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View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, can we have some time to study the motion, since it's the first time the committee is seeing it? Can we have 10 minutes?
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I believe it's the order that once a member moves a motion, he pretty much loses the floor. The floor is ceded to the next speaker.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is Mr. Barrett officially moving the motion?
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
He has further comments. He isn't done moving the motion. That's part of the moving of the motion process.
Okay. Got it.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Usually, it's quite nice to see everyone in person, but to be honest, I don't sense much enthusiasm in the room today, and I wonder why. In the past, we have seen Mr. Barrett muster up a lot more passion for other issues. Perhaps the reason is that there is nothing to this issue, so it can hardly arouse any passion.
I do, however, want to take this opportunity to answer a basic question. What does Data Sciences do? Allow me to explain.
I, for one, know that the firm provides my office with technical support. Mr. Gourde, Ms. Gaudreau and Mr. Boulerice will probably understand when I say that finding IT support in French is really tough, especially for English-based software. Data Sciences provides that service. It is a Canadian company that hires bilingual employees with the skills to provide us with the service we need.
I went over the monthly invoices, and they look like any other invoices for technical support: $200 here, $149 there. The company provides a valuable service for my French-speaking constituents and staff. That is what the company does. An American company can't provide services in French. As for the company's anglophone services, the fact that it's Canadian makes it that much better.
Those of us on this side are wondering what the point of all this is, but at the end of the day, we know full well why we are here. We know exactly why the members across the way don't want to let the summer go by without summoning us to Ottawa. Suddenly, it's no longer time to talk election, even though they have repeatedly voted against the government. In their minds, it's time for the fake scandal of the summer, as I like to call it, and they are doing their darndest to stir one up.
I feel really sorry for everyone out there who hung around Mr. Trudeau in the schoolyard when they were children. I imagine that, right now, someone is compiling a list of all the Prime Minister's friends from school. “Found one; let's investigate. Here's one who owns a business; let's check it out.”
We've seen it all before on this committee, haven't we? Luckily, we were meeting virtually then, not in person. People with the slightest hint of a connection to anyone in the Liberal Party were called as witnesses. They were hauled before the committee so members could pick holes in their story. They were regular folks. I'm sure everyone recalls the appearance of Martin Perelmuter, one of the owners of Speakers' Spotlight. I found it uncomfortable to listen to the questions asked of him and others. He was simply doing his job—hiring people to give talks—but he had the misfortune of doing business with someone connected to the Prime Minister. That was all it took to unleash the name-calling. It was all over social media.
Mr. Chair, I'm still waiting for certain members of the committee to apologize, for that matter. Luckily, the chair apologized at the time, but I'm still waiting for their apologies.
I won't get into all that, though, because I would have a whole lot more to say on the subject.
I was glad, however, to see the media report on political parties' collection and use of data. That is already an important issue here, in Parliament, but it does not fall within this committee's purview. Matters pertaining to the activities of political parties are normally dealt with by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs or the Board of Internal Economy.
This committee deals instead with public office holders, in other words, those who hold the position of minister or top public servants. It is not the committee's job to investigate what goes on in this person's or that person's office. I'm looking at you, Mr. Gourde, but it could just as easily be my, your or Ms. Lattanzio's office. That is not the committee's job.
In a moment, I'm going to ask the clerk to recap the committee's mandate for us. It's been a long time since we've all reviewed it together. I know that you, Mr. Boulerice, have experience and know exactly what I mean. Every committee has a specific mandate and purpose. This committee examines matters pertaining to four commissioners, the Ethics Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and I forget the fourth one. Can anyone help me out?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's it, the Information Commissioner. In fact, we had plans to study access to information issues. We wanted to do more work in that area.
That said, the news articles before us mention more than just the Liberal members and poor Mr. Pitfield, who has the misfortune of being Justin Trudeau's friend. The Conservatives are also mentioned. According to the reports, the Conservatives have their own system. If I understand correctly, it isn't paid for by the House, but the purpose is to reach out to citizens who are not necessarily donors or voters. It's combined. I'd like to know more about the system; I think it's very interesting.
I'll tell you something, Mr. Barrett. Ten years ago, I donated $50 to the Conservative Party. That was in Jim Flaherty's day.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's the truth. Jim Flaherty was working on financial literacy. Do you know that I still receive emails from certain members sent from their Assistant 1 accounts? I made a donation to the party, but I receive emails from constituency offices. Interesting, isn't it? Perhaps we should look into that. I think it's very important.
Let's get back to the information before us relating to the Liberal Party. We've had contracts with these two companies for years. The company with the odd name—what is it again? Here it is. It's called NGP VAN. That company provides the software. It's a long-standing contract. It's the same company we deal with for the Liberalist database, but there's what they call a firewall between the two systems. All the big IT companies have that because of all their different clients. If another party ever wanted to do business with the company, it could have the opportunity.
Nevertheless, we've seen all the attempts by the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes—what a lovely name for a riding, by the way. He and his party are going out of their way to find the name of every single business person who is a Liberal. It's actually not a crime to be a Liberal. We all have our political allegiances in life. We want people to engage in civic life. We want people to be politically active. That's what democracy is all about. According to Mr. Barrett, however, it is unacceptable to own a business and do business with our party. Clearly, this is yet another witch hunt. They have found nothing. Isn't that right? The Ethics Commissioner released his report, but the findings probably weren't what the opposition members were hoping for.
As I said earlier, I'd really appreciate having the clerk talk about the mandate of this committee and that of the Board of Internal Economy. It may not cover everything, but I have a snippet here.
This is what the Standing Orders say about this committee's mandate:
(h) Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics shall include, among other matters:(i) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Information Commissioner;(ii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Privacy Commissioner;(iii) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner;(iv) the review of and report on the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans relating to the Commissioner of Lobbying;(v) the review of and report on reports of the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to his or her responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act relating to public office holders and on reports tabled pursuant to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, which shall be severally deemed permanently referred to the committee immediately after they are laid upon the table;
That brings me to Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vi):
(vi) in cooperation with other committees, the review of and report on any federal legislation, regulation or standing order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders;(vii) the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;and any other matter which the House shall from time to time refer to the standing committee.
It's clear, then, that the committee's mandate relates only to the work of those four commissioners or a special project, such as the one on the security of personal information or the one on new technologies, which we tried to undertake and hope to have a chance to complete. Nevertheless, the parliamentary institution that deals with issues of a more political and partisan nature, and matters relating to the expenditures of members is the Board of Internal Economy.
We have all seen cases where members misused their funding and had to go before the Board of Internal Economy to defend themselves. They faced fines or restrictions as a result of their actions.
As we all know, the Board of Internal Economy is made up of members from every recognized party. That is one of the principles of Parliament: members are to settle issues related to the activities of other members.
Here we all are, meeting today. I'm not sure what things are like in your neck of the woods, but we are probably all trying to enjoy a bit of downtime with our families. In my province, things are good and we are able to go out. I've even participated in a few activities put on by not-for-profit organizations. Businesses have been able to hire students. Things are good, and we are able to serve our constituents. That is the whole point of using any software to manage constituency work. For instance, these systems help us identify where farmers who need to be consulted are. Right now, I'm consulting with stakeholders and organizations that work with people with disabilities. It's really important to have access to systems like these, which help us do our job. I hope no one here is going to dismiss the importance of having access to service in French as well. I hope everyone understands just how important it is to have this type of technical support available in both official languages.
It's hard to stop once you get going, but I will leave it there. Now I'll switch to English to explain what I'd like to do.
I will now move the following amendment:
Whereas section 52.6 of the Parliament of Canada Act states that, in relation to the BOIE, “the Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1)”, I move that the motion be amended by adding, after the word “That”, the following:
the issue of contracts related to Data Sciences be referred to the BOIE. That the issue of the CIMS system which facilitates partisan election related actions to be taken from constituency offices and parliament hill offices to determine if they are in compliance with the rules set out by the Board also be referred to the BOIE.
I have it in English only. Can I send it to you?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Usually, we have it translated, but this time, I have only the English version. My apologies.
If you give us a bit of time, we can have the amendment in French. I should say that it's largely based on the wording from our package.
Should we work on it, and...?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'm sorry, but my amendment would remove everything afterwards. It is a request that it be moved that—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, could you just read the amendment, then, and the motion as it would be amended?
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I understand what my colleague just said, but in terms of the interventions that have been made here this morning, the original motion of my colleague speaks to “in light of recent media reports”. Well, media reports, if we base ourselves on the various articles of The Globe and Mail, have discussed not just the ones that are pertinent to what my colleague is putting into his motion. We've spoken about the CIMS and Populus and about other data that have been used by all of the various parties. I think on that point, the amendment of my colleague Ms. Shanahan is very much on point.
Mr. Barrett, you make reference to “in light of recent media reports” on this issue. The issue, if I'm understanding you correctly, is with regard to using constituency data for political purposes. The participants this morning have referred to these media reports. I think that's why you came up with this motion.
In all fairness, Mr. Chair, I think the amendment is very pertinent.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
On the point of order raised by my colleague Dr. Carrie, I would just like to make sure that we understand, that everyone understands, that CIMS is paid for by the party to be used for partisan purposes. The real issue is that CIMS is also being used by constituency and Hill staff, who are paid with taxpayer dollars. Therefore, who pays for the actual database is not relevant. It's that the staff, paid by taxpayer dollars, are doing partisan work by using that partisan database from their offices or from their equipment, which is also paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Mr. Chair, that's the reason. I'm just clarifying that for Dr. Carrie.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I have a point of order.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Is this on a point of order? Are we—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
It's on the amendment.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Formally, I'd like to say hello to my colleagues, whom I haven't seen in person in a while. It feels good to see each and every one of you here today.
I'm not exactly sure why we're here, Mr. Chair. For the past few weeks since the House has—
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, I'm going to get to it. I'm speaking to the amendment.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you.
I'm not sure why we are here today, and I'm going to get to the amendment. I think most of us are busy in our constituency offices, meeting our constituents and doing our work. Having sat on this committee, albeit as a new member, I've seen what has transpired in the last year and the witch hunts that have been brought about time and time again. We are essentially using taxpayers' dollars to go on these witch hunts, but even beyond that, we have mandated this committee to conduct investigations that are concurrent with those of other committees. Talk about a waste of time and talk about a waste of taxpayers' money.
We've seen these attempts time and time again from the member from Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes while the government has been focused on delivering the vaccine and helping Canadians recover from this pandemic. However, we are here today. We have met solely in service of the Conservative ambitions many times over the course of the past year, but what clearly makes this time different from the last is the clear-cut fact that this committee doesn't even have the jurisdiction to investigate what Mr. Barrett is bringing forward.
He spoke a few minutes ago, and I heard him, when he quoted our committee mandate in access to information, privacy and ethics, which is subparagraph 108(3)(h)(vii), I believe. I'm going to read it again for the benefit of our members here today. It says:
the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders
In his motion, he wants to have Mr. Pitfield present here. Mr. Pitfield is not a public office holder, so it has become quite clear what road we are embarking on: This is basically not to fulfill the mandate of this committee but to go yet again on another witch hunt.
Our committees are neither investigative nor judicial bodies. You cannot simply call this committee together and propose on a whim to undertake a political witch hunt because it happens to be a politically self-serving issue of the day. This place is governed by the rules and statutes that were constituted when this place first began sitting as the Parliament of Canada and established the long-running traditions by which we operate today.
The amendment proposed by my colleague—and I won't read it, because she has—is, I think, the appropriate forum for this issue, if there is an issue. Again, the motion states quite clearly, almost makes an allegation, that there is a conflict of interest. It makes that allegation without even having any basis for it. I think the amendment would allow the committee to be able to investigate and do its work, and look at not just the Liberal database but also the CIMS. If we are to be transparent—and in the words of my colleague Dr. Carrie, we need to be transparent—then let's be transparent and let's do it with the other software being used.
Anyone reading this section proposed by my colleague can clearly deduce that the Board of Internal Economy retains complete discretion to determine how members use parliamentary resources. There is no mention here of any other parliamentary committee in that section. In fact, it has long been an accepted fact that the board can handle these types of matters.
I'm a little confused, Mr. Chair, as to why my colleague and his colleagues seem to think that we have the jurisdiction to even investigate this matter. The Board of Internal Economy itself, as we know, is composed of members of all recognized parties, and it is they who set out the rules and regulations by which we conduct ourselves. As to how members discharge the public funds they are entrusted with, the board has compiled the Members' Allowances and Services Manual, which lays out very clearly how we are to conduct ourselves as members in regard to our budgets, and how organizations like our research bureau, the whips' offices and the House leaders' offices should also conduct business with public funds.
The rules and guidelines laid out in the members' services manual are very clear about how we should conduct ourselves in expending public funds. I believe that each and every member in the House, and indeed around this table, strives to ensure that they follow the rules as laid out in the said manual.
When disputes have arisen in the past about the use of funds within our budget, these matters were taken up by the BOIE and handled accordingly. I think we have to ask ourselves, “What is different about this situation, such that we should diverge from past precedence in how these matters are handled?”
The truth is that nothing is different—nothing but the political opportunity that is present for the opposition.
I think we can all agree that we are here today in service to the constituents who elected us to represent them. It is a humbling job—especially when you are first elected, as I am—to know that you are responsible for advancing the best interests of your community in making decisions that will affect your family, friends and neighbours. As members of Parliament, we are required to help anyone in our community, no matter their political affiliation, whether they voted for us or not. Our service to our communities is to blind ourselves to partisan interests, and it should be so.
In our duties as members of Parliament, we are often required to help our constituents access the many resources of the federal government and to triage the issues that arise out of that assistance. I think we can all agree that with roughly, more or less, 70,000 constituents in each of our respective ridings at a minimum, keeping orderly track of casework and requests for assistance is essential to completing our work as members.
All parties here freely admit that we maintain constituent management systems to help us track requests for assistance from constituents and to ensure that we are able to provide all necessary assistance and follow up afterwards to ensure that casework has been handled to the constituents' satisfaction. A constituent management database is there to help us organize case files and track the progress of constituency issues or constituents' issues to ensure that they are followed up and completed properly. It is not out of the ordinary, nor is it inappropriate. It is an expected part of our job as parliamentarians. It is not out of the ordinary for parties to operate their constituent management databases on software similar to their electoral databases. Frankly, it makes sense. Members and staff are already familiar with electoral databases. Basing constituent management databases on the same user experience enables members and staff to quickly access and operate a user-friendly and familiar system.
The important distinction here is the presence of a complete firewall between these databases to ensure that the information collected in an official capacity is not mixed with partisan databases. That's what's important here. Our caucus maintains the highest standards in this regard, as has been noted, and we work with the contractors who manage our databases to ensure that there is no crossover between the two.
We are not the only party that operates this way. Both the NDP and the Conservatives do the same. The NDP openly admitted this on July 9 of last week in a Globe and Mail article that quoted a member who also sits on this committee. It's been a well-known fact for well over 15 years now that the Conservatives' CIMS database operates in a similar capacity as well.
I'd like to quote the member as cited in The Globe and Mail: “I am not sure they are using it in a way that would actually contravene rules. It would have to be established that they are turning constituency data over for political purposes. Every political party has a data wing and a constituency wing.” The member from the NDP also said his party also uses the database provider Populus for political and campaign work, and a different version from the same company for constituency casework. “There is a pretty clear firewall” between the two services, he said.
I find it very disingenuous that all of a sudden the Conservative members of this committee have decided that there is something inappropriate or nefarious with members' tracing casework with constituency and constituents, especially when they do it themselves. Ms. Shanahan has given you an example of how she's been contacted time and time again from an A1 account after a donation that she made many moons ago. Therefore, the question arises as to who's doing what and who's using what database.
I think, Mr. Chair, in the words of my colleague Mr. Carrie this morning, let's be transparent. Let's examine everything, but this committee does not have the mandate to do so. I think it's appropriate that it be sent to BOIE. Thank you.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to start by thanking the member from Montreal for her well-reasoned comments. She made some excellent points.
Certainly, in this day and age, every party on Parliament Hill uses databases so members can manage the work of their constituency and Hill offices, and that's perfectly fine. Having access to such tools means we can serve people effectively. These systems help us track who has contacted us and why, whether it's the first or fifth time we've been in contact, and if the issues are connected. It's perfectly normal.
It's also perfectly normal for every party to use a database for partisan purposes, such as to remember who they have interacted with and in relation to what.
However, there can be no mixing of the data from the two systems. The databases must not communicate with one another. They are required to operate as stand-alone systems—hence, the firewall, which as everyone knows, works without a hitch.
I saw what the NDP member from northern Ontario had to say on the subject. He agreed, saying his party makes sure the two databases operate independently of one another. Our party does pretty much the exact same thing.
This is an issue I'm quite familiar with. In a past life, long before I became a member of Parliament, I was the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada. I was the one who did the research and signed the contract with NGP VAN. I'm very proud of our work on that file. We really brought the Liberal Party into the modern age. Prior to that, all we had were paper-based lists; it was a bit makeshift. We made a decision to enter the 21st century by adopting a highly flexible IT system. Not only does it offer a considerable degree of flexibility, but it also has an excellent track record for ensuring a separation between certain data.
It would be preposterous to have a system without a firewall. If that were the case, the company's reputation would be ruined and no one would do business with it. Use of the system isn't limited to Canada; it's a well-honed system that has long been used in the United States. Personally, I think it's the best system out there, but I imagine the Conservatives would say their system is better than ours.
Mr. Barrett, you mentioned CivicTrack or Softchoice.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
It's only you. I see.
I imagine the Conservative Party of Canada is proud of CIMS, its system, and the NDP is surely proud of its system, Populus. I commend both parties.
What worries me, as Ms. Lattanzio and Mrs. Shanahan have already pointed out, is that this smells of a witch hunt.
Mr. Barrett is acting like he's being entirely reasonable by saying he would support holding just one two-hour meeting with witnesses, but we've heard that line numerous times over the past 15 months. Every time someone appears, they mention another name, and suddenly the committee has to probe further, even if it's not at all relevant. We have to invite someone else, and so it goes.
Forgive me, then, if I'm a bit hesitant to go along with this.
I've been down that rabbit hole before.
Even if you think I'm wrong, Mr. Chair, I know I stand on solid footing when it comes to the role of this committee versus that of the Board of Internal Economy. I won't repeat what my fellow members have already said, since they did a good job of articulating this committee's responsibilities. They also pointed out that another committee is entrusted with examining the spending and activities—past and current—of members and their constituency offices, and that committee is the Board of Internal Economy.
No expense considered to be invalid is authorized without the board's approval. Occasionally, people can make mistakes, and the consequences can be quite serious. The Board of Internal Economy has been known to make some very weighty decisions to reassure Canadians that the spending of parliamentarians, specifically, members of the House of Commons, complies with the rules.
The Parliament of Canada Act is crystal clear about the exclusive authority of the Board of Internal Economy. Subsection 52.6(1) says and I quote:
52.6 (1) The Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
That is the body that should be examining this issue.
Mrs. Shanahan's amendment shows that we are prepared to support Mr. Barrett's motion, which, according to him, was prompted by a media report. That is why he feels we should examine the issue. Actually, Mr. Barrett is signalling that it was four news articles. Thank you for correcting me.
I believe the four articles—well, three of them, at least—refer to the systems used by the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Barrett's motion pertains solely to one party. Mrs. Shanahan made the point that we should broaden the motion to cover not only what the Liberal members are doing, but also what the members of the official opposition are doing. The issues raised in the news reports are actually of great interest to Canadians.
I hope my fellow members will allow these issues to be referred to the Board of Internal Economy, which, as a committee of the House, could look into everything and report its findings to all members.
I think that's the best way forward. That is why the amendment was moved and why I, personally, will support it.
If we stick to the motion as moved, we will fall into the same trap that we unfortunately fell into before. Mr. Chair, I know you came a long way to be at this meeting in person, and I certainly appreciate the efforts of every committee member to attend this meeting. No one wants to waste time, but we have to tell it like it is. We have to set the record straight, and that's why I feel so strongly about doing things the right way. That means referring the matter to the committee responsible for examining the previous, current and proposed expenditures incurred by members and their offices. The committee with that responsibility is the Board of Internal Economy.
I can well imagine what would happen if we did not support the amendment and the motion was adopted unamended. I can hear it now. I would bet any amount of money that, as soon as the witness mentioned someone's name, members would probably want to invite that person to appear before the committee. It would be a name here, a name there; we would have to keep inviting people and so on. I've seen this show before, and honestly, the reviews weren't good.
It's time to move on. We should be smart about how we use our time and energy—what we focus our efforts on. I think the committee members should really support the amendment and refer this matter to the proper authority.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair.
I don't want to spend a lot of time talking. I think Mr. Barrett spoke about eight to 10 minutes, so if you give me a signal at the eight-minute mark, I'll wrap up. I don't want to speak more than the opposition members.
Chair, I've been listening respectfully and carefully to all members of this committee today. I thought what Ms. Shanahan said in her opening remarks, before she moved a motion, was very important: It was about the mandate of this committee. If we are talking about questioning the integrity of MPs as they perform jobs in their capacity as public elected members, we're not talking about just a few members; we're talking about the entire Liberal caucus. I think we should look at the process. What's the code of conduct? That falls under the scope of the Board of Internal Economy. Determining whether or not the members obey these codes of conduct, I think, is its job.
I understand that you said committees don't have the mandate or don't have the power to tell another committee what it needs to do. Simply put, I'm sure there are Conservative members on the Board of Internal Economy. They can, according to the result of today's debate, move a motion over there to start an investigation. I think that's much better than having a debate here. We are making a lot of assumptions that members are using public dollars, taxpayers' dollars, to somehow do partisan stuff.
What is within the scope of this committee is privacy. That could be expanded to the privacy of our constituents. I think that needs to be looked at.
I have heard members from the Conservative Party say that they don't use public dollars to somehow fund this kind of system. I'm very interested in knowing how these systems are being paid for and how constituents' information is being used. I know from Ms. Lattanzio on this side that there's a very effective firewall being built around individuals' data, around what's being accessed from the MPs' offices in terms of their constituents' information. Privacy is very important, and I've made that very clear to the staff in my office.
Speaking of wasting taxpayers' dollars, I want to remind the committee and the public watching that I've been here at this committee since day one of the 43rd Parliament, and to my recollection we've completed only two studies: those on WE Charity and Pornhub. It's a public taxpayer-funded fishing expedition. Our WE Charity study and investigation was parallel to an investigation done by an officer of the House. The Integrity Commissioner did an investigation.
As well, I want to point out that this meeting was not scheduled. It's not a regular meeting. It's a special meeting that's been called. We see all the support staff, all the wonderful translators and the clerk here. That's all on taxpayers' dollars. I have to question the efficiency of our committee.
Mr. Barrett, in his debate on the amendment, mentioned that he's quite happy to be in front of the committee and to talk about the practices of his office. I applaud his transparency and, quite honestly, bravery. Sitting in front of a committee and disclosing information, which we all know is to the public, is not an easy thing to do.
I have to point out some quick research.
The company he mentioned, CivicTrack, which he uses, is a software provider that is owned by Momentuum BPO Inc. Its president is Matt Yeatman, who has donated $12,556 to various Conservative EDAs and campaigns between 2008 and 2019.
According to the public record, another software company that he uses, which is online in his expenditure report, is called Softchoice. It is owned by Vince De Palma, who has made multiple $1,000 contributions as donations to the Conservative Party. I think there is merit to the amendment, in that if we're going to make assumptions that a lot of members don't know the rules and their integrity is being questioned, we should open up the questioning so we can improve the process, although, as I've said before, I don't believe that this falls under the mandate of this committee.
That leads to my final point. When I read the original motion, I found that it wasn't typical. Usually I'll see in a motion that we will refer the matter to the House and require a response from the government or require a response from, in this case, the Board of Internal Economy or whatever. We have to have some recommendation in the study; otherwise, what's the point of the study? I have not seen that, which leads me to question the timing of this proposed study.
Repeatedly the Conservative members have talked about being on the eve of an election. I haven't heard that the writ has dropped. What I know is that a motion was passed in the House by all members that we don't want an election until it's safe.
I haven't heard that call. They want to deal with this expeditiously. Do you know what that means to me? They want to pull a fast one. They want to pull a fast one against the Liberal members, on the eve of an election—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
—to gain a partisan advantage. That's what they're doing here.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
As I said, I haven't seen the signal, so I probably haven't hit the eight-minute mark. I'll wrap up soon.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
You know the time. Okay. Thank you, Chair. I appreciate the break.
You know what? That was my final point. What I see here today is the Conservatives trying to create something out of nothing, again on the taxpayers' back. I just want to remind everybody that every minute we spend here is quite a privilege to me, but at the same time I'm very mindful of the supportive work that is required for this committee.
With that, I'll cede the floor. I hear that the Conservative member, Mr. Barrett, is willing to support the amendment and say that we're transparent, that we're clean. I'd be happy to—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were willing to testify in front of the committee and therefore willing to support the amendment.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
You see how sometimes—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm about to wrap up.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
You can see how assumptions can sometimes be misinterpreted. I interpreted it, certainly, as Mr. Barrett being willing to support the amendment.
To all my opposition colleagues, I hope you would consider supporting the amendment. If indeed at this committee we're doing a service to Canadians to make sure that members are performing according to standards, why don't we open it up to all? Why are we focusing only on Liberal members?
I take great offence. In the WE Charity study, you can say that you targeted the Prime Minister, his family, private companies and civil servants. Now with this motion, I think the original intent is to target Liberal MPs—incumbents, in your words—on the eve of an election.
Thank you, Chair.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Did Madame Gaudreau have her...?
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Ms. Gaudreau can have the floor, but I would like to go after her.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
I just want to flag that the interpretation isn't working for Ms. Gaudreau. Perhaps you can—
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, I'd just note that Madame Gaudreau said that she wasn't receiving translation. Perhaps you could repeat yourself so that she can understand what you just said.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
No, I'll say a few words.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you very much, Chair. This is very able quarterbacking with the group we have before us.
We are missing one person here, so in the spirit of invoking the ethics committee in all its glory and so on, I want to quote Mr. Angus, who was interviewed for that Globe and Mail article. I think it will bring a little bit more raison d'être to why we think it's appropriate for this matter to be transferred to the Board of Internal Economy.
Mr. Angus said, when he was asked, that he's not convinced the Liberals are abusing spending rules, which is nice to hear from Mr. Angus, and went on to say, “I am not sure they are using it in a way that would actually contravene rules. It would have to be established that they are turning constituency data over for political purposes. Every political party has a data wing and a constituency wing.”
I think that is the key: the fact that the data itself, as we have learned in other studies, is an important resource. Not only is it an issue whether we use a House device or premises or Hill staff or constituency staff; the fact that the data that is collected in the course of our day-to-day constituency work can be used and turned over to the political party in question for use for election purposes is of deep concern, I think, to any member of this Parliament.
That is why I think Mr. Angus, in his always very insightful way, gets to the heart of the issue. It is that on the one hand, there is the constituency work that we do day to day, the very important contact work and policy work and casework. We all know what we and our staff do every day. That needs to be managed. We each have between 70,000 and 120,000 constituents. I don't know about you, but even though I'm more of a paper person, I need software to handle that work. It's certainly well within the budget of any member to have software, and it makes sense not to have each single member ordering software, because that's expensive. No, you order one software package that works for all members of a group, which in our parliamentary system are caucus groups. That's what we have access to. I'm certainly happy with the service that's provided.
It's a completely different thing when we're talking about election purposes, voter ID purposes, donor purposes and so on. That is precious data, personal data, and we know we deal with people's most personal data when we're talking about immigration files, passports, Revenue Canada and the myriad things we deal with in the course of our constituent duties. That is important, but it should not—never, ever—be mixed with election-purpose data, which is what we do when we're on a campaign, when we're identifying our supporters and we're going out to meet them.
That is the case with our software. We're not so sure it's the case with the privately paid-for software used by the Conservative Party, which is run by Conservative donors with individual links with members and members of the leader's staff.
We have a lot more we can say about that, but in the interest of time I will leave it there and yield the floor to Mr. MacKinnon, I believe.
Thank you.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As the honourable member Mr. Barrett mentioned, I am indeed new to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Unfortunately, the committee is preceded by its reputation, thanks to some of the comments made by members across the way before I joined the committee.
I want to piggyback on what my fellow member Mrs. Shanahan said. She spoke about what the committee's responsibilities were and which body had the authority to examine this issue if need be.
The matter clearly falls under the authority of the Board of Internal Economy. For the benefit of my fellow members, I would like to cite the bylaws.
The Parliament of Canada Act refers to the “exclusive authority” of the Board of Internal Economy, at subsection 52.6(1). I repeat, “exclusive authority”.
52.6 (1) The Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
Obviously, what we have here is an exercise in extreme partisanship and politicking. The member is trying to circumvent the committee's tradition, to say nothing of the best traditions of the House and this institution. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a Conservative opposition hell-bent on disparaging those involved in the public life of their country.
I want to repeat what my fellow members said about our use of the software in question. Formally, unequivocally and in writing, a clear separation exists between our use of software to carry out constituency work and our use of software to perform partisan work, in other words, activities in support of the Liberal Party of Canada.
I did note with interest the very insightful intervention of my friend Mr. Dong, who pointed out that the Conservative Party and Conservative members utilize software that is probably very similar, software furnished by an enterprise.
This is not to minimize their involvement in public life. Supporting public institutions is a good thing, which makes me wonder why Mr. Barrett continues to engage in these activities. Donors of tens of thousands of dollars provide the very software that Mr. Barrett alluded to, that he confirmed and revealed to this committee that he uses in the course of his daily activities. That software is provided by a company called Momentuum, whose CEO has made tens of thousands of dollars of contributions to the Conservative Party of Canada and its various entities.
The president of another provider that is confirmed in Mr. Barrett's proactive disclosure, Softchoice, has been a donor to the Conservative Party of Canada on several occasions, including for the Lisa Raitt leadership campaign. That too has been, I think, pretty easily tracked down.
To take it to its logical extension, Mr. Chair, in this Parliament Mr. Barrett, it must be said, has dug a lot of dry holes. He's like the Death Valley well driller. There has been a lot of activity, Mr. Chair, a lot of moving around, without much being dug up there.
As an ethics critic, I think he has been shown to be—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I think Mr. Barrett has shown himself to be pretty sensitive. I understand that he—having worked so hard and being governed by such personal animus towards this government, its leader and many of its members—would be frustrated that after two years his efforts have yielded so little, but I digress, Mr. Chair.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, I don't know what has occurred to engender such extreme sensitivity on the part of the member. Mr. Brown—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Brown, his predecessor, engaged in no such activity, I would note. Mr. Barrett is, of course—as we all are—free to exercise his prerogatives as a member of Parliament.
Here we are today. Here we are in a committee room on Parliament Hill, meeting on something that I've just pretty clearly outlined is not within the competence or the scope of this committee's lines of inquiry. It's something that, again, has been established pretty clearly as being outside the parameters of what Mr. Barrett should be preoccupied with.
It's also very clearly, Mr. Chair, something that every party does in service of the members of Parliament that it has in Parliament by supplying technologies that equip us, help us and train us to serve our constituents in the most efficient and best manner possible.
As a result, Mr. Chair, I am perplexed as to why there's this mass mobilization of MPs, on an emergency basis, back to Ottawa during the month of July to explore yet another of Mr. Barrett's fantasies driven by his personal animus toward the Prime Minister and toward members of this government. I don't understand that, Mr. Chair. It is not becoming. It does not befit the honourable members of the House of Commons or of this committee to act in such ways.
However, if Mr. Barrett wishes to pursue this line of inquiry, then I think it only fair that we pursue the line of inquiry to its logical conclusion and examine those Conservative donors, who are clearly very wealthy Conservative donors, as shown by their tens of thousands of dollars of contributions to the party. It's only fair that we examine links between them, the software they provide and the possible population of Conservative Party databases.
Madam Shanahan described her experience in trying at all costs to extricate herself from this web, this data trap she's been in for the last 10 years. I think it might befit this committee, in its line of inquiry, to inquire as to how that could possibly occur. It may befit this committee, in its line of inquiry, to ask the leader of Mr. Barrett's party about contracts using parliamentary funds that are let to members of his leadership campaign team, those people who volunteered, presumably, or maybe were compensated, to work on Mr. O'Toole's leadership campaign and now find themselves to be contractors to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition or the Conservative Resource Group, which of course are both entities that are funded with the tax dollars of hard-working Canadians. It may behoove us to look into those ties and those connections, because some of those people provide software consulting services or IT consulting services or the like.
As you know, Mr. Chair, these things get a little fuzzy. As far as we can tell, some people who were engaged in partisan software management—maybe for Mr. O'Toole's leadership campaign, maybe for the Conservative Party of Canada—are now providing IT and database and other consulting services to a public entity, which is the Office of the Leader of the Opposition or the Conservative Research Group. That, of course, may also warrant the prolonged gaze of the members of this committee if we are to be logical and consistent in applying the very rigorous tests that Mr. Barrett has laid out for the members of this committee.
Mr. Chair, I think it's important that we remember all of these facts. It's important we remember that what we're really doing here is indulging Mr. Barrett's personal animus and hatred for the Prime Minister, as well as that of the Conservative Party. We're calling back members of Parliament from all over the country to indulge that—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Clearly, I am happy to keep debating the amendment by my esteemed colleague Mrs. Shanahan.
She gave the committee a very constructive way forward—the only way forward, really—refer the matter to the Board of Internal Economy. If Mr. Barrett likes, I could reread the mandate of the Board of Internal Economy for his benefit. The matter before us today is without a doubt under the exclusive authority of the Board of Internal Economy.
Let me assure the Conservative members who are following Mr. Barrett's lead and helping him carry out his personal agenda: all contracts entered into by Liberal members or by the Liberal Research Bureau are duly approved, in accordance with the rules of the House of Commons and Parliament of Canada. Those contracts are performed in the context Mrs. Shanahan described; in other words, there is a complete and utter separation between the system data we use to carry out constituency work and the data contained in any other system, regardless of who designed it.
I want to conclude by saying that we disapprove of this witch hunt. We disapprove of today's meeting, which was apparently called to fulfill the personal wishes and agenda of Mr. Barrett and his fellow Conservative members. I encourage the members of the other parties not to join Mr. Barrett on his periodic escapades to dig up dirt. He has been trying to do precisely that since the beginning of this Parliament. It reflects poorly on all parliamentarians and on the House of Commons, I might add. Mr. Barrett's relentlessness is not flattering to the institutions of Parliament. I would say that has repeatedly been verified by various commissioners, who are officers of Parliament.
On that note, Mr. Chair, I will yield the floor.
I urge the committee members to support my fellow member's amendment. My hope is that we can put an end to the Conservative Party's latest antics to dig up dirt.
Thank you.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I wasn't planning to speak, but I will. There is a reason why we are meeting today. Obviously, we did not request this meeting. We are here to explain why our committee is not the right place to consider this issue. The committee does not have a mandate to investigate conflict of interest. Other people have already looked into that and into other cases. That work is done by the commissioners, that's their job. When the individuals involved are members of Parliament, it is Parliament's Board of Internal Economy that looks into everything.
That is why I proposed the amendment. Everyone here must recognize the reason why it is the Board of Internal Economy that deals with these matters. Members of all parties sit on the board, and things are done in a confidential manner. From what I have heard, since these meetings are not held in public, the exchanges between members of the various political parties and the MPs involved can be very frank and honest.
We still have the same goal, which is to ensure that our democracy remains based on political parties and groups. We are not in small villages where everyone can represent themselves, far from it. Citizens rely on political parties to represent them. As we know full well, in our system we do not vote for a prime minister but for MPs, each of whom represents a political party. In most cases, voters hope that the leader of the political party of the candidate they voted for will become Prime Minister. I also understand that sometimes the leader makes it very clear that they don't want to take power, but I think they have an interest elsewhere. I do not want to veer too far off topic, but as we know, the leader of the Bloc Québécois was previously involved in politics in Quebec. It is certainly very interesting to make a career in another level of government to then come back to Quebec and perhaps even lead the province. Why not? It's because we are in the public eye, right?
The parliamentary resources that we all use are very important. If they are being used for smear campaigns here and there—and I'm talking about all parties in general—the public needs to know that. Every MP has more than one office and hires three, four or five people to work there. Some may have as many as ten staffers, some working part-time. It is important for people to know what these staffers do. Constituents would not want to find out that employees are being hired for purposes other than the work being done in the riding with respect to federal policy and federal cases. People need to understand exactly what work is being done with their tax dollars.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Actually, I have something else to say about the amendment.
Just to bring the point home—
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
—on the amendment, the Board of Internal Economy is the place to discuss all of this use of Hill resources and parties have a great interest that it be done in the Board of Internal Economy, but you know what? We could do it in public.
Honestly, I have some very interesting things before me that could well be looked at. I hope that Robert Fife is listening, because he might find some interesting things here. We can certainly make them all public.
I think this is the first time you have heard me talk like this, because I'm usually the quiet, unassuming lady who tries to work within the rules and the mandates of the committees. However, in this case, I feel that this exercise exceeds the limits of the committee. Some of the members of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics here seem to think that they can use our committee as a forum to make all kinds of allegations and to summon citizens who are not even part of our political world. They are politically engaged citizens, and they have every right to engage in politics. In fact, we encourage them to do so. On the other hand, there seems to be a perception that this committee serves as a forum or a kind of star chamber, as they have in the United States. I don't think anyone wants to apply that model in Canada.
To put it simply, what could come out of that would be very interesting.
I will close with that. I think we're here precisely to defend parliamentary tradition and procedure and to uphold people's confidence in the political system. The proper place to study this matter is the Board of Internal Economy. If certain members prefer to do this in the public arena, then we will be opening a can of worms, won't we?
With all due respect to my colleagues, I think there are other ways to deal with this issue. That is what concerns us. My amendment outlines the way to do this.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, I listened very attentively to my colleagues, especially Madame Gaudreau. I think I might have a way to bring this to an end that would be satisfactory to Mr. Barrett and other members of this committee.
I was wondering if I could ask the chair for his indulgence for two minutes. It's to have a two-minute pause so that I could pursue this idea to see if there's support among all the parties for a way forward.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
That's very generous of you.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, could we allow the member from the NDP to also return?
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Oh, I see he's back.
Mr. Chair, we have been debating this issue for quite some time now, and I really want to find a way to move forward and resolve this.
I just scribbled down a possible solution. I don't have it in both languages, but, if I may, I will draft it in our two languages. I would just like to outline the gist of it for you.
I would like to hear what all my colleagues from the other parties think of it. If we had consent here, Mrs. Shanahan could withdraw her amendment. We would then get back to Mr. Barrett's motion, to which we would propose amendments.
I would suggest removing from Mr. Barrett's motion all the words after “media reports” up to—
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, I would just like to clarify the reason why we want to withdraw the amendment, to make sure everyone is clear on that.
We want to withdraw the amendment so we can then amend Mr. Barrett's motion. Right now the motion requires that “the committee undertake a study on conflicts of interest relating to taxpayer-funded contracts with Data Sciences Inc; and that the committee do invite Mr. Tom Pitfield to appear”. We want to replace all this wording with other wording that would require the committee to examine how each of the recognized political parties in the House of Commons uses databases in its MP's offices on Parliament Hill and in their ridings, as well as within the party itself. The new wording would also require that the committee invite representatives of each party's research offices to “appear and testify before the committee”. We would keep all the rest of the wording in Mr. Barrett's motion but add that this study would be limited to one committee meeting.
That is then the overall idea. I know that all my colleagues from other parties are consulting or have already consulted their colleagues to see whether they will be supporting this proposal.
Mr. Chair, I think that we have a great opportunity here, if we can reach consensus. We could move on to this proposal right away and, as my colleague, Ms. Gaudreau, said, we could be done by 3 p.m.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. Could we poll the members in the room to find out whether there is unanimous consent to go along with my proposal? After that we could proceed.
If we address this piecemeal, without agreeing on the whole thing, I would not feel too reassured.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, just to continue along that point—and please forgive me for engaging in a debate with you, which is really not my intent—on at least two occasions at this committee we have conducted a sort of straw poll so that everybody knew what we were getting into. Then, in good faith, we went forward on it. That's all I'm seeking, a straw poll, if you would allow it, Mr. Chair, before we move on to the formal approach, which you are quite correct in requiring from the rest of us.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
I agree. I know that people heard it, but they didn't have a chance to report back as to whether or not they could proceed.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
While you were talking, I was able to do just a quick little head-nod poll. There doesn't seem to be consent from my colleagues on that. That straw proposal—my effort to bring this to a close—I'm afraid, seems to have failed. I would withdraw even that proposal to try to come to a consensus.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That is why we have the Board of Internal Economy to consider these issues.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I found Mr. Gourde's speech very interesting.
I wish you had spoken earlier because you clearly explained that this problem that we are discussing today, if there is one, does not seem to be coming from just one party.
All my colleague's amendment is asking is to bring in an entity that will help us to see whether there is a problem not only with regard to the facts presented in your colleague's request but also with regard to the system your party uses. When I say you, I am not talking about you personally. I am talking about CIMS.
The amendment is twofold. First, it asks that the issue be referred to the Board of Internal Economy, which has the mandate necessary to conduct such a study. Second, the amendment asks that we put our cards on the table by allowing other systems to be examined too.
If you are looking for a solution, this one is fair, equitable and transparent.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
We need to look at the wording of the mandate of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. I quoted it earlier, but I would like to read the standing order that talks about the committee's mandate and powers again. I want to take the time to read it for my colleague. The last time I read it in response to my colleague, Mr. Barrett.
Here is what Standing Order 108(3)(h)(vii) says:
(vii) the proposing, promoting, monitoring and assessing of initiatives which relate to access to information and privacy across all sectors of Canadian society and to ethical standards relating to public office holders;
You can therefore see what we are talking about, Mr. Gourde.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
Your colleague is asking that Mr. Pitfield appear before the committee, but he is not a public office holder. That is what we are trying to tell you very clearly.
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
I will continue my speech, if I may, Mr. Gourde.
I heard other people say that one meeting would be enough to resolve everything. That seems to be the sticking point. People think that we will be able to ask the witness questions, study the issue and clear everything up in just one meeting.
Members of this committee are experienced. We know full well that this will take more than one meeting. The request does not even ask us to report our findings to the House of Commons, since it is not sitting.
I am therefore having a really hard time understanding my colleagues at the table who are asking the committee to bring in a single witness in order to get answers. They are saying that, if that person has nothing to hide, then we will be able to quickly deal with the issue. If the other parties have nothing to hide either, then why do they not want us to assess the software programs they are using? Why will they not agree to expand the scope of this study so that everyone is transparent? That is what my colleague's amendment is trying to do, to expand the scope of this study.
Some committee members are telling us that they do not agree with the amendment and that they want to stick with the original motion. For what it is worth, the motion talks about a study that seems very broad at first glance. It does not indicate that the study will be limited to a single meeting where we hear from the witness in question. What is more, the motion seems to allege that there is already a conflict of interest when that is not what we have before us. Some members want to bring in the witness so that they can go on a fishing expedition, as my colleague, Mr. Sorbara so clearly pointed out. They are at it again. It is like a second version of the WE Charity investigation.
All my colleagues are saying that they want to focus on the work they need to do for their constituents and on issues affecting Canadians. Unfortunately, we were summoned, almost urgently, to a meeting in the middle of July about something that has no basis. Obviously, some members want to investigate to see whether there is something to find. What is more, they want to limit the debate. That goes against the principle of transparency that Mr. Carrie was talking about this morning. These members do not want us to look into and study the other software programs. They want to limit the study to this particular software.
You are going to tell me that there is no political motivation behind this and that this is not a witch hunt. I am—
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
I want to understand what you are saying, all of you.
Unfortunately, though, the spirit of the motion speaks for itself.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Actually, mine is a point of order.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
When we originally heard about today's meeting, it was supposed to be from 11 to 1. That's why I am not prepared. I didn't bring lunch, and I don't think any lunch was prepared. I was wondering if we could take a lunch break for half an hour.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
On a point of order, I have more to say too. You could canvass the room and see if we agree to a short lunch break.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Chair.
I understand the desire of my colleague. I think we all thought we were going to get there.
I do want to say that I found Mr. Gourde's intervention very interesting. He was direct and honest about how things worked. This may be news to Canadians.
Some members have said that they want to find solutions. That is exactly what the Board of Internal Economy is designed to do. The issue at hand here has to do with how House resources are used, so it makes complete sense for the discussion we are having today to be brought to the Board of Internal Economy. They're the ones who are in a position to make decisions. Unless there is anyone here from the whips' offices, the Board of Internal Economy is best suited to handle this. The board has representatives from each party, and it is able to have open and honest discussions about the challenges we are all facing and then find a solution.
I don't see how this has anything to do with Mr. Pitfield. Mr. Pitfield's only mistake was to be Justin Trudeau's childhood friend. Does that preclude him from living his life, starting a business, working or even supporting the Liberal Party?
That's why I wondered earlier if people were just compiling a list of anyone who has been friends with the Prime Minister. If that is the goal here, then the same should be done for the leaders of all of the parties. You can see where this is going. This is, quite simply, the very definition of partisanship, and a study is not useful under these circumstances.
We've seen it, Mr. Gourde. Be honest with me, because I'm being honest with you. The committee was fishing for something when it called in witnesses. There was no other reason. These were public servants, young employees and ordinary business owners. Some of the witnesses were apparently business owners who had donated to the Conservative Party but made the mistake of working with a former Liberal member of Parliament who was now running a company that manufactures ventilators to combat COVID‑19.
Where does it all end? Will we have to send all of our volunteers to testify in committee? Will I have to send all of the ladies who make calls for me? I imagine that you also have volunteers. Is every single one of these people going to be questioned about what everything they do? As you and Ms. Lattanzio have pointed out, I don't think Canadians are interested in seeing everything we do.
It is important to support efforts in politics. I know that people don't like election campaigns, but they're part of the democratic process. During an election campaign, we need to talk with voters to share our plan and persuade them to support our position.
We're going to be campaigning soon. You have more experience with this than I do, although I've been through a couple elections. There are highs and lows. When things are going well, it's great and we are happy. It's a different story when things aren't going well. At the end of the day, once the campaigning is over and the candidate has been elected, whether we're talking about a federal member of Parliament, a member of the National Assembly or a mayor, the individual has a duty to work for the people.
You're probably right in saying that the House should equip members for campaigning. This is a necessary discussion, but the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is not going to be creating such a tool.
This is about House resources—
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
—it's up to the Board of Internal Economy and our leaders. That's clear. It's not up to our committee.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
No, it's not up to us.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
I completely disagree.
Right now, we're talking about the amendment.
My colleague, Mr. Fergus, made an interesting proposal. Canadians would like to know how parties operate. They're curious. We're all happy to see that COVID‑19 is getting relatively better. We're no longer looking at a one-dose summer; we're looking at a two-dose one. It would be wonderful to turn the page and move on to something else. That said, I did find Mr. Fergus's proposal interesting. He unfortunately had to leave the meeting, but he proposed that we give Canadians an opportunity to see how political parties operate.
Conflicts and misunderstandings can certainly often arise, especially when it comes to determining the role of a member of Parliament and of a political party. I've seen it. Before I was elected, my riding was represented by a New Democrat. Before him, my riding was represented by a member of the Bloc Québécois, who served two or three terms. During the first weeks and months after my election, in 2015 and 2016, I met with constituents and then—
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
That is true. That is very true.
I just want to say that some people thought that they had to be a New Democrat to talk to the former NDP MP in their riding, that they had to be Bloc supporters to speak to the former Bloc Québécois MP or that they had to be Liberal to talk to me. That's not at all the case. Members of Parliament are there for everyone.
I'm going to switch to English now because this is the information we have, and this is the kind of thing that's a bit like the sausage-making of legislation or the sausage-making of politics. Apparently, someone referred to CIMS, and that's what I have in my amendment, because we want to add the study of the constituent information management system, which Mr. Barrett proudly says is completely paid for by the Conservative Party. But wait a minute: It's not a voter information management database; it's a constituent information management database. The CIMS looks at constituents, paid for by the partisan, political party, but used for the constituents in constituency offices, where that information is and must be kept confidential at all times, as Mr. Gourde so well said.
The overall purpose of CIMS is that it's an integrated voter management and targeting database used by the Conservative Party to target voters and donors, as well as overall campaign management. It's fully funded and managed by the Conservative Party of Canada. As the database is managed outside of Parliament, they use no outright parliamentary resources. However, they use the exact same database, without a firewall, to manage constituent cases.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'd be interested, then, to have that study and to have those contracts tabled so that Mr. Barrett could, indeed, prove that.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
It was widely reported in 2007.
CIMS is used not only to track voter allegiance in a given riding—something every political party attempts—but also a host of other data gathered in the course of an MP's constituency office duties.
But the Conservatives use a single clearing house for all data collection, storage, datamining, mailing lists, voter tracking and any other partisan use such information may serve.
Apparently there was a bit of a snafu there. The prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper, asked the Conservative Party to investigate allegations against embattled MP Eve Adams. She crossed the floor a couple of times.
Some Conservative party members in the riding have complained of Adams's unauthorized use of their personal information contained in the party's CIMS database (Constituency Information Management System)—
This is from the National Post, by the way.
—when she's “a member of Parliament who has no history with them on a personal level and does not represent them in Parliament.”
That's what citizens were already complaining about. They were getting mail from this MP, and I can tell you that I was getting it from a Conservative MP. It had nothing to do with me. That's reported in the National Post.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
It is to the point of why we want to have the study of the CIMS program—not just the CRM program of our party but also the CIMS program—and why we want to have this done by the Board of Internal Economy. That is my amendment.
This has been controversial in the past. In fact, I have far more on that. Maybe a public meeting to discuss this would be the thing to do.
A public meeting is an opportunity to air dirty laundry.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, right?
There was another complaint. The Toronto Star reported it. There was a memo to then prime minister Harper, saying that some incumbent MPs wanted to have “nominations held ASAP, including Rob Anders who believes he can win if we open [the contest] now.”
It says, however, that once a nomination contest begins, an MP or his staff will no longer have access to a party database.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Barrett's very motion references media reports. We are here on the strength of media reports.
Madam Shanahan, my colleague, is giving you media reports.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Chair, if you would permit me to finish my point of order—
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
On a point of order, Mr. Chair, my colleague, Madam Shanahan, is now going through a number of examples of reports of usage of the database of the Conservative Party and its possible misuse as a constituency management tool, and that goes to the very name. I can't think of anything more relevant to the amendment, Mr. Chair.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Chair, I actually have far more to say, but I can save it for another time, because I am moving forward. It was Mr. Gourde who was telling us about the history going back 15 years and how important this kind of—
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Indeed.
As I say, I have more incidents that indeed point to questions that can be asked about the party databases that are being used, apparently with constituent data. It's being turned around and could be used for pre-campaign or campaign purposes. I think these are very legitimate questions that Canadians would have. I personally would prefer to see them dealt with in BOIE, where they can be dealt with, very frankly, so that we don't have all of this partisan theatre that this committee has been subjected to almost from its beginning. That is the amendment we have before us.
I would actually welcome the support of any of my colleagues on this amendment. If they want to offer a subamendment that we can support, then I say we're ready to study this question. Mr. Fergus generously offered something before that would be substantive and that would certainly go a long way to reassuring Canadians that their private data is being handled correctly by political parties and, more importantly, by MPs. This is why we're here in this capacity, to represent our constituents.
As I say, I have far more that I can go into, but I'm happy to save it for another meeting and organize it and put it together, because there are some interesting things from the leadership campaign and data contracts that are going back and forth, and questions about who's a management consultant and who's not, and so on. That's why I offer yet again to opposition colleagues that if they want to study this.... Actually, the more I look at this material the more I think it needs to be studied, so I thank Mr. Barrett and the members who signed the letter bringing this to our attention.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
I think it's something that we're waiting for on the amendment. Let's be open to sending this matter to BOIE if there's an appetite.... I'm looking at my fellow members. I know someone is going to be speaking a bit more fulsomely. I never quite get all the words together for an amendment, or a subamendment, but maybe someone else will have something to add to the discussion.
On that note, Mr. Chair, you can put me back on the speaking list and I'll pull this together.
Thank you.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much, Chair.
I've been listening to the conversations going back and forth. I'm a little disappointed that my colleague MP Fergus's proposal for a solution has not received positive support from the opposite side. I said earlier that when I first saw the notice of meeting, I was saying to myself that if it's about process and procedure, or members' code of conduct, I don't think this committee that we're sitting at right now has the mandate for it or is the most appropriate to look into it. If it's about ethics or a breach of privacy of our constituents, yes, this is the right committee, but I think all members would agree that we should look at the practice of the constituency offices of all members of Parliament.
I appreciate that Mr. Barrett pointed out that he maybe used a different service from other members, but I'm still confused as to how the opposition, collectively or caucus-wise.... Do they use one service? How do they tackle the differences in the different software and remain able to share information to serve their constituents? If it's about privacy protection, then we should be looking at all members' constituency office practices.
Nevertheless, here we are. We're here to discuss the use of NGP VAN and Data Sciences by the Liberal caucus members. As some members pointed out, it was reported on recently. However, again, I want to reiterate that the article spoke about more than just Liberal members' usage of data. I want to share with all the viewers that since day one, our caucus has always strived to have members of Parliament who are serving and accountable to their constituents. With hundreds of thousands of constituents per riding, this is not a simple task. Effectively managing constituency casework, outreach programs and communication is often a complicated task.
We heard from Mr. Gourde that it was more manual in terms of managing constituency casework. I too have had that experience. When I was working as a junior staffer at a local constituency office for a federal member, it was all paper and faxes. Right now, just with the amount, and especially during the pandemic, it's not possible to perform very efficient work for your electors. Having effective data management and technical infrastructure is critical to the work that members of Parliament need to do. In fact—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
It's coming up.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I was speaking for all members. That's why I asked for a break.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair. I do have a bit more to say.
On that point, I wonder if we can canvass the committee members and see if we can take a half-hour break before I go on to finish my remarks.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm not doing that.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I think it's very critical to know that not only on this side do we use digital infrastructure, but also that I hear the Conservative, NDP, Bloc and Green Party members support having large databases to help them to manage their constituency work. We live in a country with 37 million people. I know that the Conservatives are fine with the idea of helping constituents, otherwise they would have recalled this committee for other purposes.
I want to again point out the fact that this meeting is not a regularly scheduled meeting. It's a special meeting called by opposition members based on what was reported in the media. I think it's fair for Canadians to have some concerns on the issues of privacy and the procurement of services for the appropriate use of these resources by parliamentarians to serve their constituents. However, to ensure that we are all able to continue our constituency work in an ethical way that is not an abuse of parliamentary resources is why the service provided by NGP VAN is completely separate from the operations of Liberalist.
We've heard that this is a program used for election purposes. They are completely separate. I understand and respect the rules around the separation of party from parliamentarian, and we still strive to be the best caseworkers for our constituents. The use of NGP VAN also has the advantage of being familiar to many members and staffers in terms of its layout, format and usability.
Thanks to the use of Liberalist in the campaign, many of the incoming staff are familiar with and know how the program functions and works. It kind of helps them to get on with this software that they have become familiar with, but with a completely different set of data. This is very important to stress: There is a fair bit of a firewall or restriction built in to protect the privacy of constituents, which I hold dear to my heart.
Of course, it would be a dereliction of duty if this committee were to ignore the Conservative Party's behaviour on this issue. We're very much aware that Mr. Barrett talked about how his management organization in his constituency office may be different from that of his colleagues, but I would like to remind the committee that in 2007 there was the discovery of gross misuse of the Conservative Party's constituency information management database by the Conservative government. That was an incident in which the Conservative Party of Canada used its constituency database to send voter information straight to its party apparatus, a party that would be fighting an election in the very next year.
To put that in contrast to the meeting that we are having today, the Conservatives—or some of the Conservative members, because I don't like to use big names that tag everybody—are making the accusation that we on this side are using the same company to separately manage constituency work and campaign work, while by contrast the Conservatives, or some Conservatives, decided to use the same companies for constituency work and for campaigning, for election purposes. Canadians who would go to their Conservative or some of the Conservative members of Parliament looking for service—looking for help that is offered by their office, their CO—have their information sent straight to the Conservative Party and its election machine.
This dishonest practice was prominently featured in the media and was also reported on by a former Conservative member of Parliament and Conservative officials in the former Conservative MP Garth Turner's report on this practice when he left the Conservative Party in 2006. He said the party had been using constituency casework that had been collected by a Conservative member of Parliament, and there was lots of evidence to support this allegation of malpractice. In 2006 several individuals made complaints about receiving Rosh Hashanah greetings from then prime minister Stephen Harper, despite not being Jewish.
Later, Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'm making a point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for granting me the same privilege that my colleague, Mr. Barrett, was arbitrarily granted. He can interrupt a member who is in the middle of making a speech to this committee—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes, Mr. Chair.
It really seems to bother Mr. Barrett that Mr. Dong is repeating himself and going on and on with some apparently documented allegations of the inappropriate or questionable use of software by the entire Conservative machine in Parliament. That is why he keeps rising on a point of order to interrupt my colleague's speech.
Mr. Chair, I urge you to let my colleague, Mr. Dong, finish his speech. I'm sure people want to hear the rest of his intervention.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
The link is pretty obvious.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
To me the core essence of the amendment is to show the Conservative members that their service, or their usage, or their decision on a point of service from providers that previously donated to the party is also quite concerning as well. Therefore, I think the essence of the amendment is to invite their service providers. If the motion is set out to correct some bad behaviours, if you will, or some misuse of public funds, I think we should be looking at all members of Parliament.
I previously had the opportunity to share with the committee some numbers, some facts, and how according to a member's report a service provider to Mr. Barrett's office had links with the Conservative Party and had made donations. I have a few more things to share with the committee and the public. I was going to save them for later, but, respectfully, I've heard you, Chair, and you indicated that I should get to the point.
My point is that according to some of this public information, I think there are quite a few reasons why we should also hear from service providers to the Conservative members of Parliament. Gerald Soroka also has a licence contract with Momentuum BPO. We've heard that its leadership is a very generous donor to the Conservative Party—that's quite a reason—at, in 2020, on November 5, a value of $2,200. To Rosemarie Falk from Momentuum BPO Inc.—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I said earlier, in my previous opportunity to speak, that Momentuum has made contributions to the Conservatives.
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are they not a service provider to a Conservative member of Parliament?
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
If we're talking—
View Han Dong Profile
Lib. (ON)
I am not challenging you.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We're only here because Mr. Barrett and his colleagues are alleging that there was a mix-up with the database we use to serve our constituents and the one that the Liberal Party uses for partisan purposes.
Mr. Dong gave a perfect example—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
—that Conservative supporters—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I would note, Mr. Chair, that you are not affording Mr. Dong the latitude—
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
I am indeed, Mr. Chair.
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