Content of Flyer–Speaker’s Ruling
Madam Speaker, because the hon. minister raised the matter of a ten percenter in the riding of Eglinton—Lawrence, I thought it would be worthwhile to make the distinction that the particular ten percenter was a ten percenter from the member himself to his constituents. It was not a regrouped or a party type ten percenter. I am looking at it right here.
I wanted to put that on the record. Maybe the minister does not think that is a difference. However, in this case we are dealing with a party-generated, regrouped, multi-distributed, printed, duplicated and distributed ten percenter as opposed to a communication by a member of Parliament to his or her own constituents.
Hon. Jason Kenney:
Madam Speaker, I am aware that the ten percenter in question, issued by the Liberal caucus group, was issued in the riding of Thornhill and other constituencies in that part of the greater Toronto area.
I am simply saying that this is really quite ridiculous. Members opposite are trying to make a capital case out of a conventional political communication using the same tactics and distribution that they use all the time, even on the same set of issues where basically incontrovertible facts are presented that are matters of conventional political debate.
If members of the Liberal Party are not comfortable with the fact that their leader accused Israel of war crimes, that members of their caucus called for the delisting of Hezbollah, that they called for an increase in funding for the Hamas-led PA when we eliminated that funding, that they decided to stay at Durban I until the bitter end after the withdrawal of other countries and, in so doing, “legitimizing the process”, in the words of the Victoria Times Colonist, I say too bad.
Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I feel quite engaged in this issue. I want to suggest that the issue is partly that of libel or near libel and partly that of the use of the ten percenter.
If this particular issue had happened out on the street, disconnected from Parliament, it might or might not have given rise to a liable or slander action. However, because it involves material printed by the House of Commons and distributed through the post office through House of Commons means, it becomes a parliamentary matter.
The issue has actually been lurking. Perhaps I am one of those who actually considers it a kind of ugly administrative issue for Parliament, not a happy issue. That part of it is the way the parties have now taken the privilege of individual members to communicate with constituents and turned it into a massive political communications mechanism involving the use of tonnes of paper and millions of dollars.
I remember when I first came to this place that there was a rule that did not allow us at the time to use our party symbols when using House of Commons facilities to communicate with our constituents. I do not think we were even allowed to use the name of our party. I recall getting kickback one or two times on things that I wrote to my constituents where I used the word “Liberal”. It came back crossed out saying that I could not use it.
I actually thought it was a pretty good rule and I did not try to abuse it, but over time I think the House of Commons staff had difficulty enforcing the rules and eventually gave up. The case was made that the House of Commons should not be a censor of what MPs were sending to their constituents. Party affiliation came to be accepted in communications between the members of Parliament and their constituents.
The second big part of this question of privilege that we are now debating is the way in which the use of ten percenters has evolved from being a communication between an MP and his or her constituents, and it has gone way beyond that now. In a sense, the parties in the House and, in this case conspicuously by the governing party, have essentially co-opted that and turned it into a kind of ugly vehicle of a liable or near liable.
I want to address that piece first. I suppose I should be fair and say that I have not really concluded that this is fully a “liable”. I realize I can say things in the House of Commons and not have to account for it out on the street so I use the term in quotes.
As I read this particular ten percenter that we are discussing, I could not help but think that I, as a member of the Liberal Party, was being labelled as an anti-Semite. The words are right there. It says, “On fighting anti-Semitism abroad, the Liberals willingly participated in overtly anti-Semitic Durban 1”.
I am a Liberal and this essentially says that, which is why I call it a liable or a near liable. To my knowledge, I have never done or said anything or even thought anything that was even close to being anti-Semitic. This particular ten percenter, clearly on the face of it was designed by professionals, just did not happen.
It was carefully designed to convey a message. I will go back to what I said. This ten percenter vehicle is no longer just a communication from an MP to constituents; it is actually used by parties and it involves design and costs of design, careful design involving all kinds of resources, millions of dollars, all because it is political. It has become a political vehicle. It is no longer an information vehicle. It is political.
On this document there is a picture of the Prime Minister. It is kind of sad, really, that a document that suggests that I and my party are anti-Semitic stands over a picture of the Prime Minister wearing a big smile. Let us just say I am not happy with that. There is no member of the House who could be happy with that.
It has gone through the Conservative operators behind the scenes. It should be noted that probably no member of the House here has participated in the design of this or other ten percenters. The same is probably true of the ten percenters that come out from all the other parties. At this point in time, all the political parties mail out these ten percenters.
In the case of this particular ten percenter, I do not know who takes authorship. I do not think that has been determined. The member who moved the motion does not know who actually designed or wrote this. It appears as though the minister who just spoke is taking some ownership of it. He says it is just facts.
It is not facts; it is political propaganda. It purports to rewrite our history. It purports to rewrite Canada’s role at Durban I. With 20/20 hindsight we can all see how ugly Durban I was, but we did not know how ugly it was until it was over. Before it started, all the major countries of the world were participating.
As the thing went on, a whole level of discomfort developed as a number of representatives from different countries began to express their anti-Israel views. I say anti-Israel; I do not want to get into anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic, but it was clearly anti-Israel. That became a huge problem for Durban I, and it was a huge problem for Durban II. It was a huge problem for everybody.
I think it is simply wrong and it attempts to rewrite history, and maligns everybody who was at Durban I on day one, that somehow they were all willingly participating in an anti-Semitic exercise. I was not there, but my government was. This essentially maligns all Canadians. It says that our government, that Canadians were participating in an overtly anti-Semitic Durban I.
I do not think the minister realizes the significance of that type of an allegation, designed not by him but by those cutesy writers in the back rooms of the Conservative Party, writing cute stuff that they can send out, politically, to Canadians at no cost.
There are three parts to this, and the minister can say, “Oh, they are just little facts.” Everyone in this place knows people can take a fact in isolation and twist it to make it look different. The overall impact of this ten percenter was exactly what has been described by my colleague from Mount Royal and exactly as the Speaker has accepted the initial application from the floor here.
The impact is still the same. This is not just a collection of random facts. It is not just a little letter from an MP to his or her constituents. This is a political diatribe, one that is wrong, misleading and, as I say, close to libellous. It is a near libel.
I am saying that it libels me and my party. I am a member of the party. If it just said that we turned right instead of saying that we turned left, then maybe we could say “well, okay”, but the subject matter is anti-Semitism.
If we go back 2,000 years in the history of the human race, we could probably make a list of some very ugly examples of man’s inhumanity to man. We would find on that list anti-Semitism. Everybody knows that. It is still a problem in our societies.
Wherever it shows its ugly head, we condemn it. It should not have a chance of existence in our country or any country. Yet this ten percenter alleges it. It is what is alleged that is just as important as the vehicle that was used to allege it. I hope that when the committee looks at this, it will look both at the issue of how it was inserted in the design of this ten percenter and at the ten percenter itself.
I want to say here today that the evolution in the use of ten percenters generally is bringing the House into disrepute. It brings members into disrepute. Members are relied upon by their party whips to allow them to use the ten percenter privilege to combine all of the mailing rights and mail this stuff out by the thousands or millions at essentially no cost to the party. In a sense, members’ privileges are being co-opted by the parties.
For the record, as I understand it, the cost of this is all borne by the taxpayer. Because it is not a normal type of MP communication, I believe, the breakdown is that the parties themselves pay for the postage but they pay for it by the pound. It is weighed.
An employee of the post office actually works in the House of Commons precinct now, and I know this because I spoke with him. His job is to weigh them. Stamps are not put on them. They are not counted. They are mailed by, I guess, the kilogram. They are mailed by weight. They are very voluminous and the party whips pay by the kilogram to send the stuff through the post office.
Who pays for the printing? That is paid for by the House of Commons. I understand that this fiscal year the House is short of money. Why is that? It is because the parties in the House have gobbled up the tens of millions of dollars already allocated for this and this expense has gone over budget. My goodness, what a terrible thing if our parties were not able to send out these pieces of junk mail.
If it were just junk mail, the taxpayers would be irritated, but when it contains a libel, they should be angry. When it contains a libel related to one of the more ugly continuing scourges on the list of man’s inhumanity to man, which is anti-Semitism, they ought to be doubly angry. The House should be angry.
We have to make changes and put an end to it. The way to put an end to it is simply to remove the regrouping. I do not want to impair any particular member’s right to communicate with his or her constituents. We might even allow a mailing or two beyond the constituencies. In some urban areas the ridings are close together and who knows where the political boundaries are, so a member might want to mail something to all of the east side of Ottawa.
However, the point is the committee in looking at this should be cognizant of the fact that the ten percenter privilege that we all have has now been taken over by our parties and there is a whole team of professionals writing and zinging this stuff around the country by the kilogram and our constituents are receiving it and thinking, boy, who is paying for all this junk mail, who is paying for all this junk? The answer is the constituents are paying. The taxpayer is paying.
I am going to wrap up. I have made my views known, but I could not be stronger in my view that this particular ten percenter went way over the line and was libellous in a manner that brings the House into disrepute and the system of ten percenters into disrepute, and I think it has to be fixed.
To view the complete debate in the House of Commons click here