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Results: 401 - 500 of 2195
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
You referenced two or three votes that were held during the period that you were on the BOIE as Speaker.
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:27
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It might have been. I can't remember, but there were some, yes.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Do you recall any vote where it was the government members on one side and the opposition members on the other?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:27
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Where it was an even split like that, yes, there might have been one. I can't remember for sure.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Okay.
Now, as Speaker, you did reference looking for consensus and unanimity. In that kind of situation, even when there are four parties around the table, would you be looking to have some consensus across the aisle, where the government and the opposition, or at least one or two of the opposition parties, are in agreement?
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Okay.
That comes to the issue of majority vote. I know the government members are a bit defensive on this, but we did learn from Madam O'Brien that there had been a recent move to the government basically having a majority vote around the BOIE.
I'm wondering, with that kind of situation, would you feel—
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
That was never said.
I know Peter is trying to defend a position he has, but Madam O'Brien never said there was a move towards majority votes.
Let's keep it clear on the record.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam O'Brien said there was a recent vote; it was a majority vote. It is true that I used the word “move”.
But my point is, and I'll come back to you, Speaker Milliken, if we have a vote where a majority that is just on the government side establishes policy or a decision, do you see that as a precedent that makes it more difficult to establish consensus later on?
Where you have a situation where a majority imposes or decides, then implicitly there is the fact that it could be used in the future. Would you see that as a negative precedent, or an unfortunate precedent?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:29
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No. Something like that can happen, but there's not a majority on the board. The Speaker is the chair, so there's only a possible equal vote among the parties.
The Speaker may have to cast a deciding vote and decide one way or the other, but I don't remember being put in that position. I may have once, but that's the most I could say about it. As I said, I don't remember for sure.
It was very rare—very, very rare.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Yes. But as you said earlier, your job as Speaker is to establish a consensus and to try to have that bridging between the majority—
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:30
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But normally there wasn't an issue like that with the board. It was almost always agreed one way or the other.
If it happened, it was only once in 10 years. It was just exceedingly rare. It was almost always a consensus or a majority, one way or the other.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Speaker Fraser, I'd like to ask the same question to you.
Can you recall a situation? You, as well, were in a number of different situations as Speaker where there was a vote where the government was on one side and the opposition on the other. That was as opposed to, as you mentioned in your testimony, looking for a consensus and having sensitivity for the opposition and the opposition point of view.
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John Fraser
View John Fraser Profile
Hon. John Fraser
2013-11-20 19:31
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Mr. Julian, unless I were able to go back over all of the minutes over a number of years.... I might find a situation like that, but if there had been situations like that, I think I would have a pretty good memory of it. I can't recall any situation in which the discussion at the Board of Internal Economy became so two-sided, if I can put it that way, that there was need for anything except to try to find a way through it.
I'll say this. There were times, of course, when members on both sides, both the opposition and the government side, might start off a discussion in which they seemed to have one position, and that position would be modified as they heard from each other. Of course, it is also the Speaker's task to try to make that happen, but it also happened, at least in my experience, because members around the table, while they might be able to have quite severe differences of opinion on the floor of the House, seemed to find ways to work things out. That doesn't mean they always started off a discussion in complete agreement, because I think that's asking for too much. But they were all there to do the job that had to be done, and as long as the decision didn't so upset one or two people, no matter what side of the House they were on, they would usually concede, “All right, we can live with this.”
There is another problem with this, which I didn't get into in my earlier comments, and that is what do they do when members come along and ask “Well, what exactly did you say in these debates?” The members will later see the minutes or something and see the result of the deliberations. I don't have any particular answer to that. But it seems to me that people, being normal...there was probably some discussion by members of the Board of Internal Economy with some of their own caucus before they came to meetings, and there may have been some discussion afterwards.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 19:34
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Thank you, Speaker Milliken and Speaker Fraser. It's great to see the two of you here.
I have some experience from the Manitoba perspective. I sat on the Legislative Assembly Management Commission, which operates in a similar fashion to the internal board here in Ottawa. When I reflect and I try to understand why it was that we moved in a certain direction in the Province of Manitoba, I can't help but apply some of that here in Ottawa. For example, Canadians as a whole want to see more transparency. They want to see more accountability. The issue of proactive disclosure seems to be talked about a great deal. When you look at the things the Board of Internal Economy does, are there things we can take out of the Board of Internal Economy that might appease the need to be more transparent and accountable?
I'll give you a specific example. We have a commissioner in the Province of Manitoba. It's the commissioner who sets the pay and the pensions for MLAs. The Canadian public, as a whole, don't believe politicians should set their own pay or determine their pensions. Having that independent commission proves to be of value.
The idea of movement toward more public meetings and not to have in camera meetings, may be an issue. Can we set up a subcommittee that deals with highly personal, in camera type topics that do come up but ultimately have to go back to the full committee in order to ultimately be approved?
Can I get each of your thoughts with regard to answering those types of need? Are there some things that we can kind of hybrid away from the Board of Internal Economy, thereby giving more attention to those critical issues?
Speaker Milliken, do you want to start off?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:36
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First of all, the rationale for the board meeting in camera is a very sensible one, in that they're dealing with mostly what I would call personal issues of claims for payment or whatever—that's a big thing for the board to deal with—and then policies for dealing with those things as well, because they do the bylaws and regulations that govern the way members submit claims and how they're processed and all that sort of stuff.
That part isn't secret. The bylaws are all made public. They're all there for people to read, if they want to, and to see what rules govern members and the way they can make claims and how they're to be processed—all that sort of stuff. So I don't see that as a big issue. I know the media try to make it such, but it isn't. It has worked, and we've had very few problems with it over the years I've served in Parliament. To my mind, it's worked remarkably well. I'm not counting the Senate; I'm talking about the House, and that part has worked really well. I think it's because the rules are public. Yes, they're passed in private at meetings, but then they're made public, and so are the minutes of the meetings. So that stuff is not secret in that sense. The record of what has gone on is there.
Now, sure, it's not a detailed record of who said what, but it does have the decisions the board made that are made public. And I think that's important. I'm not disagreeing with that aspect of the way the body functions, but I also think that in making decisions and reviewing complaints or reviewing cases that members have asked to be raised because they feel they were unfairly treated...it's reasonable for that part to be done in secret, behind closed doors. Why should the member make public the fact that he's unhappy with a decision that was made in respect of a claim the member advanced? I don't see why that's an issue. The question is whether the claim was correct or not, and the board will make its decision. Those decisions have been, in my view, well made over the years that I was there. I never heard complaints in the time before I was on the board, as chair, from any of the previous ones either. It was something that just didn't happen.
I feel our system works very well, and I think it's important to bear that in mind. If we had people making false claims or there were a lot of claims that were not well regulated because our regulations were weak or not properly enforced, yes, but that hasn't been an issue, and it isn't an issue, in my view, with the House of Commons. That's why I'm a strong defender of the way our current system works and the way it has functioned. I think it's good, and I think it's served the House very well, it has served the members very well, and it has served the public of Canada very well.
Salaries of members are not an issue the board decides; it's a government issue. The budgets are what set these things, and they are introduced by the Minister of Finance. The recent restrictions on budget increases for members for their salaries were done in the budget, as I understand it. That's my recollection. I don't think the board ever made a decision in respect of MPs' pay. They may have affected their budgets. If the Department of Finance, in its budget that the minister gives in the House, cuts the Board of Internal Economy's budget, you can only imagine where the cuts are going to fall. MPs' salaries are dealt with by the Minister of Finance in the budget, not by the Board of Internal Economy.
The board isn't there just to look after members. It's there to look after the interests of the House of Commons. In my view, it's done a remarkably good job of it. And I'm not saying that because I was the chair; I'm just saying the way it worked, the way the members worked around the table, to me was extremely good.
It was quite non-partisan. One party would say, “Our member is asking for additional payment for this or for that, but we don't support it”, and the others say, “We don't support it either”, and that was the end of it. That's the way the board works, in my view. It's mostly consensus, and it was very effective for that reason.
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John Fraser
View John Fraser Profile
Hon. John Fraser
2013-11-20 19:41
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I'll be very short.
Speaker Milliken, I think, got to the nub of the thing. Salaries and benefits are determined by the government in the budget, not by the Board of Internal Economy. That, however, may not transfer over to the question of expenditures on any particular trip or activity the member might be in. That could lead to discussion.
I agree with Speaker Milliken when he says there are some things that are sensitive enough that, in fairness to a member of Parliament, they should not be dealt with in the public domain.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-20 19:42
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Thank you, Chair.
Speaker Milliken, whom I know best in this whole thing, it seems to me, having sat here through this, that we have people who have a solution for no problem.
When I heard the IPSA people talk about the issues they had that brought forward the IPSA program—which seems to me to fit very closely with the BOIE, other than that IPSA is an independent body—they were all the same things: they hold their meetings in camera, they have their minutes, and so on. But what we found out is that prior to their making those changes, they had a system whereby any expense claim of under £250, or about $400, could be made and was automatically paid without any type of receipt.
Would you agree that such a system does not exist here and that our receipts are scrutinized in a manner that is much more comprehensive than that?
I think that explains why they are where they are, and it probably explains the difference in the two systems.
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:43
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I'm sorry, I don't have enough of the details to answer that question. I don't know whether we demanded receipts or not. I suspect so, but I just don't remember. You'd file a claim, and I don't know what was attached to it; my staff did all that. But I assume they attached receipts or that there was some evidence—a boarding pass or whatever it was. I don't know; I guess they attached that stuff. I'm sorry.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-20 19:43
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—and if the claims were then somehow made public, does that fit the transparency model that you would expect?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:43
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Yes, because the amount that members paid out for travel and all of that stuff was made public.
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:44
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It still is, as I understand it. There's no question about that.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-20 19:44
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My other question would be, when you headed up the BOIE, did you find that MPs were less partisan during in camera meetings than they are in televised meetings like today's?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:44
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Absolutely. That's why I think it's important to keep that work in camera; otherwise we'd have very partisan divisions in the board that would be seriously counterproductive.
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John Fraser
View John Fraser Profile
Hon. John Fraser
2013-11-20 19:44
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You started off, and I was very taken with this, saying that maybe the proposed solution isn't there because there isn't really a problem. Again, I haven't been around there recently; Speaker Milliken has, and we have a new Speaker as well. But I come back to what I said a few minutes ago, and that is that if you're going to change things, you had better know what the problem is that you're going to change.
You also asked whether members were less partisan in private meetings of the Board of Internal Economy. I can't refer to specific meetings, but over a number of years I am convinced that most of the members, most of the time, when they knew they were not in the public eye, treated each other in a courteous and often helpful way. I certainly do not remember any narrow partisan exchanges in all the years I was there. I think I would have, because as Speaker you're sitting in the middle of it.
What would happen if, for instance, tomorrow the media came in to all of the Board of Internal Economy meetings? I think it's inevitable that somebody, sooner or later, would choose to take the opportunity to make some points, and somebody else would take them on, and you'd have a partisan dispute going on. I think that is much less likely in a closed meeting.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Speakers, for your attendance today. This is all very helpful.
Let me say, just by way of a little assistance, that IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the British system that has been set up—this is from our library analyst—in a nutshell has three main roles:
...it regulates the system of costs and expenses, sets MPs’ pay and pensions, and administers and pays MPs’ salaries, business costs, staff salaries and expenses. IPSA is fully independent from Parliament but does respond to written questions from MPs, and publishes all Freedom of Information requests.
As some of us would see it, that's the ideal, the gold standard, and the question is whether we feel we're going to go there or not.
I might just also say that, like some others here, I have sat on a Board of Internal Economy—at Queen's Park, but as you know, the rules there are very consistent with ours and it is similar in the way it functions—so I am very familiar with not only what goes on outside but what happens inside BOIE.
Speaker Milliken, I jotted down that you said the BOIE for the most part did a wonderful job, that it functioned really well, that there were no partisan fights, and that it worked very effectively—things such as that. I certainly wouldn't disagree; I think it has served us well.
But that's the whole point: one of the Speaker's most important roles is to protect the rights of members of Parliament. This is about the issues of the rights of the public, and I would contend that we don't have to prove that the BOIE is broken to justify going to a better system.
Yesterday, the Auditor General told us:
In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the Board of Internal Economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to Members' expenses and entitlements. Regardless of the role of such a body, it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.
And of course our guests from Britain advised us as to the system they had set up and how it works.
Here is my issue. Every party talks about transparency and accountability, but you can't just talk the talk; you have to walk the walk. That's the difficulty with staying where we are right now. The public views this, and rightly so, as part of—to use an expression—“the old boy network”, and you can't blame them for feeling that, when it is us deciding on things about us and for us.
That doesn't necessarily mean that there has been anything wrong. For a long time, the notion was that we'd just have a few good chaps go in and do a good, competent job. Well, good chaps sometimes turn out to be not so good, and competency often is not so competent. Yet there is no accountability, because it's all us; it's all in-house.
The issue I would put to Speaker Milliken, because I quoted you, but certainly to Speaker Fraser, if you wish to comment, is....
And Speaker Fraser, you said that you could be convinced. I would put the question to you: do you really think we need to prove that the BOIE is not working and not functioning and is effectively a failed body, in order to justify going to a better system? If we can show that there's a better system that meets the public needs, and we have something to draw from—a standard, which is Britain's, in the Westminster mother ship.... They went through horrible scandals and came up with this model. We're in the process of changing everything, and we have a motion on the floor that says we should look at that model. I'm just asking, do we really have to prove that BOIE is broken before we can justify going to something that meets the current, modern era and public needs of accountability and transparency?
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 19:50
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Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I sympathize, because that happened to me the other day, so I know how it feels. But unfortunately, it's my opportunity now, and I appreciate that.
I want to go back to Speaker Milliken and some of the comments you were making earlier. You were talking about there having been a number of cases—and I can't remember the number you said, but it wasn't a large number—in which you had to look at a member's expense claim when they were questioning the decision that had been made about their expenses.
How often did that occur? Would it be something that—
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:51
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I couldn't tell you. I don't remember. It happened from time to time—
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:51
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—but how often, I couldn't—
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:52
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Yes, a couple of times a year.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 19:53
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Something in that neighbourhood? Maybe a few times a year.
Maybe I'll ask Mr. Fraser if he recalls during his time as well. Can you give us some examples, obviously without giving personal information or people's names, of what type of thing that would have been? Would it generally have been something where they just weren't able to provide documentation, or was it something where there was a rule that was in place and maybe in an instance where the rule itself just didn't make common sense in the situation?
I know I can think of one, and I don't think it went to the Board of Internal Economy for me, where there was a snowstorm. I think it's 100 kilometres to be able to claim a hotel room in your riding and I was 88 kilometres from home and in a terrible snowstorm. I would have been leaving there at 10 p.m. and having to be back there at 7 a.m. the next day in the same community, so I was able to have an exception made. It was actually a cheaper thing to do, the hotel room, than the mileage anyway.
Was it more something like that, where common sense kind of dictated that the rule needed to be bent in that case, or was it lack of documentation? What would it have been?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:53
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I suspect it was things like that. I'm sorry, I just don't remember. It was usually something where there was some excessive expenditure or something had been incurred that wasn't allowed under the existing rules and they had been disallowed and they appealed.
Usually we backed the decision that was made by the employee of the board who had reviewed the thing for the reasons that were given in that, but occasionally there might have been an exception. I'm sorry, I just don't remember the cases.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 19:53
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Sure.
Speaker Fraser, basically the same two questions: how often did you see those kinds of things come forward, and can you give us any examples, or maybe just even a broad generalization of what types of things they may have been that would have come before you in terms of members looking at their expenses and questioning the decision that was made by the staff of the board?
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John Fraser
View John Fraser Profile
Hon. John Fraser
2013-11-20 19:53
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It's getting to be a long time ago, but I don't remember that being a big issue at all.
I just wanted to say something to Mr. Christopherson. When I said that there's an old saying that you don't look for a new solution unless you've seen the problem, I don't want him or any of you to think that I don't think there's any room for improvement. I think there could be.
What I've raised is how are you going to do it, and to what degree are you going to change the responsibility of the Speaker and of those members who would have been on the Board of Internal Economy? For instance, if you had an independent committee to check all expenditures of members of Parliament, and that is what they did and nothing else, that might work. But when you get into the whole question of whether or not you think the Board of Internal Economy ought to support the plans of the public service department in its renditions of new buildings or in accommodation adjustment and that sort of thing, you don't need an independent committee to do that.
So there may be some things that an independent commission could do that would meet the very things that Mr. Christopherson was talking about, and that is that the public gets more upset about the misuse of public money than about many other things. If that would solve it, then perhaps the committee on which you're all working could come up with a solution.
My point is that you don't start coming up with a whole new commission to take over everything that has already been done unless you can point at the problem. In fairness to Mr. Christopherson, he did point out a specific problem. I think that might be something that could be done.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fraser, I would like to remind you of your last years as chair of the Board of Internal Economy, from 1993 to 1994. At that time, the Conservative Party and the NDP were not yet recognized. They had two and nine MPs, respectively. They certainly were not on the BOIE. Do you remember the two parties complaining about not being on the BOIE and not being sufficiently informed about what was being discussed there?
I'm going to relate a short anecdote about what we experienced on our side. I had no problems in the first seven years I was an MP because our party was represented on the Board of Internal Economy. But in 2011, when the board looked into a matter involving the Bloc Québécois, I asked to attend the meetings as an observer, but my request was denied.
For the sake of greater representation of all members of the House, when it comes to their own political party or, at the very least, when some files affect them, meaning almost all of them, should space not be made for MPs who are members of a party that is not recognized or who sit as independents?
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John Fraser
View John Fraser Profile
Hon. John Fraser
2013-11-20 19:57
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First of all, I don't remember the circumstances to which you refer. That doesn't mean they didn't happen.
Your specific question has to do with what happens to those members of a party who don't meet one of the rules in the House of Commons on how many people have to be there before they are recognized as a party. For instance, Elizabeth May is all by herself. That's just an example.
I don't in principle have any particular objection to finding some way to accommodate that situation, but I'm not going to try to give you, this afternoon, the exact way of doing it.
I was very conscious, as Speaker, of the Bloc especially, because there was a good number of you, as you will remember. I know that one of the things that concerned me at the time was that we had to make sure that members of the Bloc got an appropriate amount of time to ask questions and to take part in the discussions in the House.
In principle, that could probably be carried over to the Board of Internal Economy as well.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
When Ms. O'Brien was here, she said that the board was able to adapt to changing needs. Do you remember the main changes that took place in the 10 years you were chair of the Board of Internal Economy, particularly with respect to transparency? What changed the most from your first to your last year as chair of the board?
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 19:59
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I don't know that there were many changes. Perhaps more regulations were made public, but I think it was already that way when I started my mandate as Speaker of the House. Perhaps more documents were published, but I don't know if that's true, I don't know the details.
Meeting-related documents were published after the meetings were held. It was the same when Mr. Fraser was chair of the BOIE.
I think that's all. I don't think there were many procedural changes or changes in Board of Internal Economy publications during my term.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:00
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Speaker, I'm going to ask you the same question as my colleague, I'd like to make a comment first.
You spoke at length about minutes, which were public. In your opinion, BOIE minutes are no different than the minutes of most companies, insofar as they do not say much. With regard to transparency, independence and the impression of the public and of journalists, that adds to the current mistrust.
The Auditor General said in his presentation that he was very much in favour of creating an independent body. He felt that such a body would help show that there is some openness and help dispel this mistrust or this impression that as MPs, we are both judge and jury. I would like your opinion on that.
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 20:01
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I think it's unbelievable that he suggested something like that. According to his report on our figures and other things like that, everything is completely in order. He doesn't think our activities pose a problem.
Another Auditor General looked into the accounts of the Board of Internal Economy over a number of years. The Auditor General does this review every 10 years or something like that. I don't know all the details. The figures did not pose any problems. They were organized and presented well.
The public does not have a problem with what the House is doing. The press might have raised this issue because it thought that if there were problems elsewhere, there might also be problems in the House of Commons. But there are not, and the Auditor General proved it.
In my opinion, I don't think decisions on the issues reviewed by the Board of Internal Economy need to be made differently. The board has done its job very well, and its decisions are fair and comply with the legislation and its own regulations. MPs do not submit many unacceptable claims, according to the board-adopted regulations. There are currently no complaints about these regulations.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:03
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Mr. Milliken, we sort of had the impression that the Auditor General saw his capacity to investigate and conduct audits as fairly limited. Since he is the one saying that, it carries a little more weight than what journalists say.
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Peter Milliken
View Peter Milliken Profile
Hon. Peter Milliken
2013-11-20 20:03
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Yes, but the auditor asked to do audits more than once every few years. There is another auditor who does audits every year, and his decisions are acceptable, too. There was no indication of any problems. So, what is the problem here?
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
We'll start back up.
Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, thank you for joining us today. Do you have some opening comments? Tell us about your role, and then we'll ask you a bunch of hard questions.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:07
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Thanks. I'm not a former Speaker of the House, and you get me for a whole hour.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:07
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Nevertheless, thanks to the committee members for inviting the CAJ to express our views.
Briefly, as some background on our organization, we are Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing approximately 600 members across the country. We have two primary roles, one to provide high-quality professional development to our members and the second is public interest advocacy, which I guess is why we are here today.
As you know, we are here to provide our organization's perspective and a working journalist's perspective—I am a working journalist; I work for Maclean's—on your study of the Board of Internal Economy.
In my remarks today I really have two themes. The first is parliamentarians' responsibility to be transparent and the second is journalists' responsibility to report in the public interest.
Today I won't provide you with specific recommendations related to the particular composition of any re-imagined Board of Internal Economy. That's not my expertise. But I will emphasize the value of a more transparent board to the public—of course, the public being the citizens who ultimately hold politicians to account.
There are two caveats to my remarks today. The first is that we ought to recognize the steps the board has taken over the years to enhance transparency and improve it. When the Clerk of the House, Audrey O'Brien, testified at this committee earlier this month, she outlined the many steps the board has taken in a good direction: the board's website is more robust than ever; meeting minutes are posted online, and I believe more quickly than they had been before; and members' expenditure reports that are online do outline in some detail how parliamentarians spend their budgets.
The second caveat is that we are sensitive to concerns that matters normally reserved for in camera debate ought to stay behind closed doors. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for in camera sessions, as members of this standing committee or any standing committee know and are well aware of. Neither of those caveats, however, suggest that the board cannot and should not be more open, in our view. We think openness should be the rule, not the exception.
In her testimony, Ms. O'Brien suggested that the benefits of public meetings would be mostly illusory. She said, “I don't think, if the meetings of the board were to be held in public, this would improve the situation. It might improve the perception of the board.” And she added that meetings conducted with open doors would “drive the actual discussion underground” because parliamentarians would be loath to discuss matters candidly and with less overt partisanship.
We are absolutely understanding of those concerns, but, frankly, we don't think that is sufficient reason to close the doors on the board's meetings. If the tenor of debate around the table changes for the worse and is taken safely underground, as she put it, in our opinion that's a failing of MPs that they need to address among themselves. The public shouldn't be barred from meetings because parliamentarians need closed doors to get things done and to get along.
Ms. O'Brien also said that the committee's deliberations are “of mind-numbing ordinariness”, and former law clerk Rob Walsh, testifying at the committee on November 7, said the meetings are “boring as hell”. Interesting as that may be as a comment, the entertainment value of board meetings is really of no importance to journalists, nor the broader public. I have no reason to question Ms. O'Brien's or Mr. Walsh's words, but our job is to witness events and speak truth to power, not to take people of influence at their word and eventually read fairly sparse meeting minutes whenever they are posted online.
The public knows precious little of what happens at board meetings. They know nothing at all about when or where the board will meet. They only know that meetings occur “approximately every second week when the House is sitting”. Approximation is not precision, which I think the public should expect.
Mr. Walsh made several recommendations to this committee. He suggested that board meetings “be held in public with its agendas made public the day before, subject to the usual limitations for privacy”, and further he mused that the board could establish subcommittees that would meet privately and present reports publicly at public meetings. That sounds to us like a step in the right direction.
The committee has asked previous witnesses about the board's treatment of proactive disclosure, namely, whether or not there is enough public disclosure of MP spending. I don't have time during this statement to address that point fully, but I will say that greater and more specific disclosure would help journalists better understand how public money is spent. Not every expensed item, of course, is a matter of public concern, but we'd like the public to make that decision on their own.
In closing, we understand how far the board has come, but anything short of open meetings means the public is effectively cut out of a forum that administers over $400 million of public money each year, and we support open doors to allow us to scrutinize that administration.
Thank you again for inviting me.
I'm happy to take any questions you have, which as you can probably understand is kind of a bizarre thing for a journalist to say to a room full of politicians.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, for being here.
I'm assuming the reason you're requesting more transparency is because we're talking about taxpayer dollars. You wouldn't be asking for the same level of transparency, say, for a private sector company.
Am I correct in saying that?
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Okay. I have a couple of questions along that line.
Number one, I will refer to some of Mr. Christopherson's comments when the Speakers were both here. He pointed to IPSA—and I hope I'm not mischaracterizing David's comments—as perhaps a better system. He stated that the public really shouldn't accept, or doesn't accept, MPs governing themselves and setting their own rules when it comes to pay and benefits.
From a transparency standpoint, which is your main concern, IPSA told us that they started having their meetings in public but then quickly went to in camera. That's how they do all their meetings now, and they listed several good reasons for that.
Madam O'Brien and both Speakers Milliken and Fraser said that in camera would be better as well, because there's a more frank, open, and frankly more productive discussion. Your point was that they can still do that in public because if partisanship came into the situation it would be the fault of the MPs.
I think what we're trying to do here is to make sure that taxpayers' dollars are treated respectfully and properly. I'm not sure, given the fact that all decisions are made public, that the rules and bylaws concerning spending of MPs are public, and that all of the decisions, as I said before, are made public, how having meetings made public would enhance the benefit to the public. Given the fact that there could be problems about partisanship, because that's just the environment we're in—shame on us perhaps, but that's the environment we live in—I don't see how transparency and the benefit to the public would be enhanced.
I'd like a comment on that.
Secondly, and on a separate issue, if it's the fact that you're more concerned about transparency because of taxpayers' dollars, would you be advocating for all crown corporations to have all of their meetings in public as well? We're still talking about taxpayers' dollars there.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:15
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Sure.
On the first question, I would return to the notion that openness should be the rule, not the exception. If a meeting quickly goes in camera for legitimate reasons, then a meeting goes in camera for legitimate reasons. If it doesn't come out of the in camera session until the committee decides to adjourn the meeting, then so be it. But I think it should be coming at it from the standard that everyone is allowed in until there's a legitimate reason to remove people who shouldn't be in the room.
On the second question, I'm not sure I have an answer that would give much respect to the question. Off the top of my head I'd be guessing, so I don't know if I can address the crown corporation question.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Again, I go back to how the public's interest would be better served by having meetings in public. As both Speakers stated, as did Madam O'Brien, all of the rules and bylaws governing spending of parliamentarians are already public. The board has to adhere to those rules and bylaws. The decisions made by the board, which govern any requests or claims or any financial information, are published.
Are you suggesting that somehow the public would be better served if the meetings were made public and journalists and others could observe if the results were the same as they would be at an in camera meeting? You were saying that gives them more confidence that everything is on the up and up.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:17
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I think confidence is an issue for sure.
You took the words out of my mouth in your last sentence.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
But here's where I have a problem. When I say “problem”, I don't think there's a problem now with how the BOIE has been operating. It's certainly moving to greater transparency, and I think that's a good thing. I really do.
Madam O'Brien outlined many of the steps they're doing. In other words, rather than lumping a number of categories together and getting a final total, they're breaking it down individually. At least two of the three parties have gone to voluntary disclosure of their MP expenses as well. Third, as you've heard, the BOIE doesn't set salaries or pensions. That's set arbitrarily. They're basically talking about the financial administration of the House—which, as Audrey O'Brien said, can get pretty boring—and MP expenses.
Would your main concern be on getting more transparency in terms of the expenses to members of Parliament, the elected officials, or do you think the public is truly concerned about all of what I would perhaps incorrectly call the minutiae of the financial administration of the House?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:18
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I think the answer is both. Whether or not it's the minutiae of the House or whether or not it would be boring as hell, or whether or not it would be mind-numbing, I just think the notion is that the public should, as its starting point, be able to listen to those things or hear those things.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
So you think it's important that the public knows how they got to the decision rather than just the decision, even if all rules and bylaws were....
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:18
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Absolutely. As it stands, the public can read the minutes, as sparse as they may be, and see those decisions. You'd think it would be useful if they could hear the deliberations.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Would it be helpful if more detailed...I wouldn't say transcripts of all discussions, but if more detailed minutes were provided? For example, you know as well as I do that you only have so many column inches, and I would find it very difficult to believe that even if the meetings were made public there would be almost a verbatim transcript of all of the discussions that went on. There would be some editorializing, I'm sure. There would be some compactness of reporting. So I'm really not sure we would get to the point where the public would be better informed just by hearing how individuals perhaps got to a consensus, and then the decision, than they are better served now by just seeing what the decision is.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, for being here today.
I just wanted to mention the good work of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Recently the Canadian Association of Journalists granted the Code of Silence Award to the Conservative government, and I want to quote association president Hugo Rodrigues, who said that the Harper government was the overwhelming choice of the CAJ's 600 members across the country. He said, “The death grip on information has long frustrated journalists in this country, but it may now be reaching a point where the public at large is not only empathetic, but shares it.”
I'm going to ask a series of questions. The first is, do you feel that the public has a greater and greater concern about the secrecy of the current government and, by extension, of course, the secrecy around the Board of Internal Economy decisions?
Secondly, we now have on the other side, on the side of good, the Auditor General, who this week said very clearly that his preference was that there be an independent body “given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements”. He said, “...it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.”
You have two examples, of course. The Code of Silence Award is on one side. On the other side, you have the Auditor General very clearly expressing his preference for an independent body.
Very specifically, then, do you think the public shares that increasing concern around secrecy, whether it's the general government direction or MPs' expenses? And do you not feel it would be important to have independent oversight, like the Auditor General has so clearly stated as his preference?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:21
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I'm not sure I can say something like the public is more concerned now than ever about transparency. I think the public has always been concerned about transparency. There are issues with every government. Right now there are issues this current government is facing that people like me are reporting.
So there's a sense, because people have generally short memories...no offence to human beings, but we sort of do. Right now the Harper government, in some people's eyes, is an object of concern, and is the worst ever, or something, but I wouldn't feel comfortable confirming that myself.
I think independent oversight is never a bad thing.
Perhaps you could repeat that question.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
The Auditor General said it's important that Canadians are confident that the membership of the oversight body be independent and the members are chosen in a non-partisan manner. He gave two options, but we questioned him, and he said his preference was to have independent oversight. This is a body given responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlement—so no more self-policing. What would be established is an independent body, the Auditor General having enormous credibility with the public in this regard. I think that's something this committee obviously will have to follow very strictly.
Do you not feel that is the type of approach that needs to be taken for credibility?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:23
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I'd rather not comment on whether or not an independent body or independent oversight is more or less appropriate. That's not really my expertise either.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:23
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I'm a journalist who doesn't like to take opinions, I guess, but I would say if there is a forum or an approach to that forum that allows for comfortable non-partisanship, if we can call it that, where people are comfortable not being partisan, then that's the kind of thing a journalist would love to see, because it would mean if it leads to an open meeting, we could attend that meeting.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Absolutely.
Can you spell out to us what measures you feel would enhance accessibility to MPs' expenses, so we're establishing that public trust and confidence the Auditor General has very clearly stated needs to happen?
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Measures that enhance accessibility to MPs' expenses. We talked about independent oversight, of course, but what about other measures that you think would enhance that accessibility to MPs' expenses?
I'll give you an example. Every one of our members of the NDP caucus has a direct link from our website that people access locally, because that's the website they get in their materials, their community bulletins, ten percenters, neighbourhood bulletins, so they can go on to directly access MPs' expenses. We've been pushing, of course, at a variety of levels to enhance the transparency and accessibility of expenses.
Are there other measures that you think need to be taken?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:24
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The members' expenditure reports currently online I think are useful. Obviously, there is a certain level of detail there that either me writing a story or my neighbour who is curious about their MP can access. I think the more detailed it is, the better.
There's some criticism or concern about disclosing too much—for example, disclosing a pack of gum that's been expensed. That can lead to embarrassing stories that are characterized as “gotcha” journalism. To be fair, I think there are unfair stories that can be written about things that are expensed.
Again, I would repeat my original statement that I think the public is the judge of how much disclosure is too much.
I think the answer to your question is that in an online form, as much disclosure as possible of MPs' expenses is ideal.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
When we talk about accessibility, so that the public can actually access it.... I've been posting my expenses for seven years. Constituents in Burnaby—New Westminster, as in all the 100-odd ridings of the NDP, can go directly on their MP's website and access the expenses. We've been pushing for more transparency, and doing it in a way that we're not comparing apples to oranges or having selective partial disclosure, but having expenses that everyone can access and that people can compare.
From a constituent standpoint, I know that every year as expenses come out, my constituents ask me questions. We're pushing now for quarterly reports, and that's going to start happening early in the new year, which is good. Those are all issues around accessibility that are important.
My question then is, that type of accessibility, going beyond journalists, actually allowing constituents to access those expenses, is fundamentally important, is it not?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:26
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Sure it is. Absolutely. Something being easily—
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:26
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I find it very interesting, the NDP pushing for more transparency and accountability. I hadn't witnessed that first-hand when we asked for the New Democrats to participate in proactive disclosure. I'll continue to hold my breath. Maybe that might be one of the first things on the agenda, whatever that new body might be, because of the hesitation and reluctance of the NDP to get involved in more proactive disclosure.
I do have a few specific questions I would like to ask.
Do you think it would be in the public's best interest if we actually had performance audits conducted on a regular basis? By regular, I mean every three years we would actually have performance audits conducted on MPs and how they're spending the money, done by the Auditor General.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:27
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What about the idea that we look at the Auditor General looking at ways in which they can provide more detailed audits on how those tax dollars are being spent? Is that something else you would support?
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:28
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I understand you make reference to the rule versus the exception. There is this other independent body, IPSA, on the other side of the ocean. In your opinion, is there a difference if it's IPSA in camera versus the current system in camera?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:28
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I'm not overly familiar with the IPSA system.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:28
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But in principle, if we change the system so that it's not a group of individuals on the Hill going in camera, it's some other group that does its meetings in camera, are they both problematic in your opinion?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:28
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I think they are both problematic. If their approach is to go in camera first by default, using basically the same set of rules, then I'm not sure it matters who's behind those doors. The point is that the public is not welcome.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:29
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What about the idea that we virtually put it into law that the Board of Internal Economy has to meet in public, with some possible exceptions—there might be issues related to security or staff responsibilities, but with odd exceptions—and maybe even require unanimous consent of all the members?
How would you respond to that?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:29
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That makes sense. That sounds like what Mr. Walsh was suggesting to the committee: having two subcommittees, I believe it was for finance and for administration. They could then deliberate outside of those doors and come back.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:29
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But what we would be seeing here is that the Board of Internal Economy would be meeting in public. It would always be open to the public to participate. What Mr. Walsh was referring to, and I'm definitely open to the idea with respect to the Board of Internal Economy, is that it meet in public, almost without exception. It would almost be the law of the land that it would be meeting in public.
But then Mr. Walsh brings in a new idea: that we might establish a subcommittee. That subcommittee might deal with those issues it had to deal with—examples might be security or personnel issues—but then would report back to the Board of Internal Economy or whatever that other group might be, and the discussion would continue before it could be ultimately passed or accepted, but it would occur in public.
What do you think of that?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:30
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That makes sense to me. If you have conversations that are going to be in camera anyway at the subcommittee level, then let it happen. Then to bring those to a public forum, or rather a publicly accessible committee, makes total sense.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:31
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I'm not sure how long you've been a journalist. One issue for me for many years, and I've raised it with Speaker Milliken, is the issue of pay and pensions. There's the expectation or public perception that politicians should not be directly or indirectly setting their pay and pension.
In Manitoba they have established a commission. Do you have any thoughts regarding that issue, or could you provide some thoughts on it?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:31
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I'm not sure I can comment on behalf of the CAJ about the direction of pay and subsidies.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:32
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Do you feel it is appropriate that money, whether it's the Minister of Finance or the Board of Internal Economy involved, be shuffled between the two of them? Is this something that's appropriate at this level, or should it be done independently—much as occurs in the case of Elections Canada with the boundaries redistribution, for example?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:32
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As my personal opinion, I'm not sure there's a public outcry right now about how politicians set their salaries. Every time a legislative chamber increases salaries, of course, it is a news story for a few days, but I'm not sure there's any public movement to change that system.
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