Mr. Speaker, this government proposes to amend the governing legislation of the National Capital Commission, the National Capital Act. There have been a number of changes to the National Capital Act over the last 20 years, but they have not been as comprehensive as the package that has now been presented.
In 1988, the NCC's mandate and powers were broadened to include the organization of activities and events in the national capital region that would enrich Canada's cultural and social fabric. At the same time, the act was amended to state that the NCC headquarters must be located in the national capital region, as opposed to Ottawa, and to clarify provisions related to development projects.
The number of directors has also varied over the years and other changes have been made, some of which have been to align federal laws.
With this bill, important changes will be made, for the first time in at least 20 years, to some significant aspects of the NCC's enabling legislation, including governance, transparency, responsibilities and protection of the commission's property.
I would like to highlight the components of Bill C-20 that would increase the transparency of the NCC's activities.
These components of the bill are important because the NCC has been criticized in the past for making important decisions behind closed doors and not listening to the stakeholders concerned. The NCC is subject to considerable public scrutiny because its decisions and its actions affect so many people, sometimes directly in their backyard. The NCC responded positively to these critiques and became the first crown corporation to hold public annual general meetings. Despite the introduction of this annual opportunity for members of the public to voice their views on the NCC and its projects, criticism continued.
In the wake of a new leadership at the NCC and in order to address the issue of transparency and to improve outreach with citizens, the NCC announced, on its own accord, a series of measures to increase openness and transparency. Indeed, in the fall of 2007, the NCC began to hold board meetings open to the public except for those items that are sensitive such as human resources and legal issues. It also created an external ombudsman position that reports directly to the board of directors.
Since then, this new approach has been applied consistently. For example, the NCC recently announced a process to review its greenbelt master plan. Public consultations are a key component of this exercise. The NCC has already consulted the public on various projects, but it has now expanded significantly citizens' participation in the development of plans and projects.
While the NCC was dealing with these critics regarding transparency, the Government of Canada was moving forward with one of its priorities, which is to improve the way the government works. That initiative led to the adoption of the Federal Accountability Act, which received royal assent on December 12, 2006. For the NCC, this legislation meant that the positions of chairperson and chief executive officer would now be separated.
Making the decision makers of crown corporations more accessible to the public was also reflected in the Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which came into force on July 13 of last year. This act contains provisions relating to the governance of crown corporations. These amend the Financial Administration Act to require that parent crown corporations hold public meetings at least once every 15 months.
This government welcomes the initiatives adopted by the NCC to increase its openness to the public. However, we want to ensure that this commitment will remain now and into the future. This is why we propose amending the National Capital Act to obligate the NCC to hold at least four public board meetings each year. We recognize the need for the board to discuss some sensitive matters in camera, and members can see this is also reflected in the government's bill.
The National Capital Act has not been significantly amended in over 20 years. Considering that governance practices evolve over time, a review of the NCC and its enabling legislation provides an opportunity to modernize some governance elements included in the enactment.
In the spirit of the separation of the chair and the chief executive officer positions, the government proposes to remove the chief executive officer and his or her successors from the board of directors. The chair is the representative of the NCC's board of directors to outside parties and the leader of the board's discussions. This person is also the key link between the board and the minister responsible for the NCC.
The chief executive officer is the main link between the NCC's board of directors and managers. The government proposes to remove the chief executive officer from the board so as to strengthen both the board and the CEO's responsibility. The government keeps the power to appoint the chief executive officer, but it is clear that the CEO is accountable to the board regarding the NCC's management and performance. The board would then have one less member.
Another governance item included in the proposed amendments to the National Capital Act is the creation of a vice-chair. This is seen as a useful safeguard to have, should the chair be absent or unable to act, or should that office be vacant. One of the proposed amendments is to have the vice-chair designated from among the board members by the Governor in Council and to be compensated as a regular board member.
In keeping with updating the NCC's enabling legislation, the government also proposes to remove the general manager position. With the separation of the CEO and chair positions, the position of general manager is no longer relevant, especially since it has been vacant for more than 10 years.
Appointments below the level of chief executive officer would be the NCC's responsibility, and not that of the Governor in Council. These changes reflect the announcement made in the 2010 budget to reduce the number of appointments made by the Governor in Council, so as to improve governance and activities, while also strengthening the management of federal organizations, boards and crown corporations.
The recruitment of qualified and experienced board members is essential to the good functioning of the board and the NCC. Many crown corporations provide appropriate remuneration to their board members for the time they spend in meetings. The NCC presently does not have the authority to compensate its members, except for travel or related expenditures. Therefore, one of the proposals this government puts forward is to allow the Governor in Council to grant appropriate remuneration to all of the board members.
As everyone can see, I am supporting this legislation because this government believes that the proposed amendments to the National Capital Act would provide the NCC with a modernized enabling statute that reflects good governance practices in the 21st century. It would also provide the basis for ensuring that the NCC continues to be nimble and responsible to the public.