Treasury Board President Tony Clement has been absolved of accusations he had the official transcript of a Commons committee changed to remove what appeared to be his agreement to turn over documents related to nearly $50-million in G8 spending in his Muskoka riding.
Speaker Andrew Scheer told the House of Commons Tuesday he ordered an investigation into the matter when Mr. Clement complained last week the changes to the transcript had breached his privileges and impeded his work as a cabinet minister and MP.
Requests for a share of the G8 money dispersed in Mr. Clement's riding to pay for such things as sidewalks, sports facilities and gazebos were submitted on handmade forms created by local mayors.
When Mr. Clement was asked by the opposition at the public accounts committee on Nov. 2 if he would provide those forms to MPs, the minister replied: "Sure." That word was dropped at some point between the initial transcript of the proceedings and the official Hansard, which was produced a day or two later.
Two New Democrat MPs, Charlie Angus who represents Timmins–James Bay in Ontario and Alexandre Boulerice who represents Rosemont–La Petite–Patrie in Quebec, held a news conference last week to point out the change along with other indications that Mr. Clement misled the committee during his testimony.
But it turns out the decision to eliminate the word "sure" was made by Commons staff during the editing process.
"Debates and committee evidence are not, in fact, verbatim transcriptions of what is said but rather a report of the proceedings that House of Commons editors have edited for clarity, grammar and syntax," Mr. Scheer explained in his ruling.
"I can assure the House, categorically, that no members or members' staff submitted proposed changes to the transcript," he said. "The changes made were the result of normal editing protocols being followed."
The editors, Mr. Scheer said, routinely authorize the removal of redundant words, false starts, hesitations, words that might lead to confusion as to the true intent of the statement and so on. Sometimes, he said, entire sentences are restructured for clarity.
In a videotape of the committee hearing, Mr. Clement clearly replies "sure" to the questions he is asked. But it is unclear whether he was saying "sure" in response to the opposition request for documents, or if he was saying "sure" to indicate he understood the question.
He told reporters Tuesday that it's "like saying 'right' or it's like saying 'you know.' It's like saying 'okay.'"
In the end, Mr. Scheer said, the authority for the final version of the committee transcript rests with the committee itself. And the Speaker, he said, does not generally rule on matters relating to proceedings in committee unless he gets a report from the committee asking him to do so. And no such report has, so far, been forthcoming.
For that reason, he said he could not find that Mr. Clement's privileges had been breached.
But Mr. Clement was not prepared to let the matter rest. It's very unlikely, the Treasury Board President told the House of Commons, that the NDP did not know the transcription services routinely make inconsequential amendments to the official report.
"I would sincerely hope that the member for Timmins–James Bay will reflect on his actions.," Mr. Clement said. "He made these accusations against me both inside and outside this place and I request that the member for Timmins–James Bay apologize for this baseless smear or my reputation."
Mr. Clement has not yet produced the requested documents.