question period — Question of Privilege

May 16, 2019

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson

I rise on a point of privilege which I make orally.

The Hon. the Speaker

Before Senator Patterson continues, Senator Patterson is raising a question of privilege. As all senators will know, it normally requires written notice three hours before a sitting. However, rule 13-4 allows for a question of privilege to be raised after the time has expired and a previous ruling of a Speaker in this chamber has indicated that if the matter arises after the time for giving notice and before the sitting, it can be entertained.

Senator Patterson

Thank you, Your Honour.

I make this point of privilege orally since I was engaged in Senate business last night and committees this morning and just received notice of this tweet over the lunch hour. Here is the background.

The Committee on Transport and Communications invited amendments on Bill C-48 for consideration by the committee. The deadline was Monday of this week and, as critic of bill, I drafted six amendments. At the request of Senator Miville-Dechêne, I was happy to meet with her to discuss my amendments, which were similar to some she had proposed. We talked about how we might work together to possibly marry our two amendments. I was pleased when she told me that she saw merit in my amendment relating to the Nisga’a, but I very clearly told her that I am part of a caucus which works together on a strategy to approach what she must know we consider a deeply flawed and divisive bill, Bill C-48.

I clearly said to her that the approach our caucus will take is “bigger than me.” I told her our caucus would be meeting before the committee met last night. Senator Miville-Dechêne then said, “tell me if you are not going to move your amendment” — which she thought was perhaps slightly improved over hers — “and I’ll move mine.” “Give me a signal,” she said. Our caucus met shortly before the committee and decided we would not proceed with any amendments. I told the honourable senator shortly before the meeting began that I would not be proceeding with any of my amendments. My director of parliamentary affairs also told her assistant with whom we had met on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The tweet she sent out in the early hours of the morning said:

Too bad the Conservatives lied to their ISG Senate committee colleagues and said they would table six amendments to improve the bill. Lots of waste of time. You could have at least been honest.

She has called me a liar and dishonest and, by the way, I’m the only Conservative Party senator who moved amendments, so the tweet clearly referred to me. I did not say, “you can count on me to move my amendments,” I clearly said that is subject to meeting with my caucus.

Your Honour, it is my right whether to proceed or not proceed with my amendments. I submit that calling a senator a liar and dishonest is a serious breach of parliamentary privilege, especially when it is not factually true.

I ask that you review this matter and consider whether Senator Miville-Dechêne should be asked to apologize and delete her tweet.

Thank you.

Hon. Pierrette Ringuette

Your Honour, it’s unfortunate that the senator in question is not here to provide her comments. I don’t know what your instructions would be in this circumstance. She is in committee.

The Hon. the Speaker

Senator Ringuette, I believe Senator Patterson has asked that I review the whole matter, which would mean that unless other senators wish to enter the debate I would take the matter under advisement.

Senator Housakos, did you wish to say something?

Hon. Leo Housakos

Colleagues, on a point of order, as you all know, you cannot refer to a colleague who is not present in the chamber by name. I think that should be struck from the record and we should be cognizant of that rule.

The Hon. the Speaker

Thank you for raising that Senator Housakos.

Hon. Rosa Galvez

I was there last night for the situation that Senator Patterson described. Again, it was a very confusing situation because in the previous meeting we were given the impression that the Conservative caucus was going to move six amendments. Senator Boisvenu explained at length these six amendments. When the committee started, Senator Boisvenu and Senator Patterson were there and we were all under the impression that six amendments were going to be moved. Actually, I asked the chair to explain what was happening. I think that the answers given were not complete. We still had a lot of questions about why we used two hours of time discussing amendments that were not going to be put on there.

I think that was the frustration.

Hon. David Tkachuk

First of all, there were a number of amendments that were discussed from both sides. There might have been half a dozen Conservative amendments discussed. It was for one hour. We had Minister Garneau the first hour of the committee meeting and then we had one hour — I don’t know if we spent the hour talking about the amendments. The point is that Senator Patterson said at the beginning of the meeting that he was withdrawing his amendments. That means they are his amendments, they are not anybody else’s amendments. He made it clear he was withdrawing his amendments and would not be presenting them. We all understood that. There was no debate from the ISG or any other member about the fact that he was withdrawing his amendments. That debate came up in the middle of the bill when we were going through clause by clause. All you have to do is check the record. You will find that my description of what happened yesterday and Senator Patterson’s description is exactly what happened.

Hon. Carolyn Stewart Olsen

I know that committee was very confused in a lot of places. They were doing valiant work with a bill that needed a lot of valiant work. In any case, I don’t think that’s the point for me. I think the point is that a senator, a colleague, used Twitter — which is available to most of Canada and the world — to call a senator a liar. I think that we shouldn’t do that and I urge you to think about that as you ponder.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett

Very briefly, I was also at the meeting last night. A little bit in response to what Senator Galvez said, the fact that there is confusion does not mean somebody is lying. Not only, in my opinion, was Senator Patterson called a liar by a senator, I was called a liar because the tweet says, “Conservatives.” I was part of that. Clearly, we were called liars on Twitter because someone is withdrawing amendments, which he or she has every right to do at any time they want, and that, confused or not, does not make anybody a liar.

Hon. Marilou McPhedran

I want to offer what I think is a point of information. We’ve just done a search and the tweet, if it was there, it is no longer there.

Hon. Paula Simons

I’m curious. Last night Senator Plett tweeted:

You can tune in to the live stream of the Senate Transport Committee to watch Alberta Senator Paula Simons. . . . as she sells out her province by voting for Bill C-48. . . . #shameless.

Now, I don’t take offence, but I just wonder, is there not something of a double standard here, especially given that I was neither selling out my province nor, indeed, voting in favour of Bill C-48?

Hon. Raymonde Gagné

Honourable colleagues, I think this serves as a call for decorum from all senators from all sides. We have to come to an agreement and treat each other with respect. I believe that the tweet from yesterday we are talking about was out of order, as are so many other tweets that my colleagues post.

Hon. Julie Miville-Dechêne

Honourable senators, I sincerely apologize to Senator Patterson for the words I used in a tweet on social media. I deleted the tweet as soon as possible. Senator Patterson, please accept my sincere apology for this ill-advised tweet.

As you know, I did not name any senators in this tweet, although that is no excuse. I did not name names.

This came after a tough week, but Senator Patterson was not the issue. The issue was more generally the opposition strategy, which led me to believe that we had concluded an agreement based on transparency and trust in the days preceding the clause-by-clause review of the bill.

Let me explain. The committee chair came to see me to say that we would be sharing our amendments. He said, “Put your amendments on the table and we will do the same. Then we will have a good, open, and cordial discussion on the amendments to understand them properly and see whether any amendments overlap.”

In short, we showed transparency and trust on this issue. We had that meeting; we discussed amendments, and we even had other meetings to discuss very specific terms.

At that point, the Conservatives were to move six amendments and we, on our side, were to move three. Everything was on the table. I had no indication that the Conservatives were going to change their strategy. At least I was never informed of it.

At the start of the clause-by-clause study, all of the Conservatives’ amendments were withdrawn. In the case of two of my amendments that had the same intent, the Conservatives chose — as is their right — not to vote on any amendment and to reject the entire bill.

They did act within the rules of the Senate. However, what upset me was that I had trusted in the process, and I felt that my trust had been betrayed, which led to my ill-advised statement.

Therefore, I sincerely apologize to Senator Patterson, whom I hold in high regard. We have had some very pointed and interesting discussions about the type of amendments we could move.

Thank you very much.

Hon. Rosemary Moodie

I would like to echo support for Senator Gagné’s words. I do believe that we need to be leading by example for many reasons. Not only are we treating each other with some disrespect, we are also role-modelling for staff members the appropriateness of behaviour such as tweeting disrespectfully.

We are seeing this occurring. Not only are we seeing tweets occurring, but we are also being directly confronted by staff members of senators. This is becoming quite a disrespectful and toxic environment.

Hon. André Pratte

Senator Miville-Dechêne has apologized and withdrawn the tweet in question. Therefore, a question of privilege is raised notably so that the Senate can find a remedy to the situation. This is one of four criteria.

I believe that the remedy has now been found since an apology has been expressed and the tweet in question has been erased. Therefore, I don’t think a point of privilege remains.

Senator Housakos

Your Honour, it’s obviously for you to decide if the point of privilege remains or not. I’m rising simply to give my point of view on this issue.

Certainly Senator Miville-Dechêne is well within her right. We respect the fact that she rose to issue an apology to Senator Patterson, but she also owes an apology to the Conservative caucus because in her tweet she called the Conservative caucus liars. It is highly inappropriate to call any colleagues or groups in this place liars.

Colleagues, like I said, I have been in this chamber for over a decade. Over the last couple of years, with all due respect, I have seen the debate degenerate to levels I have not seen in the decade I’ve been here. In large part that degeneration has happened, in my humble opinion — and we’ve seen it on debate on this question of privilege, trying to justify why a senator was driven to the point to make the statements she made.

We are reliving on this chamber floor events that occurred at a Senate committee, which is on the record. It is in the transcripts. It has happened here more than once. What this really gives sign to is when we have committee decisions and votes at committees, there is always a group that wins and a group that loses. This is a partisan, political, democratic chamber. Depending on the side you are on in a given debate, on a given day, some days you win your point of view and some days you lose.

But just because you lose your point of view, as long as you lose it within the democratic process, within committee or within this chamber, within the rules, as long as the rules are respected, we take our marbles, go home and fight another day. We don’t degenerate the debate because we came out on the losing side of things.

With respect to the Transport Committee, from my information, everything that transpired there was within the rules of the committee. As a result, we have an obligation to respect what transpired and not try to make it look like a bunch of Conservatives ganged up to kill Bill C-48 because, with all due respect, my understanding is there were other senators besides Conservative caucus members who voted on one side or another, and their right has to be respected as well.

That’s what I wanted to share, Your Honour.

The Hon. the Speaker

Honourable senators, I think some of the comments are getting a bit repetitive. I really don’t want to waste a lot of the chamber’s time by hearing repetition of comments.

I do see Senator Miville-Dechêne and Senator Patterson rising. I will hear from both of them. Unless you have something entirely new to add to whether or not this is a valid question of privilege, please be respectful of the chamber’s time.

Senator Miville-Dechêne

I would like to apologize to the senators who represent the Conservative Party, because it is true that in those tweets I referred to Conservative senators in general. I will therefore apologize and hope that this will bring the discussion to an end.

Hon. Stanley Paul Kutcher

Your Honour, as you consider your remedy, I wonder if you might think about the issue this technology is causing for all of us. It’s clear that not just young people are having challenges using this technology. Maybe as senators we could all benefit from your wisdom about how we could learn to use this technology more appropriately.

Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)

I want to add something regarding what was called a Conservative strategy or this whole desire for transparency which we are doing in various ways.

However, I remember my first year as a senator. We were in government but not a majority, the Liberal Opposition was the majority. I was sponsoring a bill, and at third reading I recall you rising, Your Honour, and you moved an amendment which for me came as a complete surprise. It was at third reading on the chamber floor. You had the numbers and it got adopted. I remember asking myself what happened. I was quite panicked. I went to the back and you came out and said, “Are you okay, dear?”

I share this example to show that this is politics and this is a political chamber. We are part of the parliamentary system, the upper house.

There are amendments that will be shared and there are amendments that may not be shared. But it is part of a healthy democracy for us to address amendments that come forward, we can debate it fiercely and in the end the majority may rule. I wanted to share that example for your overall consideration.

Senator Patterson

I wish to say to my honourable colleague that I accept her most sincere apology, as she described it. I’m also satisfied that presumably she has now deleted the offensive tweet. I’m not a tweeter myself, so this is a bit of a new world that came to my attention today at the lunch hour.

I know we’ve all been working hard and late. I understand she may have been tired when she sent what she has described as an ill-advised tweet in the early hours of this morning. I thank her for her quick actions in apologizing and deleting the tweet. I consider the matter concluded.