Question of privilege related to alleged
misleading of the Quebec National Assembly, Speakere Richard Guay, June 7, 1983.
The background: On March 17, 1983, it wag alleged in La Presse that
Quebec Premier René Lévesque had misled the National Assembly in answering
opposition questions about the outof court settlement of a damage suit stemming
from the wreckage of the James Bay hydro site LG-2 in 1974. On the opening day
of the new session, March 23,1983, the opposition called for a parliamentary
committee to look in o the matter. The inquiry was turned over to the Standing
Committee on Energy and Resources which held 24 meetings on the matter between
March 30 and June 3, 1983.
On June 6, the Speaker informed the National
Assembly that the opposition House Leader and seven other members had informed
him that they intended to raise a question of privilege on this matter. They
claimed that upon examination and verification of the facts, certain answers
have proved in part to be incomplete and inaccurate, having thus clearly misled
The ruling: (Speaker Richard Guay): As defined by Luther Cushing at paragraphs 529 and
following of the 9th Edition of his treatise Elements of the Law and Practice
of Legislative Assemblies in the United States, and resumed in former Standing
relates to the security, the dignity and the freedom of deliberation and
expression both of the House in its collective capacity, and of the Members,
individually. Privileges are basic principles deeply rooted in British
parliamentary law. The privileges of the National Assembly and of its Members
are set out in the Act respecting the National Assembly (Chapter Ill, Division
1). Standing Order 99.9 states that it is not permitted to refuse to accept the
word of a Member. This does not constitute a privilege but rather an obligation
on a Member to accept the word of a fellow Member and, consequently, the right
of the accused to raise a point of order. Standing Order 99.9 is therefore
relative to the question before us. While Standing Order 99.7 allows, by way of
a motion, to raise a matter which may not be mentioned in a statement,
paragraph 9 of the same Standing Order admits of no exception. In no
circumstances may a Member's word be doubted as this would be contrary to the
rules of the House.
It is permitted, under Standing Order 80, to
call in question the conduct of a Member. If the accused denies the charge, the
Committee examining the matter is not bound to determine whether a lie has been
told but rather if the alleged act has been truly committed.
The rule which stipulates that a Member shall
be taken at his word does not necessarily mean that all which he states is
complete and accurate. If it is believed that a Member has erred, it is for the
public to pass judgement.
The House may treat the making of a
deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. One such example occurred in
Britain some twenty years ago and is mentioned on page 142 of the l 9th Edition
of Erskine May's parliamentary treatise.
The facts should prove without a doubt that
the House has been misled. and the Member charged, in full recognition thereof,
loses the assumption which exists in his favour under Standing Order 99.9.
Opinions and precedents require the Chair to
ensure that the matter is one which, prima facie, concerns the privileges and independence
of the Assembly.
The form of the notice received yesterday is
in conformity with the Standing Orders. The content of the question. however,
has no direct bearing on a particular privilege of the Assembly or any one of
its Members. No relation can be established between a specific privilege and
the possibility of having been misled. Standing Order 80 does not, accordingly,
apply in the present context.
The overall provisions of the Standing
Orders are sufficient to deter the Member who would exploit the assumption
provision of Standing Order 99.
To no longer benefit from the assumption
permitted by Standing Order 99, the Member would have to admit to having
deliberately misled the Assembly and, in so doing, would be in contempt of the
For all the above reasons, the notice of a
question of privilege was ruled out of order.
Editor's note: This is the official summary
of the ruling as printed in the Votes and Proceedings of the Quebec National
Assembly, June 7, 1983. For the verbatim ruling in French see the Journal des
débats for the same day.