Certainly, and perhaps I'll address that point before I'm done as well.
Where I was going with this point is that if we were to adopt the main motion or the amendment without the subamendment, we would not only be denying the opportunity for the civil service to explain why the redactions were made, but we would also specifically be excluding from evidence the explanation it had already given to this committee, but which has nevertheless not made it onto the evidentiary record before the committee. I don't think that's fair.
The rule at play here is one of due process. There's no question that this committee in Parliament, I should say more broadly, has the ability to control its own internal processes. However, I think we should refrain from disembarking from a long history, both in parliamentary democracy more broadly and our system of justice protecting due process. In fact, instead of dumping off the analysis without seeing complete information, I think the appropriate thing would be to ask the ministers responsible to make what disclosures remain outstanding.
The situation that we have here is impugning our professional public service, who remain non-partisan, for the jobs they have done. We heard directly from the , from the Prime Minister's chief of staff, from the then finance minister, from the , and from staff. The process of accountability and, frankly, the transparency built throughout, is the kind of thing we had the opportunity to ask the ministers responsible about already. Now we're trying to pass judgment on the government's alleged violation of the committee's privileges based on documents from individual public servants who don't even have an opportunity to defend themselves, and without giving the opportunity for the minister responsible to actually offer the defence.
I know that honourable members on this committee are familiar with the concept of ministerial responsibility. In fact, the member from Carleton, in a previous Parliament, I believe it was in 2010, during a committee meeting said:
My comments will continue to focus on the conduct of political staff members and the importance of ministerial responsibility for that conduct. That is entirely pertinent to this motion, and if committee members disagree they will discard my arguments.
I'm going to quote continually the rules as they are written:
The individual or personal responsibility of the Minister derives from a time when in practice and not just in theory the Crown governed; Ministers merely advised the Sovereign and were responsible to the Sovereign for their advice. The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates....
He went on, and I'm reading from the original quote:
The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts.
Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of the Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts.
This is a continuing quote from the member in this committee. He continued:
We are Parliament in this committee, and it is ministers who are accountable to Parliament, according to the rules.
Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.
The principle of collective ministerial responsibility, which is of a much more recent vintage, evolved when Ministers replaced the Sovereign as the decision-makers of government. Ministers are expected to take responsibility for, and defend, all Cabinet decisions. The principle provides stability within the framework of ministerial government by uniting the responsibilities of the individual Ministers under the collective responsibility of the Crown.
That latter point explains why Minister Baird is here to explain the conduct of a member of the Prime Minister's Office. Under the principle of collective responsibility, he, as a minister, a servant, is responsible in our system for defending the conduct of subordinates in this government. He has been so designated by the Prime Minister, who makes those designations by historic convention.
This is the foundation of our democratic system of government, Mr. Chair. It is not something that can be thrown away at a whim or dispensed with when a coalition of parties, through their numbers, seeks to undermine it in order to score a few short-term and myopic political points.
In the aftermath of the 2008 election, the coalition parties attempted to reverse the results of that vote. Now we are seeing them attempt to reverse the results of roughly 300 years of parliamentary tradition and replace it with a kangaroo court that would intimidate political staff members, whose responsibilities to this House flow through the ministers
Mr. Chair, the quote, I think, was well articulated at the time and is applicable today. What this committee is seeking to do, in the absence of the subamendment forming part of the motion to ultimately be adopted by this committee, is to attribute responsibility for violating the privileges of members of Parliament who serve on this committee to civil servants, by virtue of the evidentiary record that includes only testimony and emails that come specifically from civil servants. They won't even allow evidence from the head of the relevant departments or indeed the head of the civil service, the Clerk of the Privy Council, to be adduced into the evidentiary record. This would fly in the face of holding the minister responsible. I don't think it would be fair, frankly, to avoid an explanation from the government by the minister responsible by referring only to the documentary evidence that has been partially disclosed to this committee as a result of a technical difficulty during the uploading of the documents. Again, I'm referring specifically to the exclusion or attempted exclusion of the transmittal letters from the body of evidence that's before this committee.
With respect to the appropriateness of the redaction, I think the opportunity to explain is key. I think the transmittal letters would be essential, and I think that the government has demonstrated a willingness to work with this committee formally or informally, specifically when the made the invitation to say that if this committee is not satisfied with what it's received, the government would work in good faith with it.
There hasn't been an opportunity to even have that conversation directly with the government because there's this effort to have only a portion of the evidentiary record from the previous session of this Parliament introduced into the evidence currently before this committee.
The NDP had made the argument previously—and Mr. Poilievre has hinted at this as well—that because we have a supremacy over our ability to produce records, in fact...and the parliamentary law clerk made an allusion to this in the letter sent to members of this committee, but we also have letters specifically from the head of the public service, who explained that there are certain rules they are bound by. I think that attempting to reconcile those two points of view through conversation may in fact be a productive thing.
Specifically, Mr. Chair, the kinds of things that we're dealing with...and my colleague, Mr. Gerretsen went to great lengths to make these points during our previous meeting. If you read the transmittal letters, a lot of them say very similar things. The head of Canada's public service and the head of different departments have by and large explained that there were two kinds, two buckets, of documents each of which were treated differently by the motion this committee adopted back in July. Specifically, the motion states:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), the Committee order that any contracts concluded with We Charity and Me to We, all briefing notes, memos and emails
—including the contribution agreement between the department and WE Charity—
from senior officials prepared for or sent to any Minister regarding the design and creation of the Canada Student Service Grant, as well as any written correspondence and records of other correspondence with We Charity and Me to We from March 2020 be provided to the Committee no later than August 8, 2020; that matters of Cabinet confidence and national security be excluded from the request;
—which is going to be important in just a moment—
and that any redactions necessary, including to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents, as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter, be made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.
The two categories outlined in that motion include, first, the documents that would be subjected to cabinet confidence or that may have national security implications. The second would be redactions that are designed to deal with the privacy and personal information of individuals who are not members of this committee.
The first category is an important one. Each of the transmittal letters indicated that no redactions were made for national security purposes, so that is not really an issue before the committee, and I don't think anyone would dispute that, but I've been surprised before.
The second heading under that bucket, if you will, is cabinet confidences. There are explanations in each of the transmittal letters that certain redactions had been made for the purpose of protecting cabinet confidence, but, in fact, we never requested documents that touched on cabinet confidences.
You'll recall, Mr. Chair, that our colleague Mr. Poilievre, during the middle of the summer, was waving around pages that, in fact, were heavily redacted. I won't dispute that; in fact, pages were redacted. I think that's obvious, but what he didn't tell anybody is that those were documents that specifically weren't asked for because they were subject to cabinet confidence. I think that's pretty important.
The reason that we redacted pages at all was that we chose to produce.... I shouldn't say “we”; the government chose to produce documents that were not asked for even though they were subject to cabinet confidences and produced the portion of it that were relevant to the WE Charity matters that this committee had been looking at.
If you go through the document, you can see details of cabinet meetings that were revealed to this committee even though we specifically said we did not want them. The remaining pages that follow some of those were, in fact, heavily redacted, but again, they may have touched on anything from—
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
It's nice to see everybody.
I want to start by just addressing this off the top. I believe there was a comment earlier about the instructing us to do this filibuster. I don't know how other parties work, but our Prime Minister doesn't instruct our committees. I just wanted to indicate for the record that this is absolutely not true.
I can also personally say that I have zero desire to have this meeting go any longer than it needs to. I only have a great desire to move as quickly as we can to pre-budget consultations, which is why I was delighted that you, Mr. Chair, suggested right off the bat that we move right to a pre-budget consultation motion. You asked for unanimous consent, and I do want the record to formally show that there was no support from the Conservatives, no support from the NDP and no support from the Bloc Québécois for your ask in terms of unanimous consent for us to move directly to pre-budget consultations.
I also want to address a few of the comments that Mr. Poilievre started off with. He talks about a WE scandal. Saying one million times that there's a WE scandal doesn't make it true. There was no WE scandal. There were some legitimate concerns when WE was selected about how WE was selected. There was a motion that we as finance committee had agreed to study it in terms of how the decision came about and how much money was actually spent in providing that contract over to WE.
I want to remind everybody once again—I know I said this last time, but sometimes repetition is important—that for almost two months over the summer we met to actually deliberate on those questions. Again, transparency and oversight are absolutely critical. If there are questions, or if people think there are mistakes, it's absolutely important for us to be looking at that.
I do also want to remind the public, the media and anybody else who's listening that it isn't typical for committees to meet during the summer, but it was extraordinarily important for us. We're in a pandemic. I think that initially we were meeting as the finance committee to provide proper oversight of the emergency support programs, which is absolutely appropriate. Then, I think, when the decisions around WE being selected for the Canada summer student grant program came up, it was determined that it was important for us to look at it. I just want to remind people of what we heard, because, again, I want to continue to dispel the consistent sorts of statements about WE scandals or WE cover-ups. There was no corruption.
There was no corruption. We heard—under oath—from both of the Kielburgers, Craig and Marc Kielburger. We heard from Prime Minister . We heard from Minister Morneau.
We heard that they're not friends. They don't have each other's phone numbers. They don't socialize. There was zero attempt by anybody in our government to be able to select WE for any personal benefit or to benefit people who might have been their friends. They're not personal friends.
We also heard very clearly that WE was selected by our civil servants. I was actually going through Rachel Wernick's testimony again. There was a day when we had Ms. Wernick come in. We had Ms. Gina Wilson come in on the same day, I believe, and we had Minister Bardish come in as well. Ms. Wernick very clearly stated that, given the fact that we had very specific parameters and very quick time frames, it was suggested by the bureaucrats, by herself, that WE could be the only organization that could actually deliver the program in the timeline and the time frame that we had asked them to do it in. That was validated by Ms. Wilson and also by our Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Shugart.
There was no misuse of funds. The other thing we were asked to look at was whether or not.... How much money did we spend on all this? What we heard for all of the monies at the time of our last meeting was that it was about to be returned. I think it was in a bank account, and I think they just needed some final details, but my understanding is that at this moment all of the dollars have been returned. We also heard that there was zero profit to WE. It was just costs that they were covering.
Then the contribution agreement was selected because of the expediency of actually being able to deliver the actual program. I don't know if there were 13 or 17, but there was an extraordinary number of checkpoints to try to ensure that there was accountability for any of the dollars that were actually given to WE for the delivery of the CSSG program and to ensure that it was actually doing what it was meant to be doing.
We talked about why it was rushed. We talked about why it was not a sole-source contract and why it was a contribution agreement. We also gave lots of examples of other contribution agreements. We also proved, time and time again, that it was absolutely for students, that we actually made this decision, in terms of selecting WE, because we absolutely wanted to support our students and that this was just one of many programs in the over $9 billion we've actually allocated to support students in a number of different programs.
During our last session I did read out the names of some of those programs, and if we do have to go on for a long time this evening, I'll continue to read the full list of all the programs a little later. I'll talk a little bit more about this in a minute, although my colleague Mr. Fraser has done an excellent job talking about there being no cover-up in terms of the redacted document.
I also want to continue to remind everyone that there continue to be two independent investigations by two outstanding, long-term civil servants: our Auditor General—who will continue to provide oversight of the spending, including that for the CSSG program, all the other student programs and all the other programs that are currently under way—and the Ethics Commissioner, who is currently investigating both the former Minister of Finance, the Honourable Bill Morneau, and our , to see whether there indeed was any type of ethics violation.
That is what we recall.
I also want to address Mr. Poilievre's other point around a WE cover-up. Again, mentioning a cover-up one million times does not make it a cover-up. There were 5,600 documents were released. It could be a little bit more. Maybe it was 5,693. I'm not quite sure of the exact number. I am just saying approximately 5,600 documents. They were released on the day that our announced the prorogation. Our Prime Minister made sure those documents were actually released publicly before he actually prorogued government.
I want to remind everybody that any of the redactions that were made to the 5,600 pages were made by our independent civil servants. That again has been validated by my colleague Mr. Fraser, or at least we have been reminded us about it. This subamendment that is before us right now seeks to address any issues there might be in terms of any political interference in making the decisions on what was to be redacted.
The subamendment is trying to say to bring forward those senior civil servants, whose job it was to do the redactions. Let's bring them before this committee. Let's also bring forward our parliamentary law clerk, as well as our parliamentary legal counsel, so this committee can actually ask questions, and so they can explain why the redactions happened and answer any questions that maybe have not been brought out into the open. That is what this subamendment to the amendment to the original motion is trying to do.
I want to point out once again the four key parts of this subamendment: the first is to suspend the main motion and the amendment that Mr. Poilievre has proposed. Again, it's just suspending it. It's not eliminating it. It's not putting it away. It's suspending it.
The second is to have the chair authorized to schedule meetings with the witnesses—which is what I had mentioned to you before—and invite the relevant deputy ministers or signatories of the transmittal letters—so those who were actually responsible for the actual redactions—as well as the law clerk and parliamentary counsel of the House of Commons.
The third part of it is that we resume debate, after we do those sessions, to debate Mr. Poilievre's motion once the meetings have actually taken place.
I don't want to have anybody think we're trying to cover up anything. I truly don't believe we're trying to cover up anything. I have complete confidence in all of our public servants. They have, to the best of their ability, sought to only redact those items that deal with cabinet confidentiality and any personal or other items that should not be disclosed, like conference call numbers, or any items that might be completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. I have 100% confidence in our public servants to be able to do that.
Now I want to go for a couple of minutes to what Mr. Julian mentioned, that we are trying to do away with the pre-budget consultations. I want to directly say to Mr. Julian that there was an opportunity at the onset of this meeting to support the chair's suggestion to us to vote on pre-budget consultations so that our clerk and her team could start calling witnesses and preparing for the meetings. We know that we have 793 submissions to come before this committee. There's a lot of work ahead, and it's important work that Canadians need us to do.
I think we have to make a decision as colleagues. Do we want to make our Parliament work? That includes the work here on this committee. I genuinely and truly believe that every one of us ran because we want to serve not only our local communities, but also our country, and we want to make much better the lives of the people we're honoured and privileged to serve. I think this particular moment is especially important because we're going through an unprecedented pandemic. It's a health crisis. It's an economic crisis. Canadians need us more than ever to step up and make our best efforts to help them and our country through this unpredictable time.
This committee can provide that space for the pre-budget consultations so we can hear some of the best ideas from those who are being impacted in both the short and long terms. We can also hear from some of our economic and financial leaders. I truly believe that if we make a decision today to move to pre-budget consultations, you would have very willing partners, at least on the government side, to move forward as fast as possible. I urge us to find a way to unanimously approve going right to a pre-budget consultation motion and moving as fast as possible to pre-budget consultations.
I also want to make reference to a letter that our government House leader has submitted to the House leaders of each the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party. I know there were discussions behind the scenes about a special committee to oversee the investments in COVID-19. I'm not quite sure whether that's completely off the table. I would like to believe that maybe that could still be on the table. I think it's a really great idea. It's a committee that would do two things. One is to provide continued oversight of COVID-19 spending, particularly since we're spending over $300 million on the 80 programs we've introduced. I think it's really important for us to continue to be transparent and accountable and provide as much oversight not only on federal spending, but I would love us to also be able to ensure that we get accountability for all the dollars we've also sent to the provinces, the municipalities and other groups and make sure money is going to where it needs to go; that if some adjustments are needed, that we're able to do so.
I like this proposed motion for a special committee. I particularly like it because it would allow the finance committee, which had already been doing some of this oversight prior to prorogation, to engage fully and completely in pre-budget consultations, to focus on budget 2021 and the best recommendations and the best ideas and the best thinking out there and have another committee provide that proper accountability and oversight. It also gives the committee a mandate to take over the responsibility for the issue of the document redaction, anything to do with anybody still worried about any of the redactions of the WE documents that were submitted.
I think, if there are some additional steps that need to be taken, I think that is an option and a committee that could be looked at.
I want to end maybe at this point, because I've lots of other things to say, but I'll let some other colleagues talk. I do want to reiterate that there really is zero desire, at least on my side—and I truly believe I'm speaking for the government side—for us to be going any longer than we need to. I think we're trying to find a path to the pre-budget consultations as quickly as possible.
All of these other motions, to be honest, are unneeded diversions. I think they're diversions that we should find a way to maybe withdraw simply because, at this point in time, Canadians need us to step up and do the work at hand on pre-budget consultations and to find a way to restart our economy as quickly as possible and support them as workers, as Canadians, and support our businesses as we try to come out of one of the largest health and economic crisis we've had in almost 100 years.
I think with that, Mr. Chair, I'm going to sign off at this point and allow the next speaker to speak.
Thank you, colleagues. I'd especially like to thank Ms. Dzerowicz for reminding us of the importance of pre-budget consultations. I echo that sentiment completely.
I know I put it on the record last meeting, but I think we have to, as members of Parliament entrusted to carry out the will of constituents, really ask ourselves where we are in the country right now. We are seized with the most significant crisis of our time.
Thankfully, we have Standing Orders that lead us in the right direction, or should lead us in the right direction, Mr. Chair, if members want to acknowledge where we are and what needs to be done.
I asked you in the previous meeting, Mr. Chair—and there was also a question for the clerk—about Standing Order 83.1 and what happens in instances where that Standing Order is not respected. Of course, Standing Order 83.1, as we all know, or should know, relates to pre-budget consultations. It calls specifically for the finance committee to carry out pre-budget consultations by a specified date.
Mr. Chair, it's been a few days since that very lengthy meeting, and my memory is a bit foggy. Could you remind me what happens when a committee does not respect a Standing Order, in this case 83.1? What would be the consequences of that? If you don't have that answer immediately at hand, feel free to interrupt—it's the chair's prerogative to do so—and you can provide it to me and our committee. We would need a reminder on that. I think it's an important thing to know as we engage in discussions around this topic.
There is something else that bears emphasizing. I've talked about the Standing Orders and the need to respect them, but let's also keep in mind that these Standing Orders exist for particular reasons. They didn't fall from the sky. They are the legacy of a long-established Westminster parliamentary tradition that over time, over decades and generations, has been built up. Those Standing Orders, which are the rules or the foundation of Parliament, are the constitution by which we engage one another in parliamentary procedure. We have to follow those rules. It's not as if this rule stands on its own and we can choose to respect it or ignore it. It exists for good reason. There are historic reasons behind the existence of standing orders, and I think that also needs to be put to colleagues.
Furthermore, it is so surprising—well, perhaps not surprising judging by the partisanship of the opposition parties, in particular the Conservatives—that it's much more reasonable to engage with my colleagues Mr. Ste-Marie and Mr. Julian. That's not to take anything away from what the Conservative members add to this committee. When we have seen genuine meetings take place, they have contributed. Fair enough, we will disagree from time to time, perhaps most of the time, but I've seen every single Conservative member in the previous Parliament, and I'm sure I'll see that from the new members of the committee, with Mr. Falk.... I've sat in on other committees where Mr. Falk has served. He made an important contribution on the justice committee. Ms. Jansen is a new member of Parliament. I would expect that she will also make a contribution here, and bring ideas, particularly around issues of the environment. I know that she's worked in that field before, as a small businessperson, if I'm not mistaken.
In any case, it is something that I think we can all look forward to. We all bring our own experiences to these discussions, Mr. Chair. However, I will go back to the point that I began with. You might be wondering where I'm going with this.
I'm wondering, Mr. Chair, where was unanimous consent for pre-budget consultations? We're faced with a crisis. I expected that we would put partisanship completely aside to engage on this very important issue before the committee.
Ms. Dzerowicz is quite right, and her constituents are quite fortunate, because they have a serious member of Parliament who recognizes where the country is and what needs to be done. As I've said throughout, we need to have pre-budget consultations. We need to hear from the close to 800 stakeholders.
Correct me if I'm wrong. Again, you can verify this at your leisure, but I believe that is the highest number of requests we've ever seen at the finance committee, period. That is a new record, so to speak, and one that is not at all unexpected. We see a crisis before us, and of course there's going to be an enormous number of stakeholders from right across the country who want to speak to us, and we have to hear them out. We should have seen tonight a unanimous consent motion pass for this committee to engage immediately, without reservation, towards a pre-budget consultation, but here we are. It's tremendously unfortunate.
I will tell you, Mr. Chair, as someone who has served now for a couple of years on the finance committee, that pre-budget consultations aren't simply an exercise. They really provide the foundation for what the finance committee does, which is to put forward opinions and thoughts in the form of recommendations that go directly to the and directly to the for review.
Now, the and the have, as their prerogative, the ability to ignore those recommendations. I know that was the case in previous governments, for example. I don't mean to pick on the Conservatives, but a good number—most, in fact, from what I've heard from colleagues who worked on previous finance committees—of the recommendations made by finance committees that operated during the time of Stephen Harper were not adhered to. It was the PMO and the Department of Finance, but especially the PMO under Mr. Harper, that was setting the budget direction. I won't say that's fine, but that's in the past, and I won't dwell on that.
This particular government has taken a different approach, whereby members of Parliament can actually, from across the aisles.... I'm in Ottawa right now, Mr. Chair, and just yesterday I saw a member of Parliament on the Conservative side walk right over to the and hand the minister a letter on behalf of a constituent. The minister accepted that letter. It goes to show that there is this engagement, this openness, which one could argue is in fact a characteristic of the Westminster system and which, as we all know, allows for a direct interaction between the opposition, especially Her Majesty's loyal opposition, and the government.
Mr. Chair, in fact, this reminds me of things that you have said in Parliament yourself. I remember you giving a passionate speech—this was a number of months ago—where you spoke about the ability of members of Parliament to engage directly with the executive, whether it's to hand them a letter on behalf of constituents or whether it is, in previous times prior to the pandemic, to sit down with them and talk about an issue of relevance and importance. This speaks to what the Westminster system allows for—that direct engagement—in contrast to the presidential system. I gave a speech in Parliament yesterday, and at the opening, I talked about how in fact one of the ways that I think the Westminster system stands as a positive contrast is that, unlike the presidential system, where there's not that direct engagement between opposition and government, the Westminster system allows that very direct engagement.
Here we have a committee—I'm speaking mostly to the opposition here—in which we can come together and put forward ideas that will be looked at very seriously by the government, because that principle is built into the system itself. It's built into the Westminster system. The government has to look at what this committee puts forward and opines on in the form of recommendations. As I said before, it is these pre-budget consultations that have helped to really structure—I think that was the word I used—my approach in the finance committee, because the most important thing a government can do, apart, certainly, from respecting the physical security of citizens and ensuring it, is to look at a budget that provides for all their other basic needs, all the other basic needs that citizens rightly expect their government to fulfill. Without a budget, there really is no reason for government, one could argue.
Therefore, I think it's the most important work this committee can do. We had an opportunity tonight to proceed immediately to that, but again my colleagues in the opposition have stood in the way, which is so incredibly unfortunate. I say that again. I am just stunned at where we are.
What did we hear instead? Instead we heard Mr. Poilievre who, by the way, Mr. Chair, I have no personal qualm with. I think Mr. Poilievre has a particular approach to his role as an MP. Some can disagree with it; I know his colleagues will agree with it. He's a long-time and experienced member of the House, and I suppose the style he employs, what he brings to the job and how he engages in it, is based on a recognition, on his part at least, that it's something that works for him, so I won't comment on that.
But when Mr. Poilievre puts things on the record that simply are not true, my colleagues will forgive me for my.... I had a few points of order when Mr. Poilievre was speaking. It was not meant as a way to disrespect the member or disrespect the proceedings of the committee. I just thought that it was relevant to introduce a point of order to make sure that the blues reflect fact.
When Mr. Poilievre says things like the government allocated a certain amount of money to the WE Charity, that is simply false. He said that hundreds of millions of dollars went to the WE Charity. The number he used was $500 million. Perhaps the pandemic has been a long one, and we had a long meeting last week, so perhaps all of that has built up and is affecting of Mr. Poilievre's judgment. I'm not sure.
This is just a reminder that the $500-million figure actually relates to the Canada student service grant. There was $500-plus million dollars that was going to go towards the Canada student service grant to allow that program to function. It was not, absolutely not, going to go to WE Charity. There was $43 million that was going to go to WE Charity so that the organization could administer the program, but all of that money was going to be reimbursed. It's my understanding that any monies that were paid to WE Charity by the government have been paid back.
The long of the short of it, Mr. Chair, on that point is that no money is now in the pocket of WE Charity. When the opposition, as we heard here today with Mr. Poilievre.... Yesterday I was in the House and I heard a number of Conservative MPs speaking to the opposition day motion, which in and of itself is a separate matter. I don't think I'll touch on it here, but it depends.
What a ridiculous motion that was. When we're talking about the issues of the day, talking about the wage subsidy, talking about improving rental assistance, talking about the Canada recovery benefit and the need to support young people, these are the things that—
Mr. Chair, I'll respectfully disagree, but the respect I have for you is such that I won't carry on that disagreement. I believe I've always been relevant, but if colleagues will deviate from that and put forward a different idea, including you, that's fine.
You mentioned something there that is important. You talked about the text of the subamendment. I am very passionate about the issues I'm bringing up here—the ideas of fairness, the ideas of justice—and I won't apologize for that passion, but just so we're on the same page, it would make sense for me to read into the record the subamendment in question so that we're all on the same page. I'll do that now.
The subamendment states as follows:
That the committee requests the complete package of documents provided to the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons by relevant Deputy Ministers or the signatories of the transmittal letters, as well as the final package of documents that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons approved for release, that both of the document packages be provided to the Committee no later than October 19, 2020, and that after the committee reviews the two different versions of documents, the committee invite each of the relevant Deputy Ministers or the signatories of the transmittal letters, as well as the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons, to give testimony regarding the redactions applied to the documents that were requested and granted in the motion adopted on July 7, 2020—
This is the part of the motion that I was touching on before I was interrupted by my honourable colleague. It continues:
—and that until such a time as this testimony is complete, debate on the main motion and amendment from Pierre Poilievre be suspended and that the Chair be authorized to schedule these witnesses, and convene a meeting to resume debate on Pierre Poilievre's motion once these meetings have taken place.
I think we're all caught up now, if we weren't already. That is the text of the subamendment.
To my honourable colleagues in the opposition, here you have Liberal members willing to put...I won't even say “water in our wine”, because we've never really been against transparency and accountability here. We are absolutely for it, but we raise our points on the basis of a fundamental belief that public servants shouldn't just be talked about. When we're discussing their decisions, we should be able to ask them about their decisions and, on the basis of fairness, on the basis of justice, we should allow those public servants to speak, to share their perspective.
I know that one particular colleague who stands out, Mr. Poilievre, continues to point to redacted documents and continues to draw a line between documents that have been redacted and—only in his mind is it making sense—some sort of a plot on the part of the government to withhold information. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I was very happy to hear my colleague Mr. Fraser talk earlier about how to put things into context and about the importance of recognizing cabinet confidence, which is a long-established principle.
Documents that have been redacted are not documents that the government and public servants were trying to hide from the committee. Redactions happen for reasons relating to cabinet confidence, something that my colleague from Carleton, Mr. Poilievre, recognized. He suddenly forgot it. When he went into opposition, I guess he forgot it, but in 2014, Mr. Chair, he was asked about a briefing book, including the table of contents, if I remember correctly. He was asked a question by an NDP member of Parliament in 2014 about these redactions in documents that were in Mr. Poilievre's purview and possession.
In the response given to the NDP on the issue of redactions, this time not just as a Conservative member of Parliament but also as the minister for democratic reform, which placed Mr. Poilievre in a very good position because, as someone responsible for democratic institutions, he would know all about cabinet confidences and what that means, especially in the Westminster parliamentary tradition, he said as follows:
Mr. Speaker, the decision on what to reveal is made by non-partisan public servants, for whom it has long been a tradition not to reveal cabinet confidences. That has been the case going back to all previous governments of all party stripes.
Mr. Chair, that is a very key point of relevance that we have to acknowledge as a committee. In fact, I want to repeat it, Mr. Chair, because we need to be crystal clear on these points.
Mr. Poilievre replied in 2014:
Mr. Speaker, the decision on what to reveal is made by non-partisan public servants, for whom it has long been a tradition not to reveal cabinet confidences. That has been the case going back to all previous governments of all party stripes.
He recognizes the importance of cabinet confidence. We heard earlier about cabinet confidence in relation to redacted documents. There's nothing nefarious, nothing out of sort, nothing unethical here, Mr. Chair. Cabinet confidence is very important. That's the long and the short of it. It really is absolutely vital that we understand these things in context.
If members of the opposition want to play games and try to trick Canadians by somehow connecting the dots in a certain way and rearranging the pieces of the puzzle so that it creates a particular narrative to suit their interests, I suppose they can do that, but what this committee should be doing is embracing the idea of fairness, number one.
This subamendment that's been proposed allows for the transparency and accountability the government is talking about, but does so in a way that does not exclude the opportunity for public servants to come and speak. We can ask them questions relating to cabinet confidence. It will be interesting to hear the questions that Mr. Poilievre has when he raises it, as I expect he would, seeing that he, at least one time, understood how the principle operated. He could put questions about cabinet confidence to them, and we would see what the matter is and what the opposition is so troubled by.
In fact, what I think we'll ultimately come to conclude, Mr. Chair, is that we're fighting here about the need for cabinet confidence to be held back, and also private information in the form of phone numbers and the names of kids of public servants. I wonder, if the Conservatives were in power and if such issues came up, what side of the debate they would be on. In fact, we just heard what side of the debate they were on in 2014, Mr. Chair.
Let's get back to the issues that are truly important. We need to see legislation passed in Parliament, because these are spending matters, and as a matter of course, they need to be put in place through legislation. I'm talking, of course, about the updates to the Canada emergency wage subsidy. I'm talking, of course, about updates to the Canada emergency business account. I'm speaking of the rent support that Canadians—
In response to the motion for production of papers, the government departments retrieved records that responded to the committee's motion. In doing so, and as directed and allowed by the committee's motion, certain information was redacted. In fact, in some instances, information was provided beyond what the motion stipulated. We have mentioned this before, and my colleagues have stressed this point in the past, but I think it merits repeating.
For example, in the case of the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, or ISED, after a thorough search, it retrieved all records from the department that responded to the committee's motion. For that department, for example, this represented fewer than 100 pages of records that were responsive to the motion. Of that, only a small portion were redacted, consistent with the parameters of the motion and the principles and laws set out in the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act.
As is the practice in applying the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act, the goal was to release as much information as possible. In fact, as an example, in ISED's response, only two exemptions and one exclusion were applied.
In the context of the Access to Information Act, an exemption can be explained as a mandatory or discretionary provision under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act that authorizes the head of a government institution to refuse the disclosure of information in response to an access or privacy request.
Additionally, in the same context, an exclusion can be explained as being a provision of both the Access to Information Act or Privacy Act that removes certain records from the application of the legislation.
Of the two exemptions used, only one reference was redacted under paragraph 16(2)(c) of the Access to Information Act, which is a discretionary injury test exemption providing protection for information that could reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an offence.
Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) provide examples of the types of information to which this exemption may apply. The examples specify information as follows:
(a) on criminal methods or techniques;
(b) that is technical information relating to weapons or potential weapons; or
(c) on the vulnerability of particular buildings or other structures or systems, including computer or communication systems, or methods employed to protect such buildings or other structures or systems.
In ISED's case, the redacted reference detailed ISED's network path, the disclosure of which could reasonably have been expected to facilitate the commission of an offence.
The Government of Canada's network structures consist of vulnerable system aspects that should be safeguarded and not be disclosed in order to prevent providing potential hackers with information that could help them illegally hack Government of Canada systems. I am sure that everybody on the finance committee would agree with that point.
In refusing access to the file path, the public interest was considered, and the possible injury described above outweighed that interest. However, in the public interest, the name of the document was left unredacted in order to remain as transparent as possible while continuing to protect ISED's specific information. All institutions are committed to safeguarding personal information, and the release of the file path could have conceivably led to an unauthorized access of the network. In this instance, information was exempted to prevent such a possible breach and only after careful consideration.
The second exemption used, subsection 19(1) of the Access to Information Act, was applied on less than 1% of ISED's total documents. It is important to understand that the purpose of section 19 of the Access to Information Act is to strike a balance between the right of the public to access information in records under the control of a government institution and the right of each individual to his or her privacy.
Section 19 incorporates, by reference, sections 3 and 8 of the Privacy Act, which are essential for the interpretation and application of this exemption:
When deciding as to whether something constitutes personal information, one must not forget that the intent of subsection 19(1) and its incorporation of section 3 of the Privacy Act is to protect the privacy or identity of individuals who may be mentioned in releasable material. The subject of the two Acts read together is that information must be provided to the public except where it relates to personal information about identifiable individuals.
Although subsection 19(1) of the Access to Information Act is a mandatory exemption based on a class test, it is subject to three exceptions in subsection 19(2) of the act. Subsection 19(2) of the act allows for permissive disclosure in three circumstances. The information may be disclosed if, first, “the individual to whom it relates consents to the disclosure”; second, if “the information is publicly available”; and third, if “the disclosure is in accordance with section 8 of the Privacy Act”.
Also, we have this, in Fontaine versus the RCMP:
...the Federal Court of Appeal commented that the obligation under paragraph 19(2)(a) is, at most, to make reasonable efforts to seek consent of the individuals concerned and that what is reasonable must take into account the practical difficulties that may exist to find and locate the individuals.
It is up to each institution to determine whether it is appropriate to seek consent.
In preparing the records for this committee's consideration, care was taken by ISED, for example, to obtain consent to disclose certain personal information from exempt staff referenced in the material and, in collaboration with other government departments, the staff from WE Charity, in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act. The final redaction applied by the department was the exclusion of information that was classified as a confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. We are all aware of how our government cabinet system works—and I'm quickly finding out, as a new member—and how important and essential it is to keep the collective decision-making process protected by the rule of confidentiality in order to be able to continue to engage in full and frank discussions.
The Access to Information Act in section 69 allows for the exclusion of “Confidences of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada”, which are defined in the act as information contained in six types of documents. The types of records are described as follows:
(a) memoranda the purpose of which is to present proposals or recommendations to Council;
(b) discussion papers the purpose of which is to present background explanations, analyses of problems or policy options to Council for consideration by Council in making decisions;
(c) agenda of Council or records recording deliberations or decisions of Council;
(d) records used for or reflecting communications or discussions between ministers of the Crown on matters relating to the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy;
(e) records the purpose of which is to brief ministers of the Crown in relation to matters that are before, or are proposed to be brought before, Council or that are the subject of communications or discussions referred to in paragraph (d);
(f) draft legislation; and
(g) records that contain information about the contents of any record within a class of records referred to in paragraphs (a) to (f).
The determination of the cabinet confidence is not done by the head of the institution alone. It requires the access to information office within a government institution to consult with its departmental legal services unit “in all instances where information that may qualify” as a confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada “has been identified in response to a request under the act” or, in this case, a motion for the production of papers.
All this was considered, Mr. Chair, and legal services were consulted when the redaction was applied on the confidence of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.
As members know, “The Committee's motion stipulates that Cabinet confidences and national security information are to be excluded from the package.”
In the case of ISED, “...No information is withheld on the grounds of national security, since the information did not so pertain.”
I will continue. I was at bullet 6, I believe:
6. Due diligence analysis of any financial scrutiny undertaken with regard to the WE charity during this process.
Attached at Annex 5, you will find the detailed explanation prepared by ESDC of the controls embedded in the contribution agreement to ensure stewardship and appropriate use of funds, as well as a brief overview of the typical process used to evaluate projects and recipients.
Further information relating to due diligence that was done by officials in relation to the Canada Student Service Grant is provided in Annex 1 and in the packages that other relevant departments are providing to this committee.
7. The full text of the contribution agreement
This document was provided to the Committee by ESDC on Friday July 24, 2020.
Obviously, that was a key document in this entire series of considerations around the Canada student service grant. The letter goes on:
As I noted when I appeared at committee on July 21, 2020, my intent has been to be as expansive as possible in relation to the information that I provide.
This is a key part:
The committee's motion stipulates that Cabinet confidences and national security information are to be excluded from the package.
That is to say, we never asked for them as a committee.
No information is being withheld on the grounds of national security, since the information does not so pertain. With respect to Cabinet confidences, you will note that considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that were Cabinet confidences, is being provided to the Committee.
I think that's rather extraordinary, Mr. Chair. Those are my comments and not part of the letter, which continues:
This is in keeping with the public disclosures of information on this matter made by members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. A principled approach was adopted to this information to ensure a non-selective application of the protection afforded by Cabinet confidentiality. As a result, considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that would otherwise constitute Cabinet confidences is being released. Information not related to the Canada Student Service Grant that constitute Cabinet confidences is withheld and identified as not relevant to the request.
In this package, I have also chosen to disclose certain personal information contained in the Privy Council records relating to individuals working in ministers' offices as well as personal information of individuals who work for WE. I have decided to disclose this information because in my view the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy....Similarly, because I believe that it is in the public to do so, I am prepared to issue a limited waiver of solicitor client privilege as it relates to the information that is being provided by departments in response to this motion and my undertakings.
Lastly, I wish to draw the committee's attention to a Note to File, prepared by Christiane Fox, the Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Privy Council Office. In that note to File, Ms. Fox provides a clarification regarding references in two email exchanges (Annex 6).
I trust that the Committee will find the above explanations helpful in its consideration of the enclosed materials.
Clerk of the Privy Council Office
Mr. Chair, there's a similar letter that was sent to this committee as part of the disclosure package that provides important context for the documents that have in fact been disclosed. The reason it's important is that it helps us understand the appropriateness of the redactions, rather than our jumping to the conclusion, as members of the opposition have, that it has somehow violated our privilege. Instead they're seeking to include the context that explains specifically why redactions were made. That remittal letter came specifically from the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is responsible for the public service, of course, but more broadly for much of the document disclosure.
If we actually dig into some of the documents—I'm looking specifically at document number 000049—we see a document labelled at the top as “Not Relevant”. There's obviously no obligation to produce documents that were not relevant to the committee's request. In the example that we're looking at here, this is a Privy Council Office document that accompanied the letter that I just read into the record, which the initial motion with the amendment would specifically exclude from the evidentiary record. There are a number of programs listed in the left column, including youth employment skill strategy programs and student work placement programs, such as the student learning program, the Canada service corps, other financial support, Canada student loans program, doubled Canada student grants, the Canada student benefit, and then at the bottom data blocks that were in fact redacted because they didn't connect to the matters relating to the Canada student services grant, which was included in the committee's request. Instead the two areas that were not redacted related to the Canada service student grant and the WE social entrepreneurship initiative. There are a number of programs listed there that just had nothing to do with what the committee had asked for.
However, in keeping with the motion, the items that related to the Canada student service grant were released. Although a significant amount of that page has in fact been redacted, when you have the benefit of the remittal letter that explains why certain things were redacted, including their relevance, then you very quickly understand that the approach taken mirrored what the committee had asked for.
I go to the next PCO disclosure document at page 76. We have an email from Craig Kielburger to Christiane Fox, who was again specifically named in the remittal letter. The email was sent on April 22. Many committee members would have seen this before. The entirety of this email appears in full text. There are no redactions until you get to the very end of the document. The email, though sent to Craig Kielburger, has a byline at the end for one Lauren Martin, the executive assistant to Craig Kielburger. It includes one telephone number. In the way an ordinary email looks, that appears where the office number would follow under the e-signature. The remaining contact detail of that individual is in fact redacted.
Personally, I think you will appreciate having now heard the benefit of the Clerk of the Privy Council's transmittal letter that there's nothing untoward about redacting the phone number of Ms. Martin in this particular disclosure. The meat of this particular document is actually really interesting and important. It's timed importantly, having been sent on April 22, 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, around the time this student service grant was being considered. All of the text about the previous phone call, about the proposed youth summer service program and the youth social entrepreneurship program is included in full. The only piece that was redacted, as far as I can tell, is the personal contact information of the executive assistant to Craig Kielburger at the time.
We continue on. Again, this is still part of the same PCO disclosure that came attached to the letter from the clerk, which I had just gotten into. If we actually look at page 105, for example, we see that we're dealing with a document marked “Secret”, “Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council”. It is a memorandum for the . It's entitled “Increased Support for Canadian Youth and Students”.
This is a document that is not commonly shared in a public forum like this. Again, if we actually scroll through it, we can see a description of the memorandum and some of the measures that were announced on April 22, 2020. It includes a description of the Minister of Finance's decision. If you go to the following page, you will find redactions that do take up a significant chunk of the page. They fall under headings of “Youth Employment and Skills Development Programs” and “Canada Student Loans”. Those redactions have nothing to do with the Canada student service grant, but now having had the benefit of considering the remittal letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council, you can understand precisely why those redactions took place. They're not relevant to the matters that the committee has asked for. There are portions of the document that have been disclosed, as explained in the letter from Mr. Shugart, where he viewed the public interest to outweigh the privacy concern, or where there were matters that were relevant, in fact, to the development of the Canada student services program.
When you go through this page for page, you see that the redactions, as extensive as they may be on any given page, tend to pertain to something that either is simply not relevant to what the committee had asked for or specifically relates to matters where the committee said that it doesn't want these documents documents disclosed, namely, cabinet confidences. In this particular instance, we even have the recommendations by PCO to the that were disclosed to this committee.
I don't know how more private a document can be in terms of cabinet confidences than recommendations made by the Privy Council to the . Nevertheless, the portions that touched on the matters that are before this committee have been disclosed, despite the long and storied history in parliamentary democracies of protecting confidences of the Crown. Mr. Chair, for what it's worth, I used to deal with document disclosure controversies all the time in my job prior to politics, and even the courts would not have had the ability to compel documents that were properly subject to Crown privilege or cabinet confidences.
Continuing with the PCO disclosure—again, all of which was attached to that original letter that is being excluded from the evidentiary record, which the subamendment would bring back onto the record—if you actually go to the pages beginning at page 189 of the PCO disclosure, there is an email between Rachel Wernick and Tara Shannon from the Privy Council Office. As the motion expressly stated, unrelated cabinet confidences were removed. That portion of the motion has been satisfied, and Ms. Wernick's cellphone number was removed.
I don't think it's appropriate that we need to be compelling the disclosure of that particular motion. These are the kinds of things that actually remain in dispute before the committee in the present debate. Obviously, as I mentioned in my previous remarks, cabinet confidences are not controversial. We didn't ask for them. They didn't need to be produced. The government produced them anyway. The only thing of dispute is, who would have been responsible for redactions on things like Ms. Wernick's personal cellphone number? The government officials who redacted it or the law clerk?
The struggle here is that the law clerk is saying that their law is supreme, and the civil service, who has actually made these redactions on things like the personal information and contact details of Ms. Wernick and others, is saying that “there is legislation that binds us, that insists we can't share that”. Where possible, as you've seen in the other remittal letters that we've covered previously on debates related to other proposed subamendments, those remittal letters explain the significant efforts that were undertaken to actually obtain the consent to disclose some of this personal information.
To me, I don't really care who redacts the personal cellphone number of Ms. Wernick, whether it's the Clerk of the Privy Council or the parliamentary law clerk. That information should be redacted. I don't think that should be a matter of public record. I think our public servants deserve not to be exposed to the public in that particular way. In any event, I can imagine that most public servants, if they had their personal contact details disclosed, would probably get a new cellphone number in any event.
If we actually scroll down in this particular email, it has a small redaction of one line. It appears to relate to a personal conversation that had taken place, and then again at the end, as I've mentioned, before the office email address we see the mobile phone number. You can tell because it has the word “Mobile” and only the phone number has been excluded. You're beginning to see a pattern here, I think.
If you go now to the next couple of pages of PCO's disclosure and page 191 of their release—again, which is all attached to the remittal letter that I've raised as being essential to provide context—it's another email between Ms. Wernick again and Ms. Shannon. The only thing on this page that seems to be missing is again the personal mobile number for Ms. Wernick. The entire email talks about the policy intent, which is more narrow for the student grant program. It discusses what people are comfortable with.
There is some information that is perhaps irrelevant that could have been further redacted but was not. There is a discussion between Ms. Shannon and Ms. Wernick relating to the Internet being cut out, which is clearly not of import to the matters that the committee requested document disclosure on. Nevertheless, the document was provided. The only thing that was redacted was the personal cellphone number.
If we go to the next page of PCO's disclosure—again, which context was provided for, and they explained the process through which they redacted certain kinds of information—there are no redactions on page 192. It's a further email chain between some of the folks I've mentioned and others. The only redaction, if you go to the following page, was again Ms. Wernick's personal cellphone number.
These are the kinds of things that are in dispute right now. The big-picture items, the pages that Mr. Poilievre argued in public during his press conference to have been blacked out, are largely related to cabinet confidences, which, again, this committee didn't ask for. If this dispute is really about who was the appropriate person to make redactions between the parliamentary law clerk and the civil service, which has legislative obligations, it seems to be overkill that we're going to have the opposition insist that the disputed personal cellphone numbers of civil servants should be produced. It doesn't make sense.
Mr. Chair, if you don't believe me with respect to the cabinet confidences being redacted—and that's, in fact, what was in those big pages that had significant redactions—I'd invite you to check out page 219 of PCO's disclosure. It's a rather remarkable document in a lot of ways, considering its production. You'll see that the document, marked “Secret”, is labelled “Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council” and dated May 8, 2020, which I recall is the date of the cabinet meeting that formed the basis of part of the 's testimony before this committee. It's entitled “Cabinet Scenario, Friday, May 8, 2020”. The following information was redacted. A synopsis of the meeting heading is there, and a significant majority of that page has been redacted.
The fact of the matter is that there are reasons that cabinet documents are redacted. If we park, for the moment, the idea that the committee specifically said that we don't want documents that are subject to cabinet confidence, even had we asked, it would be the convention in Parliament over hundreds of years that this document would properly be the subject of Crown privilege or cabinet confidence. The reason is that there are obvious decisions that are taken after discussion, which should be full and frank, and that cabinet ministers should be able to challenge one another in private to consider different ideas that relate to things like the development of Canada's vaccine strategy to ensure we're going to be able to access the earliest batches that are safe for Canadians to help protect them from COVID-19.
These documents could exist as a result of threats to our national security. In the present instance, the remittal letter indicates that no redactions were made explicitly on that basis, but cabinet also deals with matters and decision points that could move markets, and it would be important not to have that information in the public domain prematurely, for fear that it could compromise an important social, economic or environmental outcome.
There is a good reason these things are often not produced publicly, but in this case there is a trump card in that the committee specifically said that we don't want these documents. The government produced it anyway. This is what makes it remarkable, in my mind.
If you scroll to the bottom of the following page, there is information that was relevant to the Canada student service grant. This would ordinarily be subject to cabinet confidences, specifically on the cabinet agenda, but it was nevertheless disclosed. It says, “For the item on the Canada Student Service Grant, turn to Minister Chagger to provide an overview of her revised proposal”. It then describes some of the matters that were presented in cabinet surrounding the Canada student service grant, all of which would be relevant to the study, even though we didn't ask for it. Even though it is subject to cabinet confidence, it was nevertheless disclosed.
In addition to the description of what took place, PCO offered a comment. Clearly this document is beyond the scope of what the committee asked for, but it was produced anyway.
We know that because the remittal letter, which, again, is not on the evidentiary record, nor would the opposition have it be there, provides that important context. Now we know why we have this document, in part, and that the remainder of the document was not redacted to bury something secretly related to the program, but in fact it's a document that we didn't ask for and a document that in any event would be subject to cabinet confidence.
Mr. Chair, if I can continue, I'll draw your attention for the moment to.... The document number I'm looking at is 254. I'm looking at this lengthy disclosure. If the context for these documents is not going to be provided, I intend to go through a significant number of the redactions.
In any event, Mr. Chair, you were correct to point to page 254 of the PCO disclosure, which was accompanied by the remittal letter that, again, is not part of the series of documents that the opposition would have come before this committee in this session of Parliament. It's an email from Tara Shannon, with PCO, to Shannon Nix.
The page is not redacted at all. It talks about the Canada Service Corps partners and the fact that they're already struggling to deliver their existing programs and don't have capacity to take on more placements. Now, this would have followed the May 8 cabinet meeting, during which, as the testified, in fact the civil service was sent back to consider what alternatives there were to WE Charity in terms of delivering some of the program.
It goes on to talk about the fact that “[Canada Service Corps] programming is not focussed on volunteering to help respond to the COVID-19 needs in communities”. I think that would be relevant. Although it's maybe not at the very crux of the issues we're looking for, it does provide helpful context. Again, none of it has been redacted. If we continue to scroll down, after it talks about an overview of the program, you'll see that at the very end of the correspondence the only redactions on this page are the phone numbers of the director of policy and cabinet affairs in the office of the , and then again the same phone number is redacted when the email signature appears in French.
This is the kind of controversial information that the opposition is trying to have produced. I find it ironic, in fact, that the phone number has been redacted twice. I assume it is the same in both English and French. Nevertheless, that is the totality of the redaction in that correspondence.
If we look to page 268 of the PCO disclosure, it's an email exchange between Ms. Wernick and Mr. Philip Jennings from PCO. They are looking at an attachment that Ms. Wernick forwarded to the Privy Council Office. It seems odd here, but believe it or not, the only thing that remains is Ms. Wernick's phone number. The lengths to which the opposition has gone are nonsensical, when its dispute is presumably not even over whether that information should have been redacted but who should have done the redaction.
I think we can all agree that it's absolutely inappropriate to disclose that kind of personal information. Honestly, I don't think the opposition wants to have that information. I think they want to keep up the illusion that the government was not forthcoming with the documents. When they actually go through them, they will see that the kinds of things that have been redacted are entirely appropriate.
If we look at PCO document disclosure number 348, we see that, similar to the previous cabinet scenario document, it's labelled “secret”. Again, it's labelled “Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council” and dated May 22. We heard about that cabinet meeting in detail as well during testimony—unprecedented testimony in a lot of ways—before this very committee. Under the heading “Synopsis of the Meeting”, the material is blacked out. I suspect the reason why that information was blacked out was that, one, it's subject to cabinet confidence, for the same reasons I explained earlier—that cabinet ministers need to be able to have full and frank conversations—and two, again, we didn't ask for it. But we know that conversations relevant to what we've been exploring on this committee took place during that meeting, so even though we didn't ask for the document, and even though had we asked for it the government would have been within its rights to refuse it, the government produced it. They included, presumably, a portion of this page only to demonstrate that it came from a cabinet scenario.
The next page is just labelled as not being relevant and appears blank. Perhaps that is why, in fact, it wasn't produced, rather than some secret, malicious intent.
If you scroll down, you'll see that about half of the document.... I'm looking at PCO disclosure 350. The first half of that page is redacted. It's continuing from the synopsis of the meeting, but near the bottom of the page or about halfway down the page you'll see that the document is no longer redacted because it relates to the Canada student service grant.
We didn't ask for it. The government would not be obligated to produce it, yet in any event the government chose to release it in the interest of transparency so we could actually see the nature of the discussion that took place at the cabinet meeting on May 22 about the Canada student service grant. We didn't ask for it, and there was no obligation to produce it, but nevertheless the government produced it in an effort to be as transparent as possible.
After the synopsis of the meeting that took place on the Canada student service grant program, we have a short PCO comment that relates to the discussion that took place, and again the balance of the document is redacted as not being relevant to the Canada student service grant program.
Mr. Chair, there is a series of other documents here. I find it interesting—and I believe that made this point during our last meeting—that one of the very key documents in the document disclosure is the funding agreement between Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the and the WE Charity foundation. This is the agreement that was put forward between the parties.
When I scroll down throughout this document, what I find interesting about it—I am through several pages—is that the first page has absolutely no redactions. The second page has no redactions. It goes on. I'm looking through this entire document. This is really the foundational document of the relationship between the government and the WE Charity organization with respect to the Canada student service grant program, and there are no redactions, Mr. Chair. It was turned over in full.
One of the first things you're taught when you're jumping on a document disclosure program is to look, as a starting point, to the agreement behind whatever is in dispute and we have it in full. There are no redactions. It's clear that perhaps the most important document in the entire package is completely available to the committee.
If we look at schedule A to the agreement—and this is document number 376 in PCO's disclosure bundle—there are some redactions; in fact, there are four. They involve the telephone numbers and email addresses for two individuals. One is Dalal Al-Waheidi and the second is Scott Baker. The only redactions I see are of the telephone numbers and email addresses of these individuals. I don't think it would be appropriate to disclose them.
In any event, it seems bizarre that the point in dispute here is not even whether the information ought to be disclosed. Again, I know that one of my colleagues did have some fun on this point during our last meeting. The only dispute was as to whether the person who should have redacted these phone numbers was the law clerk or the civil servant who has legislation saying that they shouldn't disclose this information, even to the law clerk.
I realize there is a real tension between what the law clerk has said and what the Clerk of the Privy Council has said. I actually think that it might be appropriate to get them before us to talk about who should do which redaction and why the Clerk of the Privy Council felt compelled not to share the personal cellphone number of private individuals or civil servants. If we have to bring them here, because the remittal letters, including that context, don't form part of the evidentiary record, maybe that will be appropriate.
If you continue through the annex, after those specific phone numbers and email addresses had been excluded, you'll see there are no further redactions. It's really extraordinary when you see the level of disclosure on some of these things. It seems that the two buckets of documents, as all the remittal letters have pointed out, that have not been produced relate either to cabinet confidences, as I've been demonstrating, which have not been asked for by this committee, or to private personal information of individuals.
Again, what the opposition is digging their heels in on is not even that the phone numbers should be produced. I don't think they believe that. I find it odd that this has become such a big deal when the dispute is only over who should have made the redaction of those private phone numbers.
The document entitled “finance proposal” is the implementation of the Canada student service grant. This is PCO document 394, all of which, by the way, still relates to the documents that were described in detail in the remittal letter of the Clerk of the Privy Council. The document “Finance Proposal: Implementation of the Canada Student Service Program” is between pages 394 and 401 of the PCO release. It gets into the implementation plan for the Canada student service grant in full detail, unredacted. If we go through the document, you'll see the section entitled “Overview” is not redacted.
The next section, “Proposal Description”, is completely unredacted. If you go to the costing of the program, you see it is completely unredacted. They talk under that heading about the first 20,000 placements and the anticipated cost of those placements. They look at the second cohort of 20,000 placement opportunities and the total programming cost there. If you continue, you see they have details about the initial processing and administrative capacity for the Canada student service grant, which is there in full detail, including an estimated cost.
If you continue to scroll down, they have the initial funding envelope for the grant, with the costing available, and the contingency fund for additional grants is present, with the projected costing.
You have the funding envelope and the contingency fund. Picking up where I left off, you have the program support costs for ESDC, which included creating and launching the “I Want to Help” website. A cost estimate is included in there. There are assumptions about how those costs were arrived at, details on the plan to implement the program over a series of pages, and a heading entitled “Results”, which talks about what the anticipated outcomes would be. They are all there, in full and unredacted.
The final page of this document includes two redactions of, once again, the contact information for two individuals. Their names are present. Their position titles are present. One is Ritu Banerjee, executive director with the Canada Service Corps Secretariat in the skills and employment branch. Their phone number has been redacted. The second person is Sara Wiles, director at the Canada Service Corps Secretariat in the skills and employment branch. Their telephone numbers are redacted. In the entirety of that document, which describes in great detail the plan to develop, fund and implement the plan, including costing assumptions, including contingency plans, including implementation, all of it's there. Nothing has been redacted from that document, which, I would suggest, would be a key document in this entire controversy. The only redaction is the individual phone numbers of those two individuals who work with the Canada Service Corps Secretariat in the skills and employment branch.
Mr. Chair, let's look at page 404 of the same disclosure package, all of which still relates to the remittal letter that would be brought in by the subamendment. It's really a helpful document, I find. If you look at page 404, and I hope you're following along, there's a meeting invitation to discuss the WE contract. Now, the key part that was redacted in this document—Mr. Chair, if ever there was a smoking gun, it's here—was the conference ID for the teleconference hosting it. That's it. The details around it have been produced. I don't think anybody would have even cared if this document hadn't been produced, but it is relevant technically, so it should have been. It demonstrated that there was a teleconference where the WE contract was discussed. I only know that because that's the subject of the calendar appointment.
Actually, it provides the dial-in to the conference line, just not the conference ID to access it. Presumably, that same contact line has either expired or is still used by an organization. I don't know that it would be appropriate for members of the public to potentially be dialing in to a conference ID that could be in use by the government or others. It demonstrated that the meeting began at 4:30 and ended at 5. This technically is relevant, because it touches on a meeting, but by no means do I think it essential or appropriate to be disclosing something like the conference ID for the specific teleconference that was hosted that day.
Again, I'll make the point that the dispute is not even over whether this information should have been redacted. I expect that most members of the opposition—who, by the way, I tend to get along with personally when the cameras are not on—care about this conference ID. The fight is not even about the disclosure of that conference ID. It's about who should have made that decision.
Let's continue on to page 417, still from the same PCO disclosure that is attached to the original remittal letter I read out at the beginning of my remarks. It is labelled as “Secret”, “Limited Distribution” and “Confidence of the Queen's Privy Council”. It has a heading entitled “Memorandum for the ”. It's a remarkable document. I don't expect memoranda to the Prime Minister would ordinarily be disclosed at all. Again, it's pages 417 through 419. It's a cabinet confidence document, clearly stamped “limited distribution”, as I mentioned. This particular memorandum to the Prime Minister asks for his decision regarding the Canada student service grant as well as other matters.
In this motion, which was put before the finance committee in the previous session of this Parliament, matters related to the grant program were requested. Here that information has been released, yet the items unrelated to cabinet confidences were redacted. They weren't asked for. They don't need to be shared, because even had we asked for them, they're subject to cabinet confidence, but of course the document was nevertheless produced. Only the issues that were outside of what the committee requested or that were subject to cabinet confidence would have been excluded, while some information that was relevant, which was nevertheless subject to cabinet confidence, was in fact disclosed.
If you continue, you see only minor redactions on the very first page, and then at the very end before you get to PCO recommendations. If you have access to the remittal letter, you'll understand that the Clerk of the Privy Council explicitly shared that certain items that were relevant to the discourse the committee was undertaking were shared with the committee, even though they would ordinarily be subject to confidence. In the absence of those remittal letters, which members of the opposition are seeking to have excluded, you might rightly have some questions about why certain documents were redacted, but it's been explained to us by the Clerk of the Privy Council. In fact, the entirety of this document ordinarily would not be subject to disclosure; nevertheless, the document in large part has been provided.
You're probably starting to pick up a bit of a theme, Mr. Chair. I'm looking at document number 426, still attached to that initial remittal letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council. It's an email from the PCO release, sent by Ms. Rosanne MacKay at PCO to one of her colleagues, Alain Beaudoin. The topic is a cabinet meeting note for the . The redaction here, once again, is Ms. MacKay's phone number.
The document itself includes some information that probably didn't need to be produced. It goes into detail about different programs on an agenda from the week prior to the email being sent that related to a whole series of government programs, like the Canada emergency wage subsidy, CERB, IRAP, the Canada summer jobs program, the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance, the Canada emergency business account, OAS, the guaranteed income supplement, RRIFs for seniors and the CESB for students. Each of these programs, of course, was advanced in the midst of the pandemic and was covered as part of the attached draft meeting management note.
If you scroll down to the end of the correspondence, what you're left with again is a single redaction, and it's Ms. MacKay's phone number. Again, I feel compelled to point out that the dispute is not over whether that should have been redacted but only about who should have made the redaction. We're having this debate now over whether it should have been the Clerk of the Privy Council or the parliamentary law clerk.
I don't think it would be appropriate, and again I really don't think my honourable colleagues in any party actually want this information. I think they want to maintain the suggestion that because there were any redactions, the government is hiding something, when in fact we're showing, by going through these documents one by one, that even where there is no obligation to produce a document, the government often did so when it was relevant, and it actually provided useful information to the committee.
If you look at pages 428 through 432, again from PCO, there is a document with very limited redactions. At the top of the page you will see that a conference ID for a teleconference was blacked out on this particular page. The information that's actually been included relates to the wage subsidy, and they explain the different civil servants who were involved with the call. They talk about some of the different programs related to the pandemic response. There is one small piece that has been redacted and is labelled not relevant.
Similarly, on the next page, 90% or more of the document has been disclosed. There's a small point that's not relevant. If you read the remittal letter, you will understand specifically how decisions about relevance were made and why those particular pieces of information were not disclosed as part of the page that was included in the disclosure package.
If you continue to scroll down, you'll see that the pages following are entirely unredacted. All of the information about these different programs is already there. In fact, it probably goes significantly beyond what the committee asked for, but we know from the explanation that was specifically given in the remittal letter that some of these documents were included so as to give as wide a disclosure as possible.
When you continue on through the document, you'll see that there are no further redactions at all. Some of this information probably didn't need to be produced, but in the spirit of a broad document production, it's pretty clear that the way this document was redacted demonstrates that the government wanted to show all that it could show that could possibly relate to the program.
I'm looking now at pages 433 to page 434. The complaint here seems to be that—
Mr. Fragiskatos, the documents I was referring to ended in the PCO disclosure package at page 432, and those documents largely were produced. In fact, the very last agenda item related to the Canada student service grant. The additional agenda items ran the gamut of other pandemic support programs, all of which probably didn't need to be produced, but nevertheless were.
My point was that the remittal letter from the Clerk of the Privy Council explains specifically why this level of disclosure was provided and that the only pieces that had been redacted related to information that was not relevant.
If you go to the following page in the disclosure, page 433, you'll see we're now dealing with an email from Leslie Larabie to William Simmering, and I apologize if I'm mispronouncing any of the individuals' names who were involved in this discussion.
The emails relate to the final draft agreement behind the Canada student service grant. Presumably they are sharing attachments, or emails at least, with one another.
The only piece of the document that is redacted is what appears to be a mobile phone number for Ms. Larabie and the cellphone number for one Heather Moriarty. The substantive portions of the emails are produced in full. In fact, in one instance it is even specified that the email was sent from one of the sender's iPhones, information that probably is not relevant to this committee's study but that nevertheless has been included.
I'm moving now to page 456 of the PCO disclosure package. Again, all of this context was provided in the remittal letters that are not part of the evidentiary record that would be brought over in the absence of this subamendment passing.
The redaction below seems only to be Ms. Al-Waheidi's email address at WE. This is from PCO pages 456 and 457. Everything to do with the content here is visible. The only thing that seems to be redacted is the email address for one particular worker. The email addresses for the public servants and for Marc and Craig Kielburger have been left in. I'm challenging my own memory, so I won't guess, but I do believe that one of the remittal letters explained that some of their redactions specifically related to the personal emails of individuals at WE, other than Marc and Craig Kielburgers'. These are the kinds of things that were so sinful for the professional public service to redact, apparently, and I don't find that to be problematic, quite frankly.
This particular document confirms previous discussions, then describes the confidence that individuals had in advance of program launch. It talks about the communication options and the number of placements that would have to be ready or in fact were being funded. No portion of the document is redacted, other than the personal email of someone who was involved with WE. I don't see why that is relevant or material to the conversation, and in any event I think there is public interest in protecting the privacy of individuals and little to no probative value in having the personal contact information disclosed, whether that be cellphone or email. These are the kinds of redactions that we're dealing with.
In continuing, Mr. Chair, I'm now looking at PCO disclosure page 480. In Mr. Shugart's covering letter, he would have explained why this kind of information was, in fact, redacted.
It's an email among public servants who are involved with the Canada student service grant. All of it is visible. In the email, the subject is follow-up questions. Some are names within the public service that I've discussed before: Ritu Banerjee, Tara Shannon, Heather Moriarty, Rachel Wernick, Daisy Arrudu—the font is a little bit difficult to read—and Patricia Wilson.
All of their names and all of their public, professional email addresses are included. The email simply discusses responses to some technical questions on the contribution agreement. They talked about the requirement of a signed agreement for the following day to launch for Monday. Those are important details around the timing of the need for signed agreements in order to deliver programs.
There's one redaction on this page. Again, the very last thing that has been redacted relates to the personal contact information for one of the civil servants. I don't think it's appropriate to have it disclosed. I don't think it would matter who made that decision to redact that particular piece of information. I think both the parliamentary law clerk and the Clerk of the Privy Council would make the appropriate decision to redact that information.
If we continue on to the Canada student service grant question responses that begin at page 481, which are included in the PCO disclosure, we have a whole host of topics that have been covered.
Mr. Chair, I see that a number of colleagues have their hands up and are ready to speak. I'd be happy to yield the floor to share time and maybe revisit some of the analysis on the quality of the specific redactions, picking up where I left off after my colleagues have an opportunity.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I really appreciated the health break; that was very helpful.
Before I go on to a couple of prepared texts, I just want to address a couple of things that were raised by my colleagues. I know that Mr. Poilievre pops up once in a while to raise points of order and say that we should start pre-budget consultations. I just want to remind everyone, because I think when we get so tired we tend to forget things, that as soon as we came back as the finance committee on October 8, the very first thing we did was to introduce a motion. That was me, and I introduced a motion for us to begin our pre-budget consultations. Unfortunately, it was interrupted by a point of privilege that Mr. Poilievre put on the table, and that is what has led us to where we are right now. I think it's important for us to state that.
I also want to remind everyone that we started this meeting with an opportunity for everybody to unanimously approve moving right to pre-budget consultations, or at least a motion on that, so that we could have our clerk and her team get started on booking some of our witnesses. Then it was brought back again by my colleague Mr. Fraser. So that's twice. I want to make sure that anybody who arrived late knows that. There is nothing more that we want to do than what the finance committee should be doing at this point in time, which is engaging in pre-budget consultations.
I also want to address a point that was mentioned earlier by one of our Conservative colleagues, namely about the trying to push for an election. There is absolutely zero desire to do so. We know Canadians don't want one. I will also say to you that we're going through an unprecedented pandemic, and I don't care how many times we have to say that, because I think sometimes, when we're in a little bit of a bubble and we to talking for hours, we forget that we are living in unprecedented times during this health and economic crisis.
We've spent over $300 billion have introduced almost 80 programs. We had a very serious speech from the throne laying out a vision and a plan on how we want to proceed. Given that we're in a pandemic, time is of the essence. We want to use this time only to continue to support Canadians, to get workers back to work, to continue to support our small businesses, and to continue to build a foundation of our economy and keep all Canadians safe moving forward.
I join not only with the but also with my Liberal colleagues of the governing party in saying that we want to govern. In fact, I want to do the impossible and make politics the art of the possible, so that we can find a way to maybe withdraw this motion before us and move right to pre-budget consultations and get busy on hearing some ideas.
I know that 793 submissions have been submitted to us, and we know that there are lots of amazing ideas out there, and I think we're all looking to find a way to get there. This might not be exciting for everyone, but I do think it's important, as we're still talking to the subamendment to the amendment of the motion that Mr. Poilievre moved in response to my original motion on starting our pre-budget consultations.
I will talk a little bit more about how and why we redact, including more particularities and details. I want to make sure that we have as good an understanding as possible of the acts and the principles guiding the redactions done by our excellent, highly skilled, independent civil servants.
With that, Mr. Chair, thank you again for giving me the opportunity to provide some more information about the disclosure and production of government documents regarding the Canada student service grant in response to the request by the Standing Committee on Finance.
First, I want to reiterate that I know that this government is committed to the principle of being open by default. In fact, it was this principle that guided the government's response to the request for production of papers by the committee.
Let's be clear, the government has disclosed large amounts of documentation on the matter we are discussing today. I think we heard my colleague Mr. Fraser painstakingly go through a lot of the details, not only on what was submitted but also on what was redacted and why it was redacted.
Indeed, as the media has reported, the government has disclosed almost 6,000 pages to the finance committee. I know that these were from a number of different departments, as we have spelled out a number of times. Within those departments, officials worked very hard to provide the most information possible within the time frame allowed by the finance committee to respond, while also ensuring that cabinet confidentiality and privacy concerns where applicable were respected.
I think it's important to note as well that it was important to produce the documents. It was something that the finance committee had agreed to. I believe our civil servants did their utmost to ensure full transparency and accountability. I also want to acknowledge that it also took the time of our civil servants, who have been working around the clock during this pandemic, to come up with some of the almost 80 programs I was talking about. I just want to say a huge thanks to them. I know they've been working double time. We always say they're working around the clock, but I would say they're working double around the clock. I know that in addition to producing these types of documents, they've been trying to come up with creative ideas in terms of programs and providing all the support that we very much have been introducing. This has taken a lot of their time, and I want to acknowledge that. Additionally, I will note that most of our civil servants did this remotely to respect public health and safety rules and to ensure their ongoing safety during the pandemic.
Protecting cabinet confidence is very important to our system of government. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that cabinet confidentiality is essential to good government: “The process of democratic governance works best when Cabinet members charged with government policy and decision-making are free to express themselves around the Cabinet table unreservedly.” The committee's motion stipulated that cabinet confidences be excluded from the package, but in keeping with the public disclosures of related information by members of the cabinet, the government did not redact considerable information that was cabinet confidence, and indeed provided it to the committee. I really laud our civil servants for following through on the principle of transparency and accountability. I think it is extraordinarily important, not only to our government and not only during this extraordinary time, when we're spending an extraordinary amount of money. I really laud them for doing their utmost to ensure that the most information gets out.
The government applied the same principled approach to release as much information as deemed possible as it related to solicitor-client privilege and personal information. I think we heard numerous times Mr. Fraser during this session, and during the last session, as well as my colleague during the last session, explain or give examples of all the items we had to exclude due to personal information and solicitor-client privilege.
The package provided in response to the order by this committee builds upon the Government of Canada's ongoing commitment to uphold the principle of “open by default”. It can be seen in the context of the proactive disclosure regime and amendments to the Access to Information Act. That said, there is as well the need to strike the proper balance between the fundamental values of openness and transparency and other obligations the government has to Canada and Canadians, such as national security or the protection of personal information.
I would like to say a few words about the Access to Information Act. Many of us are familiar with it, but I think it's important in relation to this subamendment for me to speak a little more specifically to it. I say so because the that act has helped us frame the approach to the response to the committee. The act creates an enforceable right of access to records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the following principles. The first one is that government information should be available to the public. The second one is that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific. The third one is that decisions on disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government. It applies to all institutions listed in schedule I of the Access to Information Act and all parent Crown organizations and wholly owned subsidiaries of such corporations within the meaning of section 83 of the Financial Administration Act.
The act provides this right of access for Canadian citizens and permanent residents “within the meaning of subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act”. Further, the Access to Information Act extension order number one extends this right to include all individuals and all corporations present in Canada.
That said, there are necessary limitations on access to records, which exist as exemptions and inclusions. There are a number of these kinds of restrictions. I would like to highlight a few to give you a sense of the care and the balance struck by the act, between optimizing openness and transparency, on the one hand, and safeguarding individuals, companies and legitimate commercial and competitive interests, on the other.
One such class of limitation is “Information obtained in confidence”. For instance, the act provides for the following:
the head of a government institution shall refuse to disclose any record...that contains information that was obtained in confidence from
(a) the government of a foreign state or an institution thereof;
(b) an international organization of states or an institution thereof”.
Examples include the United Nations, NATO and the International Monetary Fund. Examples of international organizations of states include UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which are agencies of the United Nations.
The third bullet on this point reads:
(c) the government of a province or an institution thereof
This includes the governments of the provinces and the three territories, and their ministries, departments and agencies. The fourth point reads:
(d) a municipal or regional government established by or pursuant to an Act of the legislature of a province or an institution of such a government
The last point on this particular section reads:
(e) an aboriginal government.
For this exemption to apply, the information must have been obtained in confidence.
There is also an exception covering federal-provincial affairs, which applies, for example, to the following information:
(a) on federal-provincial consultations or deliberations; or
(b) on strategy or tactics adopted or to be adopted by the Government of Canada relating to the conduct of federal-provincial affairs.
To invoke this exemption, a government institution should be convinced that disclosure of specific information “could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct” by the federal government of federal-provincial affairs.
Another area of exemption deals with international affairs, defence and national security. An access to information request may be denied if disclosure could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the following: the conduct of international affairs—this includes not only state-to-state affairs but also commercial, cultural or scientific links established by citizens with counterparts in other countries—or the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada. An allied state is one with which Canada has concluded formal alliances or treaties, while an associate state is a state with which Canada may be linked for trade or other purposes outside the scope of a formal alliance. Last is the detection, prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities. This exemption protects specific types of information pertaining to the security of Canada.
Another exemption applies to law enforcement, investigations and security of penal institutions. We actually have this particular exemption because we're aiming to protect a number of items.
The first is effective law enforcement, including criminal law enforcement. We want to protect the integrity and effectiveness of other types of investigative activities, for example, ordinary administrative investigations under an act of Parliament, investigations in regulatory areas, and investigations of air accidents.
Last is the security of penal institutions and an exemption providing protection of “information that could reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an offence”. For example, a government institution may refuse to disclose the security plans or other information about the vulnerable aspects of federal government buildings and other installations that would be of strategic importance in civil emergencies or in time of war.
The act also restricts third party information including but not limited to trade secrets; confidential financial, commercial, scientific or technical information; and information used for emergency management plans. For example, the head of a government institution must refuse to disclose any record containing trade secrets to third parties. This restriction applies as well to confidential financial, commercial, scientific or technical information.
Another class of restrictions set out in the act is what are known as exclusions. This refers, for example, to published material or material available for purchase by the public. It also refers to library or museum material preserved solely for public reference or exhibition purposes. It also refers to material placed in Library and Archives Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the National Museum of Science and Technology, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, or the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, by or on behalf of persons or organizations other than government institutions.
The process of democratic governance works best when cabinet members charged with government policy and decision-making are free to express themselves around the cabinet table unreservedly.
Exclusions also apply to certain records of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, also fondly referred to by many as the CBC. The act, for example, removes information relating to journalistic, creative and programming activities held by the CBC from the coverage of the act. It protects information about journalistic sources, as well as the creative and programming independence of CBC.
In addition, Mr. Chair, you'll be interested to hear that certain records of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited are also considered exclusions. The act creates an exclusion for any information under the control of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited other than information relating to its general administration or its operation of any nuclear facility within the meaning of section 2 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, subject to regulation by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The purpose of this exclusion is to ensure protection of information related to research and commercial activities of the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
Distinct from the act there are also well confidences of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that cabinet confidentiality is essential to good government. In the Babcock v. Canada decision, meaning the attorney general, in 2002 SSC 57, at paragraph 16, the court explained the reason for this. It said, “The process of democratic governance works best when cabinet members charged with government policy and decision-making are free to express themselves around the Cabinet table unreservedly.” Yet it also stated that “'Council' means the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, committees of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Cabinet and committees of Cabinet.” It included all of those. The committees of cabinet include standing committees, ad hoc committees and any other committees of ministers. In addition, meetings or discussions between ministers can result in the creation of records that are cabinet confidences, providing the discussions concern the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy.
The act also defines cabinet confidences by way of a list of seven types of documents. The list is not exhaustive, but provides examples of records considered to be cabinet confidences. It includes the following. The first is memoranda presenting proposals to cabinet. The second is discussion papers. The third is agenda and records of cabinet deliberations or decisions, records of communications between ministers on policy-making and government decisions, records to brief ministers on cabinet matters, draft legislation and records containing information about confidences.
Mr. Chair, there are also protections for the economic interests of the Government of Canada. There is a discretionary exemption based on a class test that aims to protect proprietary information of the Government of Canada. Exemption may include information that is patentable or that the government may want to license. For this exemption to apply, the record must contain the following: trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to the Government of Canada or a government institution that has substantial value or is reasonably likely to have substantial value.
Another exemption, Mr. Chair, applies to contractual or other negotiations of a government institution. This is intended to protect a government institution's ability to negotiate effectively with other parties.
Mr. Chair, let me underline the fact that the act protects not just the security of organizations but also the safety of individuals. A government institution may refuse access to information if it has reasonable grounds to expect that the disclosure of information would threaten the safety of an individual. This could be information that either directly or indirectly reveals the identity, home address or other identifier of such an individual, and I think we heard multiple examples from Mr. Fraser today of that being the exact case. In addition, personal information is also protected, and that absolutely makes sense as well.
In this case, section 19 of the act strikes “a balance between the right of the public to access information in records under the control of a government institution and the right of each individual to his or her privacy. It incorporates by reference sections 3 and 8 of the Privacy Act, which are essential for the interpretation and application of this exemption.”
The Access to Information Manual states:
The Privacy Act defines “personal information” as “information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form”. This definition is broad and contains examples of personal information. Information not specifically mentioned in the list but clearly covered by the broad definition, such as information related to an identifiable individual's income, DNA, body sample, sexual preference or political inclination, is to be considered personal information.
In the Privacy Act, however, you might be interested to know, Mr. Chair, that the definition of personal information excludes “specific types of information, normally considered personal information, from the meaning of the term when a request is made under the Access to Information Act.” This would include information about “the current or past positions or functions of a government employee or officer, services performed by an individual contracted by a government institution, a discretionary benefit of a financial nature conferred on an individual or an individual who has been dead for more than 20 years.”
The exclusions...reflect the fact that there is certain information about government employees, persons performing services under contract for a government institution, and discretionary benefits which, barring other considerations, the public has a right to know.
In addition, the act “provides that the head of a government institution may disclose any record that contains personal information if the individual to whom it relates consents to the disclosure, the information is publicly available or the disclosure is in accordance with section 8 of the Privacy Act.”
Mr. Chair, in conclusion, I say all this because, in compiling our submission in response to the committee, we took great care, for example, to obtain the consent to disclose certain personal information for relevant exempt staff referenced in the material. I should note as well that no material was withheld on the basis of national security, which the motion had indicated should be excluded. I would add as well that this exclusion was not pertinent.
On the matter of cabinet confidences, it bears repeating that considerable information on the Canada student service grant that was a cabinet confidence was provided to this committee. This was in keeping with the overarching objective of “open by default” and supporting the work of the committee.
Any redactions to requested documents were done with all due consideration for how to best respond to the committee's order, balanced with the understood need for protection of certain information, as I've outlined. We understand that government information belongs to the people and should be open by default. It's why we updated the Access to Information Act: to make it easier for citizens to get information and to publish more information up front more than ever.
The act balances openness with another value we feel strongly about, which is the protection of important democratic values. That means safeguarding Canadians' personal information and such important principles as cabinet confidence and judicial independence. Getting this balance right is fundamental to ensuring a healthy, functioning democracy.
That was prepared by some very kind colleagues who wanted to make sure that as we're talking about this subamendment, we have a much clearer understanding of the acts and the principles and the values that are behind how we redact certain things and are behind the examples that Mr. Fraser painstakingly took our committee through earlier this evening. I think it was important for us to make sure that was understood and read into the record.
Mr. Chair, I do have some more information. I know that people were riveted by my first speech, so I have some additional information that I'm happy to talk a little bit more about. I want to talk a little bit more about some additional principles that are consistent with the “open by default” principle I spoke to a little bit in my previous speech. I have an additional one that I want to talk about.
The reason “open by default” is important is that it aligns with the provision of documents by the government, as requested by this committee in our last session. As discussed earlier, we largely talked about the issue of redactions. We talked about why they were done. We disclosed the letters by deputy ministers that Mr. Fraser read in relation to the logic behind redacting certain documents. I think it was important for us to hear that and to have it on the record.
To that point, there was the committee's motion stipulating that cabinet confidences be excluded from the package. I also want to talk about that. We did spend quite a bit of time talking about the fact that we should have some exclusion around cabinet confidences. I know I talked a little bit about that, so I don't want to go through that again, but I do want to talk about how we have spent some time in terms of strengthening the Access to Information Act. We did that because we wanted to be consistent with ensuring the maximum amount of transparency and accountability. I think the best practice is to always keep the Access to Information Act up to date and current to meet with our values and principles of openness and transparency.
I'd like to note that while we introduced several measures since 2015 to improve the act, I think it would be helpful to provide some context, as prescribed in the act, for why and when certain information cannot be disclosed by the government, as those principles guide the government in its production of documents for parliamentary committees. Certain limitations on access to records exist in the form of exemptions and exclusions. Some exemptions are discretionary, while others are mandatory.
The act states that the head of the government institution “shall refuse to disclose” records when it relates to certain criteria. These mandatory exceptions can relate to information obtained in confidence, obtained via some law enforcement action and security, obtained through third party information, and/or obtained through personal information. With regard to personal information, the act strikes a balance between the right of the public to access information records under the control of a government institution and the right of each individual to his or her privacy.
Discretionary exemptions relate to information that the head of the government institution may refuse to disclose.
Excluded information relates to information where the act does not apply. Examples include published information and cabinet confidential information. "Confidences of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada (Cabinet confidences)" states:
In order to reach final decisions, ministers must be able to express their views freely during the discussions held in cabinet. To allow for the exchange of views to be disclosed publicly would result in the erosion of the collective responsibility of ministers. As a result, the collective decision-making process has traditionally been protected by the rule of confidentiality, which upholds the principle of collective responsibility and enables ministers to engage in full and frank discussions necessary for the effective functioning of a Cabinet system.
Now, to preserve this rule of confidentiality, subsection 69(1) of the Access to Information Act provides that the act “does not apply to confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada”. The act also strikes a balance between the right of the public to access information and records under the control of a government institution and the right of each individual to his or her privacy. As you can see, there are many reasons that some information cannot be disclosed under the Access to Information Act. These are limited and specific exceptions to the general rule of openness.
That said, as mentioned earlier with respect to redactions in documents provided for this order, considerable information that would normally be redacted through these processes should not be redacted and was provided to the committee. This was in keeping with the public disclosure of information on this matter made by members of cabinet through consent obtained to disclose certain personal information and the above-referenced limited waiver of solicitor-client privilege. Indeed, as I stated earlier, the government has undertaken several initiatives to strengthen transparency.
I think it would be helpful to provide an overview of our rigorous access to information system.
As this committee knows, access to information has been a staple of Canadian democracy for over 35 years. Since then, both parliamentarians and Canadians have come to regard the right to government information as quasi-constitutional in nature. In many ways, it has become part of our culture and important for our democracy.
This hasn't always been the case. Canadians didn't have this right in 1867, at the time of Confederation. In fact, up until post-World War II, most governments around the world operated without any general law permitting access to information, nor did they function with any general law restricting the collection, use and disclosure of information that could affect the privacy of individuals. During World War II, the Canadian government expanded, and so did the amount of information we collected. As a result, it was rightly perceived that access to such information was required to ensure democratic and accountable government. On the privacy side, it also came to be understood that information collected by the government about individuals should be treated as confidential.
In the early 1970s, the federal government took steps in that direction when it began to study both the right of access and privacy. It wasn't until the early 1980s that the government introduced comprehensive legislation addressing both issues. That bill, which contained both the present Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, became law on July 1, 1983. Its principles reflect the right of access that we have today. These principles are that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exemptions to the right of access should be limited and specific, and that there should be appropriate independent oversight of the decisions on the disclosure of government information.
Before Bill , the Access to Information Act had not been substantially updated in 34 years. When the act first became law in 1983, there was no Internet. Information was locked away in steel filing cabinets. The first mobile phone had just come onto the market. They were those really big clunky things that were really heavy to carry around and put up against your ear. We know that a 34-year-old access to information system was not equipped for the sheer volume of information and the lightning speed of today's communication. The old system was seriously outdated and served neither government nor Canadians efficiently.
The size of government has also grown. Its information holdings have increased since the act was implemented in 1983, and so too have the number of information requests that the government receives every single year, or probably every single day at this point.
Canadians expect their government to stay ahead of the digital game and make its information accessible to them. With new technology and capability comes the expectation that organizations offer their products and services online. The goal is to make the information and the data held by the government even more accessible to Canadians. Through changes to the legislation and accompanying policy changes, we are now getting more government information and data into the hands of our citizens, who can use it—
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate my colleague raising that point. I know you were riveted and you were listening, but I wasn't talking about the issues with the act. I was saying how we've been improving it, making sure that it's kept up to date, that it's relevant and that it continues with the principle of maximum transparency and accountability to all Canadians.
Canadians expect their government to stay ahead of the digital game and make its information accessible to them. With new technology and capability comes the expectation that organizations offer their products and services online. The goal is to make the information and the data held by the government even more accessible to Canadians. With changes to the legislation and accompanying policy changes, we are now getting more government information and data into the hands of our citizens, who can use it to participate in democratic debate, hold the government to account and spur innovation in society.
We've introduced many measures over the years to do just that. In 2017, just three years ago, the annual departmental results report was tabled in a new, more transparent format. As this committee knows, these reports provide an important insight into departments' program achievements against measurable indicators. This made these reports more useful and transparent for parliamentarians.
Another example is InfoBase. It pulls data from annual reports to provide online snapshots of what one department or the entire government has done during the fiscal year. Providing all of this information isn't useful if it's not readily accessible in various formats. Canadians expect to have government information delivered to their electronic devices and at their fingertips when they need it.
In May of 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued an interim directive that enshrined the principle of “open by default”. The interim directive told government that institutions have to make themselves open by default as their guiding principle when it comes to making government information available to the public. This principle applies to provision of information to Canadians, and most importantly today, to parliamentarians, including through motions for the production of papers, such as the order that prompts our debate today.
In 2017, with Bill , we moved forward to improve the Access to Information Act. The bill was introduced in the summer of 2017 and was reviewed in the House and Senate committees. It also received valuable input from several stakeholders, including the Information Commissioner; the Privacy Commissioner; representatives of indigenous organizations, who provided important insights into their need to access records of important historical and archival value; and legal experts and journalists, who shared their unique experiences and explained the importance of the legislation to their work.
The bill provided Canadians with easier access to a huge amount of government information. The government is now legally required to proactively publish a broad range of information to a predictable schedule without the need for anyone to make an information request. This law applies to 240 government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations. It also applies to the political side, including the and the ministers' offices, senators, members of Parliament, institutions that support Parliament and administrative institutions that support the courts.
For the first time the bill put in law the proactive publication of travel and hospitality expenses for ministers, their staff and senior officials across government; contracts over $10,000; all service contracts for MPs and senators; grants and contributions over $25,000; mandate letters and revised mandate letters, which would have to be published within 30 days of being issued; briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers; lists of briefing notes from ministers and deputy ministers; and briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances. Making all this information available to Canadians on a predictable schedule leads to better public understanding of how government functions in establishing a strong foundation for greater citizen participation in government.
At the same time, we introduced changes to the request-based side of the system. Bill C-58 eliminated all fees for access to information requests, apart from the $5 administrative fee. As well, Canadians can also request the original documents that are proactively released to validate the information that has been published.
Mr. Chair, the bill has also provided the Information Commissioner with greater powers to oversee the access to information system. Specifically, the commissioner now has order-making powers. The role of the commissioner has gone from an ombudsperson to an authority with the legislative ability to make binding orders for the release of government records. I would say that this is an excellent move. I think it ensures much more transparency and accountability.
In addition to advancing our commitment to being open by default, we have also invested tools to make processing information requests more efficient and allowed federal institutions that have the same minister to share the request processing services for greater efficiency.
The Access to Information Act strikes a balance between the right of Canadians to access information and the need to withhold certain types of information to protect other important values such as privacy, confidentiality of information provided to the government and national security.
Bill introduced other measures to improve the system. Both the former information commissioner and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics at the time recognized that requests made in bad faith can gum up the system. Requesters may, for a variety of reasons, use the right to request information to achieve goals that may not be consistent with the spirit of the act. Though the number of these types of vexatious requests is estimated to be quite small, the effort and cost involved in responding to them can put a significant strain on the system.
There is a fundamental issue at stake here. Such requests defeat the underlying purpose of the act, which is to give Canadians access to the information they need to participate in public policy decision-making and to hold their government to account. By tying up government resources, these requests interfere with an institution's ability to respond to other requests and to do important work.
As a remedy, Bill gave government institutions the ability to decline to act on such requests after receiving approval from the Information Commissioner to do so. Amendments were made to the legislation to clarify the circumstances in which this can happen. For example, institutions would not be able to decline to act on a request solely on the basis that the requester didn't provide a specific subject matter, type of record and period or date for the record sought.
As I mentioned a minute ago, Mr. Chair, the Information Commissioner would need to give her or his approval before an institution could decline to act on a vexatious or bad-faith request. This provides assurance to Canadians that legitimate requests will not be declined, and indeed this authority has been used rarely since Bill came into force.
The bill also ensures that the Access to Information Act remains relevant in an ever-changing world. It included a provision that required that the act be reviewed every five years, with the first review to begin within one year of the bill receiving royal assent. This review was launched just this June. This will ensure that the act never again becomes as outdated as it has before.
Mr. Chair, I'm getting almost to the conclusion. I know that while many people would like me to go on for another 20 pages, I am getting towards the end. I want to just spend one moment first discussing the realities of access to information, writ large, during the pandemic.
The government remains committed to managing information securely and effectively in accordance with its sensitivity, while ensuring transparency, openness and accountability to Canadians. On April 29, 2020, TBS published guidance on information management practices while working remotely for all public servants. This guidance is intended to reinforce employees' awareness of their collective responsibility to document decisions of business value and to ensure that government information is managed securely and effectively with respect to legislative and policy requirements, including the requirements of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
On May 28—
Sure, Mr. Chair. I'll return to my remarks.
Similar ideas have come up, but Mr. Julian is off base here. I'm not going to hypothesize about why this is the case, but they are not repetition. I'm talking about the professional public service here and issues relating to it, and documents.
These letters have been discussed at length by other colleagues. Their importance needs to be emphasized, Mr. Chair, because their importance is paramount.
Let me just emphasize here for the committee that these are the documents that tell the committee how the world-class public servants—whom Mr. Julian very regularly and very sincerely speaks about at this committee—who prepared the documents as per the motion at this committee, applied redactions.
Let me share some key highlights. They present an example for the committee and, for that matter, for Canadians who are looking at this and following along.
We have the text of the letter from Mr. Paul Rochon, deputy minister of finance, a public servant to his core, someone who has testified before this committee many times. To give you a sense of his professionalism, I'd like to highlight his qualifications, Mr. Chair. He has been the deputy minister of finance since 2014. Before that, he was the deputy minister of international development. Mr. Chair, these were all important appointments that took place under the previous government. Previously, Mr. Rochon was the deputy minister of health, and concurrently, a special adviser to the Minister of Finance on negotiations for a Canadian securities regulator.
Mr. Rochon has more than 20 years of experience at the Department of Finance and held a number of positions, including associate deputy minister of finance and Canada's finance deputy at the G7, G20 and the financial stability forum, as well as senior assistant deputy minister in the economic and fiscal policy branch.
To say he is an outstanding professional, Mr. Chair, would be an understatement. In his transmittal letter to the law clerk, he wrote, as follows:
The Committee’s motion stipulates that Cabinet confidences and national security information are to be excluded from the package. No information is being withheld on the grounds of national security, since the information does not so pertain. With respect to Cabinet confidences, you will note that considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant contained in Cabinet confidences is being provided to the Committee. This is in keeping with the public disclosures of information on this matter made by members of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. A principled approach was taken with respect to this information to ensure a non-selective application of the protection afforded by Cabinet confidentiality. As a result, considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that would otherwise be protected as Cabinet confidence is being released. Information not related to the Canada Student Service Grant that is contained in Cabinet confidences is withheld and identified as not relevant to the request.
With respect to personal information, the department is obliged to protect such information under the Privacy Act unless the individuals to whom it relates consent to its disclosure, or disclosure is otherwise authorized in certain specified circumstances or the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any resulting invasion of privacy.
Reasonable efforts were made by the department to obtain consent. Where consent was not given, the department found that the public interest in sharing the information with the Committee outweighed any invasion of the individual’s privacy. As such, disclosure is being made pursuant to subparagraph 8(2)(m)(i) of the Privacy Act. As required by that Act, the Privacy Commissioner was informed of our decision. In very limited cases, personal information was redacted from these records as consent was not obtained from the individuals concerned nor was the department able to conclude that the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighed the invasion of the individuals’ privacy. The type of personal information that remains protected consists of the identity of unrelated third parties where their opinion or view relates to an unrelated matter to this inquiry, as well as personal e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
While the members opposite seem to do everything they can to accuse the government of some mismanagement, it is clear from this short letter that the ministry of finance went above and beyond to satisfy the committee's request.
Mr. Chair, I think opposition members should have the opportunity to ask Mr. Rochon if they feel that he has somehow acted irresponsibly. I also think that Mr. Rochon should have the opportunity to defend his department's actions, given the accusations that they—I'm talking about the opposition here—are insinuating.
Further, Mr. Chair, the text of the letter from Simon Kennedy, Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, says as follows:
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has retrieved all records from within the Department that respond to the Committee's motion. You will find the results of that search enclosed for the Committee's consideration.
It should be noted, however, that in the preparation of this package, care was taken to obtain consent to disclose certain personal information from exempt staff referenced in the material and, in collaboration with other government departments, the staff from WE Charity in accordance with the provisions of the Privacy Act.
In addition, the Committee's motion stipulates that Cabinet confidences and national security information are to be excluded from the package. No information is being withheld on the grounds of national security, since the information does not so pertain. With respect to Cabinet confidences, you will note that information on the Canada Student Service Grant that was a Cabinet confidence is being provided to the Committee. This is in keeping with the public disclosures of information on this matter made by members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.
I think what I just read there bears emphasis. I hope my colleagues won't accuse me of repetition, but it's a very important point. With respect to cabinet confidences, you will note that information on the Canada student service grant that was a cabinet confidence is being provided to the committee.
A principled approach was adopted to this information to ensure a non-selective application of the protection afforded by Cabinet confidentiality. Information not related to the Canada Student Service Grant that constitutes a Cabinet confidence is withheld and identified as not relevant to the request.
I'm reading remarks that are onscreen, Mr. Chair, and I can't see in the grid view of Zoom if my colleague Mr. Poilievre is there. What I just read is relevant to the very entertaining but not informative press conference: “Information not related to the Canada Student Service Grant that constitutes a Cabinet confidence is withheld and identified as not relevant to the request.” The papers that he was throwing around fit into this.
Next is from the text of the Secretary of the Treasury Board, Mr. Peter Wallace, who holds the distinction of having served as a senior public servant in three levels of government. His letter says as follows:
The Committee's motion stipulates that Cabinet confidences and national security information are to be excluded from the package. No information is being withheld on the grounds of national security, since the information does not so pertain. With respect to Cabinet confidences, you will note that considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that were Cabinet confidences is being provided to the Committee. This is in keeping with the public disclosures of information on this matter made by members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada. A principled approach was adopted to this information to ensure a non-selective application of the protection afforded by Cabinet confidentiality. As a result, considerable information on the Canada Student Service Grant that would otherwise constitute Cabinet confidences is being released. Information not related to the Canada Student Service Grant that constitutes Cabinet confidences is withheld and identified as not relevant to the request.
These are all pertinent points, made by some of the most eminent, qualified and respected public servants this country has to offer. Those are my words, Mr. Chair, in case you were wondering.
I'll go back to the letter:
This same principled approach was also applied to the second enclosed package of TBS [Treasury Board Secretariat] documents, which is provided in support of the commitment by the Clerk of the Privy Council to provide additional information on due diligence on the Canada Student Service Grant subsequent to his appearance on July 21, 2020. Additionally, because I believe that it is in the public interest to do so, this package includes information being made available as a result of a limited waiver of solicitor client privilege as it relates to the information that is being provided by Employment and Social Development Canada.
While many TBS employees continue to work virtually, guided by public health measures and focused on curbing the spread of COVID-19, these two packages provide, to the best of my knowledge, as of August 7, 2020, the TBS documents and response to the above-noted request for production of papers and due diligence line of inquiry.
That's the end of the quotation, Mr. Chair.
All of these individuals have led very distinguished careers. They are people we need to take seriously, people who, unfortunately—when I say “people”, I'm speaking about the public service in general—the previous Harper government didn't have much time for and regularly muzzled, whether they were scientists or other public servants. Let's show them the respect they deserve.
I know the NDP feels that way. I've said before that I've heard Mr. Julian and other NDP members, in various committees and in the House, speak in strong terms and passionate ways about the importance of public servants and the public service in general.
I think it's important for committees to follow the Standing Orders and for all members to recognize the importance of standing orders.
Obviously this subamendment, Mr. Chair, makes very clear the need to invite public servants to this committee. We can't simply speak about public servants and muzzle them. We need to hear from them.
I talked in my earlier remarks about the inextricable link between fairness and justice. There are other conceptions of fairness and justice, however, that we ought to consider.
Aristotle famously said that justice is based on a notion, a very important one, that “equals should be treated equally”. This quotation stands out because, if we take a step back and think about us as members of Parliament and those in the public service, what do we share in common? Well, we are equals for many reasons, abstract ones but also very practical ones. We both serve the Canadian public, so equals should be treated equally here. We cannot muzzle the public service. We have to give them an opportunity to come to speak.
The Conservative colleagues on the committee are following the precedent of the Harper government by not wanting to recognize the importance of not just the public servants and the public service but also the principle that they should be allowed to express themselves. That's all we're saying. Unfortunately, it is not being heard and also, up to this point, has not been heard by my colleague in the NDP, and we'll see what the Bloc wants to do, Mr. Chair.
In earlier remarks, I also referenced John Rawls and his conception of a fair and just society being based on a number of principles, including fair legal treatment for all citizens. That is Rawls speaking in a very general sense, but I wonder, Mr. Chair—and here is another question for you and the clerk to take back and to consider—what would happen if we did not hear from public servants, if we proceeded in the way the Conservative colleagues of ours on committee want to go ahead with, and that is excluding public servants. Would we be compromising ourselves in any way by forcibly excluding the opportunity of free individuals to put their thoughts on the record and in effect defend themselves? I have a strange feeling—it's not a strange feeling; it's a truism—that the Conservatives in particular would attack public servants as they have in previous meetings of this committee and other committees. In fact, in the House we see this happen regularly. Again, they have had two new leaders and still Stephen Harper's legacy is very strong.
Public servants in that context, Mr. Chair, should be allowed to defend themselves. What if this committee does not go for that? What if we do follow Mr. Kelly here, and Mr. Poilievre and others on the Conservative side, and prevent public servants from testifying? I don't think we would be showing fair legal treatment in the Rawlsian sense, and also as a matter of Canadian law.
I'm not a lawyer. I know we have lawyers, eminent and capable ones, on the committee, but I think it's something we need to consider, so I leave it with you to look at as well, Mr. Chair. I underline again for my colleagues that “equals should be treated equally”. Aristotle's conception of justice is tremendously influential. In fact, it has been said that much of philosophy is simply a commentary on the thoughts of Aristotle, and of Plato as well, but especially of Aristotle.
Let's not ignore these very basic principles, Mr. Chair. If we do, what does that say about us as parliamentarians?
I spoke before about partisanship. Partisanship plays a role, and I meant what I said when I said that sometimes that role can be positive. What are political parties if not organizations that congregate based on different constellations of ideas? The Conservatives have a particular conception of what makes a just society, usually by putting business—and under this iteration of the Conservative Party, big business—at the core of their focus.
The NDP puts social justice and workers at its very core. I won't take that away from them. How they engage in public policy and the issues they decide to champion, and how they decide to champion those issues, I can disagree with from issue to issue, but the NDP plays a reasonable role in Parliament and brings up good ideas.
The Bloc, in the form of Mr. Ste-Marie, is very passionate and has offered a social democratic vision of what is just, what a fair society should look like, in all of his testimony.
Liberals seem to be in the middle, a party of moderation, Mr. Chair.