Non-Partisan Offices of Agents of Parliament Act

An Act supporting non-partisan offices of agents of Parliament

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Mark Adler  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

In committee (Senate), as of Dec. 11, 2014
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment establishes a requirement for every person who applies for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration stating whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, they occupied specified politically partisan positions. The enactment also requires the persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration if they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to work in the office of such an agent. The declarations are to be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament.

As well, the enactment requires the persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament to provide a written undertaking that they will conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner in fulfilling the official duties and responsibilities of their positions.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 29, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Oct. 29, 2014 Passed That the Bill, as amended, be concurred in at report stage with a further amendment.
Oct. 29, 2014 Passed That Bill C-520, in Clause 8, be amended by replacing, in the English version, lines 39 to 41 on page 4 with the following: “responsibilities of the position in the office of the agent of Parliament, conduct”
Oct. 29, 2014 Failed That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
Feb. 12, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

May 15th, 2014 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

The Vice-Chair Conservative Patricia Davidson

It being 11 o'clock we will call this meeting to order.

We are continuing with the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament. I believe where we left off on Tuesday was clause 9.

(On clause 9—Holder of a position in the office of an agent of Parliament)

Is there any further discussion on clause 9?

Madam Borg had the floor at the time we left.

Were you finished?

May 13th, 2014 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Mr. Ravignat, I'm afraid I have to interrupt you there. It's one o'clock, and we have to conclude.

Clause 9 has not been voted on. When we resume on Thursday, we'll dedicate the committee to the consideration of Bill C-520 and begin where we left off.

This meeting is adjourned.

May 13th, 2014 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The purpose of my next amendment is to amend clause 7 of Bill C-520 by replacing line 16 on page 4 of the English version with the following: "possible after being hired, provide the".

Clause 7 provides that, during the hiring process, the person in question must prepare a list of his or her partisan activities, which are not defined. According to some witnesses we heard and the letters I will be reading in part later on, people are concerned about the way this clause is presented in Bill C-520. They think it will undermine the merit-based hiring process. It could undermine the current process already used by the offices of the agents of Parliament.

Once again I am going to refer to the table that the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada sent us, where it reads as follows concerning clause 7: Asking candidates to disclose past political positions may jeopardize the merit-based appointment process under the PSEA in that it may be perceived that such information will be considered in the appointment process. This goes against s. 30 of the PSEA requiring that appointments be made on the basis of merit and "free from political influence".

As you can see once again, there are subtle differences between what the bill proposes and what is already in the Public Service Employment Act, which establishes a merit-based hiring process.

My amendment is very simple. Its purpose is to have agents provide the list of previously occupied political positions only after hiring, which is entirely legitimate. This would make it possible to determine whether there is a risk that a decision might be considered political. An individual's application could be set aside during the hiring process, because that person previously occupied a political position, in contravention of the Public Service Employment Act, which provides that appointments must be free from all political influence.

I would also like to share what the Public Service Commission of Canada said in its letter dated May 9, 2014:

The Public Service Commission (Commission) wishes to reiterate that it has a keen interest in the proposed legislation and will support any effort to safeguard the merit principle for appointments to and within the public service and the non-partisan nature of the public service.

The commission reiterates that it is very important for it to protect the merit principle. However, clause 7, if not altered by the amendment I am moving today, could vastly undermine the merit-based appointment process.

There is also a letter from the Commissioner of Official Languages, who states appreciably the same thing. It reads as follows:

I am particularly concerned about the Bill's apparent conflict with the Public Service Employment Act and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, its impact on the hiring process, the issues of procedural fairness, the lack of a definition of partisan conduct...

The commissioner says he is concerned that the provisions will undermine the merit-based hiring process.

This amendment is relatively simple, but it thoroughly addresses several concerns. I could cite several other passages. I have at least three pages of testimony, but I will spare you that because you have heard the same thing as I have.

I know this was a very important part of the testimony, letters and communications that we received from the agents of Parliament, various associations and the Public Service Commission. I do not believe we have a duty to amend the hiring process, nor do I believe that is the member's intent. Perhaps he would like to comment on that point. This is already provided for in another act. I repeat, I believe that this is extremely important and the witnesses have asked us for this.

This is a sensible amendment. I hope we will show some common sense today.

May 13th, 2014 / 11:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I move that Bill C-520, in clause 2, be amended by adding after line 12 on page 3 the following new subclause 2(3):

(3) Nothing in this Act is to be construed as authorizing a person who works in the office of an agent of Parliament to occupy a politically partisan position or engage in political activities.

May I speak to it?

May 13th, 2014 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Chair—and not Mr. Cheese—I still want to support the amendment of my colleague Mr. Ravignat.

We have been informed on several occasions of concerns related to the fact that this bill might contradict the Public Service Employment Act. There are definitions that differ in certain respects, and certain provisions of Bill C-520 are redundant because they already appear in the Public Service Employment Act.

Although we did not have a chance to hear from all agents of Parliament, I would like to remind committee members that the Auditor General, Mr. Ferguson, said that there were questions about aspects that are defined in this bill but that are also defined in other acts and that could cause confusion.

Now I am going to speak in English.

The Association of Justice Counsel said, and I quote: “Blais said the bill is unfair and “redundant“ because the public service is already governed by an “elaborate regime” of statutes, codes, and processes to safeguard the political neutrality of Canada's public service.

He thinks it is redundant because an act is already in place.

This amendment will clarify matters, in confusing or ambiguous situations, as to whether the provisions of the bill may invalidate what already appears in the Public Service Employment Act. This amendment states that what is understood in the Public Service Employment Act takes precedence.

In addition, the Public Service Commission of Canada has reiterated its concerns over certain instances of duplication between this bill and the Public Service Employment Act and over the potential consequences for employees and their rights. We know that Bill C-520 opens the door to various systems of supervision and enforcement. So it is highly problematic.

For the third time, and this time may be the right one, I ask all my colleagues to support this amendment. It is very important to do so in order to provide clarification for agents of Parliament and all those who will be directly affected by what Mr. Adler is proposing in his bill. It is our duty as parliamentarians to clarify somewhat matters that concern them, and that is what this amendment does.

That is what I had to say on that subject.

May 13th, 2014 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you, Madam Borg.

Is there any further debate on amendment NDP-1? Seeing none, we'll call the vote, then. All those in favour, please signify in the usual manner.

(Amendment negatived)

The amendment does not succeed. NDP-1 is struck. That will also have the effect of defeating NDP-5.

We have further amendments to clause 2. Amendment NDP-2 calls for Bill C-520, in clause 2, to be amended by adding after line 31 on page 2 the following:

“partisan manner” means conducting one's duties and responsibilities in such a way as to constitute a political activity that would be disallowed under Part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act as impairing or being perceived to impair the ability of an individual to perform his or her duties in a politically impartial manner.

That's in the name of Mr. Ravignat.

Mr. Ravignat, do you have any comments on your amendment?

May 13th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We'll convene our meeting.

Welcome to the Standing Committee of Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics meeting number 22. We're gathered today for clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-520, which began its life as a private member's bill sponsored by Mr. Adler.

Welcome, Mr. Adler. I see that you're subbing in to join us today.

May 8th, 2014 / 8:55 a.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

It's a shame it doesn't work that way at the Supreme Court, but it will come. I have no doubt that it will happen eventually.

You brought up Bill C-520, and I'm sure some of my colleagues are going to ask you about it. It's a very important bill dealing with the non-partisanship of agents of Parliament.

As for me, I'd like to come back to the cuts at CBC/Radio-Canada. Last week, Hubert Lacroix appeared before the committee. We are struggling to understand how the federal government could have cut the broadcaster's budget by $115 million. The minister in charge told us that the government wasn't to blame this time. But the elimination of wage indexing and spending cuts at CBC/Radio-Canada represent millions of dollars.

Isn't CBC/Radio-Canada, the nation's public broadcaster, at risk of not adequately fulfilling its mandate in official language minority communities? In Moncton, for instance, cutting one of the two journalist positions at RDI would mean half the budget gone. How can that not affect the broadcaster's obligations towards official language minority communities?

I'd like to hear your views on that, commissioner.

May 8th, 2014 / 8:55 a.m.
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Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Graham Fraser

I don't believe so. Had I felt there was a risk, I would not have agreed to the move.

As agents of Parliament, we always discuss certain matters. We stand united on certain issues. For instance, a few years back, the President of the Treasury Board gathered us all to discuss something. We got together and signed a joint letter regarding Bill C-520.

There are certain issues that affect all of us, as agents of Parliament, but that in no way prevents one of us from investigating a fellow agent of Parliament. The Auditor General does yearly audits on each of our offices. The Auditor General doesn't spend any less time or effort or exert any less rigour in auditing our books just because we are agents of Parliament. And the exact same principle applies when we are called upon to investigate a matter involving another agent of Parliament.

All agents of Parliament are now required by law to be bilingual at the time of their appointment. And I find that reassuring when it comes to the leadership of our organizations. This ensures that, right from the moment they are appointed, agents of Parliament have a clear understanding of what linguistic duality entails.

May 6th, 2014 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

I think we do need to give the clerk some more time. Nobody said they won't attend, but it's been difficult to schedule them in a panel the way we want them to appear. All five at a time would be ideal as long as we could limit their remarks so they don't use up our entire time with five separate sets of remarks.

Having said that, our next meeting, then, will be next Tuesday, and we'll be dealing with the clause-by-clause analysis of Bill C-520. The independent members of Parliament have been served notice that they have one week to get their amendments, if they choose, to the clerk, within 48 hours before the meeting. So I think we're all in compliance there.

Members of the committee, of course, should amendments be coming forward from the various parties, must have them in 48 hours before that meeting.

Seeing no other business, I have a motion to adjourn. It's non-debatable.

We're adjourned.

March 4th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Chair, we had notice of this, and we'll obviously be voting against bringing forward these witnesses, for they have nothing to do with Bill C-520. This of course is just a continuation of the angry NDP and their attempts, their own real attempts, at witch-hunting. It's actually quite shameful, Mr. Chair.

Having said that, we of course will be voting against bringing these witnesses forward. At the same time, we have a number of issues that we wanted to address. As you probably know, we wanted to address this at the last meeting, but we were not afforded a chance to do that.

In order for us to do that, I'd like to entertain a motion to move in camera. I'm not sure if I can do that now, but if I can, I'd like to do that.

March 4th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

It's clear that Bill C-520 does a number of things. One of the things it certainly does is it unfortunately limits the power of independent officers and agents of government to do their work. As you could see at our last meeting, commissioners are particularly concerned about how it may very well limit their independence and limit their ability to do their work.

In light of that, I think it is important to understand the shortcomings of various regulations and acts that are under their purview. The individuals who the official opposition have named would be very well placed to tell us about the shortcomings in their particular situations. They could enlighten us on any future changes to the roles of the various commissioners and changes to the various acts and regulations that are in place ultimately to protect Canadians and ultimately to make our elections fair and free.

In this spirit, the official opposition thinks that each of these individuals could have something important to contribute to the debate on Bill C-520.

March 4th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Well, if I could address the witnesses for Bill C-520, the official opposition would like to move that we see the following witnesses: Peter Penashue, Dean Del Mastro, Irving Gerstein, Mike Duffy, Shelly Glover, and James Bezan.

I respectfully submit that.

March 4th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

I think we're at the point where we want to talk about witnesses on Bill C-520. If I'm correct, Mr. Chair, that's a piece of business.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

March 3rd, 2014 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay.

I have to say that this is not a happy night because it represents yet another lowering level within the House under the Conservative government in its abuse of the Westminster system that we certainly hold dear.

When I say that it is an honour and a privilege to rise and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay, it is because they choose to have me here and they will choose some day if I am not to be here. I respect that. I understand that I have certain obligations to fulfill while I am here.

There are certain words we use. We use the word “privilege”. It is an interesting word. We have privileges as members of Parliament. For example, we have privileges that protect us from libel so that in certain instances, when a question or comment is heated, within the House we are able to debate that. Sometimes, questions have to be asked that may later turn out to be unfounded, but our role as parliamentarians is to question and to find out whether the people of Canada are being represented. We have to have certain privileges to keep us able to do that job.

However, with privilege comes a clear responsibility. My hon. colleagues on the other side may not realize it, but we are legislators. Our job is to create the laws of Canada. We are part of a larger legislative system, the Westminster tradition. What is decided here, in terms of precedent, is looked at in other parliamentary democracies.

One of our key responsibilities as members of Parliament is to speak truthfully in the House, meaning not to lie. That does not mean to use embellishment, to exaggerate, to zigzag, or to avoid. That all happens within the House, but the obligation to not lie is a fundamental principle because to lie is to mislead the work of parliamentarians.

We have to look at this situation and put it in context. The threshold for finding someone in a prima facie case of contempt is very rare. People apologize in the House for saying all manner of things, all the time. After they make their apology, that is considered the end of it.

I think back to 2006 and Jim Prentice, who was also from Timmins. I think I used colourful language about certain human behaviour in a washroom when I thought of his response. I later said that it was not appropriate and I apologized. That was colourful, but that is different from attempting to mislead the work of Parliament and attempting to undermine it.

If we look up the word “contempt” in the dictionary, parliamentary contempt is interference with the work of Parliament.

The three criteria found against the member for Mississauga—Streetsville are as follows. First, he made a statement that was false. In fact, he did not say it once; he said it twice. Second, he knew that it was misleading. Third, he did it in an attempt to mislead the House.

Let us look at what he did. We are dealing with a bill, this voter suppression act, which is a very disturbing piece of legislation because what the government has decided to do does not deal with the issues that came out of the 2011 election, of widespread issues of voter suppression and voter fraud through robocalls. It was judged in the Canadian court system and it was found that there were numerous cases of interference in the right to vote, traced back to the Conservative database. Elections Canada was not able to identify the actual perpetrators because the Conservative Party interfered by not putting up any witnesses and interfered with Elections Canada's attempt to find witnesses. All we know from that court finding was that across Canada, in key ridings, attempts were made to deny Canadians their right to vote, and the Conservative database was used.

One would think that clearing up the Elections Act would be to ensure that Elections Canada has the power to subpoena witnesses and to go in and examine who had access to the database where actual fraud occurred.

However, the bill does not deal with that at all. What it does is to flip the issue. We are not talking in the House any longer about known cases of voter suppression and voter fraud by unknown Conservative operatives. Now the onus is on average Canadians. The government is telling us is that it is average Canadians who are defrauding the system. There has not been one case brought forward that the Conservatives could point to. That is a problem, because we have numerous instances, and I could name the ridings, where we know that voter fraud happened through robocalls. However, they cannot give one instance of a Canadian citizen interfering, undermining, or voting fraudulently.

This gets to the issue of motivation. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville stood up in the House and claimed to have witnessed a crime. That is an extraordinary thing. My colleagues on the other side are telling us that this is perfectly okay. They say we all torque or embellish, and that is how they are conditioned. I do not know how it is seen as perfectly okay to walk into a legislature, where laws are being decided, and claim to have witnessed a crime that never occurred. That is what the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said. He said that he witnessed people picking up voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they supported and handing out the voter cards to other individuals, who then walked into voting stations with no ID and with friends who vouched for them. He said that he personally witnessed this crime.

He then said later that he would relate something that he had actually seen. He claimed to have witnessed a crime. He said he had seen campaign workers pick up a dozen of these cards and walk out. What were they doing? When one stands up and attempts to mislead the House by claiming to have evidence when no evidence exists, claims to have witnessed crimes that never occurred, one has shown absolute contempt for the work of this Parliament and for the people who elect them.

Our Conservative colleagues are saying that we are all conditioned to do that. I do not believe we are all conditioned to do that. They say that we all torque and embellish. I do not believe that we are here to lie to Canadians. I do not believe that lying has any place in the House of Commons, and it certainly does not. This is what the parliamentary tradition tells us. However, the Conservatives are telling us that this is the way things are done and that New Democrats are being mean for having pointed it out.

This is not the first time that they have made up these kinds of claims. The present Minister of Heritage, on May 3, 2012, claimed to have witnessed a crime because she was under the gun for allegations that robofraud had happened in her own riding against the other parties. She claimed, “...Hey, I got a live call and was told to go to another polling station”. That is serious. If she knew voter fraud was occurring it would be incumbent upon her to call the authorities. When she was pressed about where that voter fraud from other parties happened in her riding then she retracted and said she was sorry, that maybe she had misspoken. This is serious. We are talking about whether or not crimes have occurred.

This is about a larger issue of abuse of our parliamentary system. It is about undermining the work of committees, which has gone on since the government received its majority mandate. It is about creating reports based on evidence when there is no evidence. We saw recently, with the conflict of interest study, where the government completely gutted the basic principles of the accountability act and put recommendations into the report that were never heard. Witness after witness said we needed to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act, and the Conservative government members came to the committee and made up recommendations out of thin air and then passed them at committee. That is what is happening in terms of undermining.

Why is this serious? It is because in the Westminster tradition we do not have all the checks and balances that they have in the U.S. legislative system. There is an understanding that people will act with a certain degree of honour and that it is within committees where we are supposed to work together.

We see now Bill C-520, with which the member for York Centre would bring in power so that Conservatives who were under investigation could demand investigations of the Auditor General and Conservatives who were under investigation for abusing the Lobbying Act could demand investigations of the Lobbying Commissioner.

There is not a Parliament anywhere in the western world where those under investigation get to write laws to allow them to open investigations into the people whose job is to hold parliamentarians and lobbyists to account. However, in this topsy-turvy Conservative world, Conservatives believe that this bill is imperative.

I asked the member for York Centre the other day if he had one example to back up this bill and claims about agents of Parliament such as on the Auditor General, who was investigating his friends in the Senate, or the Ethics Commissioner, who has investigated his friends on the Conservative front bench, or Elections Canada, which is under attack from the Conservative government with the false claim that it is wearing a team jersey. I asked the member if he could give me one example, but he could not.

This is about creating a pattern of governing without evidence. That is a serious breach, because if we do not base the rule of law on evidence, then there is no proper rule of law.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider what happened to the party over there that promised accountability. I think of the minority response from the Canadian Alliance to the case of contempt found against the Liberals. This is what the Canadian Alliance said at the time said. I am holding up a moral mirror for those members to look into, but I do not think any of them want to look up.

This contempt cannot be dismissed as mere forgetfulness that might occur in the heat of questioning. It is instead a deliberate attempt to mislead....

Parliament cannot exercise that vigilance when it is misled or lied to. To mislead Parliament shows contempt for Parliament. It must not be tolerated at any time....

This is what we are talking about today. We are talking about a member who came into the House, not once but twice, and lied about witnessing crimes that never occurred. He then waited 19 days to correct the record. He never apologized. The honourable thing to do when one makes a mistake is to apologize, but he never apologized.

If a member stands in the House and claims to have witnessed crimes and does not follow through, then that member is certainly culpable. I still call my hon. colleague “honourable”, even though what he has done is very dishonourable. If the hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville claimed to have witnessed a crime and was emphatic that he saw fraud being committed, then he had a legal responsibility to report it. However, he did not, because he was making it up. He put himself in a very difficult position as a spokesperson for the Conservative government on a bill that would take away basic rights from Canadians to vote, because he did so on the premise that he witnessed crimes that had never occurred.

According to the Westminster tradition, the decision that will be made by the committee will have to look beyond the narrow interests of the Conservative war machine. I am very disturbed about their willingness to do this, because we have seen time and time again that the Conservatives put their narrow interests ahead of the larger obligation that we all have as parliamentarians. We saw it with Bev Oda, a disgraced minister who was found in contempt of Parliament for lying. Were there any consequences? No, there were not.

We found that the Conservative government prorogued Parliament, shut it down, to stop an inquiry into abuse of Afghan detainees. That report has never really been dealt with, and it still remains a black mark on Canada because it was not dealt with. The Conservatives actually shut down the work of Parliament rather than get to the bottom of whether or not this happened.

We remember the other prorogation, when the Conservatives shut down the work of Parliament in order to avoid a non-confidence vote. It is a larger contempt for democratic privileges that we are seeing here.

If we see the Conservative government attempt to shut down debate in this House about whether or not it is okay to come in and lie while a proposed law is being debated, it will set a precedent that will show other countries in the parliamentary system that Canada holds the parliamentary tradition very cheap. I think members would agree with me that we need a higher standard.

I have heard all manner of prevarications from the Conservatives tonight about how we are all supposed to get together and show respect for one another. I would love to believe that, but it is like being invited to a picnic with alligators. I just do not believe it.

I have seen in committee work that every good amendment brought forward is routinely rejected. The basic work of Parliament is always in camera so that the Conservatives can abuse their majority. Conservative members do not show any interest in working with the other parties.

To Conservatives, colourful is the same as lying. It is not. Passion is not the same as misrepresenting the truth. They say that everyone embellishes and everyone torques. That is simply not true.