Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-21 18:48 [p.13127]
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on the work he has done on the bill. I also thank him for his expression of support of the notion of preclearance but highlighting the fact that the bill goes above and beyond simply preclearing people in Canada. It actually presents significant threats to the rights of Canadians on Canadian soil. He raised the example of American border agents being able to compel Canadians to provide their passwords to their phones and then being able to look through them.
Under the bill, Canadians will not be allowed, if they feel they have been treated unfairly, to simply walk away. Once they are in the hands of American border agents, despite being on Canadian soil, they will be unable to leave.
Could the member expand a bit more on what that means for Canadians? We are told by the government that Canadians ought not to worry because this will happen on Canadian soil and they will enjoy the full protection of Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. My understanding is that this is simply not true.
Could he better explain the mechanics of how the bill would deprive Canadians of the usual protection of law they would expect on their home soil?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 10:44 [p.12850]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
I wish to raise two points that he talked about in his speech. It seems to me that the theme both these points have in common is the arrogance of this government. The fact that there will be a period of time between when the old rules expire and when the rules proposed in Bill C-49 are brought in is a real problem for western grain farmers. This does not seem to be a problem for the Liberals; they look after their own when they should be fulfilling their duty to work on solving the problems of western grain growers.
The member also mentioned the fact that in the bill, an integral part of the transportation strategy is the infrastructure bank, a contentious subject here in the House of Commons as well as in the other place. The bill may not pass in time. When the Liberals stated that something Parliament has yet to vote on will be a part of their transportation strategy, their arrogance was on full display yet again.
Have I forgotten other aspects of the member’s speech touching on this theme of arrogance?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 11:37 [p.12859]
Mr. Speaker, at first the Liberals said that they had no choice but to change the rules of Parliament. Now, after being roundly criticized, the Liberals are walking back everything, or almost everything. In their platform, the Liberals promised to end the practice of having parliamentary secretaries manage what happens in committees.
Why are the Liberals forcing through changes to the rules that would allow just that?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 11:38 [p.12859]
Mr. Speaker, I think Canadians are getting tired of the combination of high-handed actions and non-sequitur answers by the Liberals.
Just as they grew tired of omnibus bills under Stephen Harper's regime, the Liberals promised in the last campaign to end them. Omnibus bills allow for the government to push through hundreds of changes at once, without time for Parliament to scrutinize them or for civil society to scrutinize them. However, instead of getting rid of the practice of omnibus bills, the Liberals are proposing new rules that will legitimize the practice of omnibus bills.
We are just wondering this. What happened to the Liberals of the campaign?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 12:57 [p.12879]
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to what is essentially the government's omnibus transportation bill. Unfortunately, I will not be able to hit on all the points of what is contemplated in the bill because, frankly, there is too much. It changes laws having to do with everything from shipping to railways to the airlines. It changes a number of different acts, and with a number of different purposes in mind. It would have been better to break the bill up into its component pieces so that they could be studied properly and on theme, rather than trying to rush it all through at once.
I would remind members of the House that debate in this place is not just for the sake of opposition politicians, or even backbench MPs on the government side, wanting to talk a lot. When we are talking in the chamber, and during the time it takes to pass the bill, Canadians and civil society are also learning about the bill and forming a judgment about whether they think it is a good idea or not, and having the time to be able to mobilize, either in support or against aspects of the government program.
When we talk about criticizing omnibus bills, it is not just for the sake of members in the House who want to go on talking. While we talk about that bill, Canadians are talking about it too, and they are getting a chance to weigh in. They are able to contact us, and become, through us in this place, part of the debate. Therefore, when governments lump a whole bunch of significant changes together and ram them through Parliament, they are not just cutting out parliamentarians from that debate. That is the time it takes in order to have a meaningful, civil engagement with respect to changes.
Bill C-49 contemplates many significant changes in a number of different areas of transport within Canada. As someone who comes from a rail town, I am particularly concerned about the provisions that purport to be about railway safety. Actually, what they are about is supervising workers in the workplace and tramping on their right to privacy in the workplace. We know that in terms of railway safety, the predominant issue has to do with fatigue management. What we hear time and again from people who are working on the trains is that railway companies in Canada are doing a very poor job of fatigue management. We know that is having real consequences for Canadians and the extent to which they feel safe in their own communities.
A government that was genuinely sincere about wanting to do something about railway safety in the country would be taking action on the issue of fatigue management. However, that would require getting involved in telling the railway companies something they do not want to hear. What we have seen from the government is that it is not willing to stand up to big companies and tell them what they do not want to hear. That is certainly true of railway companies.
It is not only true of railway companies. It was true when Bay Street corporate magnates came to Parliament Hill and told the Liberals to break their promise on closing the CEO stock option loophole. It was true when Air Canada came knocking and said it wanted to be off the hook for when it broke the law and exported the maintenance work on its planes, which rightfully belonged to Canadian maintenance workers. The government retroactively changed the law, and shame on certain members of the House. I am thinking of some colleagues of mine from Winnipeg, particularly the member for Winnipeg North, who stood with those workers and said the previous government should enforce the law and then became part of a government that changed the law and pulled the carpet out from beneath the feet of those workers who were successfully challenging Air Canada in court.
It is a theme of the Liberals to play pushover to big companies. The provisions around railway safety in the bill are no different. The railway companies came to them and said, “Let's not talk about fatigue management. Let's talk about putting video and audio surveillance in the cabs of trains so that we can watch the workers”.
If the Liberals were sincere about making it a safety issue, there would be provisions in the bill that would say only the Transportation Safety Board would have access to those recordings, and only when something happened, so it could go back and find out what was the root cause of an incident and rule on that. Instead, the legislation would give that 24-7 surveillance material to the companies, any time they like, for whatever purpose they like. Therefore, it is hard to believe that this is really about railway safety when the government is silent on the real issue facing railways and railway communities when it comes to their safety, and is giving unfettered access to that material to employers who we know will be able to use that information for other purposes.
The other thing about omnibus bills is that, for as much as certain things that require more legislation and more study do not get that study, by mingling issues, some things where there is widespread agreement, for instance some of the provisions in the bill for grain producers on the Prairies, who in part because of the elimination of the Wheat Board now need a legislative fix in order for them to be able to get a fair price for shipping their grain, do not get passed as quickly as they might.
The problem with the legislation is that the Liberals took so long to take action on that particular issue, which was not a surprise and did not have to wait on developing. To the extent that the government was putting all these issues together, and it is not a very fulsome air passenger bill of rights, because it wanted to present it in an omnibus bill, the Liberals took far too long to address a real problem on the Canadian Prairies for grain growers.
Now we are going to have a gap between when the old rules were in place, as a bit of band-aid solution to be able to help those grain producers on the Prairies, and when these new rules come in. If the Liberals were not so committed to omnibus legislation, they could have introduced those measures separately. They would have found that there was enough agreement to be able to expedite passage of those provisions. On this side of the House, we care about western grain growers and we want to make sure that they can get a fair price for shipping their grain.
However, the Liberals wanted to tie all these issues together in order to be able to conflate the issues and say that opposition parties are opposing good pieces of legislation, or were supporting bad pieces of the legislation. It is all tied together. In other words, in order to cover their political behinds, Canadian grain producers are the ones who are going to suffer.
It is wrong of the government to ask Canadian grain growers to essentially pay for political cover for the government. That is a big part of what is going on here.
I just want to take a moment to thank the member for Windsor West, not only for sharing his time with me today but also for the work that he did on the air passenger bill of rights. He actually helped to develop a substantive air passenger bill of rights. I will also recognize one of my NDP predecessors for Elmwood—Transcona, Jim Maloway, who did good work on an air passenger bill of rights. He paved the way and presented a bill in the last Parliament that the now Minister of Transport actually supported. It took forever to produce and the changes that were necessary to actually protect consumers were spelled out in that legislation, a bill the Minister of Transport supported.
However, do we see the substance of that bill represented in this omnibus piece of legislation? No, we do not.
This is just how complicated omnibus legislation gets. Canadian grain growers were waiting for legislation to fix a legitimate problem the government knew about since it took office. The Liberals came up with a lame phantom version of an air passenger bill of rights that was already developed while they were really just having discussions with the railway on how to institute 24-7 surveillance, so that the railway companies could know about the issues that were being discussed in the workplace between workers who were members of the union and who wanted to file grievances or take up other issues with their employers.
That is how muddled it all gets when things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other are all rammed into the same bill. That is really what is going on with the bill. It is kind of a big tossed salad of different legislative measures, some of which the government probably could have found widespread agreement on and would have been able to advance quickly, and some of which is just sort of a hollow version of previous legislation that the Liberals have no excuse for having taken this long to get around to. Had they adopted more substantive provisions, they probably would have found more widespread agreement.
All of that is going on so that the Liberals can work with certain companies, and in this case I would say particular rail companies, in order to do something that has nothing to do with rail safety and everything to do with employers at the railway being able to put employees under their thumb. It is a travesty.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 13:09 [p.12880]
Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right that there is a lot to talk about when it comes to rail safety. The length of trains is certainly part of that. My father, who was in this place before me, has a long record of fighting for trains of appropriate length. It has been a tradition in Canada for trains to get longer and longer. That has an economic impact because for the goods that are not moving by train, it means significant delays. Safety is involved when people are delayed in getting to hospital. It is another example of successive Liberal and Conservative governments just not being willing to stand up to the railways to tell them they are changing their practices in ways that have serious negative effects on communities and they need to stop it, because they can still make money by running shorter trains. No one can tell us that it is not economically viable to run trains of a reasonable length.
Fatigue management is a serious issue. I spoke to that a little earlier. There are issues in my own backyard. In the community of Mission Gardens a new underpass was built and now the railway has unilaterally decided that it is going to start marshalling trains on the main line between the shops and the yards, which it never used to do. People who have lived in the community for 30 or 40 years are now saying they have cracked windows, cracks in their foundations, diesel fumes in their homes, pictures are falling of walls, and the government is not willing to tell the railway that it cannot make those kinds of unilateral decisions. Communities should not be forced to bear the consequences of the decisions that railways make in their own economic self-interest without regard to what is going on in communities.
It is high time we had a government in this country that is willing to play tough with the railways and let them know they are not the only ones using the land in Canada. People live by their tracks and the railways have to respect them.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-16 13:12 [p.12881]
Mr. Speaker, I have a two-point answer.
On the first issue he raised, one of the virtues of the legislation that the NDP proposed on an air passenger bill of rights was that it would stipulate what the penalty would be, that passengers who had their flights cancelled or could not get on their plane would be entitled to a full refund, and if the airline was not compliant, it would be a $1,000 penalty to passengers on top of the full refund. There are ways of doing this, which the Liberals who are now in government supported in the past, but they have simply decided not to include them.
He raises a fair point in saying that there are a lot of other moving pieces when it comes to government legislation. One of the virtues of giving time to study them is to ask those questions about how interrelated issues are addressed in difference pieces of legislation. If we had more time, then we could get into those kinds of questions in greater detail. As it is, I have not even talked about any of the shipping provisions in the bill.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 17:52 [p.12698]
Madam Speaker, the minister spoke about Bill C-50, which she recently tabled, that sets out rules for how to perform cash for access fundraising. Of course, those who object to the practice, object to the idea of selling access to ministers. It is the principle that is objectionable. Does she at least recognize the difference between an ordinary MP and ministers of the crown who are in charge of disbursing large amounts of government funding, together around $300 billion a year?
The bill does not stop that practice, but I wonder if she recognizes that there is a difference between the influence that ordinary MPs have with respect to government funding and the influence that ministers of the crown have.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:29 [p.12702]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the main estimates tonight. I will pick up on a theme of the discussion so far, at least for part of the evening, on the topic of the estimates, particularly estimates reform and how we could do a better job of bringing financial transparency and therefore accountability to Parliament.
It was a theme of the President of the Treasury Board early on in his mandate. He reached out to other parties to talk about it. He even presented a briefing package on some ideas he had for reform and how to address some of the problems, which had to do with a number of things. In some cases it is the alignment, as we have discussed tonight, between the budget document and the estimates documents. There is also a difference in the way the accounting is performed for each document. The budget is done under accrual based accounting, whereas we have cash accounting in the main estimates. There is sometimes confusion for parliamentarians around some of the line items because they are not attached to particular programs.
All these issues were identified by the President of the Treasury Board, with some proposals to fix them. I, along with my fellow Treasury Board critic from the Conservative Party, noted that a lot of these reforms really were things that needed to be done administratively by government. They were not things that required a legislative fix.
In the beginning of this reform, if we looked at the President of the Treasury Board's reform package as a whole, it really was not a bad package. It is fair to say that if we could adopt it holus-bolus, it would move us in the right direction for parliamentarians and Canadians to better understand Parliament's financial documents and therefore provide more openness and transparency. The proposal for moving forward ended up being not the kinds of things a government could do administratively, which are ultimately required for those reforms to be a success.
However, the first ask was that we change the Standing Orders to simply allow the main estimates documents to be tabled later. That, in and of itself, does not provide any guarantee of better financial documents, financial documents that are easier to read. It does not provide a guarantee that the budget and the estimates will align. It simply allows the government to take more time to table the main estimates, which may well be used by a sincere well-meaning government to make those documents cohere. However, it may be abused by other kinds of governments we have seen in this place from time to time.
It is hard to understand why, with a well-outlined program for reform, the only thing the government seemed to be trying to aggressively advance, and in some ways it was putting the cart before the horse, was the one thing that would diminish accountability unless there was a lot of serious follow-up from the government.
We have cause to be skeptical at this point in the government's term about its good faith with respect to these kinds of things. The mood here, rightly, is far more skeptical about its commitment to openness and transparency than it was at the beginning of the term.
I offer up the example of Glen McGregor, a reporter from CTV. He recently asked, under an access to information request, to get an itemized list of the overall number of staff, not the particular staff, in the Prime Minister's office and their salary range. What he got was a list with every name blacked out. That is hardly a step in the direction of accountability and transparency.
When the President of the Treasury Board comes forward and asks us to trust the government and consent to backing up the date for the tabling of the main estimates, because it believes in being more open and transparent, and then a reporter wants to know how many people are employed by the Prime Minister's office and what their pay range is, not the specific people and the specific pay, and receives an answer that clearly flies in the face of openness and accountability, we have a reasonable cause to doubt the sincerity of the government and its proposed change.
This was the same tactic used by the Harper government when it was asked similar questions about the PMO.
When the Liberals were elected, they said they were going to make changes, that they were going to be more transparent and provide more accountability. Now the Liberals are asking us to change the Standing Orders in a way that would allow an insincere government to simply reduce time for scrutiny, and then they pull stunts like that, not providing legitimate information about their staffing and their spending when they easily could. It becomes hard to trust them.
The government is also becoming notorious for making big funding announcements but back-ending the funding. The Liberals talk about big numbers, such as $180 billion being invested in infrastructure, but just a tiny fraction of it will actually be spent in this Parliament, never mind this budget year.
The government says we should trust it when it wants to change the tabling date of the main estimates. It claims to be sincere. It says it wants more openness and more transparency, yet every day in question period ministers get up and misrepresent the amount of money the government is actually investing. We could pick any issue. The government is doing this with respect to defence, to housing, to child care, and it has done it with a number of other issues. I could spend a full 20 minutes just listing the policy areas where the government is daily misrepresenting information and executing a lack of transparency.
It makes me wonder, and I think fairly, whether we can trust the Liberals when they present their big shiny package of reforms to make the estimates better. They just want to do this one little thing for themselves first, and then they expect us to trust them that the rest will come.
We heard that from the President of the Treasury Board apparently quite sincerely at the beginning of his mandate. He came to the access to information, privacy and ethics committee many times to say that he wanted to reform access to information laws in this country. He said he wanted a government that was open by default and that the Prime Minister shared his views. He stated it was in his mandate letter. He told us at committee that the government was going to move forward with its reforms to access to information and it was going to be done in a two-stage process. Incidentally, no reform is needed for access to information requests in order to disclose of the number of staff in the Prime Minister's Office and their salary ranges. They can just do it. They do not need to wait on reform for that.
If the Liberals wanted to model the kind of open and transparent government that they foresee by changing the Standing Orders and by changing the law, they could do it tomorrow. In fact, they should have started doing it well before yesterday, but they did not.
In terms of the commitment by the President of the Treasury Board to have a two-stage reform to access to information, he made a couple of administrative reforms, but nothing in the law itself. We have waited a long time. In fact, we were supposed to be debating legislation in the House by now that would have changed the access to information regime, but we are not. Not only are we not debating it now, but we are not going to be debating it any time soon. That announcement was made by the minister himself. He announced that the changes will not be coming, at least not any time soon.
I raise this point because it is important. If we are being given the “just trust us” line by a government that wants to change the estimates process in a way that would ultimately reduce scrutiny unless the government was acting in very good faith, then as an opposition party it is our duty on behalf of Canadians to ask if we can trust the government on this proposal.
When we take into account the Liberals' behaviour in disclosing information under the current access to information regime, which they could do much more readily than they do, and when we take into account their record on other issues where they have said they were going to do something and then reneged, any right-thinking Canadian would look at their record and say we need to stick with what we have until they are ready to bring in more of the package at the same time so that some of the other elements that introduce more accountability and more transparency come with the change. That change would be tolerable if the other measures were in place. What is not tolerable is to move ahead with that alone and expect to get openness and transparency from the government later.
We just saw today a vote on a way to make appointment processes more open and more transparent. That did not come out of nowhere. That came out of a catastrophe on the government's part, in trying to nominate a candidate to become an independent officer of Parliament and failing miserably to select a candidate who could perform that function, because in order to be an independent officer of Parliament, the person has to enjoy the confidence not just of the government but of all the parties in Parliament.
There are ways of establishing processes that would allow them to nominate candidates that could hold the respect of all the parties in Parliament. We suggested one yesterday in our opposition day motion. After they criticized it, they said, “Everything else is good, but there is one thing we cannot agree to”, so we amended it to solve that problem for them. They still would not support that motion.
Again we hear, “Just trust us on the estimates reform. We are going to move ahead with this one tiny piece of the whole package.” The package together actually makes a lot of sense, but they are asking us to just trust them that they are going to follow up. It is simply not believable. On access to information, for instance, we just heard recently that in the Liberals' first 18 months in government, their track record on access to information is worse than the previous government's track record in its last 18 months of government. We are just not at the point anymore where the “just trust us” line is adequate.
It is important to try to understand these documents better, because significant things end up happening within the context of the main estimates. One of the consequences from these estimates in my home province is that the Coast Guard facilities in Gimli, Manitoba, and in Kenora are going to be shut down. An open and transparent government that was serious about having people understand what it was doing when it came to the finances of the country and the financial decisions that it was making would have gone out and consulted with people in the community and made it clear. It would not have buried it in a line item in the main estimates or in the budget. Government members would have gone out and talked to people in the community about the reasons for the closures.
It could be that the government felt those services were not effective. That is not what we hear if we talk to people in the community, who, with respect, know better than people here in Ottawa. I have asked before in this House, and I will ask again: how many of the seven Liberal MPs from Manitoba knew before it was announced that those Coast Guard stations were going to be closed, and what lobbying did they do to prevent it from happening? Clearly they failed, if they made any effort at all, but it would be nice for people back home to know what the Liberals are doing to represent people back home.
There is a story that just broke in the Winnipeg Free Press about Canada 150 money. A reporter who has followed the money said that Manitoba is clearly not getting its fair share of the Canada 150 funding. Again, where are the seven Liberals from Manitoba who ought to be advocating for us to make sure that we are getting our fair share? It was not until I raised the issue of the post-secondary institution strategic investment fund here in the House that we started to see at least some announcements being made in Manitoba under that fund. When we are talking about how the government spends its money, it is right to ask where the Manitoba Liberals are on those files and why it is that in a number of cases Manitoba has been consistently under-represented in terms of its fair share of funding.
It is another fair question to ask where is the federal government is when it comes to meaningfully dealing with OmniTrax, which has not been doing its fair share in terms of the community in Churchill. OmniTrax, after getting a sweetheart deal to take over the railway, has been getting a lot of money in public subsidies, and that money has been going to Denver, Colorado. It has not been reinvested in that railway. Now that there is a flood, the rail infrastructure is inadequate and the town of Churchill is in crisis because the people cannot get food and other supplies to town. We just have not heard the quick response that is needed to provide assurance to people in Churchill that they are not going to be left out in the cold by the current government. I say again, where are they and where is the money when we are talking about estimates and we are talking about a budget?
Those are just some of the problems.
I appreciate my colleague from the Conservative Party bringing up the issue of estimates reform, because it is an important issue and it is something we have to tackle. However, I emphasize that what it comes down to when we talk about reform is sequencing that reform properly to ensure that members of this House who are not in the government have the appropriate tools they need to hold the government to account all the way along. Otherwise, we are in a position of having to press them on reform.
Another important reform issue in this Parliament was the government's commitment on electoral reform. I think that speaks quite clearly to the character of the government and why people on this side of the House cannot trust it.
The government made a black-and-white promise that 2015 would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. The Liberals spent a lot of money to break that promise. They struck a special committee that travelled across the country. It took up the time of Canadians who were calling for action and who were not paid to go to testify at that committee. If they had been paid for their time, because their time also matters, the bill would have been that much higher. The committee came back and put the report together, and it was tossed aside by the minister at the time.
Then the Liberals had the gall, I think knowing already they had no intention of keeping that promise, to go out and spend literally millions of dollars on a bogus survey that was designed to obfuscate the issue and give them an out, which was the special committee, because the Liberals, despite saying that they wanted Parliament to be a place where people would work together, were hoping that the opposition parties would not work together. The opposition parties went out, did that, and showed them a way to keep their own promise.
It is pretty wild when the opposition parties are working harder to keep government promises than the government itself. However, that was the situation. Not only were opposition parties working hard, but they were also willing to compromise in order to help the government keep its promise. Instead, the Liberals threw that out. They spent millions of dollars on a survey trying to hide the fact that there was the potential for consensus if the government would show leadership.
How can we have a government that shows leadership? I imagine the process looks something like having the leader of a party promising something during an election, putting it in the party platform, and having candidates across the country repeat that promise ad nauseam. Then that party would be elected and follow through on that commitment. That is how it would be done, and that is exactly what Canadians did. To say there was no consensus or that the government did not have a mandate to provide leadership on democratic reform is just obviously false.
Nevertheless, the Liberals broke that promise. They let down all the many Canadians who elected them for that express purpose. Then, when it comes to something as important as the scrutiny of their spending, they ask us to trust them to get around to the rest of the program if we do this one thing that could reduce the scrutiny of a government if it is not acting in good faith in the face of all of the broken promises and everything else. That is what the Liberals are asking us to do, and they should not be surprised if the answer is no, we do not believe we can.
It is for at least those reasons, and those that I have not had time to get into, that the NDP will be opposing the main estimates.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:51 [p.12705]
Madam Speaker, the member has been in the House for some years now. I would encourage him to revise his speaking notes for the budget when he decides to get up and speak to the main estimates.
While it is true that there is a lot of money in the budget for some things, it is all back-loaded to 10 years from now. The main estimates actually speak to the spending this year, and the spending in the main estimates, as opposed to what is projected for 2027, 2034, or 2058 in the budget, is far less.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:52 [p.12706]
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for giving me the opportunity to return to the issue of estimates reform, because the member is quite right. I do not think that is the opinion of just the opposition parties. In fact, it is the opinion of the government, or at least the President of the Treasury Board, that the estimates process is quite convoluted, and that opinion is shared by many people in civil society who are at the forefront of examining government spending. The question becomes how do we change it.
It was promising, initially, to see the President of the Treasury Board present a package on how we could have a better estimates process. I said in my speech, and I will say again, that as a whole package, it looks pretty promising in terms of being able to get a better system that is more comprehensible for not just us here but also for Canadians generally. However, as always, the devil is in the details. How do we implement it?
When the government says that it has this great package that has a number of reforms, most not requiring Standing Order changes and which would actually advance the cause of transparency and openness more than a simple change to the Standing Orders, but that is what the Liberals want to start with and that alone, then the issue is whether we trust the Liberals to follow through on the rest of the package. Then we go to some of the examples I raised in my speech where they have promised a two-stage reform, for instance, on ATI, but have not done it, where they promised democratic reform and launched a whole process that came to naught.
This is why we have to assess the character of the government, and when we do, based on its record, we come up with the answer that we cannot trust the Liberals to go ahead with that one little piece first. We have to have more substantive reform that comes with it.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:55 [p.12706]
Madam Speaker, my understanding of the estimates process in Manitoba is that members get considerably more time with ministers to interrogate them about spending than we do here. For instance, here, we are lucky to get a minister at committee for an hour or so. In Manitoba, they just went through an estimates process where ministers were before committee for days, being asked questions.
If the member is recommending that we adopt a model like that here, then I would be quite interested in hearing more about that proposal. I think there are many members in the chamber who would love to have a minister before committee for days because, he is quite right, there is a lot of departmental spending, departments are very large, and it is difficult.
For instance, we are debating the main estimates here in the chamber tonight for four hours. That is the sum total of the main debate on the main estimates. Some committees will have a minister before them and examine their spending for probably not much more than for an hour. That is not actually a lot of time.
He is right to notice that there are substantive differences between the estimates process here in Ottawa and in Manitoba. Manitoba grants far more access to ministers during that process than is done here. I take that as a point of interest. Perhaps it is something we will return to.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:57 [p.12706]
Madam Speaker, I am a very hopeful person, so I will hope that it can and it just has not yet. However, that remains to be seen. It is up to the government to make good on that hopeful remark. It is frustrating.
I will maybe just examine another angle of my frustration with the position of the government, and not just in respect to access to information, but I think it makes the point well. We hear often, when it is convenient for the government, that it appreciates the work of committees and it wants to send things to committee and it wants to have it studied, and that is a great virtue. The government did not feel that way about the infrastructure bank because it did not want to break that off and actually have a committee have more time to look at it. The government cherry-picks. It liked the work of the committee on Bill S-217, which we voted on earlier. It cherry-picks when it likes the work of a committee and when it does not.
Interestingly, the work that we have done on the access to information, privacy and ethics committee generated, and members can correct me if I am wrong, two unanimous reports. One report was on access to information reform. It was a commitment of the minister that he would bring forward legislation this spring, which he has subsequently changed and has not given a new date by which he will bring that legislation in. We also had a unanimous report on reform to the Privacy Act.
In no case has the government taken that work of the committee, unanimous work, which means six Liberals on the committee endorsed all of those recommendations, and picked one recommendation that it would put into law. Again, the government's word is not worth much.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
Mr. Speaker, I want to mention at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.
I am pleased to rise to what I think is a very timely motion addressing an issue that has been preoccupying this place for a number of weeks, particularly surrounding the nomination of Madame Meilleur to the post of Commissioner of Official Languages. That was an example of partisanship gone completely amok. It is not quite clear from members on the other side of the House what the line of argument is in terms of its justification.
Sometimes it sounds as if they are saying there has always been partisan appointment, so it is okay and we should get over it. We are all just supposed to pretend that is okay. Then there are other lines of argument that say perhaps slightly more compellingly that people should not be penalized for their public service in the past. I think it is the case that people who have served publicly and in partisan roles in the past can occupy some posts—not as independent officers of Parliament, though. There is a much higher threshold.
Partisan appointments of people simply not qualified for the job are not okay at any time. Sometimes it may be that people have served in a partisan role before but they are qualified for a particular position and have demonstrated that they can act in non-partisan ways, and that may be acceptable for some positions. There are a lot of different positions to which governments appoint, but to pretend that someone that partisan, who is still actively partisan, who used partisan connections to be nominated for a post, and that post is not just any of those government appointments, but is meant to serve not the government but Parliament, as an independent officer, is too much. The government has made many appointments, some of which have been Liberal partisans, and these appointments have not preoccupied the House for weeks at a time.
That one was particularly offensive because of the extent of the partisanship and the particular role that person was being nominated to serve. This motion tries to ensure that, for those roles that are for positions that are meant to serve Parliament independently, and not the government in its mandate, there be an appointment process that meaningfully consults the opposition. That is in the legislation for the Commissioner of Official Languages, that there be consultation, but there are no mechanisms to specify what gives meaning to that consultation. We saw that, and we know from testimony by the House leaders of the two recognized official opposition parties and their leaders that they were not consulted, that they got a letter saying this is a fait accompli, that the government wanted them to know, and that we were moving on.
That was problematic because I do not think that was intended by the legislation in the first place, so there is a question of the spirit of the law. It also was problematic because at the end of the day it did not work. The provisions in that legislation that say the opposition parties have to be consulted in order to appoint independent officers of Parliament are not just about some letter of the law; they are about garnering the appropriate moral authority for the appointment that the government wants to make, so that person can be seen by all parties in this place as someone who can be respected and independent in the role.
What that consultation provision means is that it is incumbent on the government to come up with a nominee who receives the approval of those other parties, so that person can perform the role. In the absence of that approval by opposition parties, that person will not be able to fulfill the role. In fact, what the events of the last week or so have shown us is that the person may not even be able to be successfully appointed to that role, because any potential nominee with any integrity and credibility would know that, by the time the nomination process blew up that badly and the opposition parties were that opposed to the appointment to that position, the nominee would not be able to do the job effectively. If the nominee cared a whit about the office to which he or she were nominated to be appointed and the function he or she would be asked to perform in that office, the nominee would have to withdraw. It is a shame on the government that the nominee had to make that call because the government was either too blind or too partisan to see it.
Congratulations, finally, to Madame Meilleur for having seen that she was never going to be able to do the job that she was being asked to do. Shame on the government for not realizing that fact itself and for pressing on, for whatever reasons it had, which are still unclear, and insisting that someone who clearly would not be able to perform the role of an independent officer of Parliament be appointed to that role anyway.
It is surprising to me, frankly, that a lot of members who were elected under the Liberal banner of change, transparency, and accountability, many who did not know Madame Meilleur or have any idea of her existence, would be willing to put their privilege of representing their constituents on the line in the next election to defend the PMO's attachment to Madame Meilleur. That has been interesting for me: the extent to which Liberal backbenchers were willing to rally around a person they did not know, simply because she had a personal relationship with Gerald Butts. That is quite unfortunate and speaks volumes about the extent to which Liberals really need to come around to the responsibility of their own office.
What New Democrats are trying to do with this motion is provide a way for Liberals to do that, because their own government refuses to do so. It would be a good idea for them to rally behind this kind of motion that would help take the politics out of these kinds of appointments by ensuring that the meaningful consultation already foreseen in some of the legislation for these positions is given teeth and that there actually is opposition agreement before the nominations go forward. That would make life easier for them, as they would not be putting their political credibility on the line for the sake of the personal relationships of staff in the PMO. If I were in government, I would certainly appreciate not having to do that, and I would be uncomfortable having to do that. Liberals have been doing that very publicly for weeks and are only now not doing it, to the extent that they are not, because Madame Meilleur herself had the wherewithal, finally, to withdraw her own nomination.
I recommend this to Liberals as a way to solve a problem that their government is creating for them at home in their own ridings, whether they realize it or not. It is similar to the problem that was created when they borrowed the cash for access schemes from the Wynne Liberals in Ontario. When they decided to import that practice here and grant preferential access to government in exchange for high-price tickets to fundraisers, it was something they did that I am sure many of the Liberal backbenchers did not foresee and did not think they were coming to Ottawa to defend. This is not necessary in order to ensure the survival of the Liberal Party and make sure its coffers are full. There is a lot of potential for them to get legitimate donations and not sell access to ministers in order to raise money, so why many backbench Liberals are willing all of a sudden to get behind it and call it an acceptable practice, I do not know.
New Democrats are offering them an out for at least one of their problems. What we have heard today is that they are not interested. Why is that? I do not know. First, the government would have the power of nomination, which is a considerable power. The only people who would be discussed for these positions are those who are, in the first place, put forward by government. That is a significant influence the government would have on the process. This is hardly throwing up their hands and leaving it to opposition parties to decide who will be in these positions.
Second, if the committee accepts the government's recommendation, Parliament has the opportunity to affirm it or reject it with a vote. The idea behind a rejection of a nomination not coming to Parliament is simply to show that it is incumbent upon the government to work well enough with opposition parties in advance to find someone on whom all parties can agree. It is not consensus at the committee, either. Whether there are three, four, or five recognized parties, it is a subcommittee. It has to vote on it. Even if a majority of the government and opposition parties agree on a candidate, it will go forward, there will be a vote, and presumably the party or parties who did not agree will get to express that in the House. That is the point of the vote.
It does not require unanimity between the government and opposition parties. All the motion says is that the government has to work with at least enough opposition parties that one other party agrees with it. That is not a high threshold, but it is better than what there is now, where it is the House leader who will be determining it. The Prime Minister has recused himself from naming the next conflict of interest commissioner, as if that were a high watermark for integrity, and handed it over to the very person who defends him every day in the House when we talk about his ethical lapses. However, I digress.
Suffice it to say that this would be a much better system than what we have now and a step in the right direction. I hope at least the Liberal backbench sees fit to support it.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
Mr. Speaker, part of the trick of having a truly transparent and open process is involving the other parties concerned in a meaningful way, so that in their decision-making they have the information they would need, and this is foreseen by that, and that there is an appropriate forum for real discussion, so that when there are disputes it is not just, “We sent you a letter and you got the information”. If we do not like it, what are our options then? The options are to raise it in question period, to raise it in supply day motions, or to take it to the media. However, at that point that is not a real consultative process. That is then an airing of grievances about a process gone wrong.
Establishing a subcommittee would create a forum for discussion and provide the information that people from all parties would need in order to be able to assess the qualifications and the independence of these folks. I would remind the House again that this is about appointing independent officers of Parliament, people in positions meant to serve all of Parliament, not to implement the mandate of government. That is an important difference. I do think that this proposal in its very nature would lend itself far more to openness and transparency, something we have yet to see.
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