Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cariboo—Prince George.
The House is built on centuries of democratic evolution in the mother of Parliament, Westminster, and for a century and a half here in the Canadian capital. Members of Parliament are guided by accumulated precedents, by interpretations of evolving procedures and practices, and by ancient custom.
In light of the current question of privilege, I am reminded of the space that separates the government from the opposition. Because early members of the British Parliament often brought their swords to Parliament, we are told that government and opposition benches were spaced two sword distances and one inch apart. Our own guiding reference, House of Commons Procedure and Practice advises that this space in our Canadian House of Commons serves as a reminder to seek resolution of differences by peaceful means. Well, two swords and an inch clearly was not an adequate space last evening.
What we saw, I believe, and would like to introduce to this debate, was not only a breach of privilege but a contempt of Parliament. I would refer to our guiding tome, the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, where it says that:
It is important to distinguish between a “breach of privilege” and “contempt of Parliament”. Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House.
We know that process will be followed in the PROC committee.
However, there are other measures of affronts to Parliament. There is a range of affronts listed, which in various ways affront not only the dignity but the process of our Parliament. We are reminded by O'Brien and Bosc that in one sense, and a very clear sense, “all breaches of privilege are contempts of the House, but not all contempts are necessarily breaches of privilege.”
The authors of this fine book refer us to a United Kingdom joint parliamentary committee on parliamentary privilege, which attempted to provide a list of some types of contempt. This was in a report tabled in the British Parliament in 1999. It says that the interruption or disturbing of proceedings, or engaging in other misconduct in the presence of the House or a committee, signifies and can be defined as contempt. Assaulting, threatening, obstructing, or intimidating a member or officer of the House in the discharge of their duties is also a contempt of Parliament.
I would respectfully suggest that the Prime Minister's spontaneous, impetuous crossing of the floor last night, touching a fellow colleague, and pushing and issuing profane comments, is not only a breach of our privilege but it is a contempt of Parliament. The temporary delay of the opposition whip at the other end of the House may in itself have been ruled a contempt of Parliament, but it in itself would have delayed our proceedings last evening by only a matter of minutes, if not seconds, and did not justify the Prime Minister's angry intervention into the moment.
I must say that the Prime Minister's behaviour and the profanity spoken to hon. members last night is at odds with his many statements of professing high standards, opposing bullying, respect for women, and respect for the House.
It is not, unfortunately, the first time we have seen disrespect, arrogance, and immaturity from the member for Papineau. In December 2011, in an admittedly very emotional question period, I was interrupted by a loud, crude insult issued by the member. There was an apology, an apology which I accepted. It was a conditional apology, guilty with an explanation, so to speak, but it was accepted.
We have heard the Prime Minister's apology today. We saw humility and I believe there was sincerity in the words that he spoke to the House today.
He apologized fully, took responsibility, and reminded us that he will accept the consequences. I thank the member of the NDP who raised the question of appropriate consequences and what the Prime Minister thought would be appropriate action in response to his disrespect for the House last night.
However, we are reminded that the procedure and House affairs committee has a majority of Liberal members and we know, from the behaviour of the Liberal majority in a number of committees in recent weeks and months, that the majority has been used in a rather heavy-handed way. I would hope that when this question of privilege goes to the procedure and House affairs committee, the Prime Minister and the government House leader will encourage the members of the Liberal majority on that committee to put aside their partisan support of the Prime Minister.
We have heard a great deal of excuse-making in the last 12 or 15 hours.
Nothing can justify what happened last night. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that in words today. For those who saw the touching, the physical intervention, and heard the profanity spoken against members of the House and said that it should just be shuffled off and taken as a single impetuous moment that is excusable, I am afraid that simply cannot be accepted.
I hope the Prime Minister is sincere in the apology he issued today and that he receives support and guidance from his colleagues and advisers in his recurring anger management and reinforcing his respect for this institution.
Last night's unacceptable breach of privilege, and I believe contempt, was the result of increasing acrimony in the House, and as the leader of the official opposition has remarked today, along with many others in recent days, this is the result of the closure motions and the motion that would strip the House of all of its rights and privileges from now until the end of our sitting in June.
I believe that amends can be made. It has been suggested more than once this morning that the government rethink its interference, its refusal to allow more than two-thirds of the members of the House to speak on one of the most important pieces of legislation that we will ever consider in our parliamentary lifetime, and I hope that motion will, as the leader of the official opposition has requested, be formally withdrawn.