That Standing Order 111.1 be replaced with the following:
“(1) Where the government intends to appoint an Officer of Parliament, the Clerk of the House, the Parliamentary Librarian, the Parliamentary Budget Officer or the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the name of the proposed appointee shall be deemed referred to the Subcommittee on Appointments of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which may consider the appointment during a period of not more than thirty days following the tabling of a document concerning the proposed appointment.
(2) At the beginning of the first session of a Parliament, and thereafter as required, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall name one Member from each of the parties recognized in the House to constitute the Subcommittee on Appointments. The Subcommittee shall be chaired by the Deputy Speaker who shall be deemed to be an associate member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for the purposes of this Standing Order. The Subcommittee shall be empowered to meet forthwith following the referral of a proposed appointee pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order.
(3)(a) After it has met pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, the Subcommittee on Appointments shall forthwith deposit with the clerk of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs a report recommending the approval or rejection of the appointment, and that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;
(b) If no report has been filed with the clerk of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the thirtieth day following the nomination of a proposed appointee, a report recommending the rejection of the appointment shall be deemed to have been filed with the clerk and that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee.
(4) Immediately after the presentation of a report pursuant to section (3) of this Standing Order which recommends the approval of the appointment, the Clerk of the House shall cause to be placed on the Notice Paper a notice of motion for concurrence in the report, which shall stand in the name of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons under Notices of Motions (Routine Proceedings). Any such motion may be moved during Routine Proceedings on any of the 10 sitting days following the expiry of the notice provided that, if no such motion has been moved on the 10th sitting day following the expiry of the notice, it shall be deemed moved on that day. The question on the motion shall be put forthwith without debate or amendment.
(5) Immediately after the presentation of a report pursuant to section (3) of this Standing Order which recommends the rejection of the appointment, the proposed nomination shall be deemed withdrawn.”; and
That the Clerk of the House be authorized to make any required editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.
He said: Mr. Speaker, thank you for that impassioned reading of what we can all admit is true poetry in parliamentary terms. I may have welled up a couple of times during your recitation. For folks watching, we will certainly endeavour over the course of not just my speech but speeches of others in the House, I am sure, to translate what was just said and what it actually means for Canadians. Fundamentally, what we are trying to do today is make Parliament work, make government work better for Canadians, and allow Canadians to have more confidence that their government is being held to account when it comes to spending, programs, our elections, and some small things like that.
The place I want to start with is the place I represent. Northwestern British Columbia is the riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, and the support I receive from the good people there allows me to stand in this place and speak on their behalf. When I think about how we conduct ourselves in our communities in northern British Columbia, good faith, trust, and good-neighbour conduct are at the core of all of our communities because they are small towns. Being able to rely on one another, trust in one another, and have faith in the word of our neighbours is important for conducting business, operating our local governments, and just getting along in small communities; not just in northern British Columbia but right across Canada. People also send us to this place to try to make the country better, sometimes in small and incremental ways and sometimes in significant and larger ways.
The motion we are discussing here today, which will be voted on later this week, attempts to make better one of our most critical and fundamental institutions in our democracy. These are what are called, collectively, the officers of Parliament, a group of watchdogs who work on behalf of Parliament, and we work on behalf of Canadians. The only people who can hire and fire these watchdogs are the people of Parliament itself. The officers of Parliament work for us in doing incredibly difficult and serious work. If we look back through our recent to more distant history at the roles of various watchdogs from the Auditor General to the Commissioner of Languages and the Chief Electoral Officer, we see they all play fundamental and critical roles in the maintaining and the curbing of power.
We have to recognize that the system we have, the Westminster model that we adopted from England, especially with a majority government, allows an enormous amount of power to lie in the hands of the cabinet and the prime minister and those who advise the prime minister. In the nomination of Supreme Court justices, the handing out of thousands of patronage appointments, the orchestration of what happens in the House of Commons and sometimes committee, by extension, watchdogs including the parliamentary budget officer, the Auditor General, the languages commissioner, and the Ethics Commissioner are all a check on that power and play a central role in peace, order, and good governance.
I would like to quote the from early March of this year, when he said:
The Government is today taking further concrete steps to follow through on its commitment to reform the Senate, restore public trust, and bring an end to partisanship in the appointments process.
Those all sound like pretty good things. On reforming the Senate, Lord knows that could use some reforming. Some of us have perhaps more extreme positions on how it might be reformed. Restoring public trust is certainly an issue we have been dealing with as parliamentarians; over time the level of trust within the public toward institutions like government has eroded. Bringing an end to partisanship in the appointments process is also good because too often the appointments process to parole boards and to the hundreds of appointed positions that government can make have had a partisan, patronage nature; those who were helpful to the party that eventually formed government then got rewarded with very well-paid jobs that sometimes required some work and sometimes not so much. It is a quid pro quo that goes on within politics that absolutely disgusts Canadians who are not engaged in that process and say, “Wait a second; should it not just go to the best person, the most qualified person, not somebody who has a friend in the Prime Minister's Office, who was a big donor, etc.?”
When there is not a check on power, no accountability, and patronage is the rule of the game, there are the Brazeaus, the Duffys, and the Wallins, where a culture gets created in which people know they are not accountable, know that their access to a patronage position is simply through partisan efforts, and just continue that practice, because it works. They get paid, essentially, and do not have to be accountable to anybody.
The New Democrats' motion is long because we had to be very specific to the government. This is a good faith offer to make the appointments process more accountable to the Parliament that these officers serve and the Canadians, by extension, whom we serve. I will walk through the process because it is important, and then I will put this in the context of what we are dealing with today.
There are eight officers of Parliament, and the government has to fill those positions. By law, the is required to consult the other recognized party leaders. That is the law right now. What consultation means is obviously open to interpretation, but from my perspective, consultation has to be meaningful. It has to mean something; otherwise it is simply cynical. In my resource-rich riding, a lot of consultations go on with industry and government, and the folks I represent are very good at determining early on whether consultation is real, sincere, and meaningful, or is just someone ticking a box by holding a public meeting and writing down a few notes, but the decision has already been made that the government is going to go in a certain path or the mining company is going to perform the project a certain way. Meaningful consultation builds public trust and the social licence we often talk about, not just for industry but for government as well.
Cynical consultation, the kind that people start to understand early on is meaningless, does the opposite. It builds cynicism and resistance and erodes social licence for government, industry, whoever. The process that New Democrats are offering today is the following. When the government needs to fill a nomination, one of the officers of Parliament, it makes known who it would like to fulfill that role. That then is passed to an appointments committee, which most functioning Parliaments around the world use, by the way, detached from government. The appointments committee is made up simply of a representative of each of the recognized parties in the House. It has 30 days, so there is no delay, and much of it is done with an element of privacy in terms of interviewing candidates to make sure they are respected, because we want to be respectful of these folks. They often have high-profile lives and we want to be sure they are respected throughout the process.
After 30 days, the committee has two choices, essentially: it can reject or accept the appointment. If it accepts the appointment by a simple vote, ideally by consensus, which in the past has usually occurred on the appointments of officers, the vote then lands in Parliament, where it must land, because it is us as parliamentarians who these officers work for. Again, Parliament is the only place that hires and fires officers of Parliament, as it should be. It should not be up to anybody except us. That is it.
If the committee fails to report in 30 days, if someone is trying to monkey with the process, drag it out, rag the puck, as we say, then the candidate is assumed to be rejected. However, New Democrats believe that a good faith negotiation between representatives from the parties can certainly eliminate any of the pitfalls that we have seen recently, particularly with the language commissioner, which can not only derail the entire process, but even if the government were to try to force through an appointment that is not respected or condoned by the other recognized parties, it puts a cloud over the head of that officer of Parliament throughout his or her entire tenure, because of possibly being tainted with the notion of partisanship.
One of the key elements New Democrats are looking for is a good and fair process to all sides, both opposition and government, but it is also finding the right people. Clearly when hiring anybody, one wants the right skills and temperament. These are not easy jobs. Being the Auditor General of Canada is not an easy job. As for the Chief Electoral Officer, there is probably a short list of people qualified to fulfill the challenging position of running elections in Canada. The parliamentary budget officer is an incredibly important job, as that person looks to try to understand government promises, match them up with reality, and then report to Canadians as to what is happening. That is also a challenging job.
What cannot be allowed, which was usually the practice of Canada up until recently, is for the appointees, the officers of Parliament, the watchdogs, to be partisan in any way. They cannot be for one side. They cannot be seen as giving favour given to one party or another. It does not work. They will, by definition, be unable to perform their jobs on behalf of Parliament and Canadians.
Therefore, it makes no sense at all to have a process that would allow for partisanship to enter into these critical roles. That would further allow for the conditions, the culture, that would at least encourage, if not permit and make constant, an element and possibility of corruption or of partisanship seeping into everything that goes on here. When an Auditor General's report comes out or when the PBO reports to Parliament, as parliamentarians we can argue about the merits and the qualifications of certain elements of the report. However, never in my experience have we debated or had an argument about whether the report is biased and partisan toward one party or against another. That is good for Canadians. If there is a problem with the Official Languages Act and the languages commissioner reports that there is a problem, we never say that is because the commissioner is affiliated with this party or that party, thank goodness. We have enough partisanship as it is. It is inherent in the model of Parliament that political parties engage and clash on partisan lines. That is fine. That is encouraged. That is how it is designed to be. However, these folks play a unique and independent role, and that must remain so.
I can remember that Jack often said, when talking to us as a caucus, that while in opposition there are moments, and those moments are often frequent, where we must simply oppose, that if there were a proposal coming from the government that we believed and deemed to be bad for the country, we should oppose it, try to change or modify it, or sometimes even block it. He also said we must be in a frame of proposing, so that if we see a problem, we should not just complain about it but offer a solution.
Today that is what we are doing for the government. I sincerely hope and believe, despite some recent examples, that the government will take us up on this offer. It would help the Liberal government with this problem it has, a problem that some would argue is of its own creation, which is that the normal role of appointing an officer of Parliament should be done in such a way that the officer is celebrated, encouraged, and supported by all sides of the House. That is not the recent example, and it is a problem the government should be looking to solve. This is the solution we are offering. If I may say, I feel it is a fairly elegant solution. It does not change any of the statutes with respect to each of the officers of Parliament; it simply changes the rules of Parliament itself in terms of the process, and that is all. It adds in an element where any appointee who has been put forward as a candidate must simply meet with and meaningfully engage with all sides of the House and seek their approval, to make sure things like partisanship are not an element of the conversation.
I think it is fair to say that had this been the process in place in the most recent example with respect to the official languages commissioner, I am fairly confident we would have noticed that there was a clear and obvious element of partisanship present and that the candidate was not acceptable to perform a role such as the languages commissioner, which she has obviously now also deemed true herself because she has withdrawn her name from consideration. It did not have to be that way. I do not know Madame Meilleur; however, I have great empathy for her. I do not think the last month has been necessarily a good time.
Let us go back again to what these roles are, so that Canadians can understand the importance of this, because some of them might look at this motion and try to read through it and understand what it means. The effect of what we are suggesting is to improve how our elections are run; how government spending is monitored and controlled; how future government projections are estimated and understood, and whether they can be believed; whether our official languages are respected in this country, with various linguistic minority groups across Canada; how our ethics are maintained; and how we as parliamentarians are watched for our own ethical behaviour. These are the things we are talking about changing and improving today to make sure that watchdogs are watchdogs and not lapdogs. This is critical to the roles we have as parliamentarians.
I do not want to dwell too much on what happened with the official languages piece, but it is instructive. It is only truly a mistake if, once made, we do not learn from it. We all make mistakes. Things happen. We make a judgment that is the wrong call and turns out to not work so well. It is only a fundamental and worrisome problem if we keep making the mistake over and over again and do not learn from it. Therefore, let us learn from this one. Let us walk through the process.
On May 15 this spring, the government realized it had a number of appointments to fill, and one of those positions was the Commissioner of Official Languages. The government put forward the name of Madeleine Meilleur, a former Liberal MPP in Ontario, a provincial representative. Over her time in office, and even before, she chose to make donations not just provincially but federally, as well to the leadership campaign.
As the law requires, the was meant to consult with the other party leaders. Let us look at that consultation. A letter was issued by the Prime Minister's Office with his signature to the two party leaders saying that he had made an decision, and this was the appointment. One would really have to stretch the definition of consultation to the breaking point to suggest that this was somehow meaningful.
I might consult with my six-year-old twins that way on what we are having for dinner. I might say, “We are going to have hamburgers. Is everybody good?” I could say I consulted, I suppose, but I was not really open to other radical ideas of what dinner might consist of. When a parent has to get the kids food, these are the decisions that have to be made sometimes. Kids like hamburgers, so there is a pretty good chance that the consultation will go well. I would never suggest to my children or to anyone that it was meaningful consultation.
What happened with the Prime Minister's Office was not consultation. Let us be clear. One cannot simply say a decision has been made, suck it up, this is happening, and members were consulted.
To continue, the letter went out. We saw the candidate, we looked through the résumé, and we raised flags, because partisanship was a problem. It put the individual in a conflict of interest. What kind of conflict of interest? If a person has some association with a member of Parliament, in this case the himself, one cannot investigate that person fairly. It would be like an individual going to court and when pulling into the parking lot seeing the judge and the other lawyer getting out of the same car and finding out over the course of the day that they were golfing buddies and were related. There would be problems with the impartiality of the bench at that point, and there would be a call for a mistrial, which would succeed.
Madame Meilleur recently admitted that she had initially been seeking an appointment to the Senate as an independent senator but realized she was too partisan and withdrew her name from consideration. The Senate is meant to be non-partisan and impartial. That was a clear admission that she recognized partisanship. I do not know how, when she met with the advisers prior to being nominated, it was not obvious to them as well, because it was obvious to her. She admitted to the committee that she would have an impossible time investigating the Prime Minister because of that conflict of interest. There are, by the way, investigations by the Commissioner of Official Languages right now as they are by the Ethics Commissioner.
Imagine if one started to name partisan commissioners, and there was a problem with elections, for example, which we have had, and the Chief Electoral Officer said he could not investigate because he had a connection to one of the political actors. What about the Ethics Commissioner or the parliamentary budget officer, and on down the line it goes?
Madame Meilleur's name was finally withdrawn after less than a month. However, for a month the government defended her appointment day after day, saying there was nothing wrong with that partisanship, because they are Liberals, and Liberals investigating Liberals should not be a problem.
We think it is a problem, because there are upcoming appointments. The Liberal government seems to have an appointments problem. It does not seem to be able to make them. There have been many extensions. Many positions have sat vacant for months, coming on years. Appointments are coming up, within weeks, in some cases, for the Auditor General, the Integrity Commissioner, the Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying , the Information Commissioner, the parliamentary budget officer, and of course, the Commissioner of Official Languages.
This change we can make. An elegant, straightforward change to the process to appoint officers of Parliament can be made and voted on this week, and the change can come into force for all these appointments that are coming up to get the process right for Canadians, because that is who we work for, not anyone else.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to addressing the concern raised by the member. I have read the motion, and I appreciate the opportunity to debate it in this place. That is exactly what we were elected to do, so I look forward to the discussion of today.
In the context of agents of Parliament, as indicated on the Parliament of Canada website, there are eight agents of Parliament. The Auditor General was first created in 1868. The Chief Electoral Officer was established in 1920. The Commissioner of Official Languages was established in 1970. The Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner were both created in 1983. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner were both established in 2007. The Commissioner of Lobbying was created in 2008.
Each officer of Parliament is given a unique mandate and carries out the duties set out in the legislation. Each one of them plays a crucial role in our democracy. They also share some common threads that are worth keeping in mind today.
By definition, an agent of Parliament reports to parliamentarians in one or both Houses, but is independent from the government of the day. More specifically, agents of Parliament were created to support Parliament in its scrutiny and oversight of government.
Our government recognizes the important work that agents of Parliament do and how that work must reflect the high standards and accountability that Canadians expect.
Allow me to return now to my earlier remarks about the government's GIC appointments approach.
Applicants who submit their candidacy for appointment to an agent of Parliament position are subject to the government's open, transparent, and merit-based selection process approach, as well as other measures of assessment, all in addition to the already existing statutory and Standing Order requirement for approval by one or both Houses of Parliament.
If I may illustrate this again, using the position of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner as an example, candidates for this position must demonstrate, as required under the Language Skills Act, that they are able to speak and understand clearly both official languages.
The Parliament of Canada Act also requires that the commissioner must be one of the following: a former judge of a superior court in Canada, or of any other court whose members are appointed under an act of the legislator of a province; or a former Senate ethics officer or a former ethics commissioner; or a former member of a federal or provincial board, commission, or tribunal who, in the opinion of the Governor in Council, has demonstrated expertise in one or more of the following areas: conflict of interest, financial arrangements, professional regulation and discipline, and ethics.
What does this mean, in practice, for the position and all other agents of Parliament?
It starts with the application process itself. Any Canadian who feels qualified to fill the responsibilities of the position can register online and apply. In fact, if any of my colleagues know any constituents who could be a good fit for one of these positions, I would recommend they be encouraged to apply.
The government is very mindful that we want the best and most qualified people possible for these important roles. This is why each selection process for leadership positions is also supported by a recruitment strategy and the expertise of an executive search firm. This sometimes involves advertising or reaching out to targeted communities, such as professional associations and stakeholders. This process eventually results in the identification of a qualified candidate. There is also a requirement, however, that once the government has identified a candidate, that it consult with the leader of every recognized party in one or both Houses of Parliament, depending upon the legislation.
Let me be clear that under the current process, these appointments must be approved by a resolution of one or both Houses. This resolution is one that all members of this place have the right to vote on whether they agree with the appointment or not and in all instances. The reality is that the motion before us today would take that right away. Not only that, it would essentially delegate this place's power to decide to a small subcommittee composed of only three members of Parliament and the Deputy Speaker.
The House should continue to have the ability to vote on these nominations and allow the recommendations that the current committee makes to inform their vote on the motion to confirm the nomination.
I would like to take a few more minutes to touch on another example which demonstrates the progress that has been made under the new GIC appointments approach.
In August 2016, our government announced a new process for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. Canadians were tired of patronage appointments and asked us to do things differently. As a result, we wanted to deliver on a process that assured Canadians that our new approach would be transparent, inclusive, and accountable to all Canadians.
To deliver on this commitment to Canadians, we created an independent and non-partisan advisory board. It was established to recommend qualified, functionally bilingual candidates who reflected a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. This approach respects Canadians and reflects Canada.
In September, following the retirement of Justice Thomas Cromwell, qualified lawyers and persons holding judicial office who wished to be considered for this vacancy were directed to apply to the independent advisory board for the Supreme Court of Canada judicial appointments through the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada. It is noteworthy that the advisory board was chaired by a former Conservative prime minister, the Right Hon. Kim Campbell, the first and only woman to serve as Prime Minister of Canada.
Those interested in applying were encouraged to first review the statutory requirements set out in the Supreme Court Act, as well as the statement of qualifications and assessment criteria that guided the advisory board in evaluating candidate suitability. Applicants were also told that they needed to complete and submit an application package that included a questionnaire, an authorization form, and a background check consent form.
This process led to the appointment of Justice Malcolm Rowe, a remarkably accomplished jurist, law professor, and lawyer. He also happens to be the first Newfoundlander bilingual jurist to be appointed to Canada's highest court.
This appointment was well received. A glowing profile of a Canadian lawyer described him as “A bilingual, empathetic, passionate judge”. His role as a long-time mentor of future Canadian leaders also drew praise.
Grace Pastine, litigation director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, told The Globe and Mail that she and others mentored by him were “dazzled by the depth of knowledge he has about how government works, about the legal and political history of Canada, and particularly Atlantic Canada.”
The objectives of our approach with Justice Rowe's appointment have guided all judicial appointments by my colleague, the . This reflects our government's emphasis on transparency, merit, and diversity. We will continue to ensure the appointments of jurists who meet the highest standards of excellence and integrity.
This is a good illustration of our approach to all GIC appointments. We must ensure the process is open to all Canadians, providing them with an opportunity, should they be interested and have the required qualifications, to participate in government organizations and make a contribution to Canada's democratic institutions by serving as GIC appointees.
Transparency in the process is crucial. We ensure clear information about the requirements and steps involved in the selection process is readily available to the public. This helps us reach as many Canadians as possible and attract a strong and diverse range of highly-qualified candidates. Decisions on appointments, I should add, are publicly available.
The selection process is also based on merit. It is designed to identify highly-qualified candidates who meet the needs of the organization and are able to perform the duties of the position to which they would be appointed.
It seeks individuals who have the qualifications, and I am talking about education, experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal suitability to fill the position. We also ensure they meet any statutory and/or other conditions.
Finally, we look for diversity. Our recruitment strategy seeks to attract qualified candidates who will help to achieve gender parity and reflect Canada's diversity in terms of linguistic, regional, and employment equity groups. By that I mean indigenous Canadians, women, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minority communities, as well as members of ethnic and cultural groups. With few exceptions, the government seeks to appoint bilingual Canadians to Governor in Council positions.
The made a personal commitment to bringing new leadership and a new approach to Ottawa. He committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. He committed to a different style of leadership, a style of leadership demanded by Canadians.
I have underlined the important roles that appointees play in our democratic institutions and I must once again point out that the motion put forth by the member opposite is fundamentally flawed. It tries to give a small subcommittee the ability to veto the appointment of an officer of Parliament without having it voted on by the House of Commons, and it thus limits the ability of all members in the House to have a say in the government's nomination of agents and officers of Parliament.
We were all elected to represent Canadians and we must all vote. The motion, as presented, would provide for an environment that could add an additional requirement and lead to delays for these appointments of important officers and agents of Parliament. Our government has committed to ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to serve their country through Governor in Council and other appointments.
I again encourage members of the House to promote these opportunities within their constituencies and encourage any Canadian who can add value to apply for opportunities across our institutions, including officers of Parliament.
I cannot emphasize enough that our government recognizes that tough regulations increase public confidence in their elected representatives, our public policies, and the decisions we make in the House.
Agents of Parliament represent key pillars of our democracy. They play a central role in helping us as parliamentarians to hold the government to account. This process works. Now that this new approach is hitting its stride, we will continue to see high-quality appointments being made to the judiciary, boards, and positions of leadership, including officers and agents of Parliament. Already this process has allowed us to make 170 merit-based appointments, of which 70% are women, 12% are visible minorities, and 10% are indigenous. This is a clear demonstration that we have put forward a process that reflects Canada.
I look forward to future appointments that will add to the diversity all Canadians expect their government to reflect in its appointments.
Mr. Speaker, that is a very reasonable concern for you and the clerks to have. It is just a suggestion that might make sense. I do not see any point in moving forward unless the mover is agreeable to it and it would cause the government to change its direction. The government has stated that its objection to this is purely that it gives a veto to the subcommittee. I am not sure they are right in their reading of the rule, but they have indicated exactly the basis on which they say this veto exists and the amendment would allow that objection to be taken away. This would allow us to test the sincerity of the government's resolve.
As I mentioned, section (4) of the new standing order would be worded slightly differently. Section (5) would make reference to section (4), and would accomplish the goal. However, if I have mis-drafted it, because I did this very much on the fly, it gives an opportunity for others here, particularly the mover, to make a superior amendment to the one I am suggesting for the purposes of answering the concerns expressed by the government House leader. That was the purpose of what I had to say.
With that, I will move on to my prepared text. First, Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for , so I have, at this point, six minutes left, and he will be carrying on with his own comments.
I also want to talk about the scope of the proposed amendment to the standing order and exactly to whom it would apply. There are a number of officers of Parliament: the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. All of these individuals would be covered, as well as the parliamentary budget officer who, if the budget implementation act is approved, as it almost certainly will be, will become an officer of Parliament. However, the position is named separately in the motion, just in case that does not happen. The Clerk of the House of Commons and the parliamentary librarian are also covered.
These are all individuals who are acting in a manner where they are deciding upon the rules of this place. It is reasonable that there should be the support of all parties. This way of dealing with these appointments is reasonable. It is not the only way, and it may not be the best way if one is trying to conceive of the best way.
About a decade ago, when we were preparing the Conservative Party's platform for the 2006 election, I pushed very hard and was successful at getting implemented in our party's platform another system for appointing officers of Parliament. It was to be by means of a secret ballot in the House of Commons, much in the way we elect the Speaker. That made it into our election platform. After he became prime minister, Stephen Harper took up the idea with the then Liberal House leader, the current . The Liberals said no, that we do not do that sort of thing, secret ballots, around here, and they rejected it and refused to move forward. Had that been adopted at that time, had it not been resisted by the then Liberal opposition, we would have that system in place and events like the kerfuffle over Madam Meilleur's proposed appointment would not have happened.
Is that superior to the proposal before us? Is it superior to what we suggested a decade ago? I am not sure, but what has been proposed by hon. colleague from is far superior to the status quo, and it might well be superior to what I proposed a decade ago.
Going through the specific items in the motion for the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, on the whole, this is a very sensible way of covering it. Section (1) deals with all of these officers of Parliament. That is the reasonable universe that ought to be covered, so I agree with that.
The subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is a reasonable place to put these things. The procedure and House affairs committee is the committee that deals with these kinds of procedural matters, appointments, review of appointments, and so on, so that is the right place for it to go.
A subcommittee would draw upon the senior individuals who are members of the procedure and House affairs committee, but the committee itself would not be tied up, as it can be, over some area that is going to draw it away from its other business. It has to deal with reviews of the election, legislation, items of privilege, and so on. Therefore, it is reasonable that this would go to a subcommittee.
The structure of the subcommittee involves all recognized parties, which is different from unanimity. This is, again, a reasonable level at which to set it. We can have a debate and we have had debates in the past over whether, with respect to recognized parties, the net should be cast more widely. Right now, the Bloc is left out because it does not meet the 12-member criteria. However, that is a separate debate from the debate over using recognized parties.
This essentially says the major players would be involved because, let us face it, we are mostly elected as members of parties. We all understand that it is very difficult to get elected as an independent. Nobody, in fact, was elected to this Parliament as an independent. It is reasonable to say that this is a way of aggregating the various interests, the legitimate interests that are involved. I agree with that, as well.
On the issue of a report that comes back, on the whole, the way in which the report comes back, either positive or negative, is very reasonable. That is section (3) of the proposed change to the Standing Orders. The subcommittee reports back to the House. Presumably, the actual report would come from the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee, not from the subcommittee chair, but that is a reasonable way of sending it back. Then the House makes the final decision.
We cannot override statute here. The fact is that with the way the statutes are designed, the House of Commons and the Senate are the two bodies that make the decision to approve an appointment. That would not change. I suggested an alternative wording as a possibility and I leave that for others to discuss as we go forward.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend for splitting his time with me today. I will admit that I might not speak to this issue with the laser-like precision of my hon. colleague, but I will certainly speak to the point.
On the surface, the point of the motion appears to be a reasonable attempt by my NDP colleague to clarify or bring into question a more transparent process. However, at this point we are still assessing the situation. We heard from the previous speaker that there may be some discussion with respect to a potential amendment coming forward.
Why are we dealing with an NDP opposition day motion to make the selection of officers of Parliament a more open, inclusive, and transparent process than clearly has gone on in the recent history of this Parliament? It is because the House of Commons was paralyzed over the course of the last three or four weeks, as was the Senate, with the appointment of Madam Meilleur. That became an important issue because of the government's talk about its open, merit-based, and transparent process for appointments. This one was anything but.
Madam Meilleur had donated thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party in the last election. She was an Ontario Liberal cabinet minister. She donated to the 's leadership campaign. We were dealing with the official languages commissioner position, which is a non-partisan independent officer position selected by and in consultation with Parliament. In the case of this appointment, anything but had happened. As a result, because of the attention of the opposition and media to this issue, Madam Meilleur was forced to step away from the appointment process. She did the right thing because her credibility certainly would have been tainted had she been appointed.
However, it speaks to the broader issue of the fact that the government thinks it can do anything it wants around here. I believe the government floated a trial balloon with respect to this appointment process, and I have said that publicly. The reason why those other officers of Parliament positions had not been filled to this point, in spite of the fact that the government has known for months and in some cases even a year that those positions would be vacant, was because it was trying to see if it could put a partisan Liberal person into what was typically a non-partisan independent position of Parliament. Had this been allowed to occur, we would have seen the dominoes fall on these other positions. I believe, as I believe members on this side of the House do, that we would have seen Liberal Party donors and insiders being proposed as appointments to those positions of Parliament.
I will give the hon. member for credit for often saying that what the and Liberal government were looking for was not an opposition but an audience. The same would have been true for the officers of Parliament positions. They are the ones who hold the government to account on spending, on ethics, on lobbying, on elections, and so forth. Historically, like the opposition, they have played a very important role in Parliament with respect to consultation on the appointments of these officers of Parliament.
Earlier, the government House leader talked about this open and transparent merit-based process. The Liberals are using these talking points, saying that they have somehow changed the system to make it more open, more transparent, and more merit-based. However, we are seeing, and the Meilleur example is just one example of several, Liberal donors, Liberal insiders and Liberal Party members being appointed to these important positions.
I will give the House a few examples.
Jennifer Stebbing was appointed to the Hamilton Port Authority. She was a former Liberal candidate for Flamborough—Glanbrook. She has already announced she will seek the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in 2019. Johnna Kubik, a federal judge, donated 26 times to the Liberal Party of Canada. Mr. Francis McGuire, who was appointed to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, donated 23 times, totalling $30,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is what we are up against.
For all the talking points, for all of the talk about merit-based and being open and transparent, the Liberals are back to being exactly like the old Liberals. They want people's money and they will think about putting them in a position. That does not work when we talk about independent, non-partisan officers of Parliament. They are independent for a reason.
It is not so much merit-based as it is amount-based. How much does one give to the Liberal Party of Canada for consideration of appointment to one of these positions? We have heard the narrative change. The Liberals are talking now about positive politics, that they are doing things differently. It is anything but that right now.
Why is this important? It is important because it is imperative that those people tasked to watch over the actions of the government have liberty to act freely and to tell the government when it is right and when it is wrong. Oversight is about that.
The officers of Parliament must also be able to tell the and the government when they need to meet, not the other way around. The shroud of secrecy of when the Prime Minister meets with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner must be torn away and with it the ability of the Prime Minister and his friends in the PMO to set the agenda of not addressing these types of complaints. There has to be a level of independence.
Those who sit in the PMO are so out of touch that they do not hear how the answers sound penned and muted, and how it can be so unbelievable that a simple question cannot be answered simply. We see that all the time in this place.
The motion before us today would do two things.
First, it would give the time to reflect on his ways. This is not about “sunny ways”; it is about a fair way by which officers of Parliament are selected and given the opportunity to serve Canada in a manner suited to the position.
Second, the motion would allow the and his friends in the Langevin Block to be aware that we are the opposition and that other Canadians are watching. They will be watching to see if he, his staff and cabinet understand that Parliament has a job to do and so do the officers of Parliament. Let them do the job they are asked to do.
The year 2019 is much closer than the thinks. If the Liberals continue down the path of this partisanship, of the appointments of Liberal insiders, party donors, donors in cash-for-access schemes, Canadians will remember that. If they are not thinking about it, certainly those of us in the opposition will remind them of the fact that the Liberals are back to their old ways.
Mr. Speaker, I want to mention at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
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 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.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to enter into debate on this important opposition day motion. Why do I say that? We are talking about independent officers of this House. What is the role of the independent officers? Really, the role is to ensure that the job and the mandate of the officer is done in a non-partisan fashion that not only provides confidence to parliamentarians around their work and how they carry out their mandate but also gives confidence to the public, to Canadians, that the government is functioning as it should be. It is a watchdog position that gives confidence to Canadians about how this place is functioning. If members do not think that is one of the most important aspects of that job in a democracy, then I do not know what is.
I am new to this chamber and I watched in awe how things unfolded. I learned how the language commissioner situation came to be and I watched day by day as information came forward to further reaffirm how the process and the appointment went sideways. For the government to somehow get up and justify the process is absolutely astounding to me.
I know I am a newbie, but I have been around the block a few times, one might say, and on the consultation aspect, I think everyone in this House would agree, including the government side and even the , that simply writing a letter to the leaders of the official opposition and the third party opposition is not consultation. When the letter's contents were “and here is the appointment that I have made”, we all know that is not consultation, so let us not try to pretend that it is.
Here the process has been so tainted that the candidate has withdrawn herself from this process. That is to honour ultimately the integrity of that position and the role that it needs to carry out in this chamber, and the importance of it. If the candidate can recognize this, surely the government can recognize the flaw in the current process on which it has embarked.
The purpose of this motion is to fix that into the long term so that we do not go down this road again. Democracy is too important. Accountability is too important for us to muck around with this process.
I know people look at British Columbia and call us the wild, wild west, especially given the latest election process and what is going on with a minority government that is likely not sustainable and will likely fall. Then things will unfold and people will say, “My goodness, only in British Columbia.”
That may be so, but let me say this: I spent 19 years of my electoral life in the provincial legislature in British Columbia, both in government and in opposition. I have been a cabinet minister and I have been in opposition, rendered to an opposition of two members in the legislature, so I have been around the block a few times.
Strange as it may be in British Columbia, we actually appoint the officers of the legislature by committee, with representation from all the different parties. Of course, at that committee the majority comes from the government side. We recognize that. That is what the government gets to do, but at that committee, all of the applications that come in for the particular office for which the position is open are vetted. Then people will go through a process of short-listing. Then they will select the candidates for interviews at the committee, and then they will make a decision, a unanimous decision, that will be recommended to the legislature, to the Speaker, who will than bring that matter back to the legislature for a final process.
That is how we do it in the wild, wild west in British Columbia. I have sat on those committees at different times for different appointments. I will not disclose details because all of that is in camera to protect the applicants.
It is like a job interview. It is a human resources process. We all go through that, and all of the work is done in camera so no one's privacy is jeopardized. We get into deep debates about who is the right candidate and who is not, but at the end of that process, more often than not we come to agreement. When we do not and there is no unanimous decision, then the process is hung and the committee has to strike another committee to go through the process again. Sometimes people withdraw; some reapply, and so on. That is how it goes.
The importance of that process is in ensuring that whoever is appointed as an independent officer of that legislature has the confidence of all the parties. That is ultimately the goal, and it must be the goal. That is how we ensure the independence of that officer. Otherwise we taint and compromise that officer and their work, and that would not be okay in a democracy.
Watching my colleague, the member for , in this Parliament, I am always amazed, and I am not just blowing sunshine up somewhere. I watch him in awe, because he works so hard to bring the parties together, to try to advance things that are good for our democracy. He places that value above partisanship and all else, and he does it with grace and conviction. He believes in it and works hard to try to achieve it.
That is the spirit in which this motion is being tabled. He is proposing that all recognized parties sit on a committee to look at candidates the government puts forward to ensure the individuals are not tainted in any way, shape, or form, in reality or in perception. That is absolutely critical to the success of these officers in carrying out their work, because they need to be above reproach in every single way. For Canadians to have confidence in their work, we need to be able to say they were vetted by all parties and everyone agreed that they were merit-based and non-partisan, that they are appointments we can all be confident about. That is why it is so important to do this work.
The motion is not over the top. It is not what we do in British Columbia, and if it was up to me—and people say there are moments when I am definitely not compromising—I might have proposed a British Columbia approach, but we are not. We are not even going that far. All we are saying is that we should bring everyone together to vet this process to instill confidence in the appointments. That is a true consultation process.
The Conservatives put forward a potential amendment that would say to the government that even in rejecting a candidate, they could still advance that person to bring the appointment before the House. That is really extending the olive branch. There is an art here in trying to make this work to create an approach that is acceptable to everyone, and most importantly to bring forward an approach that is better than what it is today, one that would reaffirm confidence in the appointments of these officers so that Canadians know our Parliament is functioning as it should be and that when those appointments are made, those individuals who carry out their mandate will not be compromised in any way, shape, or form.
With that, I am going to close. I urge all members of the House to think deeply about this motion before us. I hope that members will find it within themselves, in the name of democracy, to stand up and vote in support of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am pleased to take part in this debate today. The motion, while flawed, does give the House the opportunity to discuss the important roles that officers of Parliament play in our parliamentary system. These people are focused on very critical and important functions.
I would like to point out that the term “agent of Parliament” is also used to describe individuals who report to parliamentarians, thereby, emphasizing that they carry out work for Parliament and in many respects are responsible to Parliament, and as a means to distinguish them from other officers and officials of Parliament.
However, it is valuable to ensure that everyone in this chamber is clear about some of the fundamental elements that underpin our discussion today. It is helpful to ensure that we are all working with a shared understanding of core facts. To that end, I want to put this debate in the larger context that it deserves. I would like to focus on a very specific topic, which is the place of agents of Parliament in our government system.
Let me use one example with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. It is important to take this big-picture view because the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner does not operate in a unique legal or procedural environment, nor does the commissioner operate in a vacuum. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is appointed and then performs his or her important role under many of the same conditions as the other agents of Parliament.
While each agent of Parliament has a unique mandate, every one of them plays an important role in our democracy. Every one of them has some elements in common that are worth keeping in mind today. They have become important vehicles in support of Parliament's accountability and oversight function. These roles have been established to oversee the exercise of authority by the executive and to be vehicles through which oversight of our public institutions flows. It is very clear that they all do precisely that.
For the longest time, there was only one such agent of Parliament. That was the position of the Auditor General, which was established just after Confederation in 1868. In 1920, Parliament put in place the role of the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure an independent body was in place to oversee our elections. It was not until 1970 that the third agent of Parliament was created when the Commissioner of Official Languages was established, thanks to the Official Languages Act of 1969.
Recognizing the changing role of information in government and among citizens, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Office of the Information Commissioner were both established in 1983. By 2007, we saw the establishment of both the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The Commissioner of Lobbying is the most recent edition to the agents of Parliament, having been established in 2008. He or she plays a pivotal role in ensuring access to public office holders by lobbyists is appropriate and as prescribed by law.
While each has a unique set of responsibilities, I have heard this entire group described as “guardians of values.” Each of them is independent from the government of the day. Each of them is mandated to carry out duties assigned by legislation and report to one or both of the Senate and the House of Commons.
Our government recognizes the importance of the work that agents of Parliament play. We recognize the need for them to reflect the high standards that Canadians rightly expect. One key way that our government has demonstrated that recognition is by bringing in a new and rigorous selection process for these positions. We have taken the same approach as we have across other Governor in Council appointments. These appointments are being made through open, transparent, and merit-based approaches. Notices are posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. The government also publishes a link to that notice in the Canada Gazette while the application period is open. Under the new process, everyone who feels qualified to fill the responsibilities of these positions can let their names stand by registering online.
The government is very mindful that we want the best people possible for these important roles. This is why each selection process has a recruitment strategy. Sometimes an executive search firm may get a contract to help identify a strong pool of potential candidates. Sometimes it involves advertising or reaching out to targeted communities, such as professional associations and stakeholders.
This process eventually leads to the identification of a highly qualified candidate. However, in the case of officers of Parliament, there is also a requirement that once the government has identified a candidate, it consult with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons. Let us be clear. The current process requires that such appointments are subject to parliamentary approval.
In practice, the nominee is typically invited to appear before the appropriate committee to review his or her qualifications, so there are a series of public opportunities for parliamentarians to have their say on these important roles. Only after the approval of the appointment by the House of Commons and/or the Senate can the order in council officially appointing that agent of Parliament go forward.
This process for government appointments ensures that the results are open, transparent, and based on merit for agents of Parliament and for other Governor in Council positions.
The mentioned this in her remarks, but it merits repeating. The made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa. He committed to setting a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. He committed to a different style of leadership. This appointment process is another example of the openness this government has committed to and is delivering on.
These commitments are evident in the new processes to ensure that Canadians of the highest calibre have the opportunity to serve their country through Governor in Council and other appointments. These commitments recognize that strong rules enhance the trust and confidence of Canadians in our elected and appointed officials and in the integrity of public policies and decisions.
Agents of Parliament represent key pillars of our democracy. They play essential roles in helping us, as parliamentarians, hold the government to account. We have a system that works well and that Canadians see is working well. This is one of the many reasons the motion is unnecessary.
It all adds up. Robust and more open, transparent, and accountable public institutions help the government remain focused on the people it was meant to serve. That means better government for Canadians, and that is something I am proud to protect and pass on to future generations.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion moved by the hon. member for , and to the subject of our government's commitment to and high standards for openness and transparency.
I read the motion in question with interest. It is clear to me that the motion moved in the House today is an attempt to take over the government's power to launch processes to identify candidates for officer of Parliament positions and introduce unnecessary obstacles for which opposition members will never have to take responsibility.
The hon. opposition member surely knows that since February 2016, the government has been taking measures to set up a more rigorous approach to the appointments made by the Governor in Council, an approach based on the principles of openness and transparency and, more importantly, merit.
This is an open process. Communicating with the public about potential appointments by the Governor in Council is essential to this approach. Anyone can put forward their candidacy and everyone is invited to do so. The 14,000 or so applications received for Governor in Council appointments since we implemented this new process is a testament to that.
This is also a transparent process. Governor in Council appointment opportunities and information about the appointments that are made are available online.
This procedure is also based on merit. A thorough selection process with pre-established criteria is in place to evaluate applications.
Furthermore, when ministers review a candidate recommendation, the goal of establishing gender parity and reflecting Canada’s diversity is taken into account. Candidate selection must reflect linguistic, regional, and employment equity conditions.
Of the roughly 170 appointments made through the open, transparent, and merit-based selection process, about 70% of appointees were women. This shows that we are honouring the commitment we made to Canadians to ensure that our democratic institutions reflect our diversity.
Some 1,500 positions requiring Governor in Council appointments are subject to the new procedure, which ensures an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process. We are determined to offer these positions to all Canadians.
Under the new process, a notice of appointment opportunity is posted on the opportunities website by the Governor in Council and on the website of the organization with the vacancy. A recruitment strategy is developed for each selection process when the opportunity needs to be advertised in order to reach interested candidates able to fill it.
This can be done by using an executive recruiting agency or by developing an advertising strategy and targeting interest groups, such as professional associations and stakeholders.
Candidates must register and apply online through the Governor in Council appointments website. Only applications submitted online will be considered. This ensures that all candidates interested in applying for a Governor in Council appointment are on even playing field.
We encourage all members to share this information with their constituents so that interested candidates can apply. As I mentioned, this process is completely open and transparent, and it is open to all Canadians who are interested in the advertised positions and have the required skills.
The opposition member wants an appointments process that would result in unnecessary red tape for officer of Parliament appointments, when the legislation already requires a more than adequate evaluation of candidate qualifications.
Parliament will continue to play an essential role in this new government appointments procedure, specifically when it comes to officers of Parliament. The enabling legislation concerning officer of Parliament positions requires the government to consult the leaders of recognized parties in the House and, in some cases, the Senate. Also, all these appointments are subject to parliamentary approval.
We are complying with these statutory obligations. Our government is making progress on appointments to important positions in our democratic institutions, such as agencies, boards, commissions, administrative tribunals and crown corporations.
It will take some time before the overall impact will be felt, but I can assure the House that, even if a selection process is under way, the government may make interim appointments or renew terms for positions essential to good governance or government continuity.
We have already run over 60 open, transparent, and merit-based selection processes, and over 100 others are under way to identify highly qualified candidates for many important positions across the country. We are determined to ensure that top-notch individuals are appointed to positions in our democratic institutions to ensure that they deliver excellent services to Canadians.
However, the opposition member is trying to prolong the appointments process for important officer of Parliament positions. Bringing in an additional review is pointless, since a thorough selection process is already in place to ensure that candidates are highly qualified. A selection committee reviews applications to ensure that they meet the pre-established criteria and then screens the applicants to be evaluated through interviews and written exams, as required.
When candidates are deemed highly qualified by the committee, an official reference check is also carried out to evaluate their personal suitability in greater detail. The committee presents the relevant minister with a formal opinion on the most qualified candidates based on merit. The minister then uses the committee’s opinion to finalize his or her recommendations to the Governor in Council.
As I mentioned earlier, legislation already requires the government to hold consultations about the proposed candidates and have the appointments approved for most officer of Parliament positions through a motion introduced in the House of Commons or the Senate.
I ask my colleagues to join me in voting against this motion by the member for .
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from , who has done incredible work to bring forward this motion that, as some media noted yesterday, provides an elegant solution to a real problem. I really like the term “elegant solution” because it is very simple. I will have the chance to discuss that in a few minutes.
I would first like to note that what the Liberal member said a few minutes ago was inaccurate. It is not up to the government to appoint officers of Parliament. It is instead up to parliamentarians to vote to approve the appointment of such persons, who play a major role in our system, institutions that have become absolutely essential over time. I simply wanted to clarify that. It is certainly not a government decision, even though the initial proposal or suggestion may come from the Prime Minister’s Office. We will come back to that, as it raises another sort of problem.
I would like to digress a bit to describe how our modern democracies have evolved. I will have the opportunity to explain how important it is to properly conduct the process of choosing these watchdogs for our system, for taxpayers, for citizen’s rights, and for minority languages rights.
Albert Jacquard said that we could have a very balanced society with 1% princes, 4% soldiers, and 95% slaves. After all, that worked in many places in the world for thousands of years. It was a very stable system, and there was a certain balance. The progression of all of our democratic systems was always characterized by the gradual erosion of the absolute powers of the monarch. All of the powers invested in a single individual were always withdrawn, powers that were often conferred under the pretext that the monarch had been chosen by God and could do whatever he wanted. He was the State. He even had control over the life and death of his subjects. In effect, they were not citizens, but subjects of His Majesty.
All the progress we have achieved in our democracy has been achieved by withdrawing certain powers and certain decisions from the king and putting them in the hands of other organizations or institutions. That was how we elected the first parliaments. The British nobles were somewhat tired of the king doing whatever he wanted and deciding to levy taxes at any time because he wanted to create a new army to engage in a new war. They therefore created a type of council in which English nobility, namely the aristocrats, barons, dukes, and others, held the power to authorize the monarch to levy taxes and spend money. He could no longer make the decision alone.
Moreover, we still have some traces of that perspective in our current Parliament. One of the major roles of parliamentarians is to pass laws, but they also have the role of authorizing expenditures by the executive. Also, one of the things that I learned when I arrived here is that expenditures can be approved or refused in committee, or a reduction can be proposed, but an increase in the expenditure can never be proposed. That dates back to the first parliaments, which existed to control the king’s spending. We still follow that same approach.
Royal power was then divided into legislative power, executive power, independent of the representative of the crown, and judicial power, which could be exercised to check the choices made by the government and ensure that the rights of the people and the laws of the land were respected.
We can see that, over time, institutions were added to control the monarch or the executive branch. That created a type of dissemination of power within society, a type of distillation of decision-making. Over time, other checks and balances were added, such as the media and journalists, and thus public opinion, when we live in a democracy.
As a society, we have also created institutions capable of monitoring and controlling what the government does. That is what is done, for the most part, by these officers of Parliament that we have created over time. They did not all exist 15, 20, or 25 years ago; we will come back to that. For example, the position of Parliamentary budget officer did not exist prior to the previous Conservative government. Enjoy that, as it is rare for me to note good things done by the Conservatives. That position has taken on crucial importance and no one would now want to eliminate that institution. To the contrary, we want to make the position more independent, with more powers and more opportunities to do the work.
I would like to continue discussing these checks and balances by distinguishing between Westminster and presidential systems, like the French and American systems. Under presidential systems, particularly the American one, which we know a bit better, the checks and balances are enormous compared to the power that the Prime Minister can have under a British system like ours. Even though he is President of the largest, or maybe now the second-largest, power in the world, the American President can face a lot of opposition from the House of Representatives, the Senate, and all the institutions that make up Congress and everything in Washington.
To illustrate, an American President could very easily face a hostile House and see his plans repeatedly blocked. He can even have a friendly House and see his plans repeatedly blocked. That is not the case here. We do not have a presidential system. Under the Westminster system, people often think that they vote for the Prime Minister, but that is not the case. They vote for a member of Parliament from one of the country’s 338 ridings. The Prime Minister is the leader of the party that has the majority in the House and has the confidence of the House. A lot of powers rest with the Prime Minister under our system, to a point that it becomes problematic.
The motion by my colleague from is so important because it is part of the process by which we ensure the independence of those checks and balances and the involvement of all recognized political parties in the House in decisions regarding the best person to fill those positions. That is something.
I took a few minutes for that digression, but it puts into perspective the steps that must be taken to advance the quality of our democratic institutions. In theory, the Liberals should agree with that. We remember the Liberals’ election promises, namely that they would fight cynicism, put an end to partisan appointments, and restore Canadians’ trust in their institutions. I therefore have trouble seeing how they could now seek pretexts to object to such an elegant solution, an offer by the opposition to improve the procedure and ensure that the disasters and fiascos we have seen recently do not happen again.
What can be done to avoid partisan appointments? First, we absolutely refrain from doing what the Liberal government did in the case of Madeleine Meilleur, who was to be the Commissioner of Official Languages. The law states that the government must consult the leaders of the opposition parties. What happened, then? The Conservative and New Democratic leaders received a letter advising them that Ms. Meilleur had been chosen. I do not call that consultation. I call that a fait accompli.
If the opposition parties had truly been consulted, we would have sat down, discussed the matter, found common ground or a compromise, and chosen the best possible person for the position. No, the king decided that he was holding on to that power, while we want to share that power. Officers of Parliament are not the purview of the Prime Minister. They are the purview of parliamentarians, and thus of all Canadians. There was a total lack of consultation in the case of Ms. Meilleur.
Moreover, a person who is too partisan to be a member of the Senate was appointed as commissioner, an officer of Parliament. That is a very interesting logic. We call that backpedalling. She was a Liberal MPP and a Liberal minister, and has donated more than $3,000 to the Liberal Party since 2009. She also donated money to the current ’s leadership campaign.
I think that the appointment of that individual had the very appearance of a partisan appointment. That was much of the problem and she realized it herself. However, it would have been good for the Liberal government to realize it earlier in the process.
To avoid fiascos like this, we would like to implement a process that will involve all recognized parties in the House. If we do not, and continue with this kind of tradition of dubious quasi-partisan or completely partisan appointments, we would be undermining the legitimacy of these officers of Parliament, as they are important. I was speaking about the Parliamentary budget officer, but we should also talk about the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying. These are critical positions whose duties include overseeing audits and requiring that the government show accountability and uphold the law.
Why do we need these people to be above any partisan suspicion? Because we don’t want their work to raise any doubts afterwards and in the future. If someone like Ms. Meilleur had ultimately been appointed Commissioner of Official Languages, her decisions would always be under a cloud of possible bias and tainted by partisanship and liberal affiliations. This is why we must have people who are absolutely independent, for the sake of their own work and for the future.
The motion that my colleague has put forward today is good for our institutions, but it also serves all future officers of Parliament who are appointed or elected by the House.
What do we propose? First, we recommend replacing the current appointment system—Standing Order 111(1)—with a system ensuring that when the government intends to appoint an officer of Parliament, it must provide the name of the proposed appointee to an appointments committee composed of a member from each recognized political party. This committee would have 30 days to review the nomination and may report a rejection or approval. If the committee has not filed a report within 30 days, the nomination is deemed rejected.
This is intended to serve as a safety provision to avoid delay tactics that would be unjustified, and to have a procedure that can work.
If the committee recommends approval, the nomination is then put to a vote in the House, contrary to previous interpretations by .
In this case, the name of the person remains secret during consideration, for their protection, of course. Afterwards, if there is an agreement between the three, four, or five recognized political parties around the table, a recommendation is made and it comes back to the House. Then there is a motion and parliamentarians can vote. It is always Parliament that chooses the officers of Parliament.
A procedural deadline of 30 days is expected. We could therefore proceed with a degree of diligence to avoid partisan appointments. It would also put pressure on the government to have an appointment process that works well, which is not currently the case. My colleague recently mentioned this, when quoting a CBC article from last March.
Under the current government, vacancies are upwards of 80%, which is no small matter; the process failed in the case of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Not only have we not made any progress under the current government, the backlog has increased. In addition, in two other cases, the government cannot seem to find skilled and qualified people in the established time frames, so it has asked the current Ethics Commissioner and Lobbying Commissioner to stay on for six more months because it did not do its job and could not find any candidates.
This compels us to ask why the Liberal government would refuse a solution and a new process that would help the process as a whole. These officers of Parliament we are talking about have a real impact on the lives of our fellow citizens, on the quality of our democratic life and on taxpayers' compliance with the tax code.
I have a few examples I would like to remind members of. The actual cost of the F-35 would never have been uncovered without the Parliamentary budget officer. Without this vital information, how would we know whether the military equipment acquired by Canada will cost $9 billion, $16 billon or $25 billion? These are considerable sums that are not always easy to put into perspective in our daily lives, and yet they have huge impacts on taxpayers' wallets and tax rates.
In order to get to the bottom of these types of matters and to examine the government's work, the Parliamentary budget officer must therefore be above suspicion. Why not agree to sit with the opposition parties to come up with a consensus recommendation, if possible? The Liberals said they wanted to do politics differently, so let us all gather together, have a good talk and strive for greater collaboration, especially when dealing with such topics as officers of Parliaments.
Here is another cause for concern. The Liberal government now has to appoint a new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The is currently the subject of an investigation by the current Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner over a trip to a private island in the south, a trip that would seem to be against the law, especially regarding the use of helicopters or private planes to fly the Prime Minister around. If the process is botched by virtue of the Prime Minister's Office pulling the strings and the majority government imposing its choice on Parliament, then the person being appointed to a position whose job it is to investigate the Prime Minister will be in a conflict of interest, their credibility weakened.
I would like all Liberal members to give this motion due consideration because it would be a significant improvement over the existing system in that it would be cheaper, more effective, faster, and more respectful of our institutions and all parliamentarians. It would be a step in the right direction. Would this be a completely independent committee like they have in the United Kingdom? No, not yet, but it is a whole lot better than the 's Office, which seems to be incapable of making reasonable choices, picking its own candidates.
I hope we can reach consensus on this motion. At the moment, there seems to be some resistance from the Liberal government because they say parliamentarians would no longer be able to vote and this subcommittee would have a kind of veto power. That is completely false, absurd, even. It was never our intention to suggest that.
Let us look at the motion itself. I would like to read three short excerpts that I find informative.
...that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;
...that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;
Parts (3)(a) and (3)(b) are explicit about the procedure. Part (4) of the motion reads as follows:
Immediately after the presentation of a report...the Clerk of the House shall cause to be placed on the Notice Paper a notice of motion for concurrence in the report, which shall stand in the name of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons under Notices of Motions....
Parliamentarians would therefore be able to vote on the adoption of the report and the hiring of an officer of Parliament. I hope that the Liberal government will stop obfuscating by willfully misinterpreting the motion and will take into consideration the collaborative approach that we have chosen to take, in the interests not only of the officers of Parliament, but of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to participate in this debate today on a motion to change the rules of the House introduced by a political party that recently fought tooth and nail in defence of the position that the rules of the House should not be amended by way of a motion.
Even though this motion is fundamentally flawed, it gives the House an opportunity to address the question of the role played by officers of Parliament in our system. These individuals must perform crucial and important functions. I want to point out to the House that the expression “officer of Parliament” is also used to refer to the people who report to parliamentarians, which means that they are responsible for the work of Parliament, and that this is what distinguishes them from other senior public servants and officials of Parliament in particular.
In addition, it is useful to ensure that everyone here clearly understands certain fundamental concepts that underlie our discussions today. We must make sure that everyone has the same understanding of the essential facts. For that purpose, I want to put this debate in the relevant broader context it deserves. I want to focus on one very specific aspect, that is, the place held by officers of Parliament in our system of government.
Let me use one example with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. It is important to take this big-picture-view because the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner does not operate in a unique legal or procedural environment, nor does the commissioner operate in a vacuum.
The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner is appointed and then performs his or her important role under many of the same conditions as the other agents of Parliament. While each agent of Parliament has a unique mandate, every one of them plays an important role in our democracy. Every one of them has some elements in common that are worth keeping in mind today. They have become important vehicles in support of Parliament's accountability and oversight function. These roles have been established to oversee the exercise of authority by the executive, in other words the Prime Minister, cabinet, and government institutions. It is very clear that they all do precisely that.
For the longest time, there was only one such agent of Parliament, that is, the auditor general, which was established just after Confederation, in 1868. In 1920, Parliament put in place the role of chief electoral officer to ensure an independent body was in place to oversee our elections. It was not until 1970 that the third agent of Parliament was created when the commissioner of official languages was established under the terms of the Official Languages Act of 1969.
To recognize the changing role of information in the government and among citizens, the positions of Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner were created in 1983. In 2007, we witnessed the creation of two other positions, that of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The Commissioner of Lobbying is the most recent addition to the list of officers of Parliament, having been established in 2008.
While each has a unique set of responsibilities, I have heard this entire group described as “guardians of values.” Each of them is independent from the government of the day. Each of them is mandated to carry out duties assigned by legislation and report to one or both of the Senate and the House of Commons.
Our government recognizes the importance of the work that agents of Parliament do. We recognize the need that they reflect the high standards that Canadians rightly expect.
One key way that our government has demonstrated that recognition is by bringing in a new and rigorous selection process for these positions. We have taken the same approach as we have across other Governor in Council appointments. These appointments are being made through open, transparent, and merit-based approaches.
What does this mean in real terms for officers of Parliament? First of all, there is the application process itself. Notices are posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. The government also publishes a link to that notice in the Canada Gazette while the application period is open. Under the new process, everyone who feels qualified to fill the responsibilities of positions, whether for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner or any other vacant appointed position, can let their names stand by registering online.
The government is very mindful that we want the best people possible for these important roles. This is why each selection process has its own recruitment strategy. Sometimes an executive search firm may get a contract to help identify a strong pool of potential candidates.
We also sometimes announce the vacancy of a given position to the target communities, such as professional and stakeholder associations, or establish a dialogue with them.
That process eventually helps find a highly competent candidate. However, for the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, after finding a candidate, the government is required to consult with the leader of each recognized party in the house, and the appointment must clearly be approved by a resolution of the House.
We know that, in practice, the person appointed is invited to appear before the appropriate committee, which reviews that person’s qualifications. Parliamentarians therefore have public opportunities to have a say on these important roles.
Only after that, after the appointment is approved by the House of Commons and the Senate, is the officer of Parliament officially appointed by decree.
The government's appointment process for officers of Parliament is open, transparent and merit-based, and the same is true for other Governor in Council appointees.
The personally committed to bringing a new style of leadership and a new tone to Ottawa. He committed to raising the standards of openness and transparency within the government. He committed to adopting a new style of leadership.
Those commitments are very clear in the new processes. They aim to give the most qualified Canadians the opportunity to serve their country by being appointed by the Governor in Council or otherwise.
Those commitments are proof that strict rules increase the trust Canadians have in elected officials and appointees and in the integrity of policies and decisions made in the public interest.
Officers of Parliament are pillars of our democracy. Their role is essential, as they help us, as parliamentarians, to hold the government to account. I think that we have a system that works well, and I think that Canadians can see that it works well.
That is one of the reasons why I feel that this motion is not needed. The proof is there. Public institutions that are more solid, more open, more transparent, and more accountable help the government remain focused on the people that it should be serving. That means better government for Canadians. That is something that I am very proud to defend and to pass on to future generations.
There is something else as well, and I referred to it at the very beginning. We recently proposed an open discussion on modernizing the rules of the House in the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs. We were blocked for more than 80 hours over several weeks, because the opposition was not interested in having that discussion. Now they present a change to the rules through a motion requiring a majority vote, when they said very loudly and clearly that this was not admissible.
What exactly is the purpose of the motion before us? It begins by replacing Standing Order 111.1. I will quickly read Standing Order 111.1 to show what we would lose:
Officers of Parliament. Referral of the name of the proposed appointee to committee.
(1) Where the government intends to appoint an Officer of Parliament, the Clerk of the House, the Parliamentary Librarian or the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the name of the proposed appointee shall be deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee, which may consider the appointment during a period of not more than thirty days following the tabling of a document concerning the proposed appointment.
(2) Not later than the expiry of the thirty-day period provided for in the present Standing Order, a notice of motion to ratify the appointment shall be put under Routine Proceedings, to be decided without debate or amendment.
The opposition members want to scrap a system in which candidates are referred to appropriate committees with the expertise to assess each candidate as part of their duties and in favour of referral to a small subcommittee made up of just four members, which is itself a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This subcommittee will not have the expertise to deal with issues involved in appointing officers, but it will have a veto, which will be undemocratic, unlike Parliament's veto power. It will also deprive the other 334 MPs of the right and opportunity to have their say about a particular candidate.
It is easy to see that this motion was not thought through, that it is contrary to the values the NDP champions with respect to the role of this kind of motion, and that it will not improve our appointment system.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take part in this debate today to speak to the motion by the member for . He asserts that Standing Order 111.1 should be replaced and should include the creation of a subcommittee on appointments of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the subcommittee should comprise one member from each of the parties recognized in this House.
It is valuable to ensure that everyone in this chamber is clear about some of the fundamental elements that underpin our discussion today. It is helpful to ensure that we are working with a shared understanding of core facts. To that end, I want to put this debate in the context of how this motion proposes a fundamental shift in authority in the appointments of the officers and agents of Parliament positions that are subject to Standing Order 111.1.
Effectively, this motion suggests removing the authority of the elected government to make decisions with regard to these appoints and handing it over to the opposition parties, actually giving them a veto.
I would like to focus specifically on this very topic: the elected government's authority and its responsibility with respect to these appointments. It is important to look at this authority and responsibility in the broader context of how the Governor in Council appointments process works.
In February 2016, the Prime Minister introduced a new approach to the Governor in Council appointments, which supports selection processes that are open to all Canadians who are interested in applying. Indeed, a cornerstone of this approach is the government's commitment to Governor in Council appointments that achieve gender parity and that reflect Canada's diversity.
I also cannot emphasize enough that under this new approach some 1,500 Governor in Council opportunities can be seen by all Canadians and all parliamentarians. Included in this are the appointment opportunities for important independent leadership positions, including officer of Parliament positions such as the clerk of the House and the parliamentary librarian. Selection processes are open, and communication with the public is central to the approach.
The processes are transparent. Governor in Council opportunities and information regarding appointments made by the Governor in Council are available online to the public. Selection processes are based on merit. There is a rigorous selection process, with established selection criteria. The government has now completed more than 60 selection processes and has 100 selection processes under way.
The process for the selection of each Governor in Council appointment is based on the selection criteria that have been developed and advertised. Assessment of candidates is evaluated against those criteria.
Under the new process, everyone who feels qualified to fill the responsibilities of positions can apply online. Only candidates who apply online, however, will be considered. This creates an even playing field for all individuals interested in Governor in Council positions and who want to put forward their candidacy.
This is an appointments system that is designed to bring forward highly qualified people.
For officer and agent of Parliament positions, there are legislative provisions that involve Parliament. There are also statutory requirements for these positions whereby one or both houses of Parliament must be consulted, and approval of one or both houses is required before an appointment can be made.
In recent weeks, what defines consultation has been a topic of considerable debate in both chambers and in the public. The governing legislation for each of these positions is silent on the nature and scope of this consultation. This government has consulted by writing to the leaders of the recognized parties in one or both houses, as required by statute, providing the name of the government's proposed nominee and encouraging comment from the leaders.
I would like to remind this chamber that on May 29, Mr. Speaker, you ruled on an earlier point of order by the hon. member for concerning the consultations conducted in a recent nomination process.
Let us be very clear. While consultation is a first and important step in the parliamentary process, it is not the only one. The appointment of an officer or agent of Parliament must be approved by resolution of either one or both houses. Before that can happen, the nominee for the position is traditionally invited to appear before the appropriate House committee or committees. These appearances are forums where members can delve more deeply into the proposed appointee's credentials and qualifications and for the committee to provide a recommendation to the House.
This is all currently provided for in the Standing Orders and allows for a more diverse perspective, as opposed to referring each time to the same group of committee members.
At the end of the day, however, the government, through the Governor in Council, has the responsibility to make that decision.
The member's motion being debated today essentially proposes an opposition veto that would remove the right that all members have to vote on an appointment of an officer of Parliament, regardless of the committee's recommendation. This cannot, and should not, be delegated to a small subcommittee of four members of Parliament.
Robust and more open, transparent, and accountable public institutions help the government remain focused on the people it was meant to serve. Strong rules enhance the trust and confidence of Canadians in our elected and appointed officials and in the integrity of public policies and decisions.
This motion proposes the very opposite of openness, transparency, and accountability, which is why I cannot support it.
Mr. Speaker, I am both happy and sad at being required to stand in the House today regarding this motion, and that the NDP was required to table it. Contrary to what my colleague has just stated, the appointment process for senior parliamentary officials is flawed. It does not work. It has been damaged and has lost a lot of credibility.
I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for , the champion of mandatory labelling of GMOs. That is another fight that we are leading together to ensure that one day there will be transparency and all Canadians will know what they are eating.
That is the transparency that we also want to see in the appointment process for the highest offices in government. Officers of Parliament are hired by Parliament, not by the Liberal government. It is important for the Liberals to understand that. Officers of Parliament are not only accountable to the government, they are also accountable to Parliament.
Those officers of Parliament are our watchdogs. They ensure that the government follows the rules and the laws. It is very important to have these impartial people. That is the entire problem with the last appointment.
I will come back to that, as it is a matter that I followed with much interest. It took up almost six weeks of my time and the time of official language communities, including FCFA and QCGN members. They all lost precious time because of the partisan appointment of Madeleine Meilleur, instead of working on extremely important official languages issues, such as immigration in official language communities. We are facing a major problem, as we are not meeting our immigration targets.
Early childhood is another important issue. If we want to ensure that younger generations are committed to our official language communities, children must be able to attend day care in French, or in English in Quebec.
These are issues that we must address. In the meantime, we must ensure that the appointment process is not tainted by Liberal partisanship.
The new process was used to appoint Ms. Meilleur. We are not calling into question everything about the new process. The problem is that the process was undermined internally because Madeleine Meilleur had privileged access to the 's senior officials, people in charge of the Liberal machine. I am talking about Katie Telford and Gerry Butts.
Ms. Meilleur had coffee with these people, which is something that the other candidates did not have the opportunity to do. Then, after enjoying that privileged access, she got a call from a public servant at the Department of Justice, which is quite an impressive thing.
On Thursday, May 18, 2017, when Madeleine Meilleur appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, she was asked who had told her that she was the candidate who had been selected.
She said, “I got a telephone call that my name was going to be put forward to the Prime Minister.”
She was then asked who had called her, and she responded, “It was staff from the Minister of Justice.”
She was asked on what date that had occurred and she answered, “It was late April, I think.”
We all know what happened next.
In April, an employee of the Department of Justice called Madeleine Meilleur to tell her that she was the successful candidate. In May, the opposition leaders received a letter telling them that Ms. Meilleur had been selected. There was no consultation.
How can we talk about consultation when Ms. Meilleur was already told last April that she had the job?
If there had been consultation, the leaders of the opposition parties would have been consulted, and Ms. Meilleur would then have been advised that her appointment had also been approved by the leaders of the opposition. The process in this case was completely backwards. That does not work.
This whole affair so undermined the credibility of the process that the FCFA said that it absolutely had to have a meeting, because the process was not working and there were outcries on all sides. The FCFA and the QCGN stated that they absolutely had to meet with the highest office holder in official languages, the Prime Minister of the country, who is responsible for official languages. They requested a meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada. Numerous newspaper articles mentioned that the FCFA and the QCGN wanted to meet with the Prime Minister because this was a serious situation. It is unprecedented for an appointment to be questioned that way, during six weeks of total unending controversy.
It did not end there. People filed complaints with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages because the Liberal government, the Prime Minister’s Office, did not comply with the Official Languages Act. Subsection 49(1) was breached. I myself filed a complaint, along with other Canadians. Why? Because that section is very important. It clearly states that “[t]he Governor in Council shall…appoint a Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons…”, which was not done.
That is the second time that I file a complaint against the . The other time was when he wanted to speak only in English in Ontario, while on a cross-country consultation, a consultation of all Canadians. There are official language communities that speak only French in Ontario. After that, he went to the Sherbrooke area, the riding of my colleague and champion of GMO labelling. He spoke only in French, saying that he would not answer questions in English. That is a failure to recognize the reality of Canada. There are two official languages.
When you are Prime Minister of Canada and you embark on a cross-Canada consultation, you must respect both official languages, hence my question:
Does anyone think that I or any other Canadian citizen would have been able to file a complaint against the Prime Minister if the commissioner had been a personal friend of the Prime Minister's, a personal friend of the highest-ranking people in government and the Liberal Party? I am talking about Katie Telford and Gerald Butts.
Does anyone think I would have been comfortable with that?
According to subsection 58(4), the commissioner has the right to refuse to investigate. The Act says:
The Commissioner may refuse to investigate or cease to investigate any complaint if in the opinion of the Commissioner (a) the subject-matter of the complaint is trivial; (b) the complaint is frivolous or vexatious...; or (c) the subject-matter of the complaint does not involve a contravention...of this Act....
Ms. Meilleur could have rejected the complaint. How would I have known if it had to do with a different assessment of the situation or a desire to protect her Liberal friends?
To say that what has happened up to now was legitimate is false. The process was completely undermined. It needs to be revised and revamped. The vision set out in my colleague's motion is a good one. It outlines a process that includes opposition parties and relevant communities and guards against bad decisions like the one to appoint Madeleine Meilleur.
My colleague said that she was a very good candidate. Despite having all the skills, however, her one flaw is that she is too close to the government. She lacks impartiality, which is critical to serving in a watchdog position such as official languages commissioner. Commissioners are the highest-ranking officers in Parliament.
In conclusion, I hope that the Liberal government will implement a better process for the very important appointments that it will soon be making.