Thanks very much, Chair.
The reasons for the 106(4) letter that you referenced, which has us here today, are some concerning revelations that have been reported in the media, specifically The Globe and Mail, that deal with contracts involving Data Sciences, which is a company that was founded by an individual named Tom Pitfield. This individual is a personal lifelong friend of the , who is a member of the Liberal caucus. This individual is also a senior Liberal campaign strategist, and that organization, Data Sciences, has been an integral part, as publicly reported, of the Liberal Party of Canada's electoral campaigns and their voter contact database known as Liberalist. It helps with things like digital engagement for its campaigns.
Furthermore, NGP VAN is a company that the Liberal Party of Canada licenses to run its political database. NGP VAN and Data Sciences are reported by the folks who have been contacted by The Globe and Mail to do the same thing. We've seen the contract between the Liberal members who have signed and NGP VAN, and we know that Data Sciences is being contracted by Liberal members. The rationale once given by the company for the contract with Data Sciences is that it provides technical support for the services provided by NGP VAN. The problem with this is that the contract that was published in The Globe and Mail details the service-level agreement including technical support for its own software, which raises the question, what is Data Sciences doing for the Liberal members? What are they getting from this contract?
When asked, some members of the Liberal caucus responded—and here I'll refer to a June 21 Globe and Mail article entitled “Liberal MPs’ budgets pay same firms that help run party’s digital campaigns”—as follows. The article reads in part:
Mr. Easter [the member for Malpeque] was unable to explain what Data Sciences did for his office in managing social media.
“I do my own,” he said. “I quite honestly don’t know what [Data Sciences] does,” he added.
Liberal MP John McKay also said he had no idea why money from his office budget was going to Mr. Pitfield’s company.
“I haven't got a clue,” he said. “I can't explain it. I vaguely recall that once a year we write a cheque and it's always been explained that it is within the ethical guidelines, so we all kind of sign up for it and it just goes into some oblivion”.
The concern as it relates to this committee, Chair, is that this places some members of the government—members of the Liberal caucus—in a conflict of interest based on their relationship with Mr. Pitfield. We have individuals who have personal friendships with public office holders. They're then given contracts by those public office holders, and, what's more, those individuals, in this case a minister, are in a position to direct or coordinate other members to retain those services for purposes that the members are unclear about.
Certainly in the context of our fiduciary responsibility to manage the funds that are entrusted to us in the exercise of our role as members of Parliament and to dispense funds from what we know as our MOB, our members' operating budget, it's important that we first of all understand why we're retaining the services of others. I also think it's important for Canadians to understand that signing contracts is not something a member can delegate. Members have to personally sign and authorize those contracts. There needs to be an understanding and certainly a basic awareness of what a contract is for. That's exercising a basic fiduciary responsibility.
When there is all of this context of those personal relationships, of that connection to a political organization, and when in these contracts it's very clear that there's an exclusivity, that the company will only deal with members of one political affiliation, in this case Liberal members, it raises all kinds of questions. The functionality of the software also raises questions about whether there is an ability to engage in very specific voter-related activities.
It's for those reasons that we initiated the call for this meeting. It's very important, when there seems to be an inevitable election coming this summer.... I welcome the 's proving the speculators wrong on that, because now is not the time for an election. I think it's important that we understand whether or not taxpayer money from members' budgets has been used to subsidize the political operations of a political party in Canada. It's very important that we know that there's been no misappropriation of that money and that we understand that there have been no conflicts of interest in members' and ministers' exercise of their duties. That's what brings us here today.
With that said, Chair, I would like to move the following motion:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vii), and in light of recent media reports, the committee undertake a study on conflicts of interest relating to taxpayer-funded contracts with Data Sciences Inc; and that the committee do invite Mr. Tom Pitfield to appear and testify before the committee at a time and date of the Chair’s choosing and no later than seven days following the adoption of this motion.
Mr. Chair, that motion is available in both official languages in paper format, and it's been provided in electronic format to the clerk, so it's whatever your comfort or members' comfort is with receiving that in paper. Once that's been distributed, I just have a few final comments to make before other members speak to or against the motion.
Mr. Chair, with respect to the concerns about a conflict of interest, this is something that's been discussed in the last year—certainly the appearance of a conflict of interest—but we need to be, of course, cognizant of actual conflicts of interests as well. Mr. Pitfield's personal relationship and the question that it raises.... As I initially identified, there is that relationship with the , but there's also a relationship with other ministers of the Crown as well—, . The connection to the Liberal Party is as close as you could get, because at the time these contracts were initially signed, Mr. Pitfield was married to the then Liberal Party of Canada president. Moreover, the Prime Minister's principal secretary at the time, Mr. Butts, was also a personal friend of Mr. Pitfield.
These close relationships, when awarding a contract.... We talk about the magnitude of the two contracts, but whether it's tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars, we are responsible for ensuring that not only do we spend the money wisely so that we can serve our constituents with those members' office budgets, but that we also make sure that we're not undermining the public's confidence in what we do here and how we got here.
As I mentioned before, in the context of an election, if members of a party are taking the funds from those office budgets to help subsidize the political operations of a political party, which will ultimately be the same banner they run under in the next election, well, that is going to give rise to concern among Canadians about the independence of and the confidence they can have in their elected officials and public institutions. It's that perception, but also that real conflict when we have those close relationships.
There's also the dynamic of when the party whip, as reported in the newspaper, is the one coordinating or directing members to all procure the same service provider. Members aren't given a whole lot of leeway. You know, the party whip has one job, and it's to get people to do what the government wants them to do. The whip assigns committee roles. The whip assigns your seat in the chamber. Certainly, if things aren't going well between you and the party whip, you're not going to find yourself on the front bench or serving as a parliamentary secretary or a committee chair if you're in a party that is first or second in the House.
It's certainly concerning. It creates the perfect storm for conflict when you have those personal relationships with members at the cabinet table and you have a member at the cabinet table directing or coordinating other members to all procure the services of this individual and their company. Then, what is that company actually doing? Is there a benefit for service? Well, that remains unclear. We have two Liberal members saying they have no idea what the services are for, and then we have the response from the Liberal research bureau as to what the company is doing for them, while those very same members have also signed a contract for a company that's providing the identical service, in terms of technical support, as NGP VAN is for them.
That's the crux of the matter here. I do think this is something that we can deal with rather expeditiously. I think we can address this issue. If it's simply miscommunication, or a lack of information, perhaps members today will be able to enlighten us on exactly what this contract does in their office. That might go a long way. It might shorten the length of time we would need to devote to this. Perhaps, if Mr. Pitfield were available, if this motion passes, we could dispense with this matter before the end of the week. I know that folks have travelled to Ottawa. We could get this done over a couple of quick meetings after today.
I think that would go a long way to reassuring Canadians about what's happening in their democratic institutions on the eve of an election.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank Mr. Barrett for bringing this up. This really speaks to the fundamental transparency of our electoral system. I was extremely concerned when I read about this in The Globe and Mail, especially now as we are wading towards an unnecessary election. Canadians deserve to know where their money is going. It's very clear that Mr. Pitfield is a partisan actor here. He did the work for the Liberal Party in the 2015 and 2019 political campaigns, and my understanding is that he is going to be doing the same thing again. However, he is being paid by Liberal members out of their operating budgets. As Mr. Barrett pointed out, and what many Canadians don't understand, is that our operating budgets are for our constituents.
In my office we look after seniors, veterans, people who are looking for benefits, and immigration. To have their taxpayer dollars, especially during this pandemic, going for partisan purposes is something that concerns everyone, because it does speak to the fundamental transparency of our system. What's extremely disturbing to me is what appears to be the connection here, in that these are more Liberal insiders. In other words here's Mr. Pitfield, who is one of the best friends. Let's just talk about this relationship here. He grew up with him. Their fathers were best friends. He went to that illegal vacation with the Prime Minister and his wife, with his wife, who was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Then we find out through the media about these secret agreements, these contracts. Even Liberal MPs don't even know what his company is doing. We have a copy of the contract with the company that is supposed to be doing it, NGP VAN, and we found out that there was a centralized campaign that was steered by the party whip. Mr. Barrett clearly pointed out—and I don't think Canadians realize who the party whip is—that the party whip is the guy who has the whip. He tells you about discipline, about what to do and what not to do, and when he presents a contract to members to sign, as The Globe and Mail reported, 97% of Liberal MPs signed that thing.
I just wonder what kind of pressure there would be for me as a member of Parliament if my whip came up and said, “sign this”, because our functions here at the House and everything is determined by the whip's office. Whether we're sitting on a certain committee or whether it's in terms of the influence to become a minister or a parliamentary secretary, the pressure on members of Parliament would be enormous. I would just look at which members of Parliament didn't sign this and what they're doing right now. That will be interesting as we investigate this further.
The government has been asked these questions, and it hasn't been forthcoming. The situation we're in right now is one of pre-election. We see the going out and spending taxpayers' money right, left, and centre. As I said, members' operating budgets are for our constituents. This is something that was organized through a minister's office, through the whip directive to other ministers and members of Parliament, and if this is true, Mr. Chair, a conflict of interest has occurred. Liberal ministers having a relationship with a company and forcing contracts to be signed between members of Parliament and a personal friend of the Prime Minister for services that apparently are being covered by another company is an outrageous abuse of our privileges here, Mr. Chair.
This is something on which, as Mr. Barrett says, there may just be a miscommunication. I think Canadians deserve to know where their tax dollars are going, and given the history of this , we need to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible.
Good morning, everyone.
Obviously, we in the NDP were also disturbed when we learned from media reports that almost the entire Liberal caucus had given a portion of its parliamentary funding to a company called Data Sciences, which is in part responsible for running the Liberalist database. Another company, NGP VAN, is also paid by the Liberal Party of Canada to run the database.
The lines have been blurred; this is a grey area. People are rightly asking questions. Is the Liberal Party of Canada spending parliamentary funds on a database that it uses for partisan purposes? It is entirely appropriate for us to ask that question, especially since Data Sciences is owned by Thomas Pitfield, a personal friend of the . It feels as though the record got stuck at the same spot and history is repeating itself: the Liberals are helping friends of the Liberal Party and making no bones about reportedly using taxpayer money to do so.
Questions have to be asked. The facts have to come out. No stone should be left unturned in getting to the truth.
We agree that Mr. Pitfield should appear as a witness. We need to hear from him. We have questions for him. However, we don't want this to turn into a free-for-all or some flagrantly partisan spectacle. In light of the unanswered questions before us, we think two hours with Mr. Pitfield would probably be long enough to ask the necessary questions, and obtain the clarity and information to either reassure Canadians or worry them even more.
We are amenable to the motion that was put forward by the member and is currently before the committee, but we would like it to specify that the committee will hold only one meeting on the subject. With only one witness, two hours should be plenty of time for the committee to examine the issue. We are not interested in spending all summer on this. It would be a misuse of taxpayer money to drag this out doggedly if the issue could be dealt with in two hours.
We are in favour of holding one meeting with Mr. Pitfield as the witness.
Usually, it's quite nice to see everyone in person, but to be honest, I don't sense much enthusiasm in the room today, and I wonder why. In the past, we have seen Mr. Barrett muster up a lot more passion for other issues. Perhaps the reason is that there is nothing to this issue, so it can hardly arouse any passion.
I do, however, want to take this opportunity to answer a basic question. What does Data Sciences do? Allow me to explain.
I, for one, know that the firm provides my office with technical support. Mr. Gourde, Ms. Gaudreau and Mr. Boulerice will probably understand when I say that finding IT support in French is really tough, especially for English-based software. Data Sciences provides that service. It is a Canadian company that hires bilingual employees with the skills to provide us with the service we need.
I went over the monthly invoices, and they look like any other invoices for technical support: $200 here, $149 there. The company provides a valuable service for my French-speaking constituents and staff. That is what the company does. An American company can't provide services in French. As for the company's anglophone services, the fact that it's Canadian makes it that much better.
Those of us on this side are wondering what the point of all this is, but at the end of the day, we know full well why we are here. We know exactly why the members across the way don't want to let the summer go by without summoning us to Ottawa. Suddenly, it's no longer time to talk election, even though they have repeatedly voted against the government. In their minds, it's time for the fake scandal of the summer, as I like to call it, and they are doing their darndest to stir one up.
I feel really sorry for everyone out there who hung around in the schoolyard when they were children. I imagine that, right now, someone is compiling a list of all the Prime Minister's friends from school. “Found one; let's investigate. Here's one who owns a business; let's check it out.”
We've seen it all before on this committee, haven't we? Luckily, we were meeting virtually then, not in person. People with the slightest hint of a connection to anyone in the Liberal Party were called as witnesses. They were hauled before the committee so members could pick holes in their story. They were regular folks. I'm sure everyone recalls the appearance of Martin Perelmuter, one of the owners of Speakers' Spotlight. I found it uncomfortable to listen to the questions asked of him and others. He was simply doing his job—hiring people to give talks—but he had the misfortune of doing business with someone connected to the . That was all it took to unleash the name-calling. It was all over social media.
Mr. Chair, I'm still waiting for certain members of the committee to apologize, for that matter. Luckily, the chair apologized at the time, but I'm still waiting for their apologies.
I won't get into all that, though, because I would have a whole lot more to say on the subject.
I was glad, however, to see the media report on political parties' collection and use of data. That is already an important issue here, in Parliament, but it does not fall within this committee's purview. Matters pertaining to the activities of political parties are normally dealt with by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs or the Board of Internal Economy.
This committee deals instead with public office holders, in other words, those who hold the position of minister or top public servants. It is not the committee's job to investigate what goes on in this person's or that person's office. I'm looking at you, Mr. Gourde, but it could just as easily be my, your or Ms. Lattanzio's office. That is not the committee's job.
In a moment, I'm going to ask the clerk to recap the committee's mandate for us. It's been a long time since we've all reviewed it together. I know that you, Mr. Boulerice, have experience and know exactly what I mean. Every committee has a specific mandate and purpose. This committee examines matters pertaining to four commissioners, the Ethics Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and I forget the fourth one. Can anyone help me out?
That's the truth. Jim Flaherty was working on financial literacy. Do you know that I still receive emails from certain members sent from their Assistant 1 accounts? I made a donation to the party, but I receive emails from constituency offices. Interesting, isn't it? Perhaps we should look into that. I think it's very important.
Let's get back to the information before us relating to the Liberal Party. We've had contracts with these two companies for years. The company with the odd name—what is it again? Here it is. It's called NGP VAN. That company provides the software. It's a long-standing contract. It's the same company we deal with for the Liberalist database, but there's what they call a firewall between the two systems. All the big IT companies have that because of all their different clients. If another party ever wanted to do business with the company, it could have the opportunity.
Nevertheless, we've seen all the attempts by the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes—what a lovely name for a riding, by the way. He and his party are going out of their way to find the name of every single business person who is a Liberal. It's actually not a crime to be a Liberal. We all have our political allegiances in life. We want people to engage in civic life. We want people to be politically active. That's what democracy is all about. According to Mr. Barrett, however, it is unacceptable to own a business and do business with our party. Clearly, this is yet another witch hunt. They have found nothing. Isn't that right? The Ethics Commissioner released his report, but the findings probably weren't what the opposition members were hoping for.
As I said earlier, I'd really appreciate having the clerk talk about the mandate of this committee and that of the Board of Internal Economy. It may not cover everything, but I have a snippet here.
This is what the Standing Orders say about this committee's mandate:
(h) Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics shall include, among other matters:
(i) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Information Commissioner;
(ii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Privacy Commissioner;
(iii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;
(iv) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Commissioner of Lobbying;
(v) the review of and report on reports of the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to his or her responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act relating to public office holders and on reports tabled pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, which shall be severally deemed permanently referred to the committee immediately after they are laid upon the table;
That brings me to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vi):
(vi) in cooperation with other committees, the review of and report on any federal legislation, regulation or standing order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders;
(vii) the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;
and any other matter which the House shall from time to time refer to the standing committee.
It's clear, then, that the committee's mandate relates only to the work of those four commissioners or a special project, such as the one on the security of personal information or the one on new technologies, which we tried to undertake and hope to have a chance to complete. Nevertheless, the parliamentary institution that deals with issues of a more political and partisan nature, and matters relating to the expenditures of members is the Board of Internal Economy.
We have all seen cases where members misused their funding and had to go before the Board of Internal Economy to defend themselves. They faced fines or restrictions as a result of their actions.
As we all know, the Board of Internal Economy is made up of members from every recognized party. That is one of the principles of Parliament: members are to settle issues related to the activities of other members.
Here we all are, meeting today. I'm not sure what things are like in your neck of the woods, but we are probably all trying to enjoy a bit of downtime with our families. In my province, things are good and we are able to go out. I've even participated in a few activities put on by not-for-profit organizations. Businesses have been able to hire students. Things are good, and we are able to serve our constituents. That is the whole point of using any software to manage constituency work. For instance, these systems help us identify where farmers who need to be consulted are. Right now, I'm consulting with stakeholders and organizations that work with people with disabilities. It's really important to have access to systems like these, which help us do our job. I hope no one here is going to dismiss the importance of having access to service in French as well. I hope everyone understands just how important it is to have this type of technical support available in both official languages.
It's hard to stop once you get going, but I will leave it there. Now I'll switch to English to explain what I'd like to do.
I will now move the following amendment:
Whereas section 52.6 of the Parliament of Canada Act states that, in relation to the BOIE, “the Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1)”, I move that the motion be amended by adding, after the word “That”, the following:
the issue of contracts related to Data Sciences be referred to the BOIE. That the issue of the CIMS system which facilitates partisan election related actions to be taken from constituency offices and parliament hill offices to determine if they are in compliance with the rules set out by the Board also be referred to the BOIE.
I have it in English only. Can I send it to you?
Well, I'm glad that we have Mr. MacKinnon joining our show already in progress. Welcome to the committee, Mr. MacKinnon.
Yes, you may not have had the opportunity to hear all of the outrageous claims that were made by your colleagues on why the WE organization was selected to deliver a program that it couldn't possibly deliver on, which was why the government had to sub out French language services if it were to deliver the CSSG in Quebec. We have a real pattern here. The Liberals say, “Yes, we have this great service provider, but they can only do half the job. They can't serve French language constituents, so we're going to pay somebody else to deliver on that service as well.”
Ms. Shanahan also talked about the committee's ability to handle this matter. The Standing Orders are very clear in subparagraph 108(3)(h)(vii):
the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;
Therefore, this study is quite clearly within the mandate of our committee. I'm sure they'd like to talk about lots of other things, such as what Conservatives do, so if we're going to talk about what we do in our offices, I'm glad that we brought it up. I'm happy to tell the members of the committee that in my office we use a program called CivicTrack. We don't use any other software.
I'd be very interested to hear about their data management practices. You've heard mine. You can see that disclosure and you can talk to my staff. In fact, some are here. If we wanted to get this under way today, I'd be happy to have my staff talk to the committee about how we exercise our function and how we are appropriately stewarding taxpayer dollars.
I have a lot of questions about what's happening on the other side of the table. That's why it's so important that we hear from Mr. Pitfield. This amendment that we have from the Liberals is a red herring. They want us to chase this amendment and run out the clock.
We're here to deal with something. We can deal with it very quickly. I would be very happy to support an amendment to the main motion that, as Mr. Boulerice suggested, would see us meet for two hours. Once we've dispensed with this, I'd be pleased to deal with that idea. If the intention is that members want to add all of the parties' data management software and all the independent service providers they use and give the Board of Internal Economy lots of work to do over the summer, I guess it would be up to BOIE if it wanted to take up the task, but let's talk about what this committee can do. This committee, today, can decide to deal with this issue.
I think it's very serious when we have a potential conflict of interest and we have a minister of the Crown directing other members on how to spend their office budgets. Those members have no idea how it works. Let's not fall for any parlour tricks today. Let's instead focus on what we're here to discuss, and that's taxpayer dollars being spent on a contract that's very problematic for the Liberals. Let's deal with that.
Once we've dealt with the amendment that's on the floor, Mr. Chair, I'd be pleased to move an amendment to the motion in support of Mr. Boulerice's suggestion that we deal with this issue expeditiously, potentially even concluding it this week.
I'm not sure why we are here today, and I'm going to get to the amendment. I think most of us are busy in our constituency offices, meeting our constituents and doing our work. Having sat on this committee, albeit as a new member, I've seen what has transpired in the last year and the witch hunts that have been brought about time and time again. We are essentially using taxpayers' dollars to go on these witch hunts, but even beyond that, we have mandated this committee to conduct investigations that are concurrent with those of other committees. Talk about a waste of time and talk about a waste of taxpayers' money.
We've seen these attempts time and time again from the member from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes while the government has been focused on delivering the vaccine and helping Canadians recover from this pandemic. However, we are here today. We have met solely in service of the Conservative ambitions many times over the course of the past year, but what clearly makes this time different from the last is the clear-cut fact that this committee doesn't even have the jurisdiction to investigate what Mr. Barrett is bringing forward.
He spoke a few minutes ago, and I heard him, when he quoted our committee mandate in access to information, privacy and ethics, which is subparagraph 108(3)(h)(vii), I believe. I'm going to read it again for the benefit of our members here today. It says:
the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders
In his motion, he wants to have Mr. Pitfield present here. Mr. Pitfield is not a public office holder, so it has become quite clear what road we are embarking on: This is basically not to fulfill the mandate of this committee but to go yet again on another witch hunt.
Our committees are neither investigative nor judicial bodies. You cannot simply call this committee together and propose on a whim to undertake a political witch hunt because it happens to be a politically self-serving issue of the day. This place is governed by the rules and statutes that were constituted when this place first began sitting as the Parliament of Canada and established the long-running traditions by which we operate today.
The amendment proposed by my colleague—and I won't read it, because she has—is, I think, the appropriate forum for this issue, if there is an issue. Again, the motion states quite clearly, almost makes an allegation, that there is a conflict of interest. It makes that allegation without even having any basis for it. I think the amendment would allow the committee to be able to investigate and do its work, and look at not just the Liberal database but also the CIMS. If we are to be transparent—and in the words of my colleague Dr. Carrie, we need to be transparent—then let's be transparent and let's do it with the other software being used.
Anyone reading this section proposed by my colleague can clearly deduce that the Board of Internal Economy retains complete discretion to determine how members use parliamentary resources. There is no mention here of any other parliamentary committee in that section. In fact, it has long been an accepted fact that the board can handle these types of matters.
I'm a little confused, Mr. Chair, as to why my colleague and his colleagues seem to think that we have the jurisdiction to even investigate this matter. The Board of Internal Economy itself, as we know, is composed of members of all recognized parties, and it is they who set out the rules and regulations by which we conduct ourselves. As to how members discharge the public funds they are entrusted with, the board has compiled the Members' Allowances and Services Manual, which lays out very clearly how we are to conduct ourselves as members in regard to our budgets, and how organizations like our research bureau, the whips' offices and the House leaders' offices should also conduct business with public funds.
The rules and guidelines laid out in the members' services manual are very clear about how we should conduct ourselves in expending public funds. I believe that each and every member in the House, and indeed around this table, strives to ensure that they follow the rules as laid out in the said manual.
When disputes have arisen in the past about the use of funds within our budget, these matters were taken up by the BOIE and handled accordingly. I think we have to ask ourselves, “What is different about this situation, such that we should diverge from past precedence in how these matters are handled?”
The truth is that nothing is different—nothing but the political opportunity that is present for the opposition.
I think we can all agree that we are here today in service to the constituents who elected us to represent them. It is a humbling job—especially when you are first elected, as I am—to know that you are responsible for advancing the best interests of your community in making decisions that will affect your family, friends and neighbours. As members of Parliament, we are required to help anyone in our community, no matter their political affiliation, whether they voted for us or not. Our service to our communities is to blind ourselves to partisan interests, and it should be so.
In our duties as members of Parliament, we are often required to help our constituents access the many resources of the federal government and to triage the issues that arise out of that assistance. I think we can all agree that with roughly, more or less, 70,000 constituents in each of our respective ridings at a minimum, keeping orderly track of casework and requests for assistance is essential to completing our work as members.
All parties here freely admit that we maintain constituent management systems to help us track requests for assistance from constituents and to ensure that we are able to provide all necessary assistance and follow up afterwards to ensure that casework has been handled to the constituents' satisfaction. A constituent management database is there to help us organize case files and track the progress of constituency issues or constituents' issues to ensure that they are followed up and completed properly. It is not out of the ordinary, nor is it inappropriate. It is an expected part of our job as parliamentarians. It is not out of the ordinary for parties to operate their constituent management databases on software similar to their electoral databases. Frankly, it makes sense. Members and staff are already familiar with electoral databases. Basing constituent management databases on the same user experience enables members and staff to quickly access and operate a user-friendly and familiar system.
The important distinction here is the presence of a complete firewall between these databases to ensure that the information collected in an official capacity is not mixed with partisan databases. That's what's important here. Our caucus maintains the highest standards in this regard, as has been noted, and we work with the contractors who manage our databases to ensure that there is no crossover between the two.
We are not the only party that operates this way. Both the NDP and the Conservatives do the same. The NDP openly admitted this on July 9 of last week in a Globe and Mail article that quoted a member who also sits on this committee. It's been a well-known fact for well over 15 years now that the Conservatives' CIMS database operates in a similar capacity as well.
I'd like to quote the member as cited in The Globe and Mail: “I am not sure they are using it in a way that would actually contravene rules. It would have to be established that they are turning constituency data over for political purposes. Every political party has a data wing and a constituency wing.” The member from the NDP also said his party also uses the database provider Populus for political and campaign work, and a different version from the same company for constituency casework. “There is a pretty clear firewall” between the two services, he said.
I find it very disingenuous that all of a sudden the Conservative members of this committee have decided that there is something inappropriate or nefarious with members' tracing casework with constituency and constituents, especially when they do it themselves. Ms. Shanahan has given you an example of how she's been contacted time and time again from an A1 account after a donation that she made many moons ago. Therefore, the question arises as to who's doing what and who's using what database.
I think, Mr. Chair, in the words of my colleague Mr. Carrie this morning, let's be transparent. Let's examine everything, but this committee does not have the mandate to do so. I think it's appropriate that it be sent to BOIE. Thank you.
I want to start by thanking the member from Montreal for her well-reasoned comments. She made some excellent points.
Certainly, in this day and age, every party on Parliament Hill uses databases so members can manage the work of their constituency and Hill offices, and that's perfectly fine. Having access to such tools means we can serve people effectively. These systems help us track who has contacted us and why, whether it's the first or fifth time we've been in contact, and if the issues are connected. It's perfectly normal.
It's also perfectly normal for every party to use a database for partisan purposes, such as to remember who they have interacted with and in relation to what.
However, there can be no mixing of the data from the two systems. The databases must not communicate with one another. They are required to operate as stand-alone systems—hence, the firewall, which as everyone knows, works without a hitch.
I saw what the NDP member from northern Ontario had to say on the subject. He agreed, saying his party makes sure the two databases operate independently of one another. Our party does pretty much the exact same thing.
This is an issue I'm quite familiar with. In a past life, long before I became a member of Parliament, I was the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada. I was the one who did the research and signed the contract with NGP VAN. I'm very proud of our work on that file. We really brought the Liberal Party into the modern age. Prior to that, all we had were paper-based lists; it was a bit makeshift. We made a decision to enter the 21st century by adopting a highly flexible IT system. Not only does it offer a considerable degree of flexibility, but it also has an excellent track record for ensuring a separation between certain data.
It would be preposterous to have a system without a firewall. If that were the case, the company's reputation would be ruined and no one would do business with it. Use of the system isn't limited to Canada; it's a well-honed system that has long been used in the United States. Personally, I think it's the best system out there, but I imagine the Conservatives would say their system is better than ours.
Mr. Barrett, you mentioned CivicTrack or Softchoice.
I imagine the Conservative Party of Canada is proud of CIMS, its system, and the NDP is surely proud of its system, Populus. I commend both parties.
What worries me, as Ms. Lattanzio and Mrs. Shanahan have already pointed out, is that this smells of a witch hunt.
Mr. Barrett is acting like he's being entirely reasonable by saying he would support holding just one two-hour meeting with witnesses, but we've heard that line numerous times over the past 15 months. Every time someone appears, they mention another name, and suddenly the committee has to probe further, even if it's not at all relevant. We have to invite someone else, and so it goes.
Forgive me, then, if I'm a bit hesitant to go along with this.
I've been down that rabbit hole before.
Even if you think I'm wrong, Mr. Chair, I know I stand on solid footing when it comes to the role of this committee versus that of the Board of Internal Economy. I won't repeat what my fellow members have already said, since they did a good job of articulating this committee's responsibilities. They also pointed out that another committee is entrusted with examining the spending and activities—past and current—of members and their constituency offices, and that committee is the Board of Internal Economy.
No expense considered to be invalid is authorized without the board's approval. Occasionally, people can make mistakes, and the consequences can be quite serious. The Board of Internal Economy has been known to make some very weighty decisions to reassure Canadians that the spending of parliamentarians, specifically, members of the House of Commons, complies with the rules.
The Parliament of Canada Act is crystal clear about the exclusive authority of the Board of Internal Economy. Subsection 52.6(1) says and I quote:
52.6 (1) The Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
That is the body that should be examining this issue.
Mrs. Shanahan's amendment shows that we are prepared to support Mr. Barrett's motion, which, according to him, was prompted by a media report. That is why he feels we should examine the issue. Actually, Mr. Barrett is signalling that it was four news articles. Thank you for correcting me.
I believe the four articles—well, three of them, at least—refer to the systems used by the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Barrett's motion pertains solely to one party. Mrs. Shanahan made the point that we should broaden the motion to cover not only what the Liberal members are doing, but also what the members of the official opposition are doing. The issues raised in the news reports are actually of great interest to Canadians.
I hope my fellow members will allow these issues to be referred to the Board of Internal Economy, which, as a committee of the House, could look into everything and report its findings to all members.
I think that's the best way forward. That is why the amendment was moved and why I, personally, will support it.
If we stick to the motion as moved, we will fall into the same trap that we unfortunately fell into before. Mr. Chair, I know you came a long way to be at this meeting in person, and I certainly appreciate the efforts of every committee member to attend this meeting. No one wants to waste time, but we have to tell it like it is. We have to set the record straight, and that's why I feel so strongly about doing things the right way. That means referring the matter to the committee responsible for examining the previous, current and proposed expenditures incurred by members and their offices. The committee with that responsibility is the Board of Internal Economy.
I can well imagine what would happen if we did not support the amendment and the motion was adopted unamended. I can hear it now. I would bet any amount of money that, as soon as the witness mentioned someone's name, members would probably want to invite that person to appear before the committee. It would be a name here, a name there; we would have to keep inviting people and so on. I've seen this show before, and honestly, the reviews weren't good.
It's time to move on. We should be smart about how we use our time and energy—what we focus our efforts on. I think the committee members should really support the amendment and refer this matter to the proper authority.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I want to thank colleagues again for coming together to address this extremely important matter, which seems to be getting convoluted again by the Liberals.
Mr. Chair, if we can be very clear here, this is about allegations that a minister of the Crown was directing a contract involving taxpayers' funds to advance the interests of the Liberal Party of Canada and the minister's partisan interests. That's what this is about.
I think everybody around here understands the Board of Internal Economy and what it does, but maybe people listening in don't. The Board of Internal Economy has no jurisdiction to rule on a minister on a conflict of interest. Frankly, it works on consensus building. We know that if the Liberals get their way here, they would just shut it down there, just as they're trying to shut down this committee today.
This is very straightforward, Mr. Chair. As Mr. Barrett said, he is very open to Mr. Boulerice's very reasonable time frame—one meeting, two hours. That doesn't seem to be out of the ordinary. What really bothers me is that we hear the Liberal members saying, “Oh, well, if we hear something that is suspicious here, the opposition is going to want to call another witness”, or this or that. Of course, Mr. Chair. That's our job. That's why Canadians have us here.
We are going into an election campaign. The Liberals are going out this summer. We know they don't want to be here; they want to be out there. They want to be handing out money here, handing out money there, with just big smiles everywhere. They don't want to be talking about corruption and ethical issues again, and a being with Mr. Pitfield, for heaven's sake, who was on that illegal vacation he took. They don't want to talk about that. They don't want Canadians to even be thinking about it.
Mr. Chair, I don't want to talk too long here. I opened up and I explained what this is about. I think I explained what the Liberals are trying to do again, which is to filibuster to keep this issue from getting out. Frankly, the more they push back, the more I'm concerned. I think we do have to make sure that Canadians understand that it's about a conflict of interest by a minister. When these questions are being asked, it's our job as opposition MPs to be very reasonable. We're not asking people to spend the entire summer here, but just two hours to get to some very simple answers. If it's going to be open and transparent, those answers will come quite quickly.
I think, Mr. Chair, we have about 10 minutes left. I think the meeting's going to be talked out. That's all I have to say.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I don't want to spend a lot of time talking. I think Mr. Barrett spoke about eight to 10 minutes, so if you give me a signal at the eight-minute mark, I'll wrap up. I don't want to speak more than the opposition members.
Chair, I've been listening respectfully and carefully to all members of this committee today. I thought what Ms. Shanahan said in her opening remarks, before she moved a motion, was very important: It was about the mandate of this committee. If we are talking about questioning the integrity of MPs as they perform jobs in their capacity as public elected members, we're not talking about just a few members; we're talking about the entire Liberal caucus. I think we should look at the process. What's the code of conduct? That falls under the scope of the Board of Internal Economy. Determining whether or not the members obey these codes of conduct, I think, is its job.
I understand that you said committees don't have the mandate or don't have the power to tell another committee what it needs to do. Simply put, I'm sure there are Conservative members on the Board of Internal Economy. They can, according to the result of today's debate, move a motion over there to start an investigation. I think that's much better than having a debate here. We are making a lot of assumptions that members are using public dollars, taxpayers' dollars, to somehow do partisan stuff.
What is within the scope of this committee is privacy. That could be expanded to the privacy of our constituents. I think that needs to be looked at.
I have heard members from the Conservative Party say that they don't use public dollars to somehow fund this kind of system. I'm very interested in knowing how these systems are being paid for and how constituents' information is being used. I know from Ms. Lattanzio on this side that there's a very effective firewall being built around individuals' data, around what's being accessed from the MPs' offices in terms of their constituents' information. Privacy is very important, and I've made that very clear to the staff in my office.
Speaking of wasting taxpayers' dollars, I want to remind the committee and the public watching that I've been here at this committee since day one of the 43rd Parliament, and to my recollection we've completed only two studies: those on WE Charity and Pornhub. It's a public taxpayer-funded fishing expedition. Our WE Charity study and investigation was parallel to an investigation done by an officer of the House. The Integrity Commissioner did an investigation.
As well, I want to point out that this meeting was not scheduled. It's not a regular meeting. It's a special meeting that's been called. We see all the support staff, all the wonderful translators and the clerk here. That's all on taxpayers' dollars. I have to question the efficiency of our committee.
Mr. Barrett, in his debate on the amendment, mentioned that he's quite happy to be in front of the committee and to talk about the practices of his office. I applaud his transparency and, quite honestly, bravery. Sitting in front of a committee and disclosing information, which we all know is to the public, is not an easy thing to do.
I have to point out some quick research.
The company he mentioned, CivicTrack, which he uses, is a software provider that is owned by Momentuum BPO Inc. Its president is Matt Yeatman, who has donated $12,556 to various Conservative EDAs and campaigns between 2008 and 2019.
According to the public record, another software company that he uses, which is online in his expenditure report, is called Softchoice. It is owned by Vince De Palma, who has made multiple $1,000 contributions as donations to the Conservative Party. I think there is merit to the amendment, in that if we're going to make assumptions that a lot of members don't know the rules and their integrity is being questioned, we should open up the questioning so we can improve the process, although, as I've said before, I don't believe that this falls under the mandate of this committee.
That leads to my final point. When I read the original motion, I found that it wasn't typical. Usually I'll see in a motion that we will refer the matter to the House and require a response from the government or require a response from, in this case, the Board of Internal Economy or whatever. We have to have some recommendation in the study; otherwise, what's the point of the study? I have not seen that, which leads me to question the timing of this proposed study.
Repeatedly the Conservative members have talked about being on the eve of an election. I haven't heard that the writ has dropped. What I know is that a motion was passed in the House by all members that we don't want an election until it's safe.
I haven't heard that call. They want to deal with this expeditiously. Do you know what that means to me? They want to pull a fast one. They want to pull a fast one against the Liberal members, on the eve of an election—
Thank you very much, Chair. This is very able quarterbacking with the group we have before us.
We are missing one person here, so in the spirit of invoking the ethics committee in all its glory and so on, I want to quote , who was interviewed for that Globe and Mail article. I think it will bring a little bit more raison d'être to why we think it's appropriate for this matter to be transferred to the Board of Internal Economy.
Mr. Angus said, when he was asked, that he's not convinced the Liberals are abusing spending rules, which is nice to hear from Mr. Angus, and went on to say, “I am not sure they are using it in a way that would actually contravene rules. It would have to be established that they are turning constituency data over for political purposes. Every political party has a data wing and a constituency wing.”
I think that is the key: the fact that the data itself, as we have learned in other studies, is an important resource. Not only is it an issue whether we use a House device or premises or Hill staff or constituency staff; the fact that the data that is collected in the course of our day-to-day constituency work can be used and turned over to the political party in question for use for election purposes is of deep concern, I think, to any member of this Parliament.
That is why I think , in his always very insightful way, gets to the heart of the issue. It is that on the one hand, there is the constituency work that we do day to day, the very important contact work and policy work and casework. We all know what we and our staff do every day. That needs to be managed. We each have between 70,000 and 120,000 constituents. I don't know about you, but even though I'm more of a paper person, I need software to handle that work. It's certainly well within the budget of any member to have software, and it makes sense not to have each single member ordering software, because that's expensive. No, you order one software package that works for all members of a group, which in our parliamentary system are caucus groups. That's what we have access to. I'm certainly happy with the service that's provided.
It's a completely different thing when we're talking about election purposes, voter ID purposes, donor purposes and so on. That is precious data, personal data, and we know we deal with people's most personal data when we're talking about immigration files, passports, Revenue Canada and the myriad things we deal with in the course of our constituent duties. That is important, but it should not—never, ever—be mixed with election-purpose data, which is what we do when we're on a campaign, when we're identifying our supporters and we're going out to meet them.
That is the case with our software. We're not so sure it's the case with the privately paid-for software used by the Conservative Party, which is run by Conservative donors with individual links with members and members of the staff.
We have a lot more we can say about that, but in the interest of time I will leave it there and yield the floor to Mr. MacKinnon, I believe.
As the honourable member Mr. Barrett mentioned, I am indeed new to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Unfortunately, the committee is preceded by its reputation, thanks to some of the comments made by members across the way before I joined the committee.
I want to piggyback on what my fellow member Mrs. Shanahan said. She spoke about what the committee's responsibilities were and which body had the authority to examine this issue if need be.
The matter clearly falls under the authority of the Board of Internal Economy. For the benefit of my fellow members, I would like to cite the bylaws.
The Parliament of Canada Act refers to the “exclusive authority” of the Board of Internal Economy, at subsection 52.6(1). I repeat, “exclusive authority”.
52.6 (1) The Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
Obviously, what we have here is an exercise in extreme partisanship and politicking. The member is trying to circumvent the committee's tradition, to say nothing of the best traditions of the House and this institution. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a Conservative opposition hell-bent on disparaging those involved in the public life of their country.
I want to repeat what my fellow members said about our use of the software in question. Formally, unequivocally and in writing, a clear separation exists between our use of software to carry out constituency work and our use of software to perform partisan work, in other words, activities in support of the Liberal Party of Canada.
I did note with interest the very insightful intervention of my friend Mr. Dong, who pointed out that the Conservative Party and Conservative members utilize software that is probably very similar, software furnished by an enterprise.
This is not to minimize their involvement in public life. Supporting public institutions is a good thing, which makes me wonder why Mr. Barrett continues to engage in these activities. Donors of tens of thousands of dollars provide the very software that Mr. Barrett alluded to, that he confirmed and revealed to this committee that he uses in the course of his daily activities. That software is provided by a company called Momentuum, whose CEO has made tens of thousands of dollars of contributions to the Conservative Party of Canada and its various entities.
The president of another provider that is confirmed in Mr. Barrett's proactive disclosure, Softchoice, has been a donor to the Conservative Party of Canada on several occasions, including for the Lisa Raitt leadership campaign. That too has been, I think, pretty easily tracked down.
To take it to its logical extension, Mr. Chair, in this Parliament Mr. Barrett, it must be said, has dug a lot of dry holes. He's like the Death Valley well driller. There has been a lot of activity, Mr. Chair, a lot of moving around, without much being dug up there.
As an ethics critic, I think he has been shown to be—
Mr. Brown, his predecessor, engaged in no such activity, I would note. Mr. Barrett is, of course—as we all are—free to exercise his prerogatives as a member of Parliament.
Here we are today. Here we are in a committee room on Parliament Hill, meeting on something that I've just pretty clearly outlined is not within the competence or the scope of this committee's lines of inquiry. It's something that, again, has been established pretty clearly as being outside the parameters of what Mr. Barrett should be preoccupied with.
It's also very clearly, Mr. Chair, something that every party does in service of the members of Parliament that it has in Parliament by supplying technologies that equip us, help us and train us to serve our constituents in the most efficient and best manner possible.
As a result, Mr. Chair, I am perplexed as to why there's this mass mobilization of MPs, on an emergency basis, back to Ottawa during the month of July to explore yet another of Mr. Barrett's fantasies driven by his personal animus toward the and toward members of this government. I don't understand that, Mr. Chair. It is not becoming. It does not befit the honourable members of the House of Commons or of this committee to act in such ways.
However, if Mr. Barrett wishes to pursue this line of inquiry, then I think it only fair that we pursue the line of inquiry to its logical conclusion and examine those Conservative donors, who are clearly very wealthy Conservative donors, as shown by their tens of thousands of dollars of contributions to the party. It's only fair that we examine links between them, the software they provide and the possible population of Conservative Party databases.
Madam Shanahan described her experience in trying at all costs to extricate herself from this web, this data trap she's been in for the last 10 years. I think it might befit this committee, in its line of inquiry, to inquire as to how that could possibly occur. It may befit this committee, in its line of inquiry, to ask the of Mr. Barrett's party about contracts using parliamentary funds that are let to members of his leadership campaign team, those people who volunteered, presumably, or maybe were compensated, to work on Mr. O'Toole's leadership campaign and now find themselves to be contractors to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition or the Conservative Resource Group, which of course are both entities that are funded with the tax dollars of hard-working Canadians. It may behoove us to look into those ties and those connections, because some of those people provide software consulting services or IT consulting services or the like.
As you know, Mr. Chair, these things get a little fuzzy. As far as we can tell, some people who were engaged in partisan software management—maybe for leadership campaign, maybe for the Conservative Party of Canada—are now providing IT and database and other consulting services to a public entity, which is the Office of the Leader of the Opposition or the Conservative Research Group. That, of course, may also warrant the prolonged gaze of the members of this committee if we are to be logical and consistent in applying the very rigorous tests that Mr. Barrett has laid out for the members of this committee.
Mr. Chair, I think it's important that we remember all of these facts. It's important we remember that what we're really doing here is indulging Mr. Barrett's personal animus and hatred for the , as well as that of the Conservative Party. We're calling back members of Parliament from all over the country to indulge that—
It is now 1:35 p.m. The meeting has been going on since 11 a.m. this morning. I'm just taking the time to get myself set up, since this is my first speech.
Just like you, we have activities in our ridings. The people who are listening to us today have the opportunity to see us in person and see that we are hard at work in Ottawa. Yes, we are working. I should give them a bit of background about what is going on, however.
Under Standing Order 106(4), we can sign a written request to call a meeting when, unfortunately, we are unable to obtain certain answers on a given issue. As indicated in the wording of the request, the reason why I supported my Conservative colleagues in making this request is that, unfortunately, I could not get the answers to my questions.
During the last parliamentary session, I was constantly amazed at how much room was left for different interpretations. In life, I have always been told to get to the bottom of things to make sure whether what is being said is true or false.
In the last hour and a half, according to what has been put on the table—and this is a perception, I want to emphasize that—there seemed to be nothing wrong, nothing to worry about. We told ourselves from the outset that everything was perfect, that this meeting would be so uncomplicated, for once, that we could take the time left to us to work in our ridings and meet the people we have only seen virtually all year. Personally, I found that reassuring. I thought it would be a simple meeting, since the colleagues opposite had absolutely nothing to worry about. I thought it would be a two-hour meeting to shed some light on the subject of the written request made under Standing Order 106(4).
We were asked what was the point of doing this at this time, between two parliamentary sessions. In fact, the work is still going on. The House of Commons is actually open. I'm very happy that we can see each other in person, that feels good. I was told that I was dancing behind the screen. What we're experiencing right now is a bit like what I have experienced. I was introduced to this along with all of you. For hours and hours, we have heard speeches that often ran counter to the proposals before the committee, just to kill time. We keep hearing people saying we don't want to waste time, but we are wasting time. They say they want to get to the bottom of this, but they don't want to allow us the opportunity to ask questions.
In fact, what we should be asking is why things are so complicated today. Anyone who has nothing to hide or fear should be willing to go ahead and get to the bottom of things. Sadly, someone made a speech saying that they felt threatened. That's a defence mechanism. I will say to the people who are listening to us that this is perfectly normal, this is what happens in committee.
However, here is what it's like in real life. It's summertime. We are not sure what's coming up. According to my schedule, I will be back with you on September 20, in person. That will be very exciting. In the meantime, I don't want to repeat what we did last summer. I am convinced that none of you want to do that.
Some people feel that if you open the door once, you'll have to open it the next time too. The proof is in the pudding: We have already opened the door, based on an item we had. There were no worries, everything was perfect, we were going to meet the following week. There may be other proposals; it depends on what people want to do.
Trust and transparency issues fall under the purview of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We are an oversight committee. Every committee has its strength. Ours is very considerable, and equally important.
It is easy to say that we are trying to look for dirt and dig where there is nothing to dig up. Beyond all that, we are demonstrating something to people. Essentially, technically, the results shouldn't be a big surprise. We simply saw, and I will reiterate, that 95% of the Liberal MPs paid $30,000 to Data Sciences and the Liberal Party paid $1 million to NGP VAN. Accordingly, we want to ask the founder of Data Sciences some questions. If things look good, this will be over; if they don't, then something else will happen. People need to know what's going on.
People say time is precious. I'm sure some of my colleagues have meetings scheduled in their ridings in an hour. I myself have one at 5 p.m. People want to see us. They also want to see that we're not wasting our time. Well, we have just shown them that we did waste our time. At this point, I think that by 2 p.m. we will have finished hearing from everyone who wanted to speak. We are ready. Everyone has spoken. We all know how the vote will turn out. Let's vote on the amendment. Soon, when we feel comfortable and we are in agreement, we can vote on the motion.
Why should we do this? I think that the clerk has the right to enjoy her summer, too. We can do our work and our planning efficiently and effectively.
You know where I stand. We still agree on the basic wording. The work will resume on September 20. There will be requests then, but we will be able to stay focused.
I wasn't planning to speak, but I will. There is a reason why we are meeting today. Obviously, we did not request this meeting. We are here to explain why our committee is not the right place to consider this issue. The committee does not have a mandate to investigate conflict of interest. Other people have already looked into that and into other cases. That work is done by the commissioners, that's their job. When the individuals involved are members of Parliament, it is Parliament's Board of Internal Economy that looks into everything.
That is why I proposed the amendment. Everyone here must recognize the reason why it is the Board of Internal Economy that deals with these matters. Members of all parties sit on the board, and things are done in a confidential manner. From what I have heard, since these meetings are not held in public, the exchanges between members of the various political parties and the MPs involved can be very frank and honest.
We still have the same goal, which is to ensure that our democracy remains based on political parties and groups. We are not in small villages where everyone can represent themselves, far from it. Citizens rely on political parties to represent them. As we know full well, in our system we do not vote for a prime minister but for MPs, each of whom represents a political party. In most cases, voters hope that the leader of the political party of the candidate they voted for will become Prime Minister. I also understand that sometimes the leader makes it very clear that they don't want to take power, but I think they have an interest elsewhere. I do not want to veer too far off topic, but as we know, the leader of the Bloc Québécois was previously involved in politics in Quebec. It is certainly very interesting to make a career in another level of government to then come back to Quebec and perhaps even lead the province. Why not? It's because we are in the public eye, right?
The parliamentary resources that we all use are very important. If they are being used for smear campaigns here and there—and I'm talking about all parties in general—the public needs to know that. Every MP has more than one office and hires three, four or five people to work there. Some may have as many as ten staffers, some working part-time. It is important for people to know what these staffers do. Constituents would not want to find out that employees are being hired for purposes other than the work being done in the riding with respect to federal policy and federal cases. People need to understand exactly what work is being done with their tax dollars.
I've been listening to everyone for about three hours. We are dealing with an issue that is worth taking the time to discuss, since it has existed for years. It is a fundamental problem.
I will wait until I know my colleagues are listening, because it's for them that I'm speaking right now. I would like us to be able to have a discussion, because hopefully that might lead to a solution.
When I was first elected in 2006, the Board of Internal Economy and House of Commons services did not provide software to help us manage our constituents' case files in our riding offices. This is a fundamental problem. We still don't have those services today, 15 years later, and that's probably at the root of the problem we're facing now. Firms have designed software at the request of MPs from all parties. Keeping a living register is a real problem when we work with 90,000 citizens in our riding. At first, for a few years, we can keep paper records, but doing research becomes a very tedious job. People often come back to see us, and it is easier to provide adequate services to our constituents when we have software designed for this kind of case management.
It is still difficult to unravel all of this and understand how the same firm can provide a political party with both non-partisan software, as Mrs. Shanahan told us, and software used for partisan purposes. There was much emphasis on the fact that there were firewalls to keep the two databases completely separate. Frankly, I hope so, because we really do owe it to ourselves to keep a wall around the information we collect from our constituents for the purpose of providing them services. Virtually all of that data is useless for a party's partisan activities. Essentially, the information that parties want for their partisan activities are phone numbers they can't find on Canada 411 and email addresses. As for the addresses, Elections Canada gives them to us. The parties are always hunting for email addresses and cellphone numbers. It's a race to see who can get more of them. There's no hiding it here. The key to getting in touch with our constituents is to visit them or call them. The problem is that fewer and fewer Canadians have land lines. Therefore, we all have the same problem. We all want to have their cellphone numbers to get in touch with them. There's nothing secret about this.
However, there is an American company in the picture. Why? There may be an underlying reason no one knows about. I will give you a clue: In Canada there is no phone book listing cellphone numbers, but there is one in the United States that covers all of North America. I'm not sure whether you can connect the dots. It is illegal to have Canadians' cellphone numbers, but the Americans can access the cellphone numbers of all Canadians. That's very odd.
Perhaps someday we can try to find out why we are entitled to have residential phone numbers, but not cellphone numbers. Only 20% of Canadians have solely a land line. Everyone is giving up their land lines for cellphones. One day we won't even be able to do our job as politicians during an election campaign.
We have to stop burying our heads in the sand like ostriches. Right now, in Canada, we have a problem with cellphones. We are trying to find a solution by all legal means possible. There is actually a legal way: If the person wants to provide their cellphone number, we will take it. If there is consent, it's legal. However, 90% of Canadians do not want to give their cellphone number to a political party, so we're not going to get those numbers, unless we engage in barely legal schemes that are costly for the parties.
It is currently illegal for a political party to have a database listing the cellphone numbers of all Canadians, regardless of which party we're talking about.
There is a witch hunt going on and everyone is jumping in on it, when we all have the same problem: We are no longer able to contact our constituents. It's all well and good to go door to door, but if people don't open their doors or don't want to give us their cellphone numbers, we will not be able to call them, since they no longer have residential phone lines.
This is a bit less of a problem in rural areas. In cities, however, the situation is worse. There is a huge number of people who no longer have residential phone lines. You all have cities in your ridings. Do you know how many of your constituents have cellphones? Between 90% and 95% of citizens have cellphones, while 20% have a residential phone line.
Numbers for residential land lines are available on Canada 411, as are Canadians' names and addresses, so we can obtain them legally.
That brings us back to the idea of software that can be used for partisan purposes. This software should be provided by the Board of Internal Economy as part of the services offered to members of Parliament, and it should be the same for all MPs, regardless of party. That would be the only way we could guarantee independence between a party and its MPs. If members had software provided by the House to manage their constituents' case files, there would certainly be a firewall effective enough to protect the data in the software. If a party asked a company to design a software package to help its MPs manage their constituents' case files, it would surely be tempted to collect, at the same time, the cellphone numbers and email addresses of those people. As for the rest of the information, the parties don't need it or want it. Those are the facts.
We can throw mud at each other all we want. I have grandchildren, and if I help them put on their boots and there is a puddle, they will go play in the water and end up getting all dirty. We are doing exactly what children do when they play in a mud puddle. We will all play in the same puddle and end up getting soiled up to our necks. In the end, we will not be any further ahead or better able to do our jobs. We won't look all that smart to Canadians.
I have some doubts about your proposal to take this directly to the Board of Internal Economy, simply because it will die there. We are not going to fix the problem, we will only delay fixing it, should there be an election. One way or another, there will be an election in two years, let's face it. However, the problem still won't be resolved in two years or in the following four years.
Let's then take the time to talk about it at today's committee meeting. Several members have said that if we want to have software, we need firewalls. I agree with that. From an ethical standpoint, if we want to protect members of Parliament, we need firewalls. However, no software is going to be airtight if it's run by one party, no matter which party. If the five parties have five different software packages, we will be no further ahead.
In my view, if we were to make a recommendation, it would be to conduct a study on this kind of software package and ask that the House provide one to members of Parliament so they could manage their constituents' case records. As for partisan activities, the parties will take care of that themselves. The parties' partisan activities affect us to some extent, but they are not necessarily our responsibility as members of Parliament.
However, the confidentiality of the information contained in the software to manage constituents' cases is certainly our responsibility. We are acting on their behalf. Every time a citizen allows an MP to work on their case and do research on their behalf, regardless of the department involved, they are giving their consent, their proxy, to the member of Parliament, not the party.
This is why it is often said that, when an MP loses an election, the constituents' case files are all cleared. That's because the proxy was not given to the new MP, after the election. It was given to the sitting MP. The proxy is in the sitting member's name, and because of this, they can be sued at any time. If a constituent is not happy with something that happened and there is a leak of information, that is the MP's responsibility.
That's why each and everyone of us here should be careful. We have duties towards our constituents. We have duties and responsibilities under the law.
We therefore won't find a solution by passing the buck, as we are doing now.
Unfortunately, in 15 years, perhaps the House has not provided us with all the tools we need. That said, much progress has been made on the IT front. In 2006, everything was done on paper. We were just starting to use more IT tools. Now, the House provides us with a lot of IT services, but we never had a software package for managing our constituents' case files. It is hard for the House to create one. It's really complicated. It is easy enough for the House to do administrative management, because that's what they do, but managing constituents' case files is a different story. These systems are developed in MPs' offices. Some members have been lucky enough to work with the same staffers for 10 or 15 years, so they are aware of all the cases and all the situations that may arise.
I'll give you some examples. Simply removing the names of people who have died from the constituent list is quite a task. There are ways to do it faster now, but I used to have a staffer who worked 12 hours a week just to do that. We then found a way to do it in 15 minutes, thanks to computers. Managing the Christmas card program used to take two months in 2006, whereas today we can do it in about two hours.
Good software programs exist today to do this kind of work. The tools have improved over time. The House of Commons is not the one who designed these software programs. It was independent firms at the request of some MPs who wanted to save their employees time. When someone spends two months of their time at work on Christmas cards and figuring out who to send them to, it is hard on morale. Sometimes people will choose to leave their job the next year rather than having to do all that work again. There is no denying that it is not an interesting task.
To manage our employees in the long term, we need to give them tools to make their work enjoyable. It is our responsibility if we want to keep good employees for a long time. When we have good employees, we can provide better services to our constituents. If a member has high employee turnover at their office and changes employees every year, then they need to keep starting over. I am thinking about training staff. It takes one to two years to properly train a person who will be dedicated to their work, who will be familiar with all the programs and who will be aware of situations. The work gets done much more quickly when the person is familiar with the tasks they need to do and they can then better help people. An employee can resolve up to 90% of cases in one day when they are not too complicated. More complicated cases take more time. It gets easier with experience.
To keep good employees, we need to give them tools. In that regard, we can all work together to find solutions or we can be partisan and play political games to see who can undermine each other the most until the next election. Essentially, I am an MP to help the people in my riding. To help them and give them good service, I need to provide my employees with tools, tools of our own. I am happy to tell you about them, but at a certain point it comes down to experience.
The important issue here is maintaining corporate memory—
That is why I am asking Mrs. Shanahan to agree to withdraw her amendment so that we can expand on that idea a little more.
If we hand this issue over to the Board of Internal Economy and do like we are doing today, nobody here will be any further ahead. The media will be reporting that things are not going well. In my opinion that is false partisanship, and I find that really sad.
There is a problem. Either we close our eyes and continue to play political games or we do a little digging to figure out what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to partisan activities. If we find things that are unacceptable, let's submit them to the House of Commons and have the House provide us with the tools we need.
Why did you have to pay $30,000 for a software program? If every member paid $30,000 for that software, it would cost approximately $3 million or $4 million and we cannot even benefit from it. Can we benefit from your software? I do not know. Maybe it is better than the systems we have.
We should not have to design these systems ourselves. However, we are being forced to do so because no one wanted to design that kind of software for MPs. No one had the guts to do so. Perhaps we will be told that no one asked for it either.
There is an ethical side to this issue because we really need to determine the tools that will be used for partisan purposes, for which the parties are responsible, and the tools that will make it possible to protect the confidentiality of data, for which MPs are responsible. These are issues that fall under our committee's purview. We are talking about the confidentiality of personal information in these software programs. We are the ones signing off on the procurement. It is our responsibility. It is your responsibility. It is the responsibility of the 338 MPs. We need to resolve this problem.
I don't know whether Mrs. Shanahan wants to withdraw her amendment.
I will continue my speech, if I may, Mr. Gourde.
I heard other people say that one meeting would be enough to resolve everything. That seems to be the sticking point. People think that we will be able to ask the witness questions, study the issue and clear everything up in just one meeting.
Members of this committee are experienced. We know full well that this will take more than one meeting. The request does not even ask us to report our findings to the House of Commons, since it is not sitting.
I am therefore having a really hard time understanding my colleagues at the table who are asking the committee to bring in a single witness in order to get answers. They are saying that, if that person has nothing to hide, then we will be able to quickly deal with the issue. If the other parties have nothing to hide either, then why do they not want us to assess the software programs they are using? Why will they not agree to expand the scope of this study so that everyone is transparent? That is what my colleague's amendment is trying to do, to expand the scope of this study.
Some committee members are telling us that they do not agree with the amendment and that they want to stick with the original motion. For what it is worth, the motion talks about a study that seems very broad at first glance. It does not indicate that the study will be limited to a single meeting where we hear from the witness in question. What is more, the motion seems to allege that there is already a conflict of interest when that is not what we have before us. Some members want to bring in the witness so that they can go on a fishing expedition, as my colleague, so clearly pointed out. They are at it again. It is like a second version of the WE Charity investigation.
All my colleagues are saying that they want to focus on the work they need to do for their constituents and on issues affecting Canadians. Unfortunately, we were summoned, almost urgently, to a meeting in the middle of July about something that has no basis. Obviously, some members want to investigate to see whether there is something to find. What is more, they want to limit the debate. That goes against the principle of transparency that Mr. Carrie was talking about this morning. These members do not want us to look into and study the other software programs. They want to limit the study to this particular software.
You are going to tell me that there is no political motivation behind this and that this is not a witch hunt. I am—
I understand the desire of my colleague. I think we all thought we were going to get there.
I do want to say that I found Mr. Gourde's intervention very interesting. He was direct and honest about how things worked. This may be news to Canadians.
Some members have said that they want to find solutions. That is exactly what the Board of Internal Economy is designed to do. The issue at hand here has to do with how House resources are used, so it makes complete sense for the discussion we are having today to be brought to the Board of Internal Economy. They're the ones who are in a position to make decisions. Unless there is anyone here from the whips' offices, the Board of Internal Economy is best suited to handle this. The board has representatives from each party, and it is able to have open and honest discussions about the challenges we are all facing and then find a solution.
I don't see how this has anything to do with Mr. Pitfield. Mr. Pitfield's only mistake was to be 's childhood friend. Does that preclude him from living his life, starting a business, working or even supporting the Liberal Party?
That's why I wondered earlier if people were just compiling a list of anyone who has been friends with the . If that is the goal here, then the same should be done for the leaders of all of the parties. You can see where this is going. This is, quite simply, the very definition of partisanship, and a study is not useful under these circumstances.
We've seen it, Mr. Gourde. Be honest with me, because I'm being honest with you. The committee was fishing for something when it called in witnesses. There was no other reason. These were public servants, young employees and ordinary business owners. Some of the witnesses were apparently business owners who had donated to the Conservative Party but made the mistake of working with a former Liberal member of Parliament who was now running a company that manufactures ventilators to combat COVID‑19.
Where does it all end? Will we have to send all of our volunteers to testify in committee? Will I have to send all of the ladies who make calls for me? I imagine that you also have volunteers. Is every single one of these people going to be questioned about what everything they do? As you and Ms. Lattanzio have pointed out, I don't think Canadians are interested in seeing everything we do.
It is important to support efforts in politics. I know that people don't like election campaigns, but they're part of the democratic process. During an election campaign, we need to talk with voters to share our plan and persuade them to support our position.
We're going to be campaigning soon. You have more experience with this than I do, although I've been through a couple elections. There are highs and lows. When things are going well, it's great and we are happy. It's a different story when things aren't going well. At the end of the day, once the campaigning is over and the candidate has been elected, whether we're talking about a federal member of Parliament, a member of the National Assembly or a mayor, the individual has a duty to work for the people.
You're probably right in saying that the House should equip members for campaigning. This is a necessary discussion, but the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is not going to be creating such a tool.
This is about House resources—
Thank you very much, Chair.
I've been listening to the conversations going back and forth. I'm a little disappointed that my colleague MP Fergus's proposal for a solution has not received positive support from the opposite side. I said earlier that when I first saw the notice of meeting, I was saying to myself that if it's about process and procedure, or members' code of conduct, I don't think this committee that we're sitting at right now has the mandate for it or is the most appropriate to look into it. If it's about ethics or a breach of privacy of our constituents, yes, this is the right committee, but I think all members would agree that we should look at the practice of the constituency offices of all members of Parliament.
I appreciate that Mr. Barrett pointed out that he maybe used a different service from other members, but I'm still confused as to how the opposition, collectively or caucus-wise.... Do they use one service? How do they tackle the differences in the different software and remain able to share information to serve their constituents? If it's about privacy protection, then we should be looking at all members' constituency office practices.
Nevertheless, here we are. We're here to discuss the use of NGP VAN and Data Sciences by the Liberal caucus members. As some members pointed out, it was reported on recently. However, again, I want to reiterate that the article spoke about more than just Liberal members' usage of data. I want to share with all the viewers that since day one, our caucus has always strived to have members of Parliament who are serving and accountable to their constituents. With hundreds of thousands of constituents per riding, this is not a simple task. Effectively managing constituency casework, outreach programs and communication is often a complicated task.
We heard from Mr. Gourde that it was more manual in terms of managing constituency casework. I too have had that experience. When I was working as a junior staffer at a local constituency office for a federal member, it was all paper and faxes. Right now, just with the amount, and especially during the pandemic, it's not possible to perform very efficient work for your electors. Having effective data management and technical infrastructure is critical to the work that members of Parliament need to do. In fact—
I think it's very critical to know that not only on this side do we use digital infrastructure, but also that I hear the Conservative, NDP, Bloc and Green Party members support having large databases to help them to manage their constituency work. We live in a country with 37 million people. I know that the Conservatives are fine with the idea of helping constituents, otherwise they would have recalled this committee for other purposes.
I want to again point out the fact that this meeting is not a regularly scheduled meeting. It's a special meeting called by opposition members based on what was reported in the media. I think it's fair for Canadians to have some concerns on the issues of privacy and the procurement of services for the appropriate use of these resources by parliamentarians to serve their constituents. However, to ensure that we are all able to continue our constituency work in an ethical way that is not an abuse of parliamentary resources is why the service provided by NGP VAN is completely separate from the operations of Liberalist.
We've heard that this is a program used for election purposes. They are completely separate. I understand and respect the rules around the separation of party from parliamentarian, and we still strive to be the best caseworkers for our constituents. The use of NGP VAN also has the advantage of being familiar to many members and staffers in terms of its layout, format and usability.
Thanks to the use of Liberalist in the campaign, many of the incoming staff are familiar with and know how the program functions and works. It kind of helps them to get on with this software that they have become familiar with, but with a completely different set of data. This is very important to stress: There is a fair bit of a firewall or restriction built in to protect the privacy of constituents, which I hold dear to my heart.
Of course, it would be a dereliction of duty if this committee were to ignore the Conservative Party's behaviour on this issue. We're very much aware that Mr. Barrett talked about how his management organization in his constituency office may be different from that of his colleagues, but I would like to remind the committee that in 2007 there was the discovery of gross misuse of the Conservative Party's constituency information management database by the Conservative government. That was an incident in which the Conservative Party of Canada used its constituency database to send voter information straight to its party apparatus, a party that would be fighting an election in the very next year.
To put that in contrast to the meeting that we are having today, the Conservatives—or some of the Conservative members, because I don't like to use big names that tag everybody—are making the accusation that we on this side are using the same company to separately manage constituency work and campaign work, while by contrast the Conservatives, or some Conservatives, decided to use the same companies for constituency work and for campaigning, for election purposes. Canadians who would go to their Conservative or some of the Conservative members of Parliament looking for service—looking for help that is offered by their office, their CO—have their information sent straight to the Conservative Party and its election machine.
This dishonest practice was prominently featured in the media and was also reported on by a former Conservative member of Parliament and Conservative officials in the former Conservative MP Garth Turner's report on this practice when he left the Conservative Party in 2006. He said the party had been using constituency casework that had been collected by a Conservative member of Parliament, and there was lots of evidence to support this allegation of malpractice. In 2006 several individuals made complaints about receiving Rosh Hashanah greetings from then prime minister Stephen Harper, despite not being Jewish.
Later, Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant—
I know exactly what I was voting for. I just want to repeat the point I want to make. I'm not here to challenge the chair, but I do want to say that I appreciate my colleague's intervention. Obviously Mr. MacKinnon sees a clear connection between the evidence I'm presenting and the point I'm making. Hopefully my opposition colleagues will see that point as well, and understand why it's very important that we need to call in a service provider, not just for the Liberal caucus members but also for the Conservative caucus members.
I heard my colleague Mr. Fergus trying to bring a solution that would really serve Canadians by shining a light on what's going on between these service providers, the contracts and the parliamentarians. I'm obviously open to doing that. I was ready to support his proposal that Canadians have the right to know, when they elect an MP, how their privacy is being protected, how the database is being managed, what the requirement is when it comes to procuring these services, who, quite honestly, makes these decisions and who, whenever there is a need, will be going there and fine-tuning all of these requirements so that taxpayer dollars are respected. I think the public needs to know.
If you were to canvass your respective ridings and ask your voters if we should be looking at just the Liberal MPs, because we think they are using public funds for partisan reasons, I think they would tell you that every MP should be looked at.
It's unfortunate that my good friend and colleague MP Fergus's proposal was not supported, but I'm here to ask my NDP and Bloc colleagues to consider the amendment and bring forward the service providers for the Conservative MPs as well, so that at least we will have a broader scope.
If you see this as fitting the mandate of this committee—if that's what you honestly believe—then we should do something constructive. Hopefully, at the end of the study—I know that one meeting is being talked about, but I don't think it's going to end with one meeting—we will have something constructive to move forward with. Then, when you go back to your riding and people ask what happened with the study, you can say that we provided recommendations A, B, C and D, and that we will improve the system. If at the end it's just to prolong the news story and give more material to attack the ruling party, or the governing party, I think the public will see through that.
My colleagues talked about this as being preparation by the Conservatives for an election, a near election. They assume that there will be a near election. I haven't heard that called by my leader or the writ dropped. This is sort of preparation for that and they have created some news stories about it, using public dollars.
I hope the Bloc member and the NDP member will see through that and not be supportive of it. If we are, indeed, to have some value from today's meeting and future meetings, let's call in a few more service providers. Then we can compare and see the differences.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll cede the floor.
I thank my good friend Mr. Dong for his remarks. I'm always gratified to see that on this side, certainly, among the people I've gotten to know over the past years, there are a lot of different trains of thought. There's certainly a range in terms of where members on this side want to go when we're talking about changes to the Standing Orders and about how we can do things better here in politics. As I already indicated—that cat's out of the bag—I guess I'm what you call more of a “blue” Liberal. I'm on more that side of the street. However, I am very much gratified, as I say, to see that with such members as Mr. Dong and Mr. Fergus, for whom I have great respect, who are very experienced in political life, we can more forward. We can come together. I actually had my doubts, with some of the things I witnessed here, especially in this current Parliament, but that hope springs eternal. That's really where the amendment I have proposed is coming from. What it seeks to achieve is that we can discuss....
You know, when members come in and they're brand new, they're looking for direction from colleagues, from caucus and so on. It is possible that members, regardless of political party, may not have been aware if they were asked by their whip or their party leader to sign a contract that would impact their expenses on their MOB, as we call it, in their House of Commons budget. Of course, this is public information now. Our expenses are made public. I believe that was—I'm looking for a nod here—our leader, when he was leader of the third party, who started that practice, which quickly became public. Certainly, all parties had to adopt it or questions would be asked about why they didn't want to disclose their House of Commons expenses.
That's how we now have them public. As a former banker and so on, I certainly appreciate that kind of transparency. We are going in that direction, which is why I'm open, at this point. I think this is most appropriately studied by the Board of Internal Economy, but if, as my colleague Mr. Fergus suggested, we want to have a fulsome study of all parties in public, it could be very educational.
I hesitate to use personal names, but please bear in mind, Mr. Chair, that we did not call this meeting today. It's not we who are naming an individual citizen and wanting to drag that person in front of this committee. However, if we're going to go there, then there are members who have been paying—that's what my colleague Mr. Dong was referring to—for contracts. It's public knowledge. Tony Baldinelli of Niagara Falls is paying Momentuum as well—
Actually, we've been hearing a lot of information during this meeting.
We could keep talking about it. We would learn a lot more.
I think there is some concern, and Mr. Gourde pointed to that. It's more and more difficult now to get contact information and so on. Again, this points to how important it is to direct this question to the Board of Internal Economy. Maybe members don't know that there are major Conservative Party donors who received thousands of dollars of licensing contracts. Maybe the individual members, whose names I have here, which are public, do not know that this is the case, and they may prefer, as Mr. Barrett mentioned, to hire a different company. This is something we could certainly explore in the vein of what Mr. Gourde was saying, and whether it would be something that is more neutral.
I think there's something there, and I believe that the other parties here—the NDP and the Bloc Québécois—would also benefit from an exploration of data management.
If anyone wants to suggest a subamendment that would bring us to some place where we can study this question fully, I certainly would welcome hearing that.
On that, I think there's room for further discussion on the issue before us, the fact that a number of databases are used by all party members, and that it is the place of the Board of Internal Economy, I think, to study that.
Thank you, Chair. I now cede the floor.
Following up on the intervention of my colleague Mr. Dong, and quite recently my colleague Mrs. Shanahan, I think Mr. Dong was making his points, and from your intervention, Mr. Chair, I understand that it was going beyond the scope of the amendment. Therefore, the question was, could there be a subamendment?
In light of everything that's been discussed this afternoon and to be able to cover what we've sent from this side of the fence, we're saying that if we want to be transparent, then let's look at the data from all members of Parliament. We want to be transparent. Let's look at it all, because today we came in with one idea, and as we keep talking we keep discovering more and more information that perhaps Canadians ought to know.
I mean, we want to keep it very brief but I'm sort of coming to the conclusion that there's so much more information out there that maybe could be of interest for the Board of Internal Economy to examine.
Here's my subamendment, Mr. Chair. You will recall the paragraph that my colleague, Ms. Shanahan, seeks to amend. If you want to follow in the second paragraph, where it says “that the issue of the CIMS system”, I would add, “and all providers of data services to members of Parliament”, then I would continue, “which facilitates partisan election-related actions to be taken from constituency offices and Parliament Hill offices to determine if they are in compliance with the rules set out by the Board also be”, and I would add “examined and” before “referred to the BOIE”, the Board of Internal Economy.
Is that okay, Mr. Chair?