Dr. Swann Debates Government Motions: Member for Calgary-Hays – 21 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Government Motions: Member for Calgary-Hays

Dr. Swann: Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, it’s an interest-ing question, one that I think we’ve been wrestling with for some time. I compare it, to some extent, to the issues that I would face, for example, as a physician – my wife is a physician – if I were to rise in the House and try to influence this House in relation to negotiations with physicians. I think I’m aware enough and I think I’m mature enough to recognize that there might be a perceived problem there.

We as a Legislature have identified and appointed officers of this Legislature to be watchdogs over us to ensure that we follow due process, that we recognize conflicts of interest, and that in many cases if there are issues to be passed on, we pass them on to a fellow party member, a caucus member, to address the issue rather than place ourselves in a conflict of interest. I’ve looked at a little bit of the literature. A similar occurrence has occurred in B.C. It was referred to the courts in B.C., and the B.C. courts sent it back to the Legislature, saying: this is a matter for the Legislature to decide.

I think it’s fairly straightforward that when there’s a pecuniary interest, when someone in our own family or ourselves are going to benefit from pressing on a certain issue, there is a conflict of interest. I think we do a disservice to this Legislature if we don’t honour the appointments that we’ve made to those official independent officers – independent officers – who try to, you know, keep this august body accountable and ethical and act in the public interest to even in this mild way say: this is not an appropriate action in this particular case.

I don’t doubt that the member was not aware and did not think about the possibility, but I will be supporting this motion, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Any questions for the hon. member under 29(2)(a)? The hon. Member for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills.

Mr. Hanson: Yes. I’d just like to clarify that the hon. member understands that the member wasn’t voting on a motion, wasn’t voting on a bill, that he was simply asking a question in the House.

Dr. Swann: I think it was very clear from Hansard that he was trying to influence the decision on the bill. That’s the position that the Ethics Commissioner took, that he was trying to influence, through his influence as the leader of the party and through his particular position in this House, the decision of the government. Whether it was in the form of a question or it was actually in the form of an assertion, it was clear to many of us.

I defer to the Ethics Commissioner. I actually believe that she is acting in good conscience and acting on behalf of all of us to try and make sure that our reputation in the public is not tainted, that our reputation is upheld as honourable members that are acting strictly in the interests of the public. I stand by what I understood to be the Hansard remarks and the good office of the Ethics Commissioner, who I think is acting in the best interests of all of us in the final analysis.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Under 29(2)(a), hon. member?

Mr. Rodney: Yes, please, and thanks. I appreciate that the member has spent almost exactly the same amount of time as I have in this House, and it’s the first time both you and I have had anything like this in front of us, so I’d ask the hon. member: since the constitutional question has been raised and the Justice minister has been served, why do you think it’s appropriate that this would be raised at this point? Would it not be prudent for rulings of other bodies to be decided so that this is done in the correct order? Why would it not be adjourned until after the court decides on a constitutional matter? Do you think the Legislature does not have jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution or decide about the scope of its own privilege? That’s for the courts. What are your comments on this topic, again, that will affect every member not only in this Chamber but in other Legislatures, the Parliament in Ottawa, and the Commonwealth beyond?

Dr. Swann: Well, I think this is the essential question that we’re wrestling with, and none of us have dealt with this before. I guess what I’m saying is that based on what I have read and what I have seen in B.C., the B.C. court punted it right back to the Legislature, saying: “These are your rules. You should be able to interpret your rules, and you should honour the commitments that you’ve made through your appointed, independent officers.” I’m no expert on constitutional law. That’s why we have an Ethics Commissioner. That’s why we have courts, and ultimately I guess the courts can still overrule this decision readily if they choose to. I don’t think we prejudice the court in any way. We vote, and we make our decisions here. If the courts decide that we are in error, then so be it, but the evidence from B.C. is that they want nothing to do with conflicts of interest related to the Legislature.