Harper shrugs off historic contempt rulings

A historic ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons could clear the way for Prime Minister...

A historic ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons could clear the way for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to be the first in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament. (CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI Agency)

DAVID AKIN, Parliamentary Bureau Chief

, Last Updated: 5:19 PM ET

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared Thursday to brush off a historic ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons that could clear the way for Harper's government to be the first in Canadian history to be found in contempt of Parliament.

Speaker Peter Milliken delivered rulings on two separate issues Wednesday in which he agreed with opposition MPs who have argued that the government as a whole and International Development Minister Bev Oda specifically are in contempt of Parliament.

Milliken found that the government broke Parliament's rules when it failed to provide information requested by MPs on the costs of its crime legislation.

"We have debates in Parliament all the time," Harper told reporters in Toronto. "You win some you lose some. We thought we had provided enough information. We'll go back and see what additional information we can provide."

Harper said Wednesday's rulings are all part of the democratic system.

"But our focus can't be on parliamentary procedure. Our focus has to be on the big interests of Canadians and in my judgment, that is the economy," Harper said.

Harper's political opponents say he doesn't have enough respect for Parliament.

"This is not a hockey game. This is democracy," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. "The cynicism of the prime minister is an insult to the Canadian people. What matters here is we get a prime minister that actually respects the democratic rules of the game."

NDP Leader Jack Layton agreed.

"(This) is a disdainful approach," said Layton. "I really do think (Harper's) lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong if he just is going to say, 'Well, you win some, you lose some.' What he should be is somewhat contrite."

Milliken concluded that Oda's responses to MPs when she was asked about a funding decision related to a third-party foreign aid group caused "confusion" and, as a result, he believed this constituted a breach or breaking of Parliament's rules.

Milliken's rulings Wednesday set in motion a process which could see the House of Commons vote as early as March 23 to declare the government and Oda in contempt of Parliament.

A House of Commons committee will hold three full days of hearings next week on the issue.

In the meantime, Milliken's rulings opened the floodgates for opposition MPs to tee off on the Tories.

"Who does the prime minister think he is? Does he think he's a king?" Bloc Quebecois MP Claude Bachand asked the House of Commons.

MPs spent most of the day in the House of Commons arguing about the issue.

"The current Conservative government is by far the most anti-democratic government in Ottawa," Bloc Quebecois MP Carole Freeman said.

- With a file from Jonathan Jenkins


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