A scrappy Liberal senator from Ontario, David Smith, wants his Liberal colleagues thrown in the "penalty box" and made to sit out of caucus for a month if they leak the proceedings of the private session to the media.
And Mr. Smith hopes that he won't be reading about his suggestion, sent in a confidential letter to the Liberal caucus this week, in the newspaper today.
He didn't get his wish.
In a letter to his national caucus chairman, New Brunswick MP Andy Savoy, Mr. Smith expresses outrage that several of his comments from the closed-door caucus session last week were reprinted verbatim in The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Smith had praised Prime Minister Paul Martin for his handling of the sponsorship scandal, saying the "messages were the right messages."
In his letter, he acknowledges the quotations attributed to him were "accurate."
But he felt that it just wasn't right that someone was supplying them to a reporter.
"We might have to borrow a hockey concept and implement a 'penalty box' approach," he wrote. "For example, perhaps (assuming evidence is clear), a miscreant would not be permitted to attend caucus meetings for a month."
He also said he decided to write a letter rather than speak about his concerns publicly at yesterday's caucus.
"I was initially tempted to make this point from the microphone this week, but then feared once again reading my comments in the press. Therefore I have chosen to write instead," he wrote.
"I'm taking the liberty of copying caucus members, and I hope I won't be reading about this letter.
"I realize that the last couple of years have been pretty notorious regarding caucus leaks, and we all understand the various agendas that may have contributed to such an atmosphere," he wrote, referring to the leadership wars between the Chrétien and Martin Liberals.
Many backbench MPs were frustrated with the way in which former prime minister Jean Chrétien and his unelected advisers treated them.
They felt they were not consulted and not treated seriously. As a result, many leaks, sometimes damaging, filtered out about what Mr. Chrétien had said or how he was received behind the closed doors of the caucus room.
It became so bad that Chrétien aides put up sympathetic MPs to counter the spin from the Martin MPs.
BlackBerries, the handheld e-mail devices, were also banned from caucus meetings because some MPs were suspected of supplying running transcripts of meetings to reporters.
"However, that period is over, and for reasons we all understand, Parliament will be going through a difficult period in the days ahead."
Yesterday, Mr. Smith did not want to talk specifically about his letter, although he did allow that he is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, saying instead that a lot of caucus members approached him to say they agreed with his points.
He said he goes back to the Trudeau era, where caucus confidentiality was taken seriously. "I think it's high time it was again," he said.
Caucus chairman Andy Savoy said he would pursue the issue of caucus confidentiality further, but would not say whether he agreed with Mr. Smith's penalty-box punishment idea.
"It's absolutely confidential. It's between David Smith and the caucus," Mr. Savoy said.
"My personal view on people leaking to the media is that it's very difficult to disclose our positions on issues, frank positions on issues when we have to be concerned that at every moment they may be reported.
"It limits debate, in my mind."
He said his position at this time would not be to punish MPs or senators who were caught leaking secret caucus debates to the media.
Re: Caucus leaks
Text of a letter in which Liberal Senator David Smith complains to Andy Savoy, chairman of the National Liberal Caucus, about leaks to the media from caucus meetings.
Re: Caucus Leaks
As you know, I spoke at National Caucus last week and I was exceedingly disappointed to read four quotes attributed to me in quotation marks in the next day's Globe and Mail (see attached article). Ms. Taber's article also included "quotes" of Prime Minister Martin's remarks as well as referring to remarks made by Senator [George]Baker and Senator [Joyce]Fairbairn. I was left with the impression that someone took notes and forwarded them to Ms. Taber verbatim.
The quotes attributed to me were more or less accurate and quite frankly were not prejudicial to anyone, but that is not the point of my letter.
I am requesting that you emphasize at this week's caucus that such breaches of caucus confidentiality must stop. Those who blab in this manner are "breaking the rules," and hopefully we are of a mind to get serious about those who break the rules. Last year I heard members mention they had actually overheard a couple of caucus members call the media from the anteroom about things going on in caucus. We might have to borrow a hockey concept and implement a "penalty box" approach. For example, perhaps (assuming evidence is clear), a miscreant would not be permitted to attend caucus meetings for a month.
I was initially tempted to make this point from the microphone this week, but then feared once again reading my comments in the press. Therefore I've chosen to write instead. I'm taking the liberty of copying caucus members, and I hope I won't be reading about this letter.
I'm not hung up about caucus members saying a meeting was very positive or the mood was good. But beyond that, anything about "who said what" must remain confidential.
The principle of caucus confidentiality is a long-established parliamentary tradition to which we must return, not only in theory, but in practice.
I realize that the last couple of years have been pretty notorious regarding caucus leaks, and we all understand the various agendas that may have contributed to such an atmosphere. However, that period is over, and for reasons we all understand, Parliament will be going through a difficult period in the days ahead.
We now have a new leader and Prime Minister, and it's time for everyone to be supportive of a new era on the subject of caucus unity, and a return to the principle of caucus confidentiality would be a good start.
I hope you will encourage caucus members accordingly.
Senator David P. Smith, P.C., Q.C.