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.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill C-520 this morning.

I find it most interesting that we have a Conservative member introducing legislation on issues surrounding oaths, if I can put it that way, that would have our commissioners or agents of Parliament be more transparent. We see that coming from the Conservatives. If there is a need for us to bring in legislation, I suggest that the member might want to consider legislation that would demonstrate more respect for those same official parliamentary agents that the government tends to want to attack. That is something I will focus some attention on in my comments today because Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer are under attack by the Conservative majority government.

On the one hand we have a bill that is trying to say we should have the Chief Electoral Officer proclaim himself or herself as a completely neutral body that would not be politically engaged, in essence, attacking the integrity of our agents of Parliament. I do not see the merit in this bill and why there is the need for it. What offends me is the fact that it is coming today, at a time when we have the majority Conservative government bringing in time allocation on a piece of legislation that is going to have a profound negative impact overall on elections in Canada.

I would like to emphasize the degree to which I am making reference to this. Last week, I was in the procedures and House affairs committee. We had the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, there. It was interesting to sit in my position, opposite the government, and watch the government verbally attack the Chief Electoral Officer. I found it interesting to compare that to the general behaviour of the government toward Elections Canada. It is consistent. It feels that it has the right to intimidate Elections Canada, which is an agent of this Parliament. That is something that Bill C-520 is trying to deal with, but in a reverse way.

On the one hand, in this legislation we have the Chief Electoral Officer, in an apolitical fashion, trying to improve the quality of our elections. The Chief Electoral Officer has brought forward ideas on how that could be done. For example, with the robocalls incident, Elections Canada brought forward recommendations on how that could be dealt with. Instead of demonstrating respect for Elections Canada, the government did the absolute opposite. It not only did not listen to what Elections Canada, an agent of Parliament, had to say, it changed the legislation to make it even more difficult for Elections Canada to be effective in regard to the Chief—

The House resumed from November 20, 2013 consideration of the motion that Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2013 / 7:20 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is not a lot of time, but I am pleased to have the opportunity nonetheless to rise and speak for a few moments on this bill.

It is a bill that I am a bit perplexed to find here on the floor. While we certainly support private members' bills coming forward, the government tends to slide its own business through as either government-sponsored bills or through private members' bills, so we never really know what the motivation is behind it.

Let me speak to this. Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, talks about the people who should staff and represent the agents of Parliament. It does not talk about the fact that many of the agents of Parliament need proper resources to carry out their responsibilities under their particular mandate. They have come to committees and reported to the House that they would be in a better position to properly carry out their responsibilities and mandate if they were allocated greater resources and if they had their mandate properly amended to allow them to carry out their responsibilities.

That would be a very positive and constructive piece of legislation and something that we could probably support. However, I do not quite understand why this is here. It talks about the partisan activities of people who work for parliamentary agents, but we already have legislation and regulations that deal with the partisan activities of public servants. We have Part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act, political activities regulations, and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service. The only two offices not covered by these pieces of legislation and regulation are the Senate Ethics Officer and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. They have their own in-house codes.

I do not understand why this is here. I have to tell the House that as somebody who has been in politics as an elected member for over 15 years and who has been involved in partisan activities, I encourage and applaud citizens who get engaged in the political process. It shows a commitment to their communities and their country. That is a good thing, and it is something that we should encourage.

We should not use it as a detriment. Somebody should be hired or appointed based on the skills, credentials, and experience that they bring to the job; it is not based on their partisan activities. Likewise, I would say that their partisan activities should not be a detriment to their ability to qualify for that position.

I see you are indicating that my time has drawn to an end, Mr. Speaker. I will hopefully get an opportunity to rise and continue this, but I encourage members not to support this bill and not to support the attack by the government on public servants.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2013 / 6:55 p.m.
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Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am quite happy to be here tonight. That kind of talk is why I am here tonight. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to provide the government's response to Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

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

The bill before us would supplement and add transparency to the existing regime governing political activities, which is why our government is pleased to support it.

I do not believe it is a secret to anyone in this place that partisanship is alive and well in this chamber, no different than any provincial legislature or local governments and elsewhere. The interesting thing about partisanship is how often it is one side that accuses the other, while overlooking that it takes two or more to tango.

I would submit that partisanship, overall, is on the rise. We now have groups and organizations that exist, in some cases, solely for partisan purposes. I will not name names, as we also know that some of the most partisan groups claim to be non-partisan, and that is what brings me back to the importance of the bill.

For this place to function for government, for opposition, for elected officials and, most important, for Canadians, we need to maintain and enhance a professional non-partisan public service.

I have a great respect for all members of the House who I am certain join our government in recognizing that non-partisanship is what makes responsible, democratic government work. An impartial public administration ensures that Canadians, regardless of their views, receive fair and objective treatment from government officials. The work that our public service performs on behalf of Canadians is important, from border guards to food inspectors and from public health specialists to safety investigators.

One of the many benefits of non-partisanship is that public servants are selected based upon qualification, merit and expertise, as opposed to political affiliation. That is why the Values and Ethics Code and the provisions of the Public Service Employment Act protect the impartiality of the public service and, specifically, agents of Parliament. Clearly, the principle of non-partisanship is not to be taken lightly.

In fact, it is essential to the success of the public service that this reputation and tradition of impartiality should be maintained in the eyes of both the public and parliamentarians, which is why the bill has come forward at an opportune time.

In budget 2013, our government committed to review and update public service processes and systems to ensure the public service would continue to serve Canadians well.

This bill is consistent with that commitment. It recognizes that while non-partisanship is expected of all public servants, agents of Parliament play a particularly important role in government oversight. Agents of Parliament carry out duties assigned by statute and report to one or both of the Senate and the House of Commons. The individuals appointed to these offices perform work on behalf of Parliament and report to those chambers, usually, through the Speakers.

Given the close relationship of agents of Parliaments and their employees with parliamentarians, their independence from political affiliation in carrying out their duties is essential.

Furthermore, given that much of this work is political and, by extension, partisan in nature, it is vital that agents and their staff work in non-partisan ways to maintain the confidence of parliamentarians and Canadians. To that end, the bill would require that every person who applied for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration with respect to past engagement in politically partisan positions.

Specifically, this declaration would state whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, the person occupied certain specified politically partisan positions. Now in the case of persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament and the agents themselves, a declaration would state whether or not 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.

The declarations would then be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament. As well, the bill would require the 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 that position.

The bill also provides the examination of alleged partisan conduct. These provisions provide enhanced transparency and accountability for parliamentarians who must have the confidence that the work of the agents of Parliament are impartial. I believe, as members, we have an obligation to support the principle that agents of Parliament and their employees should not engage in political activities that conflict or may be seen to conflict with their official duties.

Our government supports the intent of the bill and looks forward to its examination at committee to ensure that nothing in this bill will diminish the effectiveness of the tools that are already in place to protect the impartiality of the public service.

Before I close, I would like to add one more comment on why I personally support this particular bill. We know that 83% of Canadians now actively use the Internet. In fact, in my home province of British Columbia that number is now 87%. We also know that the Internet has been available to Canadians for around 20 years.

I mention this because never before in our history has so much personal information been available to the general public online. I know I am not alone in pointing out that all governments struggle to keep pace with this technology. Bill C-520 creates an opportunity for public servants to make full and open disclosure on any previous political events they may or may not have been involved with. Given that many of these events can be found online and by extension potentially misunderstood online, I see Bill C-520 as creating an opportunity for increased transparency and proactive disclosure.

This can then help resolve potential conflicts and misunderstandings and will help ensure Canada has a non-partisan civil service that we all can be confident in. I encourage all members of the House to support this important legislation, which augments the principle of non-partisanship in our system of government.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2013 / 6:40 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is my opportunity to add to my remarks and perhaps to answer some of the questions from the hon. member for York Centre.

The title of Bill C-520 is “An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament”. The short title I would have given it is “An Act avoiding the real issue”.

The system of democracy is based on a number of mechanisms that guarantee its legitimacy: the right to vote, the right to be elected, the right to be represented, the division of powers, accountability—of course—transparency, and so on. I will take a few minutes to explore some of these elements in more depth.

It goes without saying that, in a modern democracy, representatives, elected officials, parliamentarians as a whole, derive their legitimacy from an election. Election by universal suffrage is one of the basic principles of democracy. The Conservative government today is the government of Canada because our electoral system gave it a majority of votes, even though that majority was by no means the same as the majority of the votes cast by Canadians. Do I need to remind the House that this majority government was elected with 39% of the popular vote? Voter turnout was right around 60%. We are a long way from a full voter turnout. However, that is the way our political system works. The right to govern is based on an election.

Without any doubt, people are also aware that our parliamentary system has a long historical tradition and that some significant anachronisms remain. The most significant of them will probably be solved in 2015, when the New Democrats come to power. Canada is one of the last democratic countries in the world to have a chamber of its Parliament made up of unelected people. I refer, of course, to the Senate. As I was looking through the parliamentary website, I came upon a definition that I really want to quote:

In a democratic country, all eligible citizens have the right to participate, either directly or indirectly, in making the decisions that affect them. Canadian citizens normally elect someone to represent them in making decisions at the different levels of government. This is called a representative democracy. Countries like Canada, the United States of America and the United Kingdom all have representative democracies.

Let us look at this definition of democracy as it relates to the Senate. In Canada, some representatives make decisions without being elected by the people. It looks like we must either tailor the definition of democracy to the reality of Canada or remove it from our own website.

The other pillar of democracy is the power to hold any institution accountable. The Senate scandal would have remained hidden from Canadians if not for the mechanisms of accountability, oversight and transparency. Despite this, we are unfortunately still far from knowing the sad truth about this affair.

In this context, Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament is apparently intended to mitigate partisanship in Parliament and enhance government transparency. That is a good plan. It is true that on this second point, something has to be done. After all, this is the same government that repeatedly relies on gag orders—there were over 50 of them during the last session—often stays silent during debates in the House, conducts far too many committee meetings in camera and uses omnibus bills to bury even deeper everything that Canadians are entitled to know. The Conservatives are trying to tell us about transparency. I am certainly willing to talk about it, but as we often say back home, it would be nice if they could walk the talk.

In our Parliament there are people we sometimes call “officers of Parliament”. We know them well and greatly appreciate the work they do. I am referring to such people as the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. These people take on responsibilities to serve Parliament, and they report to Parliament. It is obviously necessary to preserve their independence from the government in power, so they can assume the responsibilities conferred on them under the law.

The bill introduced by the Conservatives is somewhat underhanded in that it suggests that these agents of Parliament are not really impartial and calls for increased transparency in how they do their work.

Bill C-520 claims that its purpose is to avoid conflicts that are likely to arise or be perceived to arise between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of agents of Parliament or their staff.

The bill also requires agents of Parliament and anyone who applies for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to declare any politically partisan positions they held in the previous 10 years—as though people are not allowed to have a life before Parliament—and any politically partisan positions they currently hold or intend to hold in the future. The government seems less strict or less demanding when it comes to former Conservative MPs who resign, decide to change careers and then return as consultants for their friends. No matter.

What exactly constitutes a politically partisan position? For the Conservatives, it means being an electoral candidate, an electoral district association officer, a member of a ministerial staff, a member of the House of Commons, a member of a parliamentary staff, or a member of a political staff.

Once again, the bill's main goal seems commendable, but in reality the bill is very dangerous to our democracy. First, we are concerned that such a bill would discourage many candidates who have expressed their opinions publicly or actively participated in our democracy over the course of their lives. Ten years is a long time.

This bill could also be seen as an attempt to intimidate agents of Parliament.

The bill goes off the rails when it indicates that any senator or MP can ask that an agent of Parliament investigate the partisan activities of his or her staff.

I must say that, personally, I am not a big fan of this way of doing things, which could be compared to a witch hunt. We have seen other examples of this. There has been an increasing number of witch hunts.

Need I remind hon. members of the case of Ms. Therrien, who lost her job as a result of a witch hunt when she put the public good or the good of all Canadians ahead of political partisanship? She is still paying a high price for her actions today. Since she was dismissed, she is not eligible for employment insurance. As a result, she has only the solidarity and generosity of Canadians to help her through this difficult time when she is looking for a new job and needs support. That is just one example.

We live in a country where everyone can express their political opinions without fear that their careers will be affected, especially in the public service or in our Parliament, as long as their political opinions do not affect or influence the work those agents or public servants are supposed to do.

Part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act already allows public servants to engage in political activities as long as those activities do not affect or appear to affect their ability to fulfill their duties in a politically impartial fashion. That is already covered.

The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service also broadly states that public servants must carry out their duties in a non-partisan and impartial manner. With the exception of unfounded politically motivated witch hunts, there have never been any proven incidents of partisan activities or apparent conflicts in those offices. As I was saying, the activities of those offices are already regulated by the Public Service Employment Act, the Political Activities Regulations and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service.

Mr. Speaker, you are telling me that I have one minute left. If I did not believe you were fully impartial, I would say that time is running out faster for me than for others, but I believe you.

In short, there are three measures that already guarantee the impartiality of the agents of Parliament whose work we greatly appreciate. At the same time, no incident has been reported. As a result, we cannot help but ask: what is the point of this bill?

In conclusion, let me say that the Conservatives' idea of accountability consists of making Canadians forget the government's repeated lack of parliamentary accountability by irrationally attacking and intimidating the parliamentary watchdogs whose job is to hold the government accountable.

I could also tell you about Mr. Page, but I know I do not have time.

Bill C-520 is just another example of the political cynicism of the Conservatives, who are attacking Parliament's oversight mechanisms for a problem that has never been proven to exist, while protecting and hiding the corruption of their own members—in the Senate, for example.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2013 / 6:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great honour to rise today, in this House, to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

I am certain most would agree that non-partisanship is an essential element of both a professional public administration and a responsible democratic government. A non-partisan public service is one where appointments are based upon merit and free of political influence and where public servants perform their duties and are seen to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner.

Our government values this vital feature of our Westminster style of democratic government, and we are committed to safeguarding the principle of political impartiality of the public service, agents of Parliament and officers of Parliament.

October 24th, 2013 / 11:40 a.m.
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Committee Researcher

Michel Bédard

The next bill, Bill C-520, An Act Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament, would require that agents of Parliament and their employees make certain declarations during the hiring process and while they work for Parliament. The bill may be too broad because all of the employees would be obliged to make declarations no matter what their position. The criterion is to determine whether this clearly breaches the Constitution.

We are at the beginning of the legislative process. The committee entrusted with studying this bill could eventually examine that. The bill involves matters of federal jurisdiction, does not seem to clearly breach the Constitution, and there is no similar private member's bill currently on the order paper. Moreover, there is no comparable government bill currently on the order paper.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActRoutine Proceedings

June 3rd, 2013 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to introduce an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament. The act would establish a requirement for all persons who apply 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. For successful candidates, these declarations would be posted online.

The act would also require the persons who work in the office of an agent of Parliament and these agents to make a declaration if they intend to occupy a politically partisan position while continuing to occupy their positions. These declarations would also be posted online.

As well, the act 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.

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

This would help protect the institution of Parliament and bring more transparency and accountability into the Canadian political process.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)