Mr. Chair, before we get there, I appreciate that. but there's an item of business that ought to be dealt with in public before we go in camera. That is the motion I moved back on February 25, which has been discussed but not voted on at every meeting since that time, relating to the members of the Senate advisory panel.
You may recall, it was to bring them before this committee within the month of March to deal with all aspects of their mandate. Just to make the point here, this was raised before March had started, and it has been raised at every meeting in the month of March, as well as at the last meeting in the month of February. There's only one more meeting in the month of March, and therefore, it seems reasonable to have a vote on this motion, up or down, today. So, I wonder if we could just deal with that item of business.
I have nothing to add to the discussions we've had about this, except to note that if it is of concern to the Liberal members, who have been delaying a vote on this for a month now, that the month of March is nearly over and it would be difficult to get the members of the panel and that at this point the actual first run of appointments has been made, I accept the validity of all those points and would be prepared to accept a friendly amendment that the members of the advisory panel be invited to come here in March or April, depending on what works for them.
I wonder if we could deal with that item first, and then I'd be happy to go in camera to deal with the witness list for the family-friendly changes to the Standing Orders.
I'm sorry. I was listening to you wrap things up, and you switched from describing to action. I'm sorry.
I wanted an opportunity to respond, and particularly to Mr. Graham's comments, because I believe that was one of the last presentations we heard. He was kind enough to reference me in his remarks and I want to return the favour.
In responding to his screed of March 8, it was interesting that he said:
||David Christopherson referred to this lack of a vote as a big mistake as we walked out of the room, a comment which I found regrettable as I do in fact have a good deal to say on the topic and appreciate having the time to say it.
Fine. I let him off the hook and the member wants to draw attention to it. That's fine.
The fact of the matter is that we were in the middle of a committee meeting. The government wanted a vote that would affirm the selection list to their new selection process, and we were having all kinds of debates here. The government really wanted that motion and, of course, they were going to win it because they have a majority. We all went out of our way to extend the meeting so that we would stay in order and the government could get to that motion, and the second to last thing we dealt with was an opposition issue. Then, instead of the government taking advantage of all the planning they had done and the extending of the meeting and going on for five or 10 minutes, instead of actually having that vote, they walked out and left the vote sitting on the table.
I was just pointing out the lack of focus, and the lack of the government's keeping an eye on what it wanted to achieve. They blew it.
Then Mr. Graham felt it necessary to give me an opportunity to point out again how the committee didn't even seem to know what they were doing. Anybody who's looking a little quizzical can go back and check the minutes. You'll see exactly what I'm talking about.
At the moment the government could have moved the motion they wanted, which was that this committee would have formally, even with the opposition voting against it.... With a majority they would have carried it and they would have got their affirmation. Instead, they didn't let it happen. After all the work we did to get to that part of the meeting so they could have this particular vote, we got there and they didn't call for the vote.
You want to give me an opportunity to underscore the incompetence of the government members on that particular issue again, so I'd take the opportunity, Mr. Graham.
I also found it quite interesting that further into the diatribe, he said, “As it happens, I do like the Senate in principle, and believe it has a fundamental and inherent value to our process...”.
I just wanted to say, Chair, through you to Mr. Graham, that this sounds like the ultimate Liberal insider. I don't know how much real-world work the member has done between school and getting involved in politics, but I know that the member is very active in the Liberal Party, very well connected, very well respected, I might say, and very well regarded. But this whole idea of “Oh, I'm that comfortable with the Senate and I want to bring it nice and close”, that's the viewpoint of the ultimate insider who sees a Senate appointment as the culmination of an insider's career.
The last thing I wanted to mention was that—I'm actually laying the groundwork for using this later, but I'm mentioning it now because it was in this context—Mr. Graham further said:
||While nobody on this side of the room knows how many motions were introduced and defeated, under the Conservatives' draconian use of in camera meetings, I would be hard pressed to believe no attempts were ever made.
On that one, I agree, and I intend to use that quote, if I can recall it at the time—because I have a lot of stuff—when we get back to my in camera motion, because it does speak directly to that.
I just wanted an opportunity to do that and to point out to colleagues that I agree with Mr. Reid. I mean, there was an attempt, and there still is, to try to deal with goodwill, for the most part. We're going to get into our troughs of partisanship, as I just did, but for the most part, we try to rise above that, and I don't think the government played fair with this at all. I'm not attacking, but there really was an attempt to be fair-minded on the part of Mr. Reid in terms of trying to have a timely visit by the minister.
If colleagues from the government benches will recall, it's in the committee Hansard. I actually said that I was going to take a risk and “trust the government”, because I wanted an absolute date for when the minister would come. Instead they insisted on language that said “when it fits the minister's schedule”. I raised the concern that's often used as a fig leaf, and when the time comes, they claim their schedule doesn't let them come. Then they can't come to the committee until it's far from being timely. That's exactly what happened, unfortunately.
I want to point out to the government that I'm very disappointed. I did go out on a limb. You didn't need my vote to win, but you did need it to provide some sense that you weren't playing politics and were trying to be fair-minded. I took you at your word. I gave you my precious vote and said that I would trust, and I think that trust was betrayed, quite frankly.
It looks to me like the government has played games with this whole thing. In particular, the official opposition has been very strident in going after the government in terms of the detailed process on this, but so what? I mean, that's part of the process. Part of the problem is the secrecy around the selection process with the Senate. I'm not sure that the government has done themselves any favours by the process that they followed.
I just wanted to get a couple of those things off my chest. Unless somebody sparks a further response from me, I'm ready to vote.
There are just a couple of things that I think are relevant.
Mr. Graham indicated that he had given us reasons earlier why he would be voting against this motion. I'm hoping to persuade him to reconsider voting against it on the following basis. He, along with Arnold Chan, indicated that we didn't need to get the members of the advisory panel back. Notwithstanding the fact that members of the advisory panel were prohibited from answering some questions, or in some cases I was prohibited from asking questions on the basis of the mandate we'd had at the earlier set of meetings, he said that we didn't need to get them back because those questions would be answered by the minister when the minister was here.
We got the minister here on March 10 and asked her a number of questions. In answer to some of the questions, she said, “I don't know. That's not what I was in charge of. It's a panel that has set up certain processes and acted independently of my control.”
Therefore, these are questions that I believe Mr. Graham may well have believed, in good faith, would be answered by the minister when she was here on March 10. She indicated that she could not answer them at that time. It was not a matter of her withholding information from us. She simply did not possess that information. The members of the panel were the only ones who could answer these questions.
There are some additional questions that seem logical to ask at this time, given the nature of the appointments. In fact we have literally no information at all—at all—on the reasons for this new information or these unexpected changes, the most obvious one being the appointment of seven people to the Senate when we were promised five. Something happened that was a deviation from the initial announcement and from, I have to assume, the initial plan as well. It does seem unlikely to me that the would have announced appointing five people, all the while thinking—I could do my Montgomery Burns imitation here—that he was really going to appoint seven people to the Senate. Even if he did have that kind of Mephistophelean inclination, I just don't think he'd use it for this purpose. And I'm not accusing him of being Montgomery Burns, just to be clear about that. But something happened that made us go to seven instead of five.
Here's my question. It's not the only question I want to ask, but it's a question I would want to ask. We are told that the way the process is set up, the panel makes five recommendations for each vacancy. The Prime Minister has the discretion to take from the list or to not take from the list. Now, when it comes to someone like Chantal Petitclerc, I find it hard to believe that her name was not on the list. But when it comes to the former head of the transition team for the Prime Minister, I mean, was he actually nominated through that process or was it simply an old-fashioned kind of nomination, where the Prime Minister says he needs somebody who he thinks will be a good representative of the government in the Senate? It's not, incidentally, an unreasonable position to take; it's just unreasonable to take it while pretending you're taking a different approach.
That could be what happened. Mr. Harder may or may not have been appointed through the regular process. I would want to ask that question. Was he one of the people who was on the list, or was he someone who was appointed from outside? If we say this is a transparent system—and the word “transparent” is used, not “quasi-transparent”, or “opaque”, or “frosted glass”, but “transparent”—then that's a reasonable question to get an answer to. The government gave no indication. They didn't say that, yes, they got.... The Prime Minister could say this, by the way. He's under no obligation not to indicate that, yes, he took him from outside the list. Likewise, the head of Premier Wynne's transition team was appointed. Was she from outside the list or not?
It's possible that both these people were recommended by independent nominations that came from the charitable sector, or a union, or something like that. It's possible that wasn't the case. But these seem like reasonable things to be asking. There would be a limit to what we can ask because of the “Protected B” status of information contained on those nomination forms, but we can comply with those rules and still ask some of the questions I'm outlining here.
It seems reasonable to bring them before us to answer those questions, which do not put them in a position of disclosing information that it's inappropriate for them to disclose, given the formal agreement, or vow, or oath, or whatever it is that they undertook when they first came here. I'll conclude with that.
Finally, in the spirit of precision that my friend Mr. Graham likes so much—he pointed out, of course, on a previous occasion, that I had talked for 1,200 seconds in elaborating my points—I just want to point out that because we didn't deal with this at that meeting as I had requested, this has been delayed now since February 25, through March 8, March 10, March 22, which is today, which means that thanks to the unwillingness of the government to take a vote until a month had passed and the process was completed, we have been delayed by 139,968,000 seconds. I would like to bring that delay to a conclusion, although I'm in no position to stop others from speaking. Perhaps, if people are willing, we could try having our vote now.
Mr. Chair, I would bring to your attention the fact that my motion is still outstanding regarding in camera.
However, I think that given the government's proposal that witness lists be in camera and the fact that at this stage I'm not likely to oppose that, although we haven't finished the discussions, I just wanted to say that I'm willing to go in camera on this in the absence of having set those ground rules, given that the matter at hand is not as divisive. Certainly, it's not a partisan divide and therefore, I don't think we'll get into the kinds of problems that we could if we haven't clarified what we can do in camera and what can be said outside, etc.
All of this is to say that I will support going in camera as long as it's understood that it's without prejudice, that we're not setting a pattern, and it's based on the belief that this is a non-partisan and non-controversial issue, and therefore, we should be able to do it without having finalized those rules.
I'm still looking forward at the earliest opportunity to get back in and nail that down so that as we go forward we don't have these lingering questions about what our rules of engagement are.
With that understanding, Mr. Chair, I'd be prepared to support going in camera to deal with the witness list.
Ordinarily, I would agree entirely with bumping it up to two hours. I'm not opposed to it, but we do have a two-hour session tentatively set for May 3. That is to talk about everything to do with elections, virtually any question. I thought your guidance was pretty good, Chair, because you're right. At committee, you're allowed a lot more latitude than you are in the House, as a general rule. On estimates, you're allowed even further latitude because of the tradition and the nature of that business; people aren't boxed in to only being able to talk about one thing. If during the course of that meeting, we come up with issues that are going to be outside the parameters of the May 3 meeting, then by all means there should be a motion to extend it. It will be in public, so all of the pressure will be there. If there's good cause, we can set up a separate meeting to deal with that issue. But I suspect—and this is why I'm comfortable going with the process the way it's outlined—that virtually anything that we on the opposition, or the government, might want to ask would be eligible in that two hours and to raise the issue at least in the estimates process, where it can be signalled that we can talk about it further.
If we get to the point where something really important comes up during the meeting on the estimates, and some of my colleagues have said that they want to utilize that broader net, that's fair enough. I intend to do the same thing. I'm assuming the Chief Electoral Officer will just say that we can talk about that on May 3 with no problem, in which case we don't have a problem. But, if for some reason, and I can't think of what it might be now, but if something came up where it's not going to fit into the two hours, it's a legitimate issue, and we need more time, then by all means it's understood that a motion will be placed at that time and we as a committee would consider continuing.
I really think this is a safe way to go. The failsafe in there is that, if there are questions that can't be asked and/or can't be deferred over to the May 3 meeting, then by all means there's legitimacy to calling for that meeting to be extended for that sole purpose of talking about that one issue, if that's the only way we can get at it. I think this provides us with the opportunity to do that, if need be. Between this meeting and the two hours, I'm expecting that certainly any of the concerns I have, and I'm also anticipating any that other members may have, would be in order, would be allowed, and would be dealt with through one of the three venues offered up: the estimates hour, the two hours on May 3, or if necessary, a special meeting to deal with a special issue.
Do you want me to go on? I can: tick, tick, tick.
It seems to me though that we're not denying ourselves any options with what I've put forward, because I put forward that instead of two hours, we could do one hour with the understanding that virtually anything that would take more time would legitimately be part of the two-hour meeting. Keep in mind that with this officer, we have three hours planned for the very near future.
Again, if it's something that can't be dealt with within that one hour, we have the option of sending it over to the May 3 meeting when we'll have two hours with him. We've also agreed that if something comes up during that discussion that doesn't fit into the two-hour mandate of our meeting but we still believe is worth pursuing, it's understood that a motion would be placed and we would debate whether or not to continue that meeting.
I guess I'm saying why schedule that second hour, when every hour matters to us, if we don't have to? If it's necessary, we will, but if it's not necessary, we won't.