Red Herrings and Sleight of Hand: Why Changing the Channel is not Real CHANGE.

I have just finished reading @PhilippeLagasse very good piece in Maclean’s on what Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott can say in regard to SNC-Lavalin, where they can say it, and the ethical and legal principles that structure their ability to speak in the House of Commons.

The current narrative by Liberal MPs, members of the Cabinet, and sections of the media is that JWR and Dr. Philpott can simply rise in the House of Commons and speak, freely and without legal consequence, on the SNC-Lavalin matter, as they would be protected by parliamentary privilege.

For the purposes of argument, let’s accept that they have the ability to invoke parliamentary privilege and speak on these matters. The solution, their critics say, is simple, and refusing to do so suggests an agenda by these two former ministers: For instance, to topple the PM, to reinvent the Liberal party in their image, etc. In effect, this is about their ambitions and grievances.

I have a practical question about this suggested solution that the supporters of this narrative have yet to explain – what mechanisms exist within the Standing Orders (SO) of the House of Commons that permit JWR and Dr. Philpot to simply rise in the House and speak about SNC-Lavalin? Do they refer to SO 31 (Statement by Members) that permits them to rise and speak on any matter for no more than one minute? Is this what is being suggested by former and current Liberal MPs? That these two former ministers are free to speak, and should speak on these matters, for 60 seconds on a matter of such importance?

Second, JWR and Dr. Philpott could speak for 10 minutes as part of a parliamentary debate on a bill being considered on the floor of the House of Commons. There are practical difficulties with such a use of parliamentary privilege. As members of a parliamentary caucus, they would require the support of the Leader of the House, as well as the Whip, to speak on any bill on the floor of the House of Commons. Would the Whip and the Leader of the Commons allow their participation, knowing they intended to speak about SNC-Lavalin? Unlikely. More practically, the Speaker would rule them out of order, as their participation would most likely not relate to the bill in question.

Third, the House could pass a motion for a special debate that would allow JWR and Dr. Philpott to speak on the SNC-Lavalin, thus overcoming the time constraints of SO 31. What are the odds that the Liberal majority in the House would support such a motion? About as likely as the Liberal majority on the Justice Committee inviting JWR to appear for a second time, I would suggest.

Where does this leave us? Yes, they are protected by parliamentary privilege, but it is unworkable given the practical constraints (SO 31), and the acquiescence required by the Liberal majority in the Commons to facilitate their use of parliamentary privilege in the Commons.

Unless I have missed something about the use of parliamentary privilege, which is different from the existence of parliamentary privilege, this argument is simply a red herring. Instead of being a solution, we are back to where we started – the ability to speak, free of legal consequence, rests with PM Justin Trudeau, and not with JWR or Dr. Philpott. This sleight of hand about parliamentary privilege, or more accurately, the practical use of parliamentary privilege, is simply disingenuous when raised by LIberal MPs and ministers.

The original order-in-council must be extended to Dr. Philpott, and expanded to include the period between the appointment and resignation of JWR from Veteran Affairs. Otherwise, this is simply an attempt to discredit these two former cabinet ministers and to deflect away from the real issue: that this is about the conduct of the PMO and the following political calculation: that the road to a second Liberal majority government runs through Quebec.


5 thoughts on “Red Herrings and Sleight of Hand: Why Changing the Channel is not Real CHANGE.

  1. […] James Kelly has noted that, while the privilege of free speech exists, it wouldn’t be easy for the two members to find a way to exercise their privilege without the consent of their party or flexibility from the Speaker. Over on Twitter, a few of us have argued that points of privilege, points of order, and other creative mechanisms would almost certainly allow them to speak. The counter-counterargument is that none of these mechanisms would afford Wilson-Raybould and Philpott enough time to say what needs to be said, and that the onus should still be on the Prime Minister to issue a wider waiver. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] The notion, being floated by some Liberals, that Dr Philpott and Ms Wilson-Raybould can simply rise in the House of Commons and speak, using their parliamentary privilege as a shield, is rubbish and an insult to our intelligence. Even shop-worn (and allegedly corrupt (remember strippergate in 2004 and improper living expenses in 2010?)) Liberal hacks like Judy Sgro should be ashamed to suggest it. That nonsense is thoroughly debunked by  Professor James B Kelly (Concordia University) in his very informative blog. […]


  3. Since it is Liberal MPs who are suggesting that MS Raybould-Wilson and Ms Philpott could use Parliamentary privilege to speak in the House of Commons, it is reasonable to believe that Liberals , as a party , would give consent to extending the time and that the Speaker would agree. How could the Opposition refuse such a request. Your diss of this approach is ….disingenous.


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