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Speaker Peter Milliken delivers a ruling in the House of Commons on April 27, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Speaker Peter Milliken delivers a ruling in the House of Commons on April 27, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Speaker scolds Tories over budget leak Add to ...

House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled Monday that the leak of a confidential finance committee report to five Conservative lobbyists impeded the work of MPs. His ruling was unexpected as the MP whose staffer leaked the document had apologized and fired her aide.

But Mr. Milliken ruled that was not enough.

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"As I see it, this is a situation that is of importance to the whole House and all hon. members," said Mr. Milliken in making his decision Monday afternoon. "It has an institutional dimension that cannot be ignored, given the circumstances."

The House voted to send the issue to the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee for further investigation - to determine how and why the report was leaked, how far spread was the leak and the consequences of it.

The Speaker's ruling comes amid revelations of other potential "premature disclosures" such as whether a leak from Ottawa provoked a sell-off in the shares of a B.C. company weeks before the Harper government blocked its plans to build an $815-million mine.

Last week, meanwhile, Mr. Milliken was asked to rule on whether MPs privileges had been breached after it became known that a staff member in the office of Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kelly Block leaked a secret Finance report to three lobbyists.

It was revealed Monday, however, that number had grown to five lobbyists. The staffer who leaked the document - the committee's pre-budget consultation draft report - was fired.

Ms. Block had informed her opposition colleagues of the leak and apologized.

"The Chair wishes to state at the outset that the actions she has taken are entirely to her credit; indeed, this has been acknowledged by colleagues from all parties," said Mr. Milliken.

But he argued an apology was not enough, given that the leak affects all members of the Finance committee. The Speaker said he was also worried about how long it took - four days - before the lobbyists were asked to destroy the document.

"This is of particular concern to the Chair, especially in light of the speed and ease of dissemination of electronic information," ruled the Speaker.

Although committee reports do not usually contain highly sensitive material, Mr. Milliken noted that leaking draft versions of the report will "prejudice the ability of committee members to engage in candid deliberations free from outside interference."

"Violation of this principle of confidentiality can thus be seen as direct interference with the ability of Members to discharge their duties, he said.

Among the lobbyists who received the report was Clarke Cross, of the lobbying firm Tactix; Tim Egan, head of the Canadian Gas Association; Lynne Hamilton of the consulting firm GCI Group; Andy Gibbons, an Account Director at Hill and Knowlton (Liberal finance critic Scott Brison told the House of Commons that Mr. Gibbons previously worked on the Hill for a Tory MP and ran for the Canadian Alliance nomination in an Ottawa riding); and Howard Mains, the co-President of Tactix.

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