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.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Listen, I'm here at committee. I'm here in the spirit of fulsome discussion of Bill C-520. That's why I'm here.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

The difference is that I'm here to talk about Bill C-520 and the nine enumerated agencies that report to Parliament. As I said, I'm happy to have a discussion with you offline at any time about my personal life. That's fine. But I'm here to talk about the—

February 25th, 2014 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Andrews, about my past, I'm happy to discuss that with you outside of committee, but I'm here to talk about Bill C-520, my private member's bill. If you want to talk about my past political affiliations and my experiences, I'm happy to talk to you about that outside of committee.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

I'm not here to talk about other pieces of legislation, other proposed legislation. Bill C-520

February 25th, 2014 / 11:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Angus, I'm not here to comment on specific cases. What I'm here to talk about is my private member's bill, Bill C-520. What I'm telling you is that these agencies hold a very unique role in our parliamentary system—

February 25th, 2014 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, it's an honour and privilege for me to be here today before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to speak on my private member's bill, Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

The purpose of my bill is to improve transparency. Bill C-520 requires agents of Parliament and the employees in their offices to make a public declaration if they occupied a politically partisan position in the 10 years before their appointment. It also serves to affirm their commitment to conducting themselves in a non-partisan manner while employed in these specific offices.

This bill identifies nine specific offices with unique responsibilities and roles. Given their specific watchdog duties, it is imperative that the so-called agents of Parliament be seen to be non-partisan and free of political influence. At every step of the process in preparing a report or dealing with a case, from the selection of what to study to the research to the basic wording used, neutrality and independence must be maintained.

Let me clear. The intent of this bill is not to limit any person's ability or freedom to engage fully in the political process of Canada; rather, the intent is to create a measure of trust and confidence in the neutrality and non-partisan nature of the offices of the agents of Parliament. I submit that the proposed legislation will enhance the legitimacy of the agents of Parliament and will make sure that the public is aware of any professional partisan position held by the agents and their staff.

The nine specific offices that my private member's bill focuses on include the office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer, the office of the Auditor General, the office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, the office of the Senate Ethics Officer, the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

These agents of Parliament are a sole group of independent statutory officers who serve to scrutinize the activity of legislators and the government. I submit to you that their offices will only be enhanced by the public confidence Bill C-520 will provide.

All of the offices I mentioned report directly to Parliament rather than to government or to an individual minister and as such exist to serve Parliament in relation to Parliament's oversight role. The oversight role played by the agents is a crucial component of the balance and fairness of our institutions and the legitimacy of our Westminster style of democracy. It is critical that in carrying out their duties, the agents be independent of political affiliation. Neutrality in the office of an agent of Parliament is imperative to ensuring that Canadians receive information in a manner that is clear and trustworthy.

Mr. Chair, I would like to emphasize again the special role the nine agencies identified in my bill play in the democratic system. We already hold these groups to the highest standard of objectivity. We require them to sign an oath of impartiality and we ask them to take measures to guard against partisanship either real or perceived. The Chief Electoral Officer is even banned from voting in elections in order to maintain these standards. Bill C-520 simply suggests that given these exceptional standards, the agents and their employees should be required to disclose past or future partisan positions and continue to build transparency and openness into our democracy.

To further promote transparency, all declarations from employees would be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament. The declarations would state whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, the person had occupied certain specified political partisan positions. Such a declaration would also state whether these persons intended to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to occupy the position of agent of Parliament or to work in the office of such an agent.

In addition, the bill would require an agent of Parliament and the persons who work in his or her office 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.

Canadians said they wanted a transparent government. Time and time again, I am proud to say, our government has brought into force legislation that increases transparency and accountability. Our government brought Canadians the Federal Accountability Act. We reformed the Lobbying Act. We brought into force the Conflict of Interest Act which named the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Our government eased the process of information disclosure, making it easier for Canadians to call to account their representatives.

The number of records that our government has released has increased, while the turnaround time has decreased. The numbers speak for themselves. Our government is committed to increasing government transparency and accountability.

Mr. Chair, this call for transparency and accountability is not something we can take lightly. The statutes that created these agents of Parliament do not imply the need for impartiality; they demand impartiality. With great power comes great responsibility.

If we look at some of the legislation about the agents themselves, the need for objectivity is clear. Subsection 15(1) of the Auditor General Act states:

The officers and employees that are necessary to enable the Auditor General to perform his or her duties are to be appointed in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act and...the provisions of that Act apply to those offices and employees.

The act goes on to make explicit the call for impartiality.

Before commencing his or her functions, a commissioner shall take an oath or make a solemn affirmation in the following form before the Clerk of the Privy Council or the person designated by the clerk:

I...do swear (or solemnly affirm) that I will faithfully, truly and impartially, to the best of my judgment, skill and ability, execute and perform the office of... of the Public Service Commission.

Further to that, subsection 23(1) of the Canada Elections Act states:

Before assuming duties, an election officer shall swear an oath in writing, in the prescribed form, to perform the duties of the office in an impartial manner.

In addition, the commissioners of privacy, conflict of interest and ethics, information, lobbying, public sector integrity, and official languages are all deemed to be employed in the public service and thus are bound to the same oath found in the Public Service Employment Act when carrying out their duties.

Mr. Chair, I submit that the requirements found within my private member's bill, Bill C-520, expect from these agents the highest level of transparency and that they are already swearing to it in their oath; moreover, that they improve these laws by adding transparency and making all declarations available for the public to see.

Legislation similar to my private member's bill exists in other Commonwealth nations.

In Australia, for example, the national integrity commission bill, Bill 2013, in paragraph 7(1)(a), prohibits “any conduct of any person that adversely affects, or that could adversely affect, either directly or indirectly, the honest or impartial exercise of official functions by the Parliament, a Commonwealth agency, any public official or any group or body of public officials” and continues by prohibiting “any conduct of a public official that constitutes or involves the dishonest or partial exercise of any of his or her official functions.”

In conclusion, Bill C-520 will enhance transparency. This bill is line with our government's efforts towards transparency and accountability. I hope that the committee sees the value of my proposed legislation.

I believe we can all agree this is an important step to strengthening our democracy. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis has said, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Thank you.

February 25th, 2014 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I see the clock at 11:01. We will convene this meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

We're convened today pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament. We welcome as our witness the sponsor of that bill, Mr. Mark Adler.

Mr. Adler, I understand you're one of the lucky members of Parliament whose private member's bill actually succeeded in passing at second reading. It has been duly referred to this committee for your presentation, then examination by and testimony from witnesses, and ultimately a clause-by-clause analysis.

The first hour of this meeting is dedicated to you. I hope you have opening remarks. Then we'll open it to questions from the floor.

You have approximately 10 minutes, Mr. Adler.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 12th, 2014 / 6:35 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-520, under private members' business.

The House resumed from February 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:45 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to first of all thank my colleagues from the government side for their support of my private member's bill, Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

I was a bit taken aback by the comments by the member for Timmins—James Bay. This is a member of Parliament who talked about George Orwell. Orwell would be very proud today to have heard the speech by the member for Timmins—James Bay. If it were not for transparency, we would not know that the member was held in violation of the Canada Elections Act in 2008 for keeping his election bank account open through the 2011 election, a clear violation of elections law.

If it were not for transparency, we also would not know that he is a member of Parliament who went to his constituents before the 2011 election and said he would be supporting the long gun registry, but when he was elected and came to Parliament and had the chance to vote on it, he voted to keep the long gun registry. I suspect that his constituents will have time to deal with him in the forthcoming year.

It is with great pride that I rise today to respond to a number of the remarks that have been made and to ask for the support of the House in consideration of Bill C-520. As many members from the government have said, this bill is another step in our government's proposal for creating more transparency and more accountability within the machinery of government, within the public administration.

It began in 2006 with the Federal Accountability Act. As a government, we also made deputy ministers accounting officers, which means they have to go before parliamentary committees and account for the spending in their departments. We brought in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which made it easier for public employees to disclose wrongdoing. It was our government that brought forward the Conflict of Interest Act and created the offices of the lobbying and ethics commissioners. We have extended access to information, making record numbers of documents available to the public, to the media, and to members of Parliament.

What is consistent, however, among all of these is that the opposition voted against every single one of them, which just goes to prove that accountability and transparency are of no interest to the opposition members. We, however, differ. We believe that the public has a right to know and that we, as a government, have an obligation to make as much known, as much public, and as much transparent as possible. That is why people sent us here as the majority government, and we are fulfilling the wishes of the Canadian people in making more transparent and more accountability available to them.

We will not be deterred from that task the public has given us. We are opening up the windows of government. We are letting fresh air in. We have to ask why is the opposition saying transparency and accountability is bad? That is a subject that hopefully will come up during committee hearings, when they can more fully answer, but from my perspective, transparency and accountability are great things. Bill C-520 makes a wonderful effort to move the ball forward in making government more accountable and more transparent.

I will not go into the details of the various sections of the bill. I see I have one more minute left to speak. We as a government, and I as a member of the governing party, with the support of my colleagues on the governing side and we hope with as many members of the opposition side as we can muster, that the opposition can see fit to release themselves from the shackles of their own partisanship and vote with us, to open the windows, because I know in their heart of hearts they believe in transparency and accountability.

Louis Brandeis said that nothing disinfects like sunlight. It is so important that we open those windows and let the light in, so that we can be more transparent and more accountable to the Canadian people.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.
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Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to give my support to Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament. I would like to thank my colleague, the member for York Centre, for introducing this private member's bill.

The purpose of this bill is to help ensure that conflicts of interest do not compromise the trust Canadians have in their parliamentary institutions or prevent these institutions from functioning as they were meant to. In other words, the bill is meant to ensure a non-partisan public service.

A non-partisan public service is one in which appointments are based on merit and are free of influential political influence. It is one in which public servants perform their duties, and are seen to perform their duties, in a politically impartial manner.

To this end, Bill C-520 is designed to prevent conflicts of interest that may arise or are perceived to arise between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of an agent of Parliament or any person who works for an agent of Parliament.

Specifically, the bill would require every person who applies for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration with respect to past engagement in politically partisan positions. This declaration would state whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, the person had occupied certain specified politically partisan positions.

In the case of persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament and the agents themselves, a declaration would state whether they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to occupy the position of agent of Parliament or to work in the office of such an agent. The declarations would be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament.

In addition, the bill would require an agent of Parliament and the persons who work in his or her office 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. What is more, the bill would provide for the examination of alleged partisan conduct.

Non-partisanship is certainly expected of all public servants, but agents of Parliament play a particularly vital role in government oversight. Agents of Parliament, such as the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Information Commissioner are a unique group of independent, statutory officers who serve to scrutinize the activity of government. They report directly to Parliament rather than to the government or an individual minister, and as such, they exist to serve Parliament in relation to Parliament's oversight role. Agents normally produce a report to Parliament to account for their own activities, and their institutional heads are typically appointed through special resolutions of the House of Commons and the Senate.

Given the close relationship between agents of Parliament and their employees with parliamentarians, it is critical that in carrying out their duties, they are independent of political affiliation. Bill C-520 seeks to ensure that independence. Indeed, the political impartiality of the public service is one of the foundation stones of our system of democracy. It is a time-honoured tradition that has served us well for some 100 years.

Today, almost a century later, Canadians expect a lot of their public service. They expect the government to pursue policies and programs that take into account and are responsive to public priorities. They expect the government to operate in an open, transparent, and accountable manner.

Through legislation, we strengthened the powers of the Auditor General, toughened the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, reformed political party financing, dramatically tightened lobbying rules, and beefed up auditing and accountability within government departments. As a result, Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the entire world, and this is something Canadians are rightly proud of.

As part of this regime, the values and ethics code and the provisions in the Public Service Employment Act protect the impartiality of the public service and agents of Parliament.

However, accountability and transparency in public institutions are things we can never take for granted.

That is why Bill C-520 is so important. It would add transparency to the existing regime. It would not only continue to toughen rules and uphold our culture of accountability, but it would also highlight our government's ongoing commitment to ensure that these values continue into the future.

In addition, Bill C-520 would be consistent with our commitment in budget 2013 to review and update public services processes and systems to ensure that the public service continues to serve Canadians well.

It would be consistent with the government's focus on transparency and accountability in the management of public assets, and it would also reflect the value of public service impartiality.

Our government fully supports the bill's intent to augment the existing regime in ensuring that agents of Parliament and their employees do not engage in political activities that conflict with, or are seen to conflict with, their official duties and conduct.

We believe it would be in line with the values that have served this country well in the past, and would position the public service to serve Canadians well in the future.

We will support the bill and call upon parliamentarians to join with us to ensure that Canadians have the government they need to succeed in a competitive world.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-520.

The bill is in line with other measures our government has brought forward to eliminate conflict of interest and to strengthen transparency and accountability in Canada's public institutions. I believe that everyone who thinks as I do, which is that we must always fight to strengthen and protect our parliamentary democracy, should be in favour of it.

Allow me a few moments to go over the content of this bill.

Bill C-520 would require every person who applies for a job in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration stating whether in the last 10 years before applying for that job he or she had occupied specific political partisan positions.

The bill would also require anyone who works in such an office, as well as the agents of Parliament themselves, to make a declaration if they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to be an agent of Parliament or to work in such an office. The bill would also require that these declarations be posted on a website of the office of the agent of Parliament in question. In addition, the bill would require an agent of Parliament and those who work for him to provide a written undertaking that they will conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner in fulfilling their official duties.

This a good bill, because it would uphold Canada's most noble parliamentary traditions. It proposes to avoid conflicts of interest that are likely to arise or would be perceived to have arisen between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of an agent of Parliament or his or her staff. It would achieve this by supplementing all other applicable, relevant laws that seek to ensure the same thing, and not by detracting from or replacing these other laws.

Non-partisanship is a well-recognized principle in our modern public service and is expected of all public servants. Agents of Parliament, however, play a particularly important role in government oversight. These agents and their staff must work in a visibly non-partisan way to maintain the confidence of parliamentarians and Canadians, so it is even more important that these public servants be seen as not having any political affiliations. To this end, the public service disclosure provisions in the bill are meant to provide enhanced transparency and accountability.

Let me add that the values expressed in this bill are consistent with the focus on transparency and accountability we have committed to since being elected to office in 2006. As members will remember, the first thing we did upon coming into power was put in place measures to ensure greater accountability and transparency in our public institutions. We introduced the Federal Accountability Act and its accompanying action plan. The act and action plan provide Canadians with assurance that the power entrusted in government officials is being exercised fairly and in the public interest, and they provide for serious consequences in cases of proven wrongdoing. The result was substantial changes to some 45 federal statutes as well as amendments to more than 100 others touching virtually every part of government and beyond.

There are many examples of such measures, but certainly one that affected us directly was the new lobbying regulations that came into force in September 2010. As members know, lobbying is communication by an individual who is paid to communicate with a designated public officer-holder on behalf of a person or organization in relation to the development, introduction, or amendment of a bill, resolution, regulation, policy, or program; the awarding of a grant, contribution or any other financial benefit; and, in the case of a consultant lobbyist, the awarding of any contract or the arranging of a meeting with a public office-holder. The activity is not illegal, but abuses of it are, and such abuses are clearly counter to our democratic values. That is why we brought in legislation to regulate it.

As a result, today, to avoid conflict of interest, the act ensures that parliamentarians and their senior staff are subject to certain prohibitions on lobbying as well to requirements for reporting it. The Lobbying Act has been a good thing for the integrity of Parliament, just as this bill being considered today would be a good thing for the integrity of Parliament.

This bill is also in line with the democratic and professional principles of the broader public service. This is expressed in the “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”. The code requires that public servants carry out their duties in accordance with legislation, policies, and directives in a non-partisan, impartial manner. Indeed, agents and employees must sign offers of employment stating that they will abide by the code, and transgressions of the code can result in penalties up to and including dismissal.

Finally, let me add that Bill C-520 is consistent with the commitment to impartiality articulated in Part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act. The act places responsibilities on public servants, deputy heads, and the Public Service Commission to uphold the non-partisan character of the public service. This bill would carry forward the tradition of upholding the finest principles of democratic government in Canada. Its focus on impartiality and the appearance of impartiality in the offices of agents of Parliament would ensure that parliamentarians and Canadians could be confident in the neutrality of the executive and legislative branches of our public service.

To sum up, our government is steadfastly committed to bolstering the political neutrality of the public service. We understand that agents of Parliament and their staff must work in a non-partisan way to maintain the confidence of Canadians and parliamentarians. Our values and ethics code and the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act are helping to protect their impartiality. This bill is designed to supplement and add transparency to the existing rules and regulations.

In economic action plan 2013, we committed to reviewing and updating public service processes and systems to ensure that the public service would continue to serve Canadians well. Bill C-520 is the latest step in this fine Canadian tradition, and I am asking that all members support this bill and all it stands for.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to speak in this chamber, representing the people of Timmins—James Bay.

I am a strong believer in the Westminster system of government. I believe that it is a good system of government and that it could be one of the best in the world. However, we are seeing a continual undermining of the Westminster tradition by the current Conservative government.

Bill C-520 is called an act to support the non-partisan officers of Parliament, but anybody back home knows that in the Orwellian language of the current Conservative government, the opposite is involved.

In listening to the Conservatives here this morning, we have heard them talk about accountability and transparency. What they mean is accountability for everybody else and transparency for everybody else but secrecy for them and loopholes for their friends.

The bill is brought forward by the member for York Centre, who is now famous for his attempt to turn the most historic and sacred site of Judaism into a photo op for his re-election. Here is a man who is telling us it is all about making sure the systems of Parliament are able to do their job. However, it means that this backbencher would set up a system where the people whose job it is to investigate Parliament would now be investigated, not by Parliament but by the members of the governing party. There is a provision in the bill that would allow any backbench Conservative or any senator to demand an investigation of the Auditor General or the Lobbying Commissioner.

It is interesting that the Lobbying Commissioner has no power to investigate Conservative senators. It does not matter how many junkets they fly on, how many corporate boards they sit on, or how many times big oil takes average Conservative senators out to Hy's Steakhouse and wines and dines them. The Lobbying Commissioner has no ability to investigate a senator; a senator is protected. However, a senator would be able to demand an investigation of the Lobbying Commissioner. That is the intent of the bill.

The Ethics Commissioner has no ability to investigate whether Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy were involved in an illegal $90,000 payout, which is now being investigated by the RCMP. Why? It is because the Ethics Commissioner has no ability to touch Mike Duffy. However, with the proposed legislation, Mike Duffy could have demanded an investigation of the Ethics Commissioner.

Members might not realize it, but over in the supposed upper chamber, they actually do have an Ethics Commissioner. She is probably the quietest person in Ottawa, as she actually needs permission from her own senators to investigate. Therefore, if we are looking at the involvement of senators Tkachuk, LeBreton, Stewart Olsen, and Gerstein in this illegal cover-up, well, we cannot ask the Ethics Commissioner over in the Senate to investigate whether or not all those key people in the Conservative Party were involved in illegal activities, because she actually needs their permission to investigate. She has to beg the senators before she is allowed to launch an investigation.

However, Senator Gerstein, the bagman for the Conservative Party, and Senator Tkachuk, who is accused of telling Pamela Wallin to whitewash her calendar, so the RCMP would not find out, would have the power to demand an investigation into anything the ethics officer does. That is the world the Conservative government is bringing us into.

This is now a country where we see a supposedly stand-alone, non-partisan institution like Canada Revenue Agency being put to use investigating charities. Why is it investigating charities? It is because the Conservatives will use the levers of government against any charity that has the nerve to stand up and speak about the petro-state.

We have Canada's spy agency overseen by Chuck Strahl. A cabinet minister who stepped out and became an Enbridge lobbyist got appointed as the head of the spy agency. I guess it is a step up. The last guy the Conservatives had in charge of the spy agency was Arthur Porter. Is he not now hiding out in a Panama jail having been caught for money laundering and issues of gun running and fraud? This is the man who the Prime Minister of this country thought should oversee the spy agency, so I guess Chuck Strahl was a step up.

However, Chuck Strahl is working for Enbridge. Now the spy agency gets its orders from the National Energy Board to spy on Enbridge's enemies. They had a secure briefing, and the luncheon for the secure briefing with the National Energy Board and Canada's spy agency was actually sponsored and paid for by Enbridge.

This is the kind of insider access we are seeing now, and the government thought there were no problems with that.

Now other officers of Parliament could be investigated. The government could go after the Commissioner of Lobbying.

Let us look at the issue of the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Commissioner has an international reputation. She has taken on big data. She has asked for tools to be able to keep up, but the government does not want that. When the government lost the personal data of 500,000 Canadians, what was its response? It sat on it.

If we are to be accountable to Canadians, and if we find out that personal information has been either lost or stolen, the first thing we should do is alert those people, to protect them from identity theft and fraud. It is not so with the Conservative government. Its objective is to protect hapless ministers. It sat on the loss of information for over a month.

The New Democratic Party asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate other breaches. We found out that over one million Canadians have had their data stolen, hacked, or lost, and of all those cases, only 10% were reported by the government to the commissioner. The Conservatives do not care if personal data is being stolen, because they do not want their ministers to look bad.

The next time the New Democratic Party asks the commissioner to investigate why data is being lost and why senior citizens' financial information may have been stolen under the government's watch, the government would be able to demand an investigation into the officer of Parliament whose job is to protect Canadians, just like what the member from York did and made himself famous.

With respect to access to information, we hear gibberish from the other side about all the data sets that the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka is handing out. The Access to Information Commissioner has talked about ministerial offices becoming black holes of information. She cannot touch the information. When the member for Parry Sound--Muskoka took $50 million in border infrastructure money—money that could have kept guns and drugs out of the country—and spent it on trinkets in his riding, he could say there was no paper trail, because he knew the access to information officer did not have the power to demand the paperwork that we knew was there.

Canada was a world leader in terms of access to information. Canada set the benchmark. Since the Conservatives have taken office, Canada has dropped to 41st place, to 51st place, and now we are at 55th place in the world. Angola and Colombia are further ahead.

What would the government do in response? It would make it possible to demand an investigation into the access to information commissioner should he or she put any heat on a government agency.

I could go on about Elections Canada. The government did not consult with Elections Canada. The Conservative government is a government of serial cheaters. Who did it hear from? The government heard from all the Conservative members who are under investigation for electoral crimes and misdemeanours, and they are the ones who have decided that the electoral officer will no longer be allowed anywhere near the ice to protect Canadians.

At the end of the day, this legislation is about undermining the fundamental pillars that support democratic accountability in this country. This legislation would allow backbenchers and senators to protect their own interests by attacking the officers whose job is to stand up for Canadians, to ensure accountability, to ensure transparency, and to stop the insiders, the well-heeled, and the big boys sitting in the back room from misrepresenting and undermining democracy in this country.

We in the NDP will be opposing this legislation.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

The principle of the political impartiality of the public service, agents and officers of Parliament, is a fundamental element of our system of government and ensures that Canadians and parliamentarians benefit from the non-partisan delivery of services.

Agents of Parliament and their employees are given the important mandate to perform non-partisan duties in Parliament. The public has a right to know whether or not the agents, or those who work in their offices, have engaged in political activities.

The bill before us will help protect the institution of Parliament and bring more transparency and accountability into our political process. Bill C-520 is consistent with our government's long-standing commitment to increasing accountability and transparency, which is why our government is pleased to support it.

The bill provides that anyone applying to work in the office of an agent of Parliament would be required to disclose partisan political activities dating back 10 years.

Agents of Parliament and those who work in their offices must declare whether they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to occupy the position of agent of Parliament or work in the office of such an agent. They would also be required to make a written declaration that they will fulfill their duties in a non-partisan manner. The disclosures would be posted online, for transparency.

The bill would also allow any member of the Senate or the House of Commons to request that an agent of Parliament investigate allegations of partisan activity by the agent's staff.

The bill would apply to the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Senate Ethics Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, as well as the staff employed under each agent of Parliament.

We know that a high degree of transparency makes government more accountable. That is why we have been working to make more information available to Canadians. By proactively making information available, it becomes accessible to anyone who may be interested, and this allows the public and parliamentarians to hold the government to account.

Allow me to speak to a number of the initiatives that our government has taken toward greater transparency. In April, the President of the Treasury Board unveiled the expenditure database, a searchable online database that for the first time ever consolidates all information on government spending in one place. We are talking about everything from spending on government programs to operational spending on things like personnel and equipment. What this means for Canadians is that they would have a more complete picture of how taxpayer money is spent. We, as parliamentarians, are now better equipped to do our jobs, which is to analyze, assess, and consider government expenditures.

We all know how difficult and time-consuming it can be to go through numerous and complex financial documents to try to get a whole-of-government picture of what is being spent and where. Now, with a few simple clicks, users can find out in one place what every department and agency is spending on items such as transfer payments to provinces.

This is in addition to the measures that our government has already taken to improve financial reporting and support parliamentary scrutiny of estimates and supply.

These measures include the following: one, publishing quarterly financial reports; two, posting financial datasets on the Treasury Board Secretariat website and the open data portal; and, three, making ongoing improvements to the form and content of reports on plans and priorities and departmental performance reports.

Our government believes that being accountable to taxpayers means being transparent about how their money is being spent.

That is why the President of the Treasury Board took steps just this past September to ensure that information disclosed about public service contracts is not only accessible but easy to understand. The new measures ensure that more detailed information is published on contracts for services, such as professional services and management consultant contracts. For example, rather than simply providing a generic description of the awarded contract, such as “management consulting contract”, a more detailed explanation of the type of work and context is now required.

We have been working hard to improve the flow of information through the access to information system. We have made incredibly large and major strides in ensuring that Canadians have access to government information, and we have set records when it comes to their requests. Approximately 6 million pages were released to the public last year. This is a record number and a record to be proud of, quite honestly. The number of requests that the government dealt with increased by 27% as well. That is another record. That is an increase of over 10,000 requests.

We are also more efficient. The turnaround rate for the government is one of the fastest in history. Our government is meeting Canadian expectations on access to information by being faster and by doing more.

The numbers are right there. Thanks to the Conservative government, our government of the day, Canadians are getting more, better, and faster access than ever before. That is what delivering on promises looks like.

We are also opening Government of Canada records. We have taken measures to post online 3 million pages of archived government records that were previously restricted. That is all new. Clearly, our government takes action to promote accountability in government and to ensure that the powers entrusted in all of us by our citizens are being exercised in the public interest.

The bill before us today would continue in that tradition by providing enhanced transparency and accountability for parliamentarians, who must have confidence that the work of agents of Parliament is impartial. We support the intent of this bill. Our government supports it, and I support it.

I thank the member for his presentation of this bill for our consideration, to ensure that nothing in this bill will diminish the effectiveness of the tools already in place to protect the impartiality of the public service.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

February 10th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your comments.

I can appreciate why the Conservative member would be sensitive in terms of what is being said, which is to know exactly what Bill C-520 is proposing to do. It is talking about the parliamentary agents of this House. It is challenging those agents in a way that speaks to the integrity of those offices.

On the one hand the government is trying to say that it wants more integrity in its offices, in a backhanded way, by bringing in this legislation. On the other hand we have a government that demonstrates a lack of respect for those very agents that this legislation is trying to deal with. That is true. In order to demonstrate that truth, I am using a very specific example, that being Elections Canada, which is a topical issue today.

The member who stood on a point of order said the Conservatives are interested in hearing what I have to say about the elections act that they have introduced. That is not true either. They brought in time allocation to prevent members from being able to speak on that piece of legislation. It is being forced through after only a couple of days of debate, which is somewhat shameful in itself.

Before the interruption, I was suggesting to the House that we have to have confidence and faith in our agents of Parliament and we should be able to demonstrate that. The bill that is being proposed by the member is an underhanded way of suggesting that there is something wrong with our current agents of Parliament. That is not the case.

We in the Liberal Party, and I also suspect members of the New Democratic Party, have faith in our institutions, in our agents of Parliament. We look to the government to demonstrate more respect for those offices.

I was at the meeting where reference was made to the Chief Electoral Officer and saw first-hand how the Conservative government treats the independent office of Elections Canada, something Canadians have seen indirectly through media reports. The government needs to demonstrate a whole lot more goodwill. The way to do that is by ensuring that the agents are part of the process and that respect is demonstrated toward them. How does one do that? When election laws are changed, there is a responsibility to work with our parliamentary agents, in this case the Chief Electoral Officer. There is a responsibility to listen to what he or she has to say about election laws. That is something the government did not do; it did not have any form of consultation.

Therefore, when we look at Bill C-520, what the government is doing, through a backbench member of Parliament, is demonstrating a lack of respect for the positions we have that are important to all of Canada, whether that is the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, all of whom play a critical role in the functioning of our democracy in Canada. We challenge the government to demonstrate more respect for those offices.