Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-11 which has a long-standing history in this place.
A former colleague, Mr. John Bryden, was very instrumental in getting this process started. It actually goes back to the creation of the government operations committee and the time when George Radwanski was the Privacy Commissioner. That was the first instance when a whistleblower came before parliamentarians under the protection of the committee. The person who came forward with information told the committee that he or she would appear only if the meeting was in camera and only if he or she could be there with a lawyer. That event in a prior Parliament was most significant in terms of being the catalyst in bringing forward whistleblower legislation such as Bill C-11.
If we were to identify one specific reason why employees in the public service were reluctant to come forward, it was the fear of reprisals. It really has to do with the issue of anonymity. It really has to do with people who want to discharge their responsibilities within the public service in a way which is in the best interests of all Canadians.
The genesis was there. In the last Parliament a subcommittee of government operations looked at this matter. The member for Ottawa West and the member for Laval East were the co-chairs of the committee. From that subcommittee came the principles which we were hoping to see in the first bill on whistleblower protection. In the last Parliament Bill C-25 was sponsored by a minister other than the minister who is currently sponsoring Bill C-11. We debated the bill but it died on the order paper as a consequence of the election call.
Bill C-25 of the day came on the heels of another bill, a bill which was also numbered Bill C-25 in the prior session, which was on public service renewal. It was a massive overhaul. I think it was the first in some 20 years. There were still many issues.
We have just dealt with 47 report stage motions, all sponsored by the President of the Treasury Board. They all had to do with one thing which was how to change the bill that parliamentarians saw at first reading so that the person who was responsible for the whistleblower protection act was changed from the president of the Public Service Commission to an independent commissioner who would report to Parliament.
If members looked at the bill which was referred back from the committee, they would still see in the bill reference to the president of the Public Service Commission. The bill was sent to committee after first reading. This is very significant and shows that the commitment of all parliamentarians and certainly the government to having a good bill was so enormous and important that the committee did not have the authority to make it itself.
It took a change in the direction and the approvals of cabinet. It was a question of having a new officer of Parliament equivalent to the access to information officer, the Privacy Commissioner and the Auditor General. The committee felt it was very important, not because the members on the committee thought that this should be done; all of this came about as a consequence of the Radwanski hearings and the witnesses that the committee heard.
We heard time and time again that the anonymity issue was the stopper. The concern was that if employees were to say something, would they in some way be faced with a reprisal and their careers put in jeopardy? Do we have to relegate people who want to bring information forward to delivering plain brown wrappers or envelopes to parliamentarians to try to do something?
Under the Criminal Code, it is the obligation of every party who becomes knowledgeable of a criminal act to bring forward and report that act. However, members will see that is not mentioned in the bill, but it is. It is covered in the oath of office that all public servants take.
I use the term “public service” very generally. People may think that means the bureaucrats. Let us look at the bill very carefully. We now have a new definition of who, under this umbrella, would be covered by it. Every crown corporation is now included under that umbrella for the purposes of this bill, even though they are not public servants as we would understand it in our local jargon. It means every organization, agency, crown corporation, department, name it, the people who deliver those services in those departments and companies now have the protection of the act once it is passed. That is extremely significant.
There are a couple of exceptions such as the military, CSIS and the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee, I believe. The committee understood that within those groups there were administrative personnel who probably should have protection, et cetera. However, it was also important to understand that in this very narrow band of interests, being the military, national security and security interests, there already was a code of conduct and provisions whereby these matters could be dealt with.
Notwithstanding that, it also should be understood that even suppliers to the government would have access to go to the public sector integrity commissioner to bring forward information. The public at large, if they want, probably could do that too. There is no prohibition on information going to this officer. However, it is extremely important to understand that the new officer would have to be recommended for appointment by the government and scrutinized by parliamentarians before the appointment. After that time, this person, just like we have the powers of the Auditor General as a parallel, would have full authority and jurisdiction to make decisions, and that means the officer's decision would be the final one.
It is also important to understand that we are not talking about everybody's complaint. This is not to be the complaint department. The essence of the bill is to provide protection for whistleblowers. However, it also has to provide an orderly mechanism for this to happen.
There was concern about what would happen if we set up a separate commission and all of a sudden a wave of complaints came forward that could swamp the commissioner. The important thing for people to understand is what the area of interest is with regard to whistleblowing in this act. It is included under clause 8. For the purposes of this act, these wrongdoings would have to do with breaking some law of Canada, putting employees at risk or gross mismanagement. We are talking about the kinds of things that we experienced with the former privacy commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, where there were very serious problems. His whole department was terribly dysfunctional. There was gross mismanagement.
This is not a human resources body for employees who think they did not get a promotion they were entitled to or who think the employer had it in for them, and therefore they can go to the new commissioner thinking the he or she will take care of it. The commissioner will say that this is a human resources concern. There are mechanisms to deal with human resources issues throughout all government departments, agencies and crown corporations.
I have listened to all the debate. At the outset, the opposition has done a good job of its principal responsibility, and that is to deliver blows that would tenderize a turtle. Members of the opposition have to be as critical as possible and as selective as possible with information in order to bring up their point. They have done a good job of that. However, there is a fine line when someone takes information either out of context or do not provide it in all its glorious detail.
In most of the speeches provided to those members to read, reference has been made to the amendment to the Access to Information Act in clause 55 of the bill. This has basically been referred to by those members as the cover up clause. This provision, which was formerly a 20 year protection on disclosure of information, was amended down to 5 years in committee. The opposition has said that the government wants to have this in the bill so it can cover things up.
If they look at clause 55 in the bill, they would see it says that if the record came into existence less than five years before a request for information was made, the head of a government institution, and that is any of the various departments, agencies, crown corporations that are covered under this, including the RCMP, can refuse to release the information, “if the information identifies, or could reasonably be expected to lead to the identification of, a public servant who made a disclosure under that Act or who cooperated in an investigation under that Act”.
That is a bit different than what the members have been representing. I understand that it is very easy to take that little leap. They have to understand that clause 55, the consequential amendment to the Access to Information Act, is extremely important. The essence and the fundamental underpinning of the bill is to protect the identity of the whistleblower. That anonymity allowed the person to come forward in the Radwanski case. That individual came forward as long as they were provided with in camera proceedings and a lawyer.
There has to be some restriction on investigation notes and information relating to a whistleblower's statement or documents corroborating their statements so there can be less chance of reprisal against the person. We want to protect whistleblowers. We want to protect those who come forward in good faith to provide information which may identify a real wrongdoing as defined in the bill. The new commissioner has all the powers of investigation and resources available to do the job properly. Although those members like to talk fast and loose, clause 55 is extremely important.
I should remind members as well that when the Auditor General does an investigation, the information collected is protected for 20 years. It was set up that way to make absolutely sure that any information that came out could not somehow go back on the person who directly or indirectly was responsible for having that information come out.
Members have said that if we want to make the legislation better, we have to get rid of this clause. When it is put in the context of protecting the whistleblower, those members will not vote against it.
Another item that was raised with regard to the government by order in council possibly could eliminate a crown corporation for example, or anybody on schedule 1, which is the list of organizations covered by Bill C-11. Everybody is under this except the military, CSIS and the SIRC.
We have to think about this. I think Patrick Watson said that we should privatize the CBC, that we should put it out to tender. If we did that, we would save lots of money. What would happen if the CBC no longer was a crown corporation? What would happen if it were sold off like Petro-Canada to a private supplier? I think we probably should amend the bill in schedule 1 to delete the CBC from the list. Why would we do that? Because the CBC no longer would be a crown corporation. There could be a consolidation, or a name change or something else. What if we had a new crown corporation? Would we want it to be under this umbrella as well? Should we not have a clause in the bill that says that by order in council we can add another one?
Orders in council are not these secretive little things that people somehow squirrel away and frustrate the parliamentarians.
The member may laugh, but the member probably should get a lesson on gazetting. He should understand that order in council decisions are put into the Canada Gazette . They are there for all Canadians and parliamentarians to see. The member should clearly understand that if there were any change whatsoever to the addition or exclusion of any agency, department, crown or whatever, we would hear about it that very same day because employees would then know about it.
I do not see this as a threat. It is a housekeeping clause. It means that names change or consolidate, that people are added or deleted. It allows it to be done by order in council without raising a new bill to amend the act that was formally passed. It is an efficiency tool the government has to ensure we keep things up to date without having to tie up Parliament on things that are obvious. Let us be very careful about this.
I also was very interested in a few of the other points that were made. Members said that the government had to be pushed and that it did not much care about whistleblowing. I think that issue has been on the table since I was elected in 1993.
Bill C-25, which was introduced by another minister not the current minister sponsoring Bill C-11, was brought forward late in the Parliament. We had input and some opportunity to debate that bill.
Then Bill C-11 came forward. Members said in their speeches that it was the same dead bill, that it was lousy, et cetera. They have said that because they fixed it, it is okay and reasonably acceptable. Members should take the opportunity to look at the bill as returned from committee. All the changes that were made at committee are underlined. The most substantive change was to add the RCMP under organizations covered by the bill. While some members take credit for salvaging a terrible bill, if we look through it, the changes were housekeeping in nature. They were fine tuning the bill. As one speaker recently said, the broad strokes, the bill values, which push the foundations of the bill, were in the bill when we got it.
The other aspect is the bill was presented to us before second reading. It is a credit to Parliament to have the confidence in ordinary members of Parliament to send the bill to committee before there has been a vote in the House and before that approval in principle which really restricts the amount of changes a committee can make. What has happened with the bill is an excellent example of how Parliament works. I give full credit to all members of the committee who participated, full members and those who came in from time to time, for helping us to do a good job with the opportunity that was given to us. This was an excellent model.
Back two Parliaments ago when we had Bill C-25 on the modernization of the public service and public service renewal, one key issue that had to be addressed was the confidence level and morale of the public service. We are working on those things very slowly. Bill C-11 is part of what we can do to help to improve the confidence level and morale within the public service.
Public servants understand right now that this bill was about one thing and one thing only, and that was helping them to do a good job in order to bring forward information if they felt it was important to help them do a better job. I believe that Bill C-11 is an excellent bill and I thank all members for their support.