Inside Politics

Government replies to Wright/Duffy questions reveal curiously consistent omission

Last fall, opposition members filled the back pages of the parliamentary order paper with pointed written questions on those now infamous negotiations between then-PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright and then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.

On Monday, the government duly tabled its replies, which, for the most part, added no new or noteworthy information to the public record -- that is, except for one curiously consistent omission that weaved its way in conspicuous absentia through the otherwise largely non-responsive responses.

Despite the fact that several requests for records and other information related to the $90 K repayment deal explicitly mention both the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office, the replies provided by the government refer solely to PCO, and even go so far as to suggest that the questioner consult the PCO website "for more information on [its] mandate."

It is unclear just why the government would studiously ignore questions related to the Prime Minister's Office, as the parliamentary process, unlike the access to information regime, provides no exemption that would automatically protect such information from public disclosure.

Even under the Access to Information Act, such omissions must be noted, and the relevant exemption cited.

Not only is Parliament itself exempt from the Act, but it in no way applies to replies to written question.

Given all of the above, simply pretending not to notice that a request was directed at PMO as well as PCO would not seem to be a particularly parliamentary way of handling such inquiries. I've asked for an explanation from the Prime Minister's Office -- and not, for the record, PCO -- and will update this post when I get an answer.

In the meantime, courtesy of Hansard, here's the complete text of the 6 written exchanges related to the Wright/Duffy deal tabled in the House on Monday:

Question No. 111--

Hon. Ralph Goodale:

With regard to the Privy Council Office, and to the following documents: the Information to Obtain a Production Order and a Sealing Order, made on June 24th, 2013 by Corporal Greg Horton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, Ontario, before Chantal Dominique Marie Lurette, a Commissioner for the Taking of Oaths in the Province of Ontario, in which he states he has reasonable grounds to believe and does believe that offences contrary to an Act of Parliament have been made by Michael Duffy; the statements made in the Senate by Senator Michael Duffy on October 22, 2013, and statements made to the press on October 21, 2013 in Ottawa by Donald Bayne, a lawyer of that city acting on behalf of Senator Duffy: (a) does the Access to Information Directorate of the Privy Council Office still conclude that no records exist with regard to Access to Information requests A-2013-00231, A-2013-00232, A-2013-00233, A-2013-00075, A-2013-00076, A-2013-00077, A-2013-00080, A-2013-00085, A-2013-00099, A-2013-00101, A-2013-00103, A-2013-00104, A-2013-00105, A-2013-00106, A-2013-00113, A-2013-00114, A-2013-00116, A-2013-00120, A-2013-00125, A-2013-00126, A-2013-00131, A-2013-00132, A-2013-00139, and A-2012-00751; (b) will the Directorate re-examine the handling of those requests in light of the new information outlined above; (c) did the Privy Council Office formerly hold records which would have satisfied one or more of those requests; (d) if so, were the records transferred, removed, or destroyed; (e) if transferred or removed, to whose custody or control were they transferred or removed; (f) if destroyed, when were they destroyed, on what date or dates was the destruction approved, and what is the file number of any order, instruction, directive, or authorization concerning their transfer, removal, or destruction?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office, PCO, offers non-partisan, objective policy advice and information to support the Prime Minister and cabinet. For more information on PCO's mandate please visit pco.gc.ca.

Subsection 4(1) of the Access to Information Act states:

"Subject to this Act, but notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament, every person who is (a) a Canadian citizen, or (b) a permanent resident within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to any record under the control of a government institution."

The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of National Defence) clearly states that the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices are not part of the "government institution" for which they are responsible, thus exempting these offices from the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

PCO did not advise the Prime Minister on this matter. Therefore, it is not unexpected that records were not found within PCO with regard to access to information requests A-2013-00231, A-2013-00232, A-2013-00233, A-2013-00075, A-2013-00076, A-2013-00077, A-2013-00080, A-2013-00085, A-2013-00099, A-2013-00101, A-2013-00103, A-2013-00104, A-2013-00105, A-2013-00106, A-2013-00113, A-2013-00114, A-2013-00116, A-2013-00120, A-2013-00125, A-2013-00126, A-2013-00131, A-2013-00132, A-2013-00139, and A-2013-00751.

Question No. 112--

Hon. Ralph Goodale:

With respect to Senate motions No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seeking to suspend Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin without pay: (a) was the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) or the Privy Council Office (PCO) consulted or involved in the drafting of the motions, and, if so, who was involved; (b) what are the details of the emails, briefing notes, reports or other documents that were prepared by, or provided to, the PMO or the PCO for the purpose, in whole or in part, of drafting the motions, specifically the titles or files or reference numbers of those documents; (c) what meetings have the PMO or the PCO had, or been involved in, regarding, in whole or in part, the motions; (d) who attended the meetings in (c); (e) what are the details of the emails, briefing notes, reports or other documents that were prepared for or provided, in whole or in part, at these meetings, specifically the titles or files or reference numbers of those documents?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office was not consulted or involved in the drafting of Senate motions No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4.

Question No. 125--

Mr. Justin Trudeau:

With regard to the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office: (a) how many records exist regarding the letter of understanding between the Prime Minister's former Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy regarding the payment of $90,127 to cover Senator Duffy's living expenses; and (b) what are the details of each record?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office, PCO, offers non-partisan, objective policy advice and information to support the Prime Minister and cabinet. For more information on PCO's mandate please visit pco.gc.ca.

The PCO has no records of information regarding a letter of understanding between the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy.

Question No. 126--

Mr. Justin Trudeau:

With regard to the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office, what are the details of the letter of understanding between the Prime Minister's former Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy regarding the payment of $90,127 to cover Senator Duffy's living expenses?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office, PCO, offers non-partisan, objective policy advice and information to support the Prime Minister and cabinet. For more information on PCO's mandate please visit pco.gc.ca.

The PCO has no records of information regarding a letter of understanding between the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Senator Mike Duffy.

Question No. 136--

Mr. Charlie Angus:

On what date and in what manner did the government receive a payment from Mike Duffy or his associates for expense claims?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office has no information regarding a payment from Senator Mike Duffy or his associates for expense claims. The Senate would have information about payments it has received.

Question No. 145--

Mr. Sean Casey:

With regard to the Privy Council Office, and to the following documents: an e-mail, dated December 4, 2012, between Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy, tabled in the Senate on October 28, 2013 as Sessional Paper No. 2/41-112S; e-mail correspondence, dated February 11, 2013, between Senator Duffy and Nigel Wright, tabled in the Senate on October 28, 2013 as Sessional Paper No. 2/41-113S; an e-mail, dated May 15, 2013, between Senator Duffy and Chris Woodcock, referenced on the CBC News Network program "Power and Politics" on October 28, 2013, and published on the program's Web site; and the statements made in the Senate by Senator Michael Duffy on October 28, 2013: (a) does the Access to Information Directorate of the Privy Council Office still conclude that no records exist with regard to Access to Information requests A-2013-00231, A-2013-00232, A-2013-00233, A-2013-00075, A-2013-00076, A-2013-00077, A-2013-00080, A-2013-00085, A-2013-00099, A-2013-00101, A-2013-00103, A-2013-00104, A-2013-00105, A-2013-00106, A-2013-00113, A-2013-00114, A-2013-00116, A-2013-00120, A-2013-00125, A-2013-00126, A-2013-00131, A-2013-00132, A-2013-00139, and A-2012-00751; (b) will the Directorate re-examine the handling of those requests in light of the new information outlined above; (c) did the Privy Council Office formerly hold records which would have satisfied one or more of those requests; (d) if so, were the records transferred, removed, or destroyed; (e) if transferred or removed, to whose custody or control were they transferred or removed; (f) if destroyed, when were they destroyed, on what date or dates was the destruction approved, and what is the file number of any order, instruction, directive, or authorization concerning their transfer, removal, or destruction?

Mr. Paul Calandra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Privy Council Office, PCO, offers non-partisan, objective policy advice and information to support the Prime Minister and Cabinet. For more information on PCO's mandate, members may visit pco.gc.ca.

Subsection 4(1) of the Access to Information Act states:

Subject to this Act, but notwithstanding any other Act of Parliament, every person who is (a) a Canadian citizen, or (b) a permanent resident within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to any record under the control of a government institution.

The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of National Defence) clearly states that the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices are not part of the "government institution" for which they are responsible, thus exempting these offices from provisions of the Access to Information Act.

PCO did not advise the Prime Minister on this matter. Therefore, it is not unexpected that records were not found within PCO with regard to Access to Information requests A-2013-00231, A-2013-00232, A-2013-00233, A-2013-00075, A-2013-00076, A-2013-00077, A-2013-00080, A-2013-00085, A-2013-00099, A-2013-00101, A-2013-00103, A-2013-00104, A-2013-00105, A-2013-00106, A-2013-00113, A-2013-00114, A-2013-00116, A-2013-00120, A-2013-00125, A-2013-00126, A-2013-00131, A-2013-00132, A-2013-00139, and A-2013-00751.  

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