A Conservative MP who retracted his claim that he saw voter cards misused has deliberately misled the House, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen says.
- Read the NDP point of privilege
- Tory MP Brad Butt retracts claim he saw voter cards stolen
- Election bill draws furious debate at House committee
Mississauga-Streetsville MP Brad Butt on Monday stepped back from his statement to the House that he saw people root through garbage and recycling in apartment buildings, then pass on voter information cards to others to be used for wrongly casting ballots. Butt says he "misspoke" two weeks ago when he told the House twice in a debate that he'd seen this happen.
Cullen raised a question of privilege Tuesday morning, asking House Speaker Andrew Scheer to make a preliminary finding that Butt deliberately misled the House.
"He clearly intended to mislead the House by fabricating a story and then tried to use it to justify why members should be voting in favour of the Conservatives' unfair elections act," Cullen said.
"It has been demonstrated that the member for Mississauga-Streetsville has deliberately misled the House. Given the seriousness of the matter, it is my duty as a member of Parliament to bring the matter to the attention of the chair and to the House."
He made the statements Feb. 6 in a debate about the government's proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act, which the Conservatives refer to as the fair elections act and the NDP has taken to calling the unfair elections act.
Speaking in the House before question period, Butt apologized for "an error on my part," which he said he noticed after reviewing the Feb. 6 transcript.
'Not first-hand knowledge'
"I was referring to information that was relayed to me many years ago when I worked in the rental housing industry, but it was not first-hand knowledge. It came from second and third parties," he said.
"It was never my intention in any way to mislead this House, a House for which I have the greatest amount of respect."
Butt refused to answer questions when he left the procedure and House affairs committee.
NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott said there's no evidence of ordinary Canadians committing voter fraud.
"It was clear that government MPs were given licence to just engage in random anecdotes," he said.
"I think he was encouraged and given licence to go out and tell all kinds of horror stories that would fill in the gap in the evidence the government does not have. There is no evidence of fraud coming from vouching or voter [information] cards," Scott said.
Meanwhile, New Democrat David Christopherson continued his committee filibuster on Bill C-23.
The NDP wants the procedure and House affairs committee to travel the country to hear from Canadians and from experts about the proposed changes contained in the bill. The Conservative majority on the committee blocked the plan and cut off negotiation, according to the NDP, so Christopherson is talking for as long as possible to delay any work on the bill.
The Conservatives say any witnesses who are invited to appear before the committee can do so via teleconference.
"Don't just sit in here and hide in plain sight," Christopherson said during his two-hour filibuster.
The NDP deputy House leader pointed to money spent on other committee travel and on promoting democracy abroad, particularly in Ukraine, where activists have spent weeks protesting the government of now-fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych. It's not about the cost of taking the committee on the road to talk about voting and democracy, Christopherson concluded.
"It must be that they don't want to face the Canadian people," he said.
'We're not backing down'
Christopherson said opposition MPs still have rights once a motion is on the floor, despite the Conservatives' majority on committees and in the House. That majority allows the government to shut down debate on motions and bills.
But once there's a motion at committee, MPs can speak for as long as they choose. Any MP on the committee can address the motion, meaning the New Democrats — along with other opposition MPs who choose to take part — can slow down business indefinitely.
"We can make that go away with a 30-minute meeting and resolve the process," he said regarding the NDP's pledge to negotiate with the government.
The NDP earlier this month denied unanimous consent for all committee travel, something that is usually given to avoid having to vote on separate motions at each committee and in the House.
"If we get an agreement on going outside Ottawa on Bill C-23, we will lift immediately the ban on travel," Christopherson said.
"I don’t have the answer as to when this ends…. What matters is the principle of Canadians having their say. On that principle, we’re not backing down."
Complaint to Elections Canada
Stephen Best, chief agent for the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, said he complained about Butt shortly after the MP made his original statement.
Best, in an email he provided to CBC News, wrote Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to ask whether Butt "reported this possible criminal activity" and whether Elections Canada was looking into it.
"It appears from Mr. Butt's statement that he followed the perpetrators of an election fraud from the time the [voter information cards] were stolen to the time they were used to vote," Best wrote in an email to Mayrand.
Best also provided an email from the investigations directorate that acknowledged his complaint and said he'd be told if the matter was resolved.
A spokesman for Elections Canada wouldn't confirm whether the agency had gotten any complaints about Butt's statement or whether the commissioner of Canada Elections was looking into his initial statement that he saw voter fraud.