Thank you, Mr. O'Brien, this matter is now closed. I have another ruling here regarding Mr. Miltenberger.
On Monday, February 3, 1997, the Member for Thebacha, Mr. Miltenberger, rose on a point of privilege. In his statement, the Member said, and I quote:
"I rise on a point of privilege to clarify, at the first available opportunity, a concern about conflict of interest on my part."
Mr. Miltenberger then went on to state that it is difficult to know when we (referring to Members) can speak. He said, and I quote from page 566 of unedited Hansard:
"If a Member has a wife who owns a business, can he participate in discussions on BIP, which could benefit her financially? If a Member's wife works for a women's shelter, is it alright for him to question the cuts to funding in women's shelters?"
In response to the Member's point of privilege, the Member for Iqaluit, Mr. Picco, rose on his point of privilege, stating, and I quote from page 567 of unedited Hansard:
"The Member mentioned, in a veiled way, my earlier response last year on a question to another Minister concerning spousal shelter homes. Mr. Speaker, he has infringed upon my rights as a Member, the Member from Thebacha, in his statement, and I would ask the Speaker to rule that he would strike anything from the record infringing on my privilege as a Member."
The acting Speaker, Mr. Ningark, and thank you for yesterday, sought debate on the point of privilege raised by the Member for Iqaluit. In the course of debate, the Member for Hay River, Mrs. Groenewegen, rose on her point of privilege, stating at page 567 of the unedited Hansard:
"If Mr. Miltenberger feels that he said something on Friday that he should not have said, he has every opportunity to stand up and retract those and apologize for them. He does not need to try and implicate everyone else or other Members of this House in his mistake. I do take exception to him referring to the Business Incentive Policy and people who may have a spouse that owns a business. I not only have a spouse that owns a business, I also own a business, and I believe that he is misleading the House, by suggesting that all business deals need to take place in an arm's length fashion."
After citing from the conflict of interest provisions of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, Mrs. Groenewegen went on to state at page 568 of the unedited Hansard:
"I would like to suggest that Mr. Miltenberger, by his comments, not on a territorial basis, but in reference to Fort Smith specifically, and community libraries specifically on Friday, was probably over the line and he can stand up and speak about that and he can retract that, but he does not need to implicate the rest of us..."
In debate on the point of privilege, the Premier, the Honourable Don Morin, rose and asked the Speaker to review the comments of the Member for Hay River when rendering a decision on the points of privilege, pointing out that there is a process available through the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's office for the general public and Members to address the issue of conflict of interest.
Mr. Ningark indicated to the House that he would provide the House with a ruling, following a review of Hansard and the appropriate authorities. I would like to now provide the House with my ruling on the points of privilege raised, as well as to provide the House with some guidance in addressing issues relating to conflict of interest and decorum of Members generally.
The Member for Thebacha, in rising on Monday to comment on the questions asked by him last Friday, was not raising a traditional or normal point of privilege. Rather, his statement was one of clarification or explanation of his conflict and was in accordance with the conflict of interest provisions of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. Rule 20(1) of the Rules of the Legislative Assembly permits a Member to, with the leave of the Speaker, to "explain a matter, although not a contempt or breach of privilege, which concerns the Member in his or her capacity as a Member of the Legislative Assembly". Mr. Miltenberger's statement explaining his questioning, and his conflict, was a statement properly brought under that rule.
For the assistance of Members, both our Rules and the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act contain provisions to guide Members in addressing issues in which they may be in conflict. Rule 13 of the Rules of the Legislative Assembly provides:
No Member is entitled to vote upon any question in which he or she has a direct or indirect financial interest, and the vote of any Member so interested shall be disallowed.
As well, this Legislature passed laws in the 11th Assembly, defining conflict of interest and setting forth the obligations of Members addressing conflicts. These provisions are contained with Part Three of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. For the assistance of Members, a Member has a conflict where:
The Member, or the spouse or dependent child of the Member, has significant private interests that afford the Member, the spouse or dependent child of the Member, the opportunity to directly or indirectly benefit from the performance of any of the duties of office of the Member.
The above definition is found in section 66(1) of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. Many Members have, and will continue to have, conflicts in certain matters. We all have personal lives, whether before we were elected or presently, which will, on occasion, result in us being in a conflict in addressing certain issues. What is most important is how a Member resolves a conflict of interest, not necessarily the fact that a conflict exists.
The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act places serious obligations on Members to resolve their conflicts in accordance with the public interest. Section 67(A) provides that:
Each Member shall perform his or her duties of office and arrange his or her private affairs in such a manner as to maintain public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the Member.
Section 67(C) and 67(D) places an obligation on a Member to:
Arrange his or her private affairs in conformity with the provisions of this part and act generally to prevent any conflict of interest from arising and make all reasonable efforts to resolve any conflict of interest that may arise in favour of the public interest.
If a Member has a conflict of interest in any matter that is before a committee of this Legislature or before the House, the Member must, pursuant to s.69(1) of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, disclose the general nature of the conflict and withdraw from the meeting without voting or participating in the consideration of the matter. This is an obligation that must be followed by all Members of this House.
If a Member has a question about whether they are in a conflict, they are able to seek advice from the Clerk's office or from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Indeed, the Legislation specifically authorizes the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to give advice to a Member which will prevent any conflict of interest prosecution against the Member if the Member has disclosed all material facts and followed the advice of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. While it may appear to some that conflicts are a "grey" area, there are very clear procedures to follow in determining what is or what is not a conflict.
A Member may rise, as did the Member for Thebacha, to explain to the House a line of questioning which may have been perceived as a conflict. As long as the statement is limited to providing an explanation of the Member's behaviour, it is acceptable. However, as Speaker, I am not comfortable with the idea that this forum is the appropriate forum for debating and ruling on whether a Member has contravened the conflict of interest provisions of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. There are clear mechanisms for invoking a complaint procedure under our legislation. Any Member who feels that another Member has "crossed the line" is free to file a complaint under the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act. The complaint will then be dealt with by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and her decisions, including recommendations for a sanction, if any, will be tabled in this House for decision by this Legislature. Sanctions for violating the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act can range from reprimand, fine to expulsion of the Member as a Member. These sanctions are serious and should not be trivialized in political debate. Given that ultimately this Legislature plays a significant decision-making role in addressing complaints of conflict, I am not comfortable in pre-empting that role and politicizing the issue of conflict of interest. For that reason, I will not entertain an allegation that another Member is in conflict.
With respect to Mr. Picco's and Mrs. Groenewegen's point of privilege, some comments on the nature and function of parliamentary privilege might be of assistance to Members. Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms, 6th edition, citation 24, states:
Parliamentary privilege is the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament, and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals.
Within the same citation, Beauchesne's goes on to further state:
...The distinctive mark of a privilege is its ancillary character. The privileges of Parliament are those rights which are "absolutely necessary for the due execution of it's powers".
Traditionally, individual privileges accorded to Members have been limited to issues relating to freedom of speech, freedom from arrest in civil actions, exemption from jury duty and exemption from attendance as a witness. Given that these privileges represent an extraordinary exception to the ordinary laws, it is generally accepted that the category of privileges is closed and cannot be added to without express statutory or constitutional amendment.
Notwithstanding the relatively narrow category of privileges that are protected, Beauchesne's does note, in citation 64, that the House has occasionally taken notice of attacks on individual Members as constituting a breach of the privileges of the House. Beauchesne's, citation 67, indicates that it is always the responsibility of the House to decide if the reflections on Members are sufficiently serious to justify action.
I am also aided by Beauchesne's citation 69, which quotes a Speaker's ruling from 1987:
The Speaker has reminded the House, "it is very important...to indicate that something can be inflammatory, can be disagreeable, can even be offensive, but it may not be a question of privilege unless the comment actually impinges upon the ability of Members of Parliament to do their job properly.
Mr. Picco and Mrs. Groenewegen, in their respective points of privilege, appear to be indicating that Mr. Miltenberger's use of examples in his statement go too far. They suggest that Mr. Miltenberger, in clarifying his questioning in the House, was acting improperly, in that he seemed to be citing examples relating to other Members' lines of questioning in the House and using those examples to illustrate how "grey" the area of appropriate questioning is, so as to avoid a conflict of interest allegation. Indeed, Mrs. Groenewegen used the word "implicate us all" in her point of privilege. Given that both points of privilege address the same issue, I will deal with them as a single matter.
As stated above, questions of privilege are, and should be, narrow in scope and limited to only those powers which are strictly necessary to permit a Member to carry out his or her functions as a Member. Mr. Miltenberger's citing of examples of questioning which may or may not constitute a conflict of interest is not so offensive as to impair a Member's ability to carry on as a Member. To paraphrase acting Speaker Paproski, the citing of examples may be inflammatory, disagreeable or even offensive, however, I cannot say that the comments are so clearly directed to one Member or Members as to prevent those Members and the House from carrying on its business.
So I note that although Mr. Miltenberger's comments went beyond his declaration of his conflict, and beyond what he is required to do under the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, I rule that neither the Member for Iqaluit or the Member for Hay River has a point of privilege.
However, before I leave this topic, I would ask all Members to be conscious of the need to avoid the provocative use of examples which, by their very nature, inspire disagreements within this Legislature. As the Premier very properly pointed out, this Legislature has enacted a process for identifying and resolving conflicts of interest. Raising these issues on the floor of the House ignores the legislative process that this very Legislature has adopted and serves to undermine that process, while trivializing the role of debate in this House. Thank you.
Orders of the day. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Item 3, Members' statements. Mr. Picco.