Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I'd like to call the meeting to order. This is the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2, meeting number 24, which is being televised. Our orders of the day are Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability.
We are on clause-by-clause.
(On clause 89)
The Chair: We have a subamendment of Mr. Poilievre to NDP 5.1. The subamendment has been distributed to members of the committee.
Today I believe we're studying a number of amendments that concern the Access to Information Act. Consequently, I repeat what I said yesterday: we of the Bloc Québécois would have liked the reform of the Access to Information Act to be included in Bill C-2, as the Conservatives said during the election campaign.
That was not the government's wish, as we saw when it tabled Bill C-2. It decided to table a proposal for study by another committee. We don't want to adopt certain amendments concerning the Access to Information Act on a piecemeal basis. We think this should have been included in Bill C-2. If that isn't the case, we should let another committee study the reform of the Access to Information Act.
Furthermore, the Conservatives are putting on the pressure to have Bill C-2 passed very quickly. They have told us that in the committee and emphasized it through the media, since it was announced in the newspaper today. Consequently, I think we should only study the elements included in Bill C-2 and not touch the Access to Information Act.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We're pleased that there will be a Commissioner of Lobbying. We want the activities of the Commissioner of Lobbying to be as transparent as other officers of Parliament.
I think there's a valid reason to restrict the access to some of the activities and some of the records held by the Commissioner of Lobbying. Obviously when you talk about access and freedom of information, you have to offset and balance that with the right to privacy of individuals and certain information. Once the investigation is concluded, that information should be made public. We would urge that it would be.
This is a subject I'm sure will be monitored carefully. If there is to be a five-year statutory review of this act, one of the considerations will be how clauses like this are working where the word “may” rather than “shall” is in fact used--what has been the experience. That's all we can judge it on. That will be the measure of whether it's a success or a failure.
I would just like to make the observation--and I will try not to step on your toes at all, Mr. Chair--that with respect to the access to information provisions set forward in the bill, the Information Commissioner has called them retrograde and dangerous. I think we should ignore those words at our peril.
This is why I support my colleague Ms. Jennings, who is suggesting that given what we've heard from the expert in the country on this issue, we must be very careful not to take a step backward or do anything that might endanger the access to information and privacy regime until it can be done comprehensively. That's why we will be voting against the amendments that relate to the Access to Information Act.
Mr. Chairman, with all due respect to Mr. Owen, I profoundly disagree with him. I can't imagine how, as a well-respected scholar in these matters, he would pass up an opportunity to implement meaningful improvements to the access to information regime in this country.
Yes, it's only a fraction of what we would like to see, but for heaven's sakes, half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. We have negotiated and in good faith put forward amendments that will give some improvements...
I beg your pardon, Mr. Sauvageau?
So here we have an opportunity to open government somewhat to areas where the light of day never shone, and to vote down these amendments now.... We don't know if the other committee will be able to make any meaningful Access to Information Act changes—in the ethics committee—so this is all we have. This is within reach; it's within our grasp. We'd be irresponsible not to take it now, to pass it over in the anticipation that there'll be a more comprehensive review in another committee at another time. Tomorrow may never come in terms of true access to information reform within this Parliament.
And if we don't do it in a minority Parliament, you know full well, Mr. Owen, we're not going to do it in a majority Parliament, because your government is a graphic illustration of how majority governments view reform of access to information laws.
So I urge you to reconsider, my other opposition colleagues. There will be a half dozen or more amendments dealing with access to information coming up, if they haven't already. We should support those. In the interests of better government, we should support them.
Perhaps in the meantime, if I may take a moment, I should clear the record. Maybe it'll help this vote; this is why this point is relevant.
Sometimes I vote against opposition motions simply because I have my own similar motion coming up in 15 minutes that I like a little bit better. It's not as though I'm against progressive ideas to improve Bill C-2, as Mr. Owen would have this public forum believe. In fact, often we have very similar amendments coming down the pike that are subtly different and that we would rather see implemented.
I just wanted to use this time to clear that up, for the record.
I think all of us have received representations and even e-mails—when I got into the office early today, further e-mails—from people who will be affected by this clause.
I think it's important to keep in mind, as we look at this clause, that this is the fulfilment of a commitment. This is introducing the spirit that was spoken to when the government made the commitment that they would end influence peddling, that they would put an end to the revolving door that so angered Canadians in the previous government.
Notwithstanding even the particular details of the woman in question, who perhaps is the most high-profile person affected by this, you have to bear in mind the tasks of the transition team. They aren't simply ordering furniture for the new government. They aren't only organizing office space. They're hiring the most powerful people in the country.
I can just imagine, one month after these new deputy ministers and chiefs of staff are put in place, the same individual showing up on their doorstep saying, “Hi, do you remember me? I'm the one who interviewed you and gave you your job. Now there is something you can do for me. I'm working in the private sector as a lobbyist.”
The optics of that are so obvious, it's as plain as the nose on your face. Whether it was for two weeks or two months, those people on the transition team must have known it put them in the top level of political influence, the upper sphere, if you will. That's exactly the type of influence that shouldn't be marketed. Your connections shouldn't be a marketable commodity.
That's what has been so wrong in Ottawa. I don't say it's terribly wrong, to the extent of some other countries. I think the United States' democracy has been ruined by the undue influence of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. We're not at that degree, but we were heading in that direction and it can be nipped in the bud by a clause like this.
I don't know what the sense of the committee is in support of this bill, or how much more I have to argue in favour of it, but it's a strong motion for its symbolism and the message that it sends, as well as the practical effect of the language that's been very carefully chosen, I might add.
I believe we've already debated a similar question. Let me find my place.
The wording proposed in the bill is as follows:
|| (3) Every member of the House of Commons who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine of not less than $500 and not more than $2,000.
In our party, we believe that these penalties are inadequate fo the purpose of enforcing the Act. For that reason, we propose a fine of up to $50,000. The person, whether it be the lobbying commissioner or the person responsible for offences, could decide to impose a penalty of $2,000 or $10,000. However, if it is a serious offence or breach, it would be possible to give this Act some teeth by imposing a fine of up to $50,000.
I hope I've made myself clear.
Amendment NDP-7 proposes:
||Any member of the House of Commons who was elected with the endorsement of a registered political party and ceases to be a member of the caucus of that party during the term for which he or she was elected shall sit in the House of Commons as an independent and shall be considered as such for all proceedings in the House of Commons during the remainder of the member's term.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice states on page 654: “An amendment to a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading or a bill at report stage is out of order if it is beyond the scope and principle of the bill.”
The chairman rules that amendment NDP-7 is a new concept that is beyond the scope of Bill C-2 and is consequently inadmissible.
We therefore will move to Liberal amendment L-6.4, which is on page 75.1.
The basic position I am expressing is one that's based on Mr. Walsh's advice to this committee, his legal advice, regarding clause 99. Ultimately, it was that clause 99, however it might be amended if it was the will of the committee to amend, including the amendment that I've provided, should not carry because it would in fact impede the autonomy, the exclusive constitutional authority, of the House to regulate its members, and that the provisions--
That's fine, and I apologize for the confusion regarding my amendments and the memos that I have from Mr. Walsh's staff.
To explain my amendment and the purpose thereof, I would like to briefly discuss clause 99 and the impact of clause 99 as it is now constructed. Ultimately, clause 99 proposes sections that would regulate the personal trusts of members, and the conflict commissioner would have the power to make orders directly against a member, with fines up to $2,000 that could be imposed by the commissioner if the member did not comply with the commissioner's orders. The provisions in clause 99, forming part of the Parliament of Canada Act, would be outside of the ability of the House and its members to consider, revise, enforce, or regulate.
Then we can go into the conflict commissioner's powers under proposed sections 41.1 to 41.3. They stand apart from the commissioner's other powers with respect to members, if we look at proposed section 87 and the member's code. These particular powers that one would find under proposed sections 41.1 to 41.3 would be exercised as statutory powers, and the House would not be able to object to the actions taken by the commissioner. Further, as a result of the exclusion of the proposed sections 41.1, 41.2, and 41.3 from judicial review--and that's as a result of clause 38 on page 51, as amended by the government amendment G-24--the commissioner would have exclusive control over the exercise of the powers under those proposed sections 41.1, 41.2, and 41.3 without any judicial reviews.
So I want to come to my amendment now. That explains my view, which is also the view of Mr. Walsh and his legal staff as to clause 99 right now.
Yes, I move my amendment. I just wanted that as a preamble before moving my amendment. Now I will get to the crux of my amendment.
As I said, with proposed subsections 41.1(1), 41.1(2), and 41.1(3), as they are now written, any person could go before, for instance, a justice of the peace and swear out a complaint against a member on the issue of a personal trust. My amendment would still allow any person to do that, including the commissioner, but only before the appropriate standing committee of the House of Commons or, if it's a senator, the appropriate standing committee of the Senate. My amendment attempts to keep it within the authority of the House of Commons and ensures it doesn't involve judicial courts.
Clause 99, as it now stands, puts it in a statutory authority, removes it from the constitutional authority and autonomy of the House of Commons to regulate the conduct of its members, including the issue of members' trusts. My amendment attempts to bring it back in a limited way to the House of Commons so that rather than any person or the commissioner taking it before a judicial court, the complaint would have to be brought before the appropriate standing committee of Parliament, either the House of Commons or the Senate.
As well, the trigger within proposed section 41.3, as it now stands, is that the commissioner would review various trusts and make orders--for example, to wind up the trust. That's an example of an order that the commissioner would be able to make under proposed section 41.3 as it now stands. And it makes it an offence not to comply with the commissioner's order.
My amendment would create a new section, proposed section 41.5. I propose, instead, creating a new trigger. That trigger would be that once the commissioner creates an order under proposed section 41.3, his order would be provided to the standing committee of the House of Commons duly designated. The committee would then have 30 sitting days to consider either the public's or the commissioner's complaint, and so on, and order, and could then issue an opinion of the member of Parliament's compliance.
If we look at proposed subsections 41.5(3) and 41.5(4), the language already exists in the Parliament of Canada Act. One only has to look at section 52.6 of that act and subsequent. This process of stipulating that no court, judge, and so on can issue until the Board of Internal Economy has issued an opinion on an allegation that a member of Parliament has, for instance, misused the member's operating budget already exists. The way it exists is that no judge can issue a judgment and sentence, if the judgment is guilty, prior to the prosecutor providing the judge with an opinion of the designated House of Commons committee.
In the case of section 52.6, and so on, of the Parliament of Canada Act, it's the Board of Internal Economy that issues an opinion on the allegation of wrongdoing on the part of the MP, and the judge shall consider the opinion in his or her determination of whether an offence was created and, if an offence was created, the penalty, sanction, or sentence that should be imposed.
What my amendment attempts to do is to bring the authority not just to deal with allegations, but to deal with the issue of personal trusts that a member of Parliament may have, and to bring the authority of regulating that back into the House of Commons. It does not preclude there being a criminal proceeding taking place within the judicial courts, but that proceeding could not be concluded without the prosecutor tabling the evidence of the appropriate or designated House of Commons committee that deals with the issue within the House of Commons—tabling that opinion before the judge, and the judge having to take it into consideration.
This already exists with regard to the members' operating budgets and allegations of misuse. What my amendment strives to do—and this is on the advice of our parliamentary counsel and law clerk—is to take that same process and system and apply it to the issue of trusts that members may have or benefit from.
This may sound contradictory, but notwithstanding the fact that this committee in its wisdom has adopted the amendment I proposed on the advice of our parliamentary counsel and law clerk—L-6.4—I believe, based on the advice received from the said law clerk, that clause 99 should not carry; that it should be negatived, because the remedy my amendment brings to clause 99 is not a 100% remedy, and the constitutional autonomy and exclusive control or authority over members' conduct by the House is still impeded, notwithstanding this remedy.
It is my opinion that negativing clause 99, as amended by Liberal amendment 6.4, would not in any way result in the House being unable to regulate the members' trusts. The House would always be free to amend the members' code, which is appended to the Standing Orders, to deal with members' trusts. The decision would rest exclusively with the House. It would then remain an internal affair of the House and within the constitutional privilege of the House to regulate its affairs without interference from outside the House.
I would recommend to the members of this committee to vote against clause 99, as amended by Liberal amendment 6.4.
Do you know what? I'm going to make a statement. I'm going to rule it inadmissible.
Amendment L-7 proposes a procedure for appointment of the president and commissioners. It is amending subsection 4(5) of the Public Service Employment Act.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice states, at page 654, that: “an amendment is inadmissible if it amends a statute that is not before the committee or a section of the parent Act unless it is specifically being amended by a clause of the bill.”
Since section 4 of the Public Service Amendment Act is not being amended by Bill C-2, it is inadmissible to propose such an amendment. Therefore, Mr. Owen, I regret to say that amendment L-7 is inadmissible.
This amendment is unnecessary, given that the protections it seeks to extend to the Public Service Commission have only been extended to agents of Parliament, and the Public Service Commissioner is not an agent of Parliament, nor is the office an office of Parliament.
To date, I have heard of no practical problems with the status quo, no reason why the same legal standing that applies to others cannot apply to the Public Service Commission. So I have to state my opposition to this amendment as it seeks to solve a problem that doesn't exist and seeks to extend immunity to a body that does not, on any legal basis, merit that immunity.
I would stand against this amendment, and I would ask also, are there any legal problems that exist right now related to the non-immunity of the Public Service Commission?
Mr. Martin, before you get into debate, I'm going to rule it out of order.
NDP-8 proposes that special reports of the commissioner will be submitted to the Speaker of the Senate and House for tabling in each House. It is amending section 23 of the Public Service Employment Act.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice states, at page 654, that “an amendment is inadmissible if it amends a statute that is not before the committee or a section of the parent Act unless it is specifically being amended by a clause of the bill.
Since section 23 of the Public Service Employment Act is not being amended by Bill C-2, it is inadmissible to propose such an amendment. Therefore, NDP-8 is inadmissible.
We therefore move to Liberal amendment, L-10, which is found on page 81.
Mr. Owen, Ms. Jennings.
The chair would like to rule on that one. Is it withdrawn or moved?
This amendment, proposed by my colleague Mr. Owen, is based on part of the presentation that was made to us by the president of the Public Service Commission, Madam Barrados.
Clause 101 seeks to permit and regulate the right of “a person who has been employed for at least three years in the office of a minister or of a person holding the recognized position of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate or Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, or any of those offices successively,” to apply for government competitions.
The scope should be opened up to allow individuals who are employed by the Senate, the House of Commons, Library of Parliament, or the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to also participate under the same conditions.
(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
(Clause 101 as amended agreed to)
(On clause 106)
I've got it in as inadmissible, so thank you very much.
An hon. member: We withdrew it first.
The Chair: You withdrew it first.
An hon. member: We're getting pretty quick over here.
The Chair: I know, you're listening to my conversation. It's on the air too much.
Monsieur Sauvageau and Madame Guay, on BQ-15.
Mr. Chairman, we propose the following:
||(3) Sections 39 to 64 come into force on January 1 of the year next following the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, but sections 63 and 64 do not apply in respect of monetary contributions made before that day.
We discussed the objective in question. I hope that was official, but it was at least informal, particularly when the directors general of the four major parties came and testified before our committee.
From what I understand, we all agree on the idea of reviewing political party financing. However, we think that changing the rules in the middle of the fiscal year would mean problems and restrictions for virtually all volunteer officers in all ridings. The witnesses who appeared were also of that view, and all parties appeared to be in agreement.
The idea here would be to ensure that this part of the Act on financing applies at the start of the fiscal year. That, to all intents and purposes, is what the amendment would state. I don't know whether the experts have anything to add, but it seems to me this is a matter of common sense.
The bill currently provides that certain clauses will come into force on the day royal assent is given. These concern political financing rules on limits and the prohibition against corporations and unions from making contributions. I'm missing an element.
Whatever the case may be, two amendments are proposed to the Canada Elections Act. They will come into force within six months of royal assent. We've chosen, on the one hand, those the Chief Electoral Officer will need to create new forms and manuals and, on the other hand, those that will require the parties to make changes to their financial arrangements. Here we're talking about, for example, the prohibition against using trusts to finance candidates' campaigns.
We believe that the four articles that are to come into force on the day of royal assent require very little preparation on the part of Elections Canada. Furthermore, those who might be affected by these changes can easily receive instructions through an insertion in the manuals or an addition to the Elections Canada's website.
I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to support this amendment. The idea that there's going to be some sort of administrative problem with the change mid-year is, I think, a specious argument that holds no weight whatsoever.
If the act comes into force on, say, August 1, it will simply mean that after August 1 riding associations and parties will decide not to cash cheques that exceed $1,000 or cheques that come from corporations and unions. It will be publicly known when the act comes into effect. It will be widely distributed. All the political parties and riding associations can be easily informed of the change, and they can adjust their behaviour accordingly.
I simply have not heard a single practical argument as to why there should be any problem implementing the tough new financing rules when the act comes into effect, nor have I heard a single argument as to why we should allow a continuing loophole to flow until the end of the calendar year, other than perhaps to favour parties that cannot live under these tough new rules and are not able to raise money under these tough new rules.
If members of this committee actually believe in the rules that the Accountability Act introduces, if they believe that we should end big money, end corporate cash and union donations, then they ought to believe in it now, not just eight months from now.
I recognize that the member, Mr. Murphy, is commending me for my passion. I am very passionate about it. I believe, and this Accountability Act insists, that campaigns ought to be funded by everyday, willing contributors--hardworking folks who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. Those are the people who financed my campaign.
This act seeks to set out a political system that is financed by everyday voters so that political parties are loyal to everyday voters instead of having an ongoing loyalty to big corporations and big-money contributors. That's why we are amending the Canada Elections Act to end big money and to ban corporate cash.
But if we believe in that, we ought to believe in it now, not just eight months from now, so that parties can stuff their pockets with corporate cash and large donations over the next seven months, and--
Just briefly, to support what my colleague was saying, I'll give you two distinct reasons. Number one, I'm a former executive director of a political party, albeit on a provincial scene, and I can assure you that these provisions, if they came into effect the day royal assent was granted, would not prove to be any onerous encumbrance on political parties. In fact, all the political party executive directors who appeared before this committee obviously had a very great depth of understanding of the ramifications of this bill. They've studied it very carefully. They are prepared to amend their practices on the fundraising side in receiving of money, immediately upon royal assent. So I don't think there would be any problem from the administrative side of political parties.
But more importantly, I believe what we are trying to do--at least, I hope we're all trying to do here in committee--is to send a very strong signal to the Canadian public that we're serious about accountability and transparency. I can see no stronger signal than to say the day this act receives royal assent, the provisions contained in this act come into effect.
I think that sends an extremely strong signal to Canadians, as opposed to, “Well, we passed the act, but you know, there's still going to be six months out there where people can do whatever they wish.”
I think it is incumbent upon us as a committee to make a very strong statement to the Canadian people that the changes we have made with the Accountability Act, including all the amendments that we have agreed upon to make this act even stronger, have to come into effect the day it receives royal assent. I think that's the one signal that we as parliamentarians on this committee are charged to do.
So I would strongly support opposing this amendment, only because I don't think that's the signal we want to give to Canadians.
Just to make a point of reality, we have a convention in November. According to our executive director--and I don't think it was disagreed with by the other directors--the registration fees for conventions are receiptable, they're contributions, and things cost money. This will directly penalize the Liberal Party; that's what I think it is connected to.
If the shoe were on the other foot and you guys were having a leadership convention...gosh knows, you've a whole bunch of them through various parties over the time.
It's directly harmful to the democratic process, because the person who goes to a convention will not be able to contribute to the person he or she votes for at the convention, because basically their $1,000 would be gone.
So I think it's unfair. I think it's targeted. I don't want to talk politics, but this is a very political matter. It's mean-spirited and politically targeted.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We of the Bloc Québécois rely to a large extent on popular financing. So this provision does not affect us particularly. However, you have to wonder why it is provided that some amendments of the bill won't enter into force for six months, whereas, in the specific case of the Elections Act, we want royal assent immediately. I have a lot of trouble understanding that. It all smells of politics. It makes no sense.
It would be entirely possible to opt for January 1 of next year. For us, that would be the start of the fiscal year. That would greatly simplify the lives of our financial officers and the chief electoral officer. If there were provisions or documents to change, we would proceed in accordance with the rules. All our documents would arrive at the same time.
I'm not unsympathetic to the points raised by my colleagues from the Bloc and the Liberals. I understand that they have a legitimate concern that it may be onerous to deal with the administrative details here. But all four executive directors of the four main political parties in the country were here. They're well aware of what we're doing. I imagine they're making preparations, as we speak, in anticipation of this coming into law.
The average donation, as we heard in testimony here at the committee, is less than $200. So there won't be that many people affected, if refunds are necessary, if royal assent doesn't occur until as late as July 1, even if it takes us that long for the Senate to deal with this and get it back for third reading. It may be that somebody will have donated more than the maximum limit by then, and we would have to issue refunds. But the parties are prepared to do that. From my experience, there won't be any refunds necessary in my riding association. There may be in some.
I can guarantee you that the political parties are out there shaking the bushes as we speak. They've used from April 11, when they first learned of the government's intention, until the date it achieves royal assent and implementation, to get as many $5,400 donations as they possibly can from people who are able to make them. I don't buy that anybody is being disadvantaged. Fair notice was given. Adequate time has been given. If this is a good idea and an honourable thing to do now, or ever, why should we wait six or eight months to actually implement it?
We dealt with the concept of retrospective versus retroactive in another context. If I could ask our experts, can you explain the application of that legal notion in the context of this fundraising?
Clause 83 deals with changing the references in the act so that we're no longer referring to the Lobbyists Registration Act but to the renamed Lobbying Act. It was previously amended by a motion of this committee to extend provisions that were approved to the transition team.
I guess the others are clauses 90 to 97, which are all the machinery changes that bring the new Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying into force. Those are the other ones that would be brought into force on royal assent. It's clause 83, and then it's clauses 90 to 97.
I'm sorry. I have this wrong. I have it backwards.
It's only clause 83 and new clauses 88.1 and 88.2. It's the provisions relating to the transition team.
Clause 83 becomes necessary because there were references in those provisions to the Lobbyist Registration Act, which becomes the Lobbying Act once this comes into force. Clause 83 is really a technical one to get the name of the act correctly identified.
Mr. Chairman, if I'm not mistaken, the purpose is to make the library officer autonomous and independent. The purpose of this amendment is to create a budget director linked to the Office of the Auditor General rather than to the Library of Parliament.
If you consult the election platform of the Conservative Party of Canada, you'll see, on page 11:
||Ensuring truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority.
I'll read the first paragraph very quickly:
||In the spring of 2004, the Liberal government told Canadians that the 2003-04 surplus would be only $1.9 billion. In fact it was $9.1 billion. In 2004-05, the Liberals spent about $9 billion at the end of the year to reduce their surplus to only $1.6 billion.
With a great deal of rigour, they explained the necessity—and I remind you that this is on page 11 of the Conservative Party's election platform, Stand Up for Canada—for an independent budgeting authority. The Conservatives were probably so busy that they forgot to include it. That's why, so that they can keep one of their promises, we're proposing that this independent budget auditor position be created, and, among other things, for the budget surpluses.
My first observation is that something I've been pushing for years in the corporate sector is the independence of auditors. In order to trust the financial statements of a company or a government, any level of government, the auditor must be independent and shouldn't be dealing with any services other than the audit itself.
Having this newly created budget officer within the auditor's office seems to me to be a contradiction. We've always been critical of businesses that sell financial services to companies also being their auditor. That's exactly what happened with Enron. That's what Arthur Andersen did with Enron. They would sell them the tax services, and then they would come along and audit those very same services. So it concerns me, just on the face of it, to even have the newly created budget officer in the Office of the Auditor General.
That said, I wouldn't mind the opinion of the technical officers on the effect of this amendment. I don't fully understand where in clause 110 that actually fits. Can they explain that to me, where it resides and the effect it would have?
I'll take the first run at that, and then my colleagues Monsieur Lapointe from the Department of Finance or Mr. Heiss may have something to add.
As to where the member has chosen to actually seat the amendment, I don't really have any comment to make on that. I don't know what the member was thinking in terms of the particular drafting that's being used.
In terms of putting the position within the Office of the Auditor General, the issue, I guess, is one of choosing and being clear about the role and mandates of the Auditor General versus that of the Library of Parliament.
The Auditor General's role and mandate is to carry out the powers, duties, and functions she has under the Auditor General Act. Those functions are fairly clear. It's her discretion. She determines what to audit, goes out and conducts those audits, and then reports to Parliament on the results of those audits.
The Library of Parliament is, of course, the vast research resource that is available to members of Parliament. So from the government's perspective, it certainly made sense that you would lodge a parliamentary budget officer, whose primary mandate is to be, again, a research resource for members of Parliament, in that existing structure as opposed to putting it in with the Auditor General, where there's just no connection to that particular mandate of what the parliamentary budget officer does.
Do my colleagues have anything to add?
I'm the assistant deputy minister of fiscal and economic policy in the Department of Finance.
I just want to confirm what my colleague just said about the mandate of the parliamentary budget office and the mandate of the Auditor General. I understand that the Auditor General, in her appearance here, made the statement that her mandate and the mandate of the parliamentary budget officer are quite different. That is why we propose that the best place to locate the parliamentary budget office would be in the Library of Parliament, which already provides that kind of analytical support to parliamentarians.
The group in the Library of Parliament would be specifically dedicated to providing the economic analysis and fiscal analysis that is required here, so we thought it should be located in the Library of Parliament.
No. I just want to say that's very helpful, very useful. It's along the lines of what my apprehensions were. It actually confirms my concerns about this. We all welcome the creation of the budget officer.
Monsieur Sauvageau's points are very well taken. It's been atrocious. No one can be that far out, unless you're trying to be that far out. You feel like the Minister of Finance should take off his shoes--if he can't count that high on his fingers, perhaps he needs to use his toes as well. It's been appalling.
But I'm comfortable with where it is in the bill, and I'll be voting against Mr. Sauvageau's amendment.
I partly agree with you, but there's a minor problem. In 1994, in the Standing Committee on the Environment, we had a lengthy debate as to whether we should create an independent environment commissioner position or a commissioner position that would report to the Office of the Auditor General. We weren't rushed, as we are today, so we heard a number of witnesses. We came to the conclusion that, even if the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, whose position was created in 1994 or 1995, if my memory serves me, worked in close cooperation with the Auditor General, fears about his independence could be allayed in view of the rigour of her work. So we wound up with a common office and common expertise, rather than create another authority.
That was 12 years ago. Since then, I believe the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has demonstrated his independence, even though his office is located in that of the Auditor General. Until quite recently, that is until January 23, that's also what was believed by the Conservatives, who included transparent budgeting in the same paragraph, on page 11 of their election platform, as strengthening the powers of the Auditor General.
If the Minister of Finance tells me he would prefer that someone from the Library of Parliament supervise him, that's fine. The Minister of Finance has been making completely wrong budgetary estimates for 50 years. So I'm not sure we'll achieve the desired objective if we allow that position to be where it is. We'll see what happens over time. In any case, the Act will be reviewed every five years.
Our objective is to ensure that budgetary estimates are as accurate as possible. I hope they will be. I think they will be more so if this position reports to the Auditor General, who has demonstrated her credibility.
Mr. Chairman, I think the irony or paradox with respect to the BQ motion is that it argues about putting the budget officer in the Office of the Auditor General, but then it follows up by stressing how important it is to have accessibility and proactive input through the committees of the budget officer. I believe that practice, both past and future, will verify that the role of oversight of committees will be enhanced more by placing the budget officer and the function with the Library of Parliament and the ancillary resources that exist there than if it were in a reactive mode in the Auditor General's office.
I do appreciate the points that have been raised by Mr. Sauvageau with respect to the Commissioner of the Environment, but the Commissioner of the Environment and the Auditor General, to some extent, are reactive. In this case, we're talking about a proactive, ongoing role. For example, in the committee's oversight with respect to the estimates, the ability to draw upon the resources of the budget officer through the Library of Parliament is far superior to entrenching the role of the budget officer in the Auditor General's office.
So I would suggest that if this committee is intent on completing the accountability loop with respect to the role of committees in their oversight function, this committee should support entrenching the budget officer in the Library of Parliament.
We'll move to clause 117. It's the parliamentary budget officer, and there's a series of other clauses that are related to this particular clause. As we've done before, I suggest we deal with all the amendments that pertain to the subject matter of clause 117 before we put the question.
So we will deal with the amendments to clauses 119 and 119.1. Once that's completed, we will put the question to clause 117. Its results will be applied to all the consequential clauses, that is to say, clauses 118, 119 and 119.1. We'll l stand clause 117 and call for the first amendment, which is a Bloc amendment.
(Clause 117 allowed to stand)
(On clause 119--Parliamentary Budget Officer)
The Chair: This is a Bloc amendment and is on page 101 of your book, BQ-23.
I want to introduce this amendment, which is not designed to eliminate the secret ballot. So I'm showing some originality.
I'll ask the experts to tell us what they think of the following.
In clause 119 of the bill, that is in proposed subsection 79.1(2), it is provided that the person who is appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer will hold office during pleasure for a renewable term of not more than three years.
We think three years is too short a period to take over the file, move it forward and so on. I get the impression that's why the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Official Languages and the senior officers of the House are appointed for seven years. As we believe that three years is too short a term, we are proposing that the term be comparable to those of other officers of the House. I don't know what the experts think of that.
So we're not trying to remain constant with some....
My feeling is that you want one of these appointments to bridge a parliamentary cycle. I think that's advantageous, so I see where Mr. Sauvageau is coming from.
It currently reads “not greater than three years”. Is that what I am to understand? I'm wondering if we should have a subamendment to have “not greater than five years”, that would satisfy the idea the appointment could be as long as five years to bridge at least one parliamentary cycle, but not to be held in the same status as an officer of Parliament, at seven years.
So I'd like to move that as a subamendment.
I turn your attention to clause 119, line 36:
|| 79.2 The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to
||(a) provide objective analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation's finances
In line 36, we're adding “the estimates of the government”. So it expands ever so slightly the mandate of the parliamentary budget office in line 36 on page 93, in clause 119 of the bill.
So I would encourage all members to support this, because it gives members of Parliament an extra tool in getting informational support on estimates from the parliamentary budget office.
(Amendment agreed to)
Mr. Chairman, I have a little problem. With your permission, I'm going to speak to Mr. Poilievre.
If I understand correctly, we could have a favourable amendment. The bill states this: "when requested to do so by a member of either House, estimate the financial cost...". Your amendment instead states: "when requested to do so by a committee of the Senate or of the House of Commons...".
I would prefer the following: "when requested to do so by a member of either House or of a parliamentary committee..." The government's amendment G-37.1, on page 105.2, takes away—I don't know whether this is the intent—from all members and senators the opportunity to contact this new person responsible for the budget. If that is the case and if the other members of the committee are in agreement, I would ask Mr. Poilievre to use the words: " when asked by a member of either House or of a parliamentary committee...".
Under the Access to Information Act, those sections create specific exemptions for certain types of information held by the crown corporations that are actually named in the proposed sections. There's a variety of them.
The coordinating amendment anticipates that if the access to information provisions are approved, proposed section 79.4, on page 95, which addresses the confidentiality requirements around the parliamentary budget officer, says those confidentiality requirements have a relationship to certain exemptions under the Access to Information Act.
So what this coordinating amendment is doing is saying the new exemptions that Bill C-2 is proposing would also go into this proposed section 79.4 so that those new exemptions would come into play with respect to the confidentiality requirements of the parliamentary budget officer.
Thank you, through you, to our experts.
I'm just curious. I support the obvious intent of the amendment, but I'm wondering if you could describe to me the difference between “general” and “public” when applied to interest, and why, if we're putting in the title “GENERAL OR PUBLIC INTEREST”, that amendment is not also included in the body, so that it would be of “general or public interest”.
Personally, I don't know of any case law that would help us distinguish the terminology used here. It's more a matter of semantics.
It must be understood that the purpose of these amendments is to enable the Attorney General of Canada, under the provisions of Bill C-2, to transmit or give power to the Director of Criminal Prosecutions to undertake criminal prosecutions under federal jurisdiction. At the same time, the Attorney General of Canada remains responsible for those prosecutions.
So there are two entities that have the same power. There's the Director of Criminal Prosecutions, who uses it every day in the vast majority of cases, and the Attorney General, who uses it sometimes, if he wishes, to give written instructions or as an intervener himself. These interventions or written instructions must be published in the Canada Gazette. So there are two interests.
The purpose of the clause is to ensure complete communication between the two entities that have the same powers, to avoid situations of conflict in prosecutions, if, for example, the Attorney General is not informed of a specific problem that he would deem to be of public interest, while the Director of Criminal Prosecutions would maintain the perception that it is not a problem of public interest. We want to avoid situations in which prosecutions would be stopped or conducted when the Attorney General would have liked to be informed in order to intervene publicly and to publish that intervention in the Canada Gazette.
Examples may be numerous or scarce. My experience as a prosecutor leads me to believe that the prosecutor doesn't always—and this isn't a criticism—have a political sensibility in certain cases. The Attorney General would like to be informed so as to be able to tell the House of Commons and the public what has happened. The idea is thus to ensure this communication between the two entities.
I move amendment G-40.4.
Members will note that on clause 123, government amendment 40.4 replaces lines 21 and 22 on page 104, with the following:
||interest, the Attorney General may, after
So to put it into context, if you go to lines 21 and 22:
|| 14. When, in the opinion of the Attorney General, proceedings raise questions of public interest, the Attorney General may, after notifying the Director, intervene in first instance or on appeal.
I invite some commentary from our panel of experts.
I'm going to rule it inadmissible, before you get going.
Amendment L-14 proposes an amendment relating to the Attorney General of Canada. It is amending section 2 of the Department of Justice Act.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 654 that “an amendment is inadmissible if it amends a statute that is not before the committee or a section of the parent Act unless it is specifically being amended by a clause of the bill.” Since section 2 of the Department of Justice Act is not being amended by Bill C-2, it is inadmissible to propose such an amendment; therefore, amendment L-14 is inadmissible.
We'll return to clause 123 for a vote, and it was amended a number of times, if I recall.
(Clause 123 as amended agreed to)
(Clauses 131 to 142 inclusive agreed to)
(Clause 124 agreed to)
(On clause 125—Acting Director)
There are two things happening with this amendment. The first is that it's simply clarifying that the current assistant deputy attorney general of criminal law would act as the DPP until such time as a DPP is actually appointed. So the current version of Bill C-2 required that to be a year and it's an inflexible timeframe rather than a more fluid one, which is once the appointment process can actually be completed.
The second thing the amendment is doing is also putting in place a mechanism to allow for someone to act as the Director of Public Prosecutions in the event that something happens to the assistant deputy attorney general of criminal law, again because there's a gap until the appointment can be made. This is just again putting in place a bit of a safeguard in case something were to happen to the assistant deputy attorney general of criminal law.
(Amendment agreed to)
(Clause 125 as amended agreed to)
(Clauses 126 and 127 agreed to)
Thank you for your question, sir.
I had the opportunity to testify before this committee at the start of the month, if my memory serves me, and I believe you asked me the same question. I was told my answer was good, so I'm going to repeat it.
In criminal prosecutions, appearances are often as important as, if not more important than the reality. In my career as a prosecutor, which has spanned roughly 30 years at the federal and provincial level, I have never had any problem with so-called political interventions by one of the 12 or 13 attorneys general for whom I have worked.
Appearances are at times different. Over those years, there have been, unfortunately all too often, situations in which both the public and the media had a perception of political intervention, which had not occurred. That perception was conveyed by individuals who based their assertion on what I would call circumstances that might lead them to consider that there might have been political intervention, which was not the case.
Often they came to the conclusion that the people representing the Attorney General, those acting as deputy attorneys general, were close to politicians that were accountable to their political masters. Those apparent interventions might have occurred, but, and I repeat, they in fact had not.
This provision reproduces what is done elsewhere in the Commonwealth and what has been done for about 10 years in Nova Scotia, Quebec and, for a few months and in part, what has been done in British Columbia. In Nova Scotia, a DPP was created as a result of a claim that there had been political intervention.
So in response to that question, in my last appearance before the committee, I asked whether we had to wait for a scandal before creating an institution which, in appearance and reality, gives greater independence to the Director of Criminal Prosecutions, who will be selected by parliamentarians, ultimately, based on the amendments that have been tabled this morning.
Under those provisions, we are assured that, when difficult situations arise in which the claim is made that there has been political intervention, it can always be doubted, since the individual who has made the decision will be independent of all political intervention, will be free from all political contact and, in his soul and conscience, will pursue his objective of prosecuting individuals.
I thank you for that, and I accept your expression of concern for the appearance of political interference.
Perhaps I could ask this. If the Department of Justice Act was amended—and I understand it can't be in this proceeding, Mr. Chair—to provide for the same protection of an Attorney General, as was suggested in amendment L-14, for the same provisions as for the director of prosecutions, if the Attorney General intervened in or indeed took over an individual prosecution or a general matter of prosecution policy, would that not provide the same protection against a misapprehension or a doubt in the public about the impartiality and professionalism of the process? It would provide exactly the same mechanism of giving notice in writing and gazetting that these provisions provided, but without the need for a separate Director of Public Prosecutions office.
Thank your for your questions. I think the fact of ensuring that there is a comfort zone about the degree of independence that we want to give the office is a choice.
Certain models could have been adopted. In this case, preference went to the model of what I would call the summum of independence that we want to grant an individual. We want to be certain that the individual will have the most absolute power of independence. We've adopted the best models from other Commonwealth institutions.
With this bill, we're much closer to the model followed by the province of Quebec a few weeks ago. I'd even go as far as to say that we have approved on it. In Quebec, selection of the Director of Criminal Prosecutions does not involve intervention by the members of the National Assembly. Here it involves intervention by the members of the House of Commons. In the Quebec model, the appointment process involves people from the outside, but does not require the intervention of the representatives of the political parties who sit in the National Assembly. Here, with this bill, we do so for the members of the House of Commons, which ensures that the individual is recognized by all political parties and thus has greater political neutrality.
As you said, it is true that the fact that the Attorney General is required to give public instructions in writing and to publish them in the Canada Gazette is an excellent way to enable him not only to inform the public that he is taking charge of a case, but also that he will be politically accountable for his decision and will have to give the reasons why he made it.
I have a brief statement.
Clause 143 relates to the Access to Information Act, and as has happened before, there is a series of clauses related to this particular clause. The chair is suggesting we deal with all the amendments that pertain to the subject matter of clause 143 before we put the question on clause 143.
We will deal with the amendments to clauses 143, 144, 145.1, and 164. Once this is completed, we will put the question on 143, and its results will be applied to all the consequential clauses, namely clauses 144, 145, 145.1, and 164.
We will move on to the amendments of 143. We have a New Democratic motion on page 119 of your book, it is amendment NDP-9.
The definition of government institution is critically important. It's vital. If we're going to expand those institutions that operate in the shadows currently, if we're going to shine the light of day on government institutions, there's a necessary amendment we have to make to alter the definition of what we consider a government institution. The language we've put forward expands that greatly to include parent crowns, as if there's any doubt.
You will notice the previous government rationed which government institutions shall and shall not be covered by access to information. In other words, there was no freedom of information. The right to know was not acknowledged anywhere but in flowery speeches by the former Minister of Justice.
We're talking about the right to know what goes on within the confines of these crown corporations and institutions and agencies. Currently, 46 out of 249 government crown corporations, institutions and agencies are subject to the access to information laws. I can find out what goes on in the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, but I can't find out what goes on in massive crown corporations or foundations or agencies that deal with billions and billions of dollars outside the scrutiny of the public. Imagine if we had 30 million auditors instead of one Auditor General; imagine what we could unearth in terms of maladministration or waste, or simply being able to justify to the public how their public dollars are being spent in these institutions. The Liberals created an environment of distrust and fear--
Mr. Martin, I know you're impassioned on this subject. You and I have sat on another committee, and I'm quite aware how impassioned you are; there's no question about that. I just again ask that you refrain from—I'm going to use the word “baiting”, and I've used it several times—other members of the committee.
Mr. Martin, you still have the floor.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's impossible to address passage of this particular clause without addressing the politics associated with undermining this particular clause. I have reason to believe, and I've been told, that the other opposition parties are conspiring to oppose every amendment on access to information. It's out of protest because they're not getting the entire John Reid package before this committee.
If that is true, and if I yield the floor and allow you to put it to a vote, and these people exercise their vote to undermine and to sabotage the improvements that we do have in front of us for Bill C-2, we'll be doing a disservice to everyone who relies on access to information for—
If I sound frustrated, let's consider the users of a clause like this and the beneficiaries of a clause like this. Quite often it's journalists, quite often it's opposition parties who use access to information requests to shine a light on the inner workings of the mysteries of this massive behemoth we call government.
There was a deliberate effort in recent years—and I won't say by which political party, but I can say it's within the time I've been here—to squirrel money away into foundations and into institutions being created: scholarship funds, innovation foundations, all kinds of.... Billions and billions of dollars that would no longer be before the public accounts committee were hived off from the normal access and the normal scrutiny that the system contemplates, or that the system has built in the oversight for. There's been a lack of oversight of, I'd say, one-third of the government's economic activity.
What we're seeking to do by this amendment is chisel away at that, incrementally chip away at it, so that ideally, someday in the fullness of time, all of government's activities will be in the full light of day. We're very concerned that now not enough is.
And there are very few friends of open government in the senior ranks of the bureaucracy. We are pushing an enormous rock up an enormous hill as we fight this battle for open government, for freedom of information. And I hope people focus on that word “freedom”; it's a fundamental freedom and a fundamental right to know what people are doing with our money on our behalf.
So it's reasonable to take the narrow definition of government institutions that are subject to access to information and expand it. I would like to expand it further, and we intend to do that at another committee, hopefully with your help, Mr. Chairman, as you will be a vice-chairman of the ethics committee, which will be dealing with the fuller picture of access to information laws.
But for now, we have a bird in the hand, which is worth two in the bush. We have an opportunity before us; we have a window of opportunity to do something meaningful and significant. Before noon, even before lunch, we will have changed the world if we pass this amendment. And that's not bad; we will have done a day's work already. We could go home satisfied that we've done something good for Canadians and not just twiddled our thumbs and argued about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin in any part of Canada.
So I'm adamant that...well, I suppose I appeal to my colleagues in the opposition benches: do not take any hostility or resentment out towards me on this important initiative. If you feel that way, we can meet outside and we can argue. But don't jeopardize something good because of petty partisan politics. Let's do something for Canadians before the end of this session of this 39th Parliament.
An hon. member: Hear, hear!
I appreciate the sentiments Mr. Martin expressed as they pertain to the objective of his amendment. The difficulty I personally have is that I actually do believe that if one is going to change the rules that affect an entity, whether it be a crown corporation or an individual, those parties should be heard, and we should actively seek out their views on a potential amendment.
I applaud the government in the sense that notwithstanding that we did not necessarily hear from all of the witnesses that we, the Liberals, wished to hear from, I believe we heard from a sufficiently broad base so we got a fairly decent understanding—not as extensive or as profound as I would have liked—from the various parties who were going to be affected by Bill C-2 in its current written stage on how it was going to affect them. Those who felt it was going to affect them negatively actually made recommendations and proposed amendments.
Therefore, given that the aim of the amendment NDP-9.2 is to change the regime--of which certain entities who will be affected by it were not consulted or did not have an opportunity to come before the committee--I do believe this should be in the domain of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee, in its review subsequent to the tabling of the government's paper on the reform of access to information.
Therefore I won't be supporting amendment NDP-9.2.
Mr. Martin makes some good points. In that an Irishman named Martin founded the SPCA, I wonder if Mr. Martin is getting his Irish up a bit today.
I don't know if it's permissible to ask him a question, but in the interests of understanding this and seeing why it's important, we heard from a number of witnesses that protecting proprietary information, protecting competitive advantages for people who seek government funding, is paramount for many of the groups we speak of. With your permission, Mr. Chair—it's your ruling—I would like to hear from Mr. Martin what protection there may be remaining to make sure someone who's in the innovation field isn't disadvantaged on a world scale by having an ATI application expose some of his trade secrets or staffing levels. These things are very important to our economy and our well-being.
I don't know if that's permissible.
I will briefly, and thank you for that very legitimate, serious question.
I am quite comfortable in the research we've done that the Information Commissioner has within his discretion the right to withhold the release of any information that may be commercially sensitive. There are a number of checks and balances built into the Access to Information Act to deal with that very thing, and there are further complete exclusions built into Bill C-2 for places that are particularly sensitive, such as the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, where they may be seeking large institutional investors who may be scared away if they think that, even 20 years down the road, information normally considered privileged in the corporate world may be made public because of their relationship with this quasi-public institution.
The points you raise are valid, sir, but they are already accommodated within the discretion of the Information Commissioner.