matters relating to the election of members to the House of Commons, which includes anything to do with Elections Canada, and would fall under the mandate of another committee, namely the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as described in Standing Order 108(3)(a) in subsections (vi) and (viii).
Just to be clear with members, I'm not ruling on the relevance of the motion as brought. I'm suggesting that clearly in the Standing Orders that we have that have set up this committee, it's the wrong committee to have this particular conversation at, because the motion as presented by Mr. Del Mastro does not affect public officer holders as defined in the act. It affects members of other parties.
That is the ruling. There's no debate on the ruling. We move straight to a vote. If there is any disagreement with the--
Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
As you know, this committee did in fact set a precedent when we brought in Elections Canada regarding the Conservative Party--something, by the way, that was before the courts. I made a very impassioned argument at that time to the then chair Paul Szabo regarding what the opposition parties were seeking to study at that time.
Not only did that chairman, Paul Szabo, disagree with my concerns at that time, my having pointed out the very precise nature of what I thought were the guiding principles of this committee, but all the members of the opposition at that time, in all three parties--there are only two represented in the opposition now--in fact sustained the ruling of the chair, because I did challenge the chair's ruling at that time. So a precedent has in fact been set in this regard.
I do think it's entirely appropriate. As Mr. Angus would know and I'm sure as you would know, Mr. Chairman, back in July I did write a letter to the Ethics Commissioner requesting that she review the matters of sponsorship at the NDP convention, specifically sponsorship from large unions from across the country. The Ethics Commissioner has in fact indicated to me that this investigation is continuing.
I think it's entirely appropriate, especially considering, certainly, if anyone watched Mr. Angus's theatrics yesterday on a matter that frankly has been entirely researched and reported upon by the Auditor General...the NDP appears to be putting up a smokescreen and in fact flaunting the Accountability Act. They know--and I would argue that Mr. Angus well knows, as he's not a rookie in this House--that certainly the spirit of the Accountability Act was shattered with tens of thousands.... We don't know exactly how much. We know from an article written last week that at least $75,000--but it appears to be much, much more than that--was paid directly into the NDP coffers by big labour, which is contrary to the Accountability Act.
So I would argue that this is a very important issue, a very important matter, that it takes precedence over anything else the committee is doing, and that we should call both the Ethics Commissioner and the Chief Electoral Officer before committee without delay. I'd like to see one of them here Thursday and the other here on Tuesday, because I think this is a matter on which the committee, Canadians, and Parliament deserve an answer.
It seems that other parties...certainly our party is playing by the rules. We had a spring convention here. It was not inexpensive for members to attend because these are not inexpensive events to put on, but we abided by the rules of the Accountability Act and the spirit of the Accountability Act. It appears that the NDP governed itself by very different rules--in fact, by rules that are contrary to the Accountability Act.
Mr. Scott Andrews:
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I was going to suggest, as you're ruling, that this needs to go before the procedure and House affairs committee. This is an Elections Canada issue. This is an issue of what's allowable under the Canada Elections Act.
I'm really dismayed by this little game that's going on here at this committee between these two members: it's tit for tat, a motion for a motion.
To be quite honest, guys, this is brutally unproductive.
Yes, you have a majority to do as you wish on this committee, and you will do what you want throughout this entire Parliament, but I truly, truly believe that there needs to be some goodwill here.
We've already established a study to proceed forward with listening to our commissioners, as the chair just pointed out.
I think this is totally unproductive. If this is how this committee is going to operate, we might as well just fold up our tent right now, because we're not going to accomplish anything.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
I hear my honourable colleague's frustration. Certainly, Chair, you made the correct ruling that this should go to the procedure and House affairs committee. However, it's been overruled by the Conservative majority.
I am a little disturbed that they want to throw out the business we've agreed to, in order to get at this immediately.
Certainly, we don't have a problem. Number one, let's put it on the table. I don't have a problem bringing them. I'm concerned about the idea of their riding roughshod to get at the red meat issues as quickly as possible. We agreed that we were going to hear the commissioners and to set the terms. So let's do that on Thursday.
I was actually really interested to hear him say the reason he wanted to bring this. He referred to the so-called theatrics yesterday--
Mr. Charlie Angus:
I'm concerned. The issue of privacy rights is one of the key elements and we're going to blow that off to go on another crusade. We've got four years, Dean. You guys are going to be able to beat on us as much as you want. We'll certainly be going at this, but I think it sends a pretty bizarre message that already we're blowing parliamentary procedure out of order. We're saying that the four commissioners who are key to this file can wait until we get at something that we haven't even been allowed to bring proper witnesses to.
If we're going to again go to the kangaroo court model, we can live in a kangaroo court, but.... It's one day. We should hear these commissioners. They've already shot down debate on this NDP motion. They've got some defence now for poor Tony. He didn't have an excuse up until now. They'll be waving this one around, about the big bad NDP union thugs, blah, blah, blah. That's okay. We still have to do our job, which is to hear from these commissioners, and then Mr. Del Mastro's motion can come forward. I have a couple of motions coming forward. I'm certainly willing to bring them forward, but I wouldn't use my motions to supercede the ability of this committee to hear from the commissioners.
Mr. Chair, I'm appealing to you. You've got to set some basic rules of credibility. Otherwise this is just going to turn into a gong show from the beginning.
The suggestion is that the ethics commissioner appear for one hour on the general report that we had requested from them, and then the second hour is to deal with Mr. Del Mastro's motion. We will seek to get Elections Canada the following week, on Tuesday.
I was just told by the analyst that we're not going to have the kind of briefing notes we're looking for.
Are there any other comments on this before we move on? That is the ascribed process.
Seeing no other comments, that's how we'll proceed. We will likely have to make some time available on Thursday for motions that have been presented to the chair to deal with, so we're going to have to carve off a little bit of time towards the end of committee to deal with those. I just want committee members to have a sense of that. It will not likely be the full two hours with the commissioner. We have some other motions in front of us.
One last comment, Mr. Del Mastro.
Mr. Charlie Angus:
Thank you, Chair.
I sense that now my colleagues again are shutting down witnesses. Whenever I seem to have the floor to try to lay the groundwork, I see the points of order and the attempt to shut this down. They are certainly uncomfortable with hearing anything that doesn't agree with them.
As for Mr. Mayes, I'm sure he was paying attention, but the issue was whether or not we were suddenly going to expand this committee for an extra hour to satisfy a particular interest of the Conservatives. I was saying that it seemed to me to be a bizarre precedent they're setting: whenever they want to go on more, they'll expand, but for us to even try to bring in witnesses, basic witnesses, so the committee can hear them...now we see that we're going to go to another attempt to shut me down.
This is about how we're going to establish ourselves as a committee. This is not about their little hot button issue and the fact that they certainly seemed to be looking to find some way of finding some cover for Mr. Clement, who has been, for 91 days and counting, absent from his post in terms of accountability.
They think they have an issue. I don't have a problem with them bringing this issue before us. I don't have a problem bringing in witnesses. However, I'm concerned. I'm concerned that the basic respect due to all members of Parliament is absolutely lacking. We've made reasonable offers throughout today and they are not interested in reasonable offers. They're not interested in the larger work of our committee, which is, number one, to hear from the four key commissioners, to understand those roles, and to understand them thoroughly.
They weren't interested in that last week. We had an hour. Again, people would have wondered why with the Information Commissioner there was barely an hour, and now suddenly with the commissioner they want to hear from, they want to have two hours. Also, they want to interrupt committee business by saying that if you want to have committee business, which is, again, the right of our members of Parliament.... All members of this committee have the right to bring witnesses before us.
It seems to me that if we're going to get off on this wrong foot.... We have four long years of working at this committee. I would like to think that we'll establish some basic ground rules of respect, of listening to each other, and that the work we do bring here is not just based on poking whatever hot button comes up in the media of the day. We have our hot buttons and they have theirs, and we'll certainly do a lot of that, but for my colleague now to say that if the opposition wants to talk about their motions, they're going to have to come early, they're going to have to come at another time to discuss their motions...?
Well, we sat here and gave full respect to their motions today. We didn't hold them up. They got their motions right through today. They got their witness list through today. They shut down any attempt that we had at witnesses, but they're telling us that if we're going to come to this committee, we have to come at breakfast time or before breakfast and get that all out of the way so they can get down to their business. Frankly, I don't think that's an acceptable way of doing business.
I've appealed to my good friend, Mr. Del Mastro. We've worked together very well for many years on the heritage committee. You know, they're going to have their big sticks to come and pound on us, and we're going to push back, and that's the nature of the rough-and-tumble business, but if we lose that fundamental notion of respect, of respect for the committee, of the building of a sense of how we are going to work together, if we lose that in the first three days, then this is going to turn into a very dysfunctional committee--and it doesn't need to.
I've said again and again that we are more than willing to entertain whatever issue they want; I didn't even raise a single question about any of their witnesses. They can bring in any witness they want. Yet when we ask about bringing in witnesses, we're told, “Sorry, don't bother”. I think that sets the wrong precedent.
I think that for them to turn around now and say they want us to come early so we can do the business of committee because it's interfering with their crusade is simply an unacceptable interference with my rights and my privileges as a member of Parliament. I don't know what my honourable colleagues think, but I am not going to allow that precedent to happen.
Whenever we want to bring information and Mr. Andrews wants to bring information.... Remember how they wanted to shut him down from a second round of questioning when we first began? They didn't even want to hear the Liberals in a second round, which again is completely breaking with the parliamentary traditions we've had in this Parliament, where we allow the members to be heard and to speak.
So we will come here Thursday morning. We have committee business to do. We will come at the normal time. We will sit down here and we will deal with our business, just as we've dealt with their business today.
We dealt with their business with the utmost respect today. I'm hoping they will take on a little bit of respect for our motions. If the commissioner has to be done in two 45-minute sessions, well, that seems perfectly reasonable. We do that all the time. Certainly this commissioner is getting double the shot the Information Commissioner had.
I see that it's 10:30, Mr. Chair, so thank you.
Mr. Dean Del Mastro:
There would be a lot of love.
But at the committee we do actually have some business to do. This isn't about making anyone's life hell, but I did want to simply point out, Mr. Chairman, that my good friend across the way does from time to time need a little bit more time than others do to express himself and to explain and give rationale for his motivations. I was merely being courteous in offering him a full hour to bring his motion and to discuss it. It's clear the member doesn't want that. That's fine.
I'd simply move and request that the chairman consider Mr. Angus's motion at the beginning of the next meeting and that we simply take any time it takes to do that off the first hour of the Ethics Commissioner's appearance. It doesn't matter. I don't expect questions from the honourable member or, frankly, his colleagues to be on the issue at hand anyway. So I suppose that ultimately it doesn't matter which time slot it comes out of. It just seems to me that if we put it at the end.... Well, you know what? We'll go with your suggestion. We'll put it at the end and deal with it. Ultimately we can ask our questions about whatever course we want.
This was not an attempt, by any means, to impact on the rights or privileges of a member. In fact, it was to provide Mr. Angus with even more time than what he currently has to discuss his motion. We'll deal with that at the end of the next meeting, and go with the chair's suggestion and move forward.
The suggestion has come back. Mr. Del Mastro makes a good point. When the commissioner is here in front of us, the range of topics is available to the committee members to pursue what they want. So in terms of the division of time as to which topic the commissioner is on, given that time is somewhat arbitrary, the chair will seek to have some guidance within each of the rounds. As well as we can as a committee, we should get to the testimony from the commissioner and allow him some time, because it is very limited. Sixty minutes is not much time in which to give the round picture, and we're going to be reducing that down by some factor.
I'll take just one second before we go to Monsieur Dusseault and Mr. Mayes.
There is going to be something procedural, in which case he'll likely want to give a separate statement of up to 10 minutes to the committee on each topic. We're going to divide that so committee members at least have that in front of them.
Mr. Dusseault, do you have any comments? No, okay.
Mr. Mayes, did you want to add anything?