Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We're very fortunate to have the opportunity to call upon Mr. Elcock's extensive knowledge here.
I'm interested in the institutional issue of balancing a responsibility to Parliament with operational effectiveness. I have to say that, in terms of balancing conflicting values, I think you have one of the toughest jobs in government.
I also think the issue of parliamentary control is one of the toughest issues for Parliament. The way this was dealt with when SIRC was established, after the McDonald royal commission, was in effect to make Parliament's role indirect. I'll describe what I mean by that.
SIRC was set up following a recommendation of the McDonald royal commission. Then there was a responsibility through the minister, who would then be questioned by members of Parliament in normal processes. But usually the members of Parliament would not be precisely informed on confidential matters, so there was a tenuous reporting relation to Parliament.
It's interesting, when you go back to the McDonald royal commission report, that they did not want SIRC to stand alone. They also recommended a parliamentary committee. They had considered, before recommending a parliamentary committee, a very special parliamentary committee—smaller, perhaps composed of leaders of parties, a joint committee—so that there would be a durability and memory wouldn't be lost.
They also said they had looked at the possibility of a committee of parliamentarians, such as exists roughly in the U.K., that would not expire with the end of every Parliament. The reason for not going that route and for going for a parliamentary committee was interesting. They said that a committee of parliamentarians would “go too far toward detaching this parliamentary committee from Parliament”, which is to say they saw a very active role for Parliament in oversight. That didn't happen 20 years ago.
What I wanted to do today was, first of all, go to the very end of your statement. You always choose your words deliberately. You said, “Twenty years ago a group of parliamentarians tackled the national security environment of the day and they came up with an enduring solution in the CSIS Act”. One question is, should we read that as your recommendation that the status quo, broadly speaking, with regard to reporting relationship should be as it is; in other words, through CSIS, through the minister, rather than through a committee of Parliament?
I then want to proceed, if I can, to how things work now and have worked over your experience. I don't want to get into what was discussed in the cabinet committee on security intelligence, because I know you can't deal with that. But I think you could tell us how often—and let me break this into two categories—before 9/11, in an average year, the cabinet committee on security and intelligence would meet.
Second, typically, would those meetings entail a briefing on a specific issue that arose, or was there an attempt to keep the cabinet committee informed on a quite regular basis of the substantive issues—not simply the procedural issues—that were before the intelligence and security arms of the Government of Canada?