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

October 29th, 2014 / 6:30 p.m.
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NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Pursuant to an order made on Thursday, October 23, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions on the motions at report stage of Bill C-520.

The question is on Motion No. 1. A vote on this motion also applies to Motions Nos. 2-7 and 9-11. A negative vote on Motion No. 1 requires the question to be put on Motion No. 8.

The House resumed from October 9 consideration of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, as reported with amendments from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2014 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping to be able rise to say that the previous speaker had persuaded me, but unfortunately he has not, and I will be opposing the bill.

I would like to start with a frame of reference that situates Bill C-520 within the whole question of the democratic functioning of this Parliament. I have four main points before I get to what are the specific problems with the bill in my view.

The first thing is that we cannot forget how central parliamentary officers—we often say parliamentary agents—have become to the functioning of this institution, but the House of Commons in particular. One only has to note the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner as being among the officers to know how incredibly important their roles are.

It also speaks to why the leader of the official opposition, in a bill the Conservatives voted against, would have wanted to elevate the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to that of an officer of Parliament, as well.

Why am I mentioning this? The way in which our system has evolved, the incredible degree of influence, if not direct control, that the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's Office, to an extent ministers have in the way in which this very legislative institution functions makes it all the more important that there are other avenues of accountability than the traditional ones that Parliament, the House of Commons, relied on for centuries.

That is why it is so important that the parliamentary officers have evolved in the way they have. Without the annual report of each of these officers, without the role of the Auditor General, we would be a much poorer institution. I believe most members across the way would agree with that.

However, my concern is that, directly or indirectly—and I honestly fear, despite my respect for my colleague who is sponsoring this, it is more directly than indirectly—this amounts to an attempt to almost intimidate, if not undermine, those institutions. If that at all is either the intent or unintentionally the result, then I think this is a huge problem from a democratic perspective.

The second point is that this is a private member's bill, among so many that we have seen. I am not going to guess whether it is one of the many examples we have seen of private member's bills that are, in effect, government bills. I am going to assume it is a pure private member's bill.

However, the concern is that we have no charter compliance mechanism in the House or in legislation for private member's bills. The only thing that might happen is that the subcommittee of the procedure and House affairs committee may actually, on occasion, look at the charter issue as being relevant to votability but, frankly, I do not think that happens.

The Minister of Justice's duty to vet, supposedly vet, the compliance of legislation being tabled in the House is limited to government bills and it does not include private member's bills.

Now, my colleague may well have sought advice from the law clerk, or others, about the compatibility with the charter of this legislation. However, the fact is that it is before us, with me at least having serious concerns about whether or not the questions around how it affects freedom of expression, because there is forced expression here, and how it affects discrimination or arbitrary treatment of one sector of public servants versus other sectors of public servants, how whether or not that actually does implicate the charter.

It may well be that, if the case were made that parliamentary officers are very different institutions from government departments and, therefore, their staff must somehow be subject to this new regime and others must not, if that case were really well made, then it might be saveable under section 1.

The fact is that I have not seen that analysis and I do not think it was even looked at in any serious way, if at all, by the committee.

The third thing is, unfortunately, I think this reveals, yet again, the general weakness of our legislative process when it comes to the work of committees, especially, in majority government situations.

I believe the bill is fact challenged. There has been no sign at all of a problem of partisanship of the staff, let alone of the parliamentary officers. Therefore, there is this issue of a solution in search of a problem.

If I am not mistaken, and I can be corrected on this, the committee did not hear from a single witness to support the bill.

Basically what we heard was all kinds of evidence, external and in the committee, about why this was unnecessary and potentially harmful. The harm includes confusion with existing regimes, and the broader harm of whether this in fact would act as a form of intimidation of either the agents of Parliament themselves or their staff.

Therefore, in my view the committee ultimately did not do its job, because, at a minimum, it should not be bringing this bill back unless there are very clear reasons that it should support it. Apart from collegiality with the sponsor, which I can understand as one motivation, there almost seems to be no reason the committee should not have basically killed the bill.

The fourth and final point is the democratic functioning point. I think I was a bit generous earlier and I will stay that way: I am going to assume that this bill is the pure emanation of the priorities of my colleague.

Nonetheless, private member's bills have often been used as extensions of the government's agenda ever since I arrived almost three years ago. I believe this to be an abuse, at least to the extent that they are not then subject to the kinds of scrutiny and caveats that government bills are. They get to committee in a very short period—two hours—and they are not subject to charter review, as I already suggested.

I still remember almost being floored two weeks ago when a Conservative member of Parliament whose private member's bill was before us stood up and had as his very first words something of the following sort: “When I first saw this bill, I didn't think I liked it.” However, gradually he read the bill and he began to decide that he could support it.

It was the first clear admission I have ever seen in the House of a member saying he had been given a bill.

I am not saying at all that this is the case here, but I wanted to put this in the context of the frailties of our system when it comes to private members' bills.

Why can I not support the bill? My colleague has just adequately summarized three main points.

First, it is a problem in search of a solution. There has never been a proven or recorded incident of a conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest involving partisanship. No evidence whatsoever was brought forward in committee.

Second, it duplicates already-existing provisions that were adequately outlined earlier by my colleague, especially in part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act and relevant codes of conduct for at least two of the parliamentary officers' staff. At minimum, there is going to be this overlap-duplication-confusion issue with respect to how the two regimes apply. There is no mechanism in the bill for resolving that.

Even if I left it at an untidy piece of legislation, that would be a reason to vote against it, but the fact of the matter is that it is redundant, because the question of the admissibility of civil servants engaging in political activity is already covered in the rules of employment for those public servants. What it really amounts to is singling out with a very heavy-handed regime public servants of a certain kind: those who work for officers of Parliament.

This brings me back to my concern, the third problem with the bill, which is that there has been no analysis of charter rights and whether this could be upheld under section 1. The only way it could be upheld is if they made a really strong case that these civil servants are in a position that is different from that of all other civil servants, and I do not think we have come close to seeing that argument.

The fourth point is that whether it is intended this way or not by my colleague, it is turned into a Conservative talking point tool, in order not actually to seriously pursue transparency but to actually attack or undermine the offices of the agents of Parliament because of the central premise that there is a problem with partisanship. Why would there be a need for this bill unless there was a problem of partisanship?

I do believe that some of my colleagues on the other side believe there is a problem. They certainly did not prove it.

In that optic, despite a fairly fierce resistance from the NDP in committee and two amendments, this bill is not worthy of our support despite those amendments.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide the government's response to Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan offices of agents of Parliament. I know that the member for York Centre has worked very hard on this bill, and I would like to assist the House in explaining the reasons he brought it forward.

The purpose of the bill is to avoid conflicts that could arise, or be perceived to arise, between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of any person who works in the office of an agent of Parliament. For the record, this bill would apply to the offices of the Auditor General of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada, the Information Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Senate Ethics Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

We all know these offices quite well. They oversee the activities of our public institutions. Their chief officers report directly to Parliament rather than to government or an individual minister, and as such, they support MPs in carrying out their important duties.

Some have been part of our system of government for a very long time. This includes the position of Auditor General, which was created shortly after Confederation to provide objective information and assurance regarding the use of public funds.

In 1920, the position of Chief Electoral Officer was created. Among its many duties, this office monitors compliance with electoral law and maintains readiness to conduct federal elections.

The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages has also been with us for some time. Established in 1969 with the adoption of the Official Languages Act, this office ensures recognition of the status of each official language in Canada. It also ensures compliance with the spirit and intent of the Official Languages Act in the administration of the affairs of federal institutions.

Then, in 1983, as issues related to personal privacy and access to information began to draw more and more attention, the positions of Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner were created.

More recently, the government created three additional agent of Parliament positions: a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and a Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in 2007, and a Commissioner of Lobbying in 2008.

Each office serves a specific function. They contribute enormously to the accountability of our system of government, and taken together, they provide Canadians with assurances that government programs and services are working as they should and that institutions and individuals are accountable for their actions and decisions.

Here are some of the important functions they ensure: that funds provided to a federal organization are fully accounted for and used in compliance with programs or project agreements, that public service employees and other officials adhere to standards of professionalism and ethics, that activities are conducted in accordance with an organization's legislative mandate and adopted policies, that government activities are conducted in the most efficient and effective manner, and that the inefficient use of resources is avoided.

In short, agents of parliament play an invaluable role in our Westminster style of government. As a whole, they oversee the activities of a vast array of public institutions and officials that provide countless services and benefits to Canadians around the world.

It is worth remembering that the federal government is the largest employer in Canada. Its range of activities is as broad as it is vital to the future of our country. Indeed, we have people working in hundreds of locations in all parts of Canada and around the globe. From hospital orderlies to research biologists, from economists to crews on naval ships, from ambassadors to correctional officers, from police officers in remote communities to aircraft pilots, the knowledge and skills demanded of public service employees are as varied as Canada itself. This all takes place in a complex and unpredictable environment.

It is part of our challenge as parliamentarians to ensure that the full range of what the government does for Canadians is run in an accountable and transparent way. It is a big job, and we could not do it without the support of agents of Parliament.

The government has taken steps to strengthen and enhance the role of agents of Parliament in recent years, in particular through the 2006 Federal Accountability Act. The act strengthened the powers of the Auditor General, toughened the office of the ethics commissioner, expanded the reach of the Access to Information Act, and tightened lobbying rules, among other measures. Thanks to such reforms, Canada has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of government in the world. This is something all Canadians can be rightly proud of.

The bill before us today gives us an opportunity to further enhance our accountability regime. It includes measures to help maintain the principle of merit and non-partisanship in the offices of agents of Parliament. For example, it 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 engagements in political partisan positions. Specifically, this declaration would state whether in the 10 years before applying for that position the person had occupied certain specific politically partisan positions. The declaration would indicate the nature of any such position as well as the period of time during which the person occupied it.

The bill would also require every person who works in the office of an agent of Parliament and who intends to occupy a politically partisan position while holding the position in that office to provide a written declaration of their intention to do so. The declaration would indicate the nature of the politically partisan position as well as the period of time during which the person intends to occupy it.

In addition, the bill would require persons who work in these offices 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.

This bill would help to ensure that we continue to benefit from a system of government that is based on non-partisanship, an essential element of both a professional public administration and a responsible democratic government. It is for this reason that I urge all members to join me in supporting this legislation.

Supporting Non-Partisan Agents of Parliament ActPrivate Members' Business

October 9th, 2014 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to Bill C-520. Yes, at first glance one might wonder why we would be opposed to more transparency. The answer to that question is that, on closer inspection, this bill seems to be the government's way of conducting trumped-up witch hunts to intimidate agents of Parliament.

Under this bill, the 10 agents of Parliament as well as their staff would have to make declarations and post them on the Internet stating whether, in the 10 previous years, they occupied a partisan position. This is yet another example of the Conservatives' narrative of attacking those who keep them accountable, as was the case with the auditor general and the chief electoral officer.

Under this bill, if members of Parliament or senators were the subject of an independent investigation by these agents of Parliament, the parliamentarians could make it hard on these agents by calling for their own investigations in order to call the agents' integrity into question. That is absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical.

The law already requires agents of Parliament to be impartial. Why create a new law? There is no need to allow people to carry out witch hunts in these offices. We have already witnessed this government attack public servants who spoke out about irregularities or who dared to tell the government things it did not want to hear.

I am thinking about Kevin Page and Marc Mayrand, well-respected men who acted with good judgment and who told the truth, but who ultimately ended up paying the price. Is that the example the government wants to set?

The House resumed from September 15 consideration of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 15th, 2014 / noon
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, even if it is only for two minutes, I am glad to join the debate on Bill C-520 because I have watched it with great interest since it was first introduced. My observation, after listening to the debate from my colleagues and observing the member for York Centre who sponsored the bill, is that the Conservatives' all too evident disrespect for Parliament seems to have made a quantum leap to an out-and-out contempt for Parliament. The bill personifies the attitude that they will systematically undermine and chip away at all of the things that make our Westminster parliamentary system function, and one of those is the independence of members of Parliament. They undermine and try to bring into disrepute the reputations of some of the most honourable people who uphold the integrity of our parliamentary system.

However, we cannot really blame the member for York Centre for this. We all know this is not a private member's bill. In fact, the Conservatives use their private members' bills in the cheapest way possible as a way to avoid the scrutiny and oversight that government bills actually receive.

We know that 25 out of 30 of the so-called crime bills put forward by the Conservative Party were put forward as private members' bills. The Prime Minister's Office writes them and finds a willing stooge within the Conservative caucus to sponsor these bills. That way they do not go through the same legislative and constitutionality checks to ensure these bills do not offend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They get all the media advantage without any of the scrutiny and oversight that are supposed to take place on bills.

I wish the member for York Centre had done one thing. He had a last opportunity in this second hour of debate to apologize to the officers of Parliament whose reputations he undermined and made accusations about. Somebody has to tell Conservatives that the truth does not have a liberal bias. Their xenophobia, their paranoia is that those people who make detrimental comments about anything they do are somehow now enemies of the state and they have the rug pulled out from under them and their reputations tarnished. That is offensive to me. The member for York Centre could have used this opportunity to apologize. This is one of the things that parties do to floor-crossers. They have give them a dog of a bill because they do not really trust them anyway.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 15th, 2014 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome all of the members here in the House back to Parliament. The New Democrats worked hard this summer. They met with their constituents and knocked on a lot of doors to find out about people's priorities. I myself am so glad that I know more about the issues and concerns that matter most to the people of Terrebonne—Blainville.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-520. Since I am a member of the committee that studied this bill, I feel confident talking about just how bad it is.

I would like to begin by saying that the NDP will always seek to strengthen political impartiality and transparency in Parliament. The NDP believes that Parliament cannot function well without these values, which underpin its credibility and that of its institutions. My NDP colleagues and I fully embrace the principle of political neutrality and transparency.

I also believe that any bill whose purpose is to implement measures based on these principles must be drafted with great care and attention to detail. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Bill C-520. Not only is it badly written, it is also yet another sorry attempt by the government to cover up its own failures in terms of parliamentary accountability.

Other than the title—which, by the way, is a smokescreen—the content of Bill C-520 is useless, redundant and tinged with malice. Still, Canadians will not be taken in. They are well aware that the true purpose of this bill is to intimidate agents of Parliament, the very people whose mandate is to protect Canadians from the government's abuses.

This shows yet again that the Conservatives do not want to be accountable to anyone.They want to do what they want to do when they want to do it, and they could not care less about democracy. With a bill like Bill C-520, they are not even trying to hide the fact. This is another sorry example of the Conservatives' way of doing things: a witch hunt targeting those who would bring them into line.

The NDP strongly opposes this bill, which is rife with flaws, omissions and sinister motives. We are very proud of our work in committee. We worked hard to force the government to eliminate the worst parts of Bill C-520. Even so, this bill serves no purpose, and that is what I would like to demonstrate today.

When the hon. member for York Centre appeared before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to defend his bill, he described it as “imperative” and “critical”. Using such an alarming tone suggests that the political neutrality of agents of Parliament is often threatened. That is what my colleague, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, was trying to find out more about. He asked the member for York Centre whether he had any examples of partisan activities conducted by any of the nine offices of the agents of Parliament who are subject to his bill. Oddly, the hon. member for York Centre had no concrete examples to provide. Not one.

It is odd that Bill C-520 is meant to address a problem that does not exist. Even more strange, or more worrisome, I should say, is that during review in committee we found out that the hon. member for York Centre did not contact any of the nine offices of the agents of Parliament when his bill was being drafted, even though they will be directly affected by the proposed measures in the bill.

If the hon. member had bothered to take this more seriously and had held consultations, he would have soon realized that we already have a whole series of laws and codes of ethics governing the offices of agents of Parliament and that those laws and codes impose political neutrality on anyone employed by those offices. For example, most of the offices of agents of Parliament are already regulated by the Public Service Employment Act, the Political Activities Regulations and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Other laws are in place to ensure the political neutrality of offices that are not subject to the Public Service Employment Act, such as the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who is appointed under the Parliament of Canada Act. This statute takes political neutrality into account in the appointment process. What is more, the commissioner's office is governed by a code of values and standards of conduct that specifically and thoroughly addresses political activities and neutrality. A number of other agents of Parliament have their own code of conduct that complements the current legislative regime.

As hon. members can see, we already have a host of laws and public policies that ensure the political neutrality of agents of Parliament and their employees.

The three agents of Parliament who testified before the committee did not provide any examples of a conflict of interest or political partisanship. Their employees are professionals who carry out their official duties in a strictly non-partisan way.

Clearly, the current system is working. It is effective and, as a result, Bill C-520 is unnecessary and redundant. It is therefore not surprising that the member for York Centre was unable to provide any examples of partisan actions.

If the government was really serious about its approach and was actually acting in good faith, it would have consulted all of the agents of Parliament and invited all of the agents affected by Bill C-520 to testify in committee. However, it did not do so. In my opinion, that was the least the government could have done.

When I read Bill C-520 for the first time, I wondered what the real motives of the member for York Centre were. After all, this bill does not solve a problem; rather, it is a solution that is looking for a problem.

We have to ask ourselves why such a bill is being introduced since, in addition to duplicating systems and creating overlap, Bill C-520 is seriously flawed. Well, I got an answer this past June.

Everyone agrees that Bill C-520 is an unfair attack on the agents of Parliament whose duty it is to monitor the Conservatives. We learned from an article in the National Post that the member for York Centre, the sponsor of this bill, accepted inappropriate donations from lobbyists that he met as part of his work on the Standing Committee on Finance.

This type of solicitation violates the guidelines issued by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, which prohibit MPs from targeting any organizations or individuals with which they anticipate having official dealings.

This is not the first time that this type of thing has happened. Over the past few months, even Conservative ministers have had to pay back donations that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner deemed inappropriate.

Clearly, the current government does not want to be accountable any more than it wants to be monitored. The agents of Parliament are doing an excellent job of protecting us from government abuse, since the Conservatives are being caught with their hands in the cookie jar on a regular basis.

Rather than following the rules, the Conservatives are seeking to undermine the credibility of those who monitor them by unfairly attacking those individuals. That is what happened with the former parliamentary budget officer and, more recently, with the Chief Electoral Officer.

Bill C-520 is nothing more than a cynical attempt on the part of the Conservatives to make Parliament less accountable to Canadians. It is very worrisome.

Canadians deserve a government that respects parliamentary institutions, not one that tries to circumvent the rules and take advantage of the system.

I would like to speak to another aspect of this bill that is of great concern to me, namely the privacy rights of employees in the offices of agents of Parliament.

This bill requires anyone who applies for a position with or works in the office of an agent of Parliament to produce a written declaration indicating any partisan positions they have held in the past 10 years. The bill also requires that the declaration be posted on the office's website. In my opinion, these requirements are unnecessary and violate employees' privacy.

Everyone knows that the Conservatives do not care about Canadians' privacy. That is blatantly obvious in this case.

Forcing office employees to publicly divulge this type of information could have serious consequences because their work location and political affiliations would be made public. What is more, in 10 years, an employee could have changed affiliations or completely ceased any political involvement.

Those kinds of factors could cause employees keep quiet instead of disclosing this information. In addition, they may be concerned about the impact such declarations could have on their career and therefore may be reluctant to disclose anything.

Thanks to the NDP's hard work and effort, we avoided the worst. When this bill was studied in committee, we got the government to back down and forced it to withdraw the most dangerous provisions in the original bill.

Unfortunately, the concessions the Conservatives made do very little to assuage our concerns, which are shared by the agents of Parliament. Bill C-520 is still a set of useless provisions that will lead to confusion and make agents of Parliament less independent.

The NDP will continue to work to protect the agencies of parliamentary oversight.

Our country deserves better than a selfish, mean-spirited government.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 15th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to welcome all of the members back from a long summer in their constituencies, and who serve the people who place their trust in us. Welcome back, to all of my colleagues.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide the government's response to 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 the professional public administration and responsible democratic government. A non-partisan public service is one where appointments are based on merit and are free of political influence, and where public servants perform their duties and are seen to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner. The government values this vital feature of our Westminster system of government and is committed to safeguarding the principle of political impartiality, which is why it is pleased to support the bill before us.

We are privileged in this country. We have one of the best public services in the world. Public servants are vital to the success of our country. No government, of any partisan stripe, can maintain and build a strong, united, and secure Canada without the assistance of a professional, capable public service that is committed to the public interest.

One has to only look at the public service awards of excellence to see how public servants make a difference in the lives of Canadians. From investigating and reporting on disasters, to improving access to data, to engaging Canadians across the country from space, public servants rise to the challenges presented to them daily and make us all proud. Public servants are dedicated people, who care about our country and want to contribute to making it a better place to live. It is public servants who welcome immigrants to start new lives here by deciding on cases of individual applicants. It is public servants who administer income support programs, such as the Canada pension plan and old age security, and provide approximately 200,000 Canadian seniors with their only source of income. An effective public service is key to getting things done for ordinary working Canadians and their families.

This is important. One of the keys to an effective public service is the principle of non-partisanship. In fact, one of the drivers behind the creation of a non-partisan public service some 100 years ago was the view that the public service had become inefficient and ineffective because it was largely staffed on a partisan basis. As a result, public servants often lacked the necessary qualifications for their positions. Furthermore, a century ago the appointment of public servants for partisan reasons was blamed for swelling the ranks of the public service. It is therefore essential to the success of the public service that its reputation and tradition of impartiality be maintained and protected, which is why this bill is so welcomed.

In budget 2013, the government committed to review and update public service processes and systems to ensure that the public service continues to serve all 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 directly to Parliament. The individuals appointed to these offices perform work on behalf of Parliament and report to both chambers, usually through the Speakers.

Given the close relationship between parliamentarians, agents of Parliament, and their employees, it is vital that they carry out their duties free from political interference, and that they remain independent of all political affiliations.

Furthermore, given the high level of visibility of these offices, it is vital that their work be approached in a non-partisan way to maintain the confidence of parliamentarians and Canadians. To that end, this bill would require every person who applies for a position in an office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration about their past engagements in politically partisan positions. This declaration would state whether in the last 10 years before applying for that position the person occupied certain specified politically partisan positions. The declarations would be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament. As well, the bill would require persons who work in these offices 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.

I am pleased to report that the bill was subject to a thorough examination by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The committee heard from a number of witnesses and has recommended a number of amendments. In particular, I would like to highlight the following amendment, which is that agents of Parliament would no longer be required to conduct an examination of alleged partisan conduct and that they would therefore no longer be required to report to Parliament on such examinations.

In sum, the bill as it now stands provides enhanced accountability and transparency. It gives parliamentarians the confidence they need that the conduct of those who work in the offices of agents of Parliament is impartial. As stated in the bill itself, it would help to avoid potential conflicts that are likely to arise or be perceived to arise between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of an agent of Parliament or any person who works in the office of an agent of Parliament.

I therefore call on all members to join me in supporting Bill C-520.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 15th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to have the first speech in what might be the final session of this Parliament.

The debate we are having today is very telling. We in this House represent our partisan interests. We are a party-based system, so we are expected to come in wearing our partisan interests.

However, all of us, regardless of what party we are in, have a larger responsibility, in that we are parliamentarians. We are part of a system of democratic accountability that has been worked out in the Westminster tradition through centuries. Each one of the precedents that have been established in the various Westminster systems establishes a code of conduct that we are all supposed to be part of, which is that the overall obligation of Parliament is to represent the interests of the Canadian people in an accountable and fair manner.

However, what we have seen with the current government is a steady attack on the basic institutions that hold this Parliament to account. We are now moving to the stage where this Parliament has become very much a Potemkin democracy. Certainly we have debates and we have votes, but it is becoming more and more of a charade in which the powers of decision-making are being moved into the executive around the Prime Minister's Office through cabinet secrecies without accountability, and Canadians are left watching a spectacle in this House that is often a degradation of the very notion of parliamentary accountability.

We see that what has happened in this Parliament under the current majority government is a steady attack on the officers of Parliament. People back home need to understand that the role of the officers in Parliament is of non-partisan experts whose job is to hold parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and cabinet ministers to account. However, that runs counter to the Conservative notion of accountability, which is hold their enemies to account and use the levers and powers of government to go after their straw men and their perceived enemies.

All parliamentarians have to be engaged in ensuring that our parliamentary officers have the powers they need to ensure a functioning democracy. These officers include the ethics commissioner, the lobbying commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the access to information commissioner, Elections Canada, and official languages. As well, we have recently brought in a parliamentary budget office.

Let us look at the pattern under the current government before we get to this rather ridiculous bill that we are debating today.

Everyone remembers the absolutely vicious trashing of the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, whose credibility probably ranks him as one of the most respected public servants I have met in my public career and who was relentlessly attacked because he was not a toady for the Prime Minister's Office.

We see the attack on Elections Canada and the attempt to change the electoral laws to make it illegal for the Elections Canada officer to speak out about the basic rights Canadians have in a voting democracy. Certainly they had to pull back some of those amendments because they were so far over the line, but the attack from the Prime Minister's spokesman on the credibility of Elections Canada is once again moving us much further across this moral Rubicon that the Conservatives crossed many years ago.

We saw the gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act when they brought in recommendations that not a single witness supported or even talked about because they were so ridiculous. The gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act is so ridiculous that the Conservatives would now hold 250,000 civil servants to the same account as a parliamentary secretary. People working in a Service Canada call centre in Moose Jaw would now be under the ethics commissioner in the same way as a parliamentary secretary who is receiving money from lobbyists for fundraisers. They would be held to the same account. The Conservatives have watered down the act to make it virtually useless.

We see their use of government resources against charities, again their perceived enemies, by using the Income Tax Act to go after Oxfam and tell Oxfam, an internationally respected organization, that in the country of Canada it cannot declare that it is out to fight poverty.

We see the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who always has a light bulb burning half bright with some of the motions that she has brought forward. She has now brought forward this motion that NGOs, which are health organizations and international groups, will have to announce what kind of international money and connections are backing them. This is not about going after backroom lobbyists or bureaucrats; it is about going after charities and NGOs.

I was looking at the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke's bill. The only bills similar to it anywhere in the world are in Belarus, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China. There is not a credible western democracy that would use its levers of government to go after NGOs, except the current government. We see with Bill C-520, which was rightly called a government witch hunt, that there is no legislation anywhere in the world that is even close to what is proposed here.

This is a fascinating bill, because it was so badly thought out and such an overreach that the Conservatives could not bring any witnesses to back it up. Even right-wing ideologues with tinfoil hats would not come forward to defend this ugly baby. The government did not want any witnesses, so it had to strip its own bill because the bill was so odious. Under this bill, a parliamentary secretary under investigation for receiving all kinds of money for lobbyists could demand an investigation of the lobbying commissioner. Again, the people who are supposed to be investigated are the ones who have the power to do the investigating.

This bill, which was called a witch hunt, is an attack on the credibility of independent parliamentary officers so that now they have to make declarations. There is not much left in this bill. This bill was so odious that, my God, the poor Conservatives had come in and squeeze all the ugly guts out. They were pale when having to deal with it because it was such a dumbed-down bill, but what they left in it was the obligation that if someone is working in the ethics office or wants to work for the Privacy Commissioner, that person has to make a declaration of all his or her political activity going back 10 years.

Speaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

September 15th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are 11 motions and amendments standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-520.

Motions Nos. 1 to 11 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 to 11 to the House.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

June 10th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Okay.

You said that your office was going to have to fundamentally change its practices if you had to monitor 280,000 public servants. What you are required to do seems completely ridiculous.

I hope your office will be overhauled at least and that other offices will be able to help you as well.

Furthermore, I would like to talk about the definition of partisan activity. As you know, Bill C-520 will go forward, with changes, but the fact remains that we believe that the way this bill defines partisan activities is fundamentally problematic.

You said that you did not think monitoring partisanship was part of your role. Could you elaborate on the issue? How do you see this issue and the way it has evolved?

Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 26th, 2014 / 3:05 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in relation to our study of the main estimates 2014-15, specifically vote 1 under the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada; vote 2 under the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; votes 1 and 5 under the offices of the information and privacy commissioners of Canada; and vote 1 under the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer.

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in relation to its study on Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament.

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

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I'm just interested in clause 9, and it will be in clause 10 as well. This is one of the key issues that was raised by many people. I'm looking at an article in the March 21 edition of The Lawyer's Weekly, where lawyers for the federal commissioners are raising alarm bells, particularly about this clause of Mr. Adler's bill. It says that crown counsel Lisa Blais said that Bill C-520 “would give politicians a weapon to attack independent and impartial Parliamentary officers”, and “It politicizes the public service”. She particularly drills down on clause 9 and in the ability to demand investigations by members of Parliament or the Senate.

The article says, “if passed it could jeopardize the ability of the 40 lawyers who work for agents of Parliament to do their jobs, Blais warned.” She also said:

Their professionalism [and] impartiality is questioned and suspect. If they make a very tough call in the context of their position, will this be used as a sword because some politician doesn't like an opinion that one of our members provides? So there will be a chilling effect potentially when it comes to our members discharging their duties.

My understanding is that Mr. Adler's no longer supporting clause 9. I'd like to ask him, does he agree with this assessment by federal crown lawyers that this would impede the independence of the parliamentary officers of Parliament, and is his decision not to support clause 9 an indication that he's recognized that mistake?

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.

February 25th, 2014 / 12:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Do you think that Bill C-520 would complement what you're already doing, or do you think it's going to make any difference to your audits?

February 25th, 2014 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks to each of you for being here with us this afternoon. I'm very anxious to hear your input as we study this bill. I also want to thank each of you for the role you play as agents of Parliament.

I must admit, Ms. Dawson, that I've had more contact with you than with the other two gentlemen, but I certainly have always found you to be very impartial. You've always given us good advice when we have asked for it as a committee.

One of the things we've been hearing about from the three of you—well, actually, from Mr. Mayrand and Mr. Ferguson more than Ms. Dawson—are the differences between the PSEA and this bill. One of the things I've been told is that the PSEA does talk a little bit about volunteer activities, but Bill C-520 does not.

Could either of you gentlemen comment on that?

February 25th, 2014 / 12:15 p.m.
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Mary Dawson Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. I am pleased to contribute to the committee's study of Bill C-520.

During my opening remarks, I will share some general observations, with reference to relevant practices in my own office. I will also comment briefly on several specific elements of the proposed legislation.

Unlike the others covered by Bill C-520, my office is part of Parliament itself. As an officer of Parliament, my office is a separate employer that is not subject to the Public Service Employment Act. It is for this reason I'm not a signatory of the letter which I believe has been submitted to the committee by the others. However, I do agree in large measure with the views they have expressed.

Although Bill C-520 does not appear to have been introduced in response to a problem that requires fixing, there is certainly no argument to be made against greater transparency. In fact, I am a strong believer in transparency, as I have noted on many occasions, including in previous appearances before this committee.

I am satisfied that given the checks and balances already in place, my office could withstand any scrutiny contemplated by Bill C-520. However, I do note there could be some technical challenges that might arise from the way the bill is currently structured, and I will briefly refer to some of them later.

I acknowledge the importance of non-partisanship. I believe that non-partisanship is essential to the ability of all agents and officers of Parliament to fulfill their mandates. They and their staff must perform their duties in a fair and politically impartial manner and be perceived to do so. I note that non-partisanship is likely already being taken into account in the appointment process for agents and officers of Parliament. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, for example, is appointed under the Parliament of Canada Act. That act requires that the Governor in Council consult with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons, and the appointment must be approved by resolution of the House of Commons.

Indeed, the principle of non-partisanship is one that underlies my approach to my role. As is the case with the others covered by Bill C-520, I have implemented a code of values and standards of conduct in my office, again, copies of which I have tabled with the committee. This document specifically and extensively addresses political activity and impartiality. It notes the importance of employees maintaining their independence from political interference and discharging their responsibilities in an impartial way. It also recognizes the effect that employees' actions and comments outside the office could have on the reputation of the office as it relates to impartiality and independence.

In addition to prescribing desired behaviours and actions, the code of values and standards of conduct for my office specifically prohibit certain actions. Employees may not participate in any political activities. They are not allowed to share publicly any political allegiance during election campaigns, for example, by posting lawn signs. Also, they must refrain from making any written or verbal comments, including in the media or on social networks, that favour or could be perceived as favouring one political party over another.

During the more than six years that I have been commissioner, there has never been a case where the work of an employee in my office has been influenced or has appeared to have been influenced by political opinions or beliefs. If such a case were to arise, it would contravene our standards of conduct and the employee would be subject to disciplinary measures up to termination of employment.

A few of my employees have previously worked in political offices of various party affiliations. As professionals, however, they perform their official duties and responsibilities in a strictly non-partisan manner. I also note that their knowledge and experience of the workings of Parliament have been very helpful in fulfilling their duties at the office. It would be an unfortunate consequence of any initiative if it became an impediment to qualified people taking on positions in the office of an officer or agent of Parliament.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe there are changes to the bill that should be considered. For example, it does not establish a clear threshold for launching an examination, such as requiring the person making the request to set out the reasonable grounds for the belief that the staff member conducted his or her duties and responsibilities in a partisan manner. Nor does it provide a process by which an employee has the right to respond to the allegation being made. As well, the bill does not define what constitutes partisan behaviour. It does not set out provisions for conducting an examination in private.

I note that both the Conflict of Interest Act and the “Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons” contain such provisions, ensuring the application of principles of procedural fairness and natural justice.

Finally, the bill is very broad and applies equally to all employees regardless of level or whether they are in a position to make or influence decisions.

In short, while I have no issue with the principle of transparency that underpins the bill, I'm not convinced that the bill is necessary. I believe that the current draft could be improved. I hope, if this bill is enacted, that the final version clarifies these matters.

Again, I thank the committee for this opportunity to discuss Bill C-520.

Mr. Chair, I look forward to answering your questions.

February 25th, 2014 / 12:10 p.m.
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Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to address the committee today.

Let me start by saying I am in agreement with the remarks that have just been made by my colleague, the Auditor General. He has identified several important aspects of Bill C-520 that I also believe are worthy of careful review by this committee.

I can assure you that I too, as an agent of Parliament, am deeply committed to the principle and the practice of political neutrality. This principle is fundamental to the administration of the Canada Elections Act and is absolutely central to the performance of my mandate.

Each agent of Parliament is unique. In my case, given my role of administering electoral events and regulating the activities of political participants, the need for political neutrality is particularly acute.

Indeed, the Elections Canada Code of Conduct imposes on employees an obligation to observe strict political neutrality at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, not only in the exercise of their functions and duties, but also in their activities outside work. Letters of offer to employees detail these conditions of employment regarding political neutrality. These stringent requirements reflect my conviction that everyone working at Elections Canada, no matter their position, must remain and be seen to remain neutral at all times. The objective of maintaining neutrality in the organization would not be achieved by allowing even a small number of employees to engage in political activity, no matter how limited, at the federal, provincial or territorial level.

I believe it is consistent with what Canadians would expect of the people who work for the country's national electoral body. We can take no risks in threatening the confidence of electors and political stakeholders in the administration of the electoral process. Similar conditions have been placed on employees at Elections Canada since long before I became Chief Electoral Officer, and to my knowledge, there have never been any concerns expressed inside the organization about this.

In light of our code of conduct, the restrictions on political activity imposed by Bill C-520 would not have much effect on Elections Canada employees, with one significant exception. The obligation in clause 11 of the bill to publish on our website the past “politically partisan positions” of staff over the last 10 years would be new. I see this unnecessary requirement as a serious infringement of the privacy of employees and incompatible with the principle of merit when hiring staff.

It is unclear from my reading of Bill C-520 whether it is intended to apply to contractors with agents of Parliament as well as employees. The bill refers to a person who “works” or “occupies a position” in the office of an agent of Parliament.

In any event, in cases where Elections Canada directly procures services, and where delivery of those services might raise a reasonable concern regarding political impartiality, contractors are subject to an obligation to avoid political activities for the term of the contract. In fact, suppliers who cannot certify their ability to adhere to this obligation will not be issued a contract.

Finally, you should be aware that key election officers are also severely limited in their ability to engage in political activity. The Canada Elections Act itself makes it an offence for a returning officer to engage in “politically partisan conduct”. Of course, this is not surprising.

In addition, clause 5 of the code of professional conduct for election administrators restricts returning officers from engaging in political activity at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. This is different from employees and contractors, who are not restricted from political activity at the municipal level, but in light of the work being conducted by returning officers locally, I felt it was important to add this additional restriction for them.

As a last point, I would also like to comment on clause 9 of the bill, which would allow members of the Senate and House of Commons to make a complaint regarding political behaviour on the part of my staff. The Auditor General already touched on this provision in his remarks. It should be noted that even without this bill anyone who wishes to make a complaint about political activity on the part of those who work for an agent of Parliament can do so. There are mechanisms in place to deal with such complaints. For my part, I would like to underline my accountability for the conduct of those in the organization I run. Should there be any concern regarding the conduct of my staff, it is my role to appear before Parliament to account.

That concludes my introductory remarks, Mr. Chair. I have also provided the clerk copies of the Elections Canada code of conduct, as well as the code of professional conduct for election administrators. I would be happy to take your questions.

Thank you.

February 25th, 2014 / 12:05 p.m.
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Michael Ferguson Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present my perspectives on Bill C-520.

At the outset I would like to assure you that my employees and I are committed to carrying out our duties in a fair, independent, impartial, and non-partisan manner. Along with several other agents of Parliament, I recently signed a letter that emphasized this point.

The letter also makes several observations of a technical nature regarding the interaction of the provisions of this bill with the current regime that governs political activities of public servants. The letter provides a description of aspects of the bill on which we would appreciate some clarification.

Section 6 of the bill requires an agent of Parliament who intends to occupy a politically partisan position while still holding his or her position as an agent of Parliament to make a written declaration of intent as soon as possible, before occupying the political position. Currently, under section 117 of the Public Service Employment Act, I am not permitted to engage in any political activity other than voting in an election. The situation described in section 6 could never occur, and I would not like people to get the impression by reading the bill that it could.

Other aspects of the bill may produce unintended consequences.

Under the current legislation, I appoint employees to my office in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act, PSEA. Employees are hired based on the merit principle.

Subclause 7(1) of the bill requires an applicant for employment to provide, as soon as possible in the hiring process, a declaration as to whether or not they have occupied a politically partisan position in the past 10 years. Consideration of prior politically partisan positions would not be permitted to influence the current selection process.

Under the PSEA, if an individual had declared prior politically partisan positions, and for reasons of merit was unsuccessful in obtaining a position, that individual could challenge the decision not to hire on the basis that his or her declaration influenced the hiring process. Moreover, the publication requirement of this personal information could discourage individuals from seeking employment with our office.

Clause 9 of the bill states that I may examine allegations made by a member of Parliament or a senator that an employee has carried out their duties and responsibilities in a partisan manner. If an examination of such allegations is carried out, a report must be sent for tabling in both Houses. The proposed examination power would benefit from clarification as to what constitutes partisan conduct and the threshold of evidence required to request an examination.

Under the PSEA, the Public Service Commission investigates allegations of political activity on the part of public servants. Political activity is defined very broadly in that act, and in my view, it could include partisan conduct.

In addition, there is no confidentiality mechanism to protect the reputation of the employee whose conduct was examined and found to be appropriate and non-partisan. It may be worthwhile to consider whether the investigation provisions of the PSEA are a more effective method for independent oversight. Given the apparent overlap with the PSEA, a witness from the Public Service Commission would be of assistance in the committee's deliberations.

There is a third aspect of this bill that I would recommend to the committee for further study, and that is its impact on the privacy of individual employees. I have mentioned some possible consequences in connection with hiring and investigations. I would now like to touch on other possible impacts.

Upon coming into force, the law requires written declarations from all employees in our office as to whether or not they occupied a politically partisan position within the 10 years prior to joining the office, and a declaration from those who may have occupied such a position that they have been carrying out their employment duties in a non-partisan manner. The fact that some employees would be required to make a declaration could have adverse consequences. The public disclosure of this past activity also causes the individual's current place of work to be known. Furthermore, over the past 10 years, the employee may have changed political allegiance. Factors such as these may give an employee incentive to withhold information about past political activity rather than to disclose it. For these reasons, employees may be reluctant to make a declaration.

The bill applies to all employees no matter what duties they carry out. The committee may wish to consider whether the objectives of the bill could still be met by restricting its application to those senior managers and employees with authority, influence, and supervision over the work of the office.

In closing, I'd like to say a few words about the processes and declarations that are currently required of the employees in our office to ensure they comply with professional audit standards, our code of values and ethics, and current legislation.

Each year, every employee completes a Conflict of Interest Declaration, acknowledging, among other things, the obligation to act in a non-partisan, independent and impartial manner. At the start of every audit, every individual who participates in the audit must complete a comprehensive declaration of their independence. Any cases that give rise to a real or perceived threat to independence are reviewed by senior managers and our office's specialists for values and ethics.

Mr. Chair, I hope that these comments will be of assistance to the committee as it undertakes its review of Bill C-520. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

February 25th, 2014 / noon
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

That's not really necessary, Mr. Angus.

As the chair, I was going to welcome our witnesses to the committee, but thank you for your enthusiasm.

We appreciate the three officers of Parliament who have made themselves available on very short notice to come and discuss Bill C-520. As committee members, we have received written correspondence signed by seven agents of Parliament, and we appreciated that input as well. We have one thin hour to deal with the situation, unfortunately.

We'll welcome your opening remarks as you see fit to use them up to a maximum of perhaps 10 minutes each, or as a combined effort, as you see fit.

Mr. Mayrand, Madam Dawson, and Mr. Ferguson, welcome.

The floor is yours.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Thank you, Ms. Borg.

As a point of clarification, I don't know the specifics about those other incidents you mentioned.

I am here to talk about Bill C-520. Bill C-520 clearly enumerates who would fall under the purview of this bill. It's the nine agencies of Parliament that stand in judgment of members of Parliament and senators. These agents are held to a higher standard because they stand in judgment. In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer can't vote; that's how high the standard is.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Partisan activity is clearly defined in the bill. There are a number of definitions, a number of phrases and terms that are defined within Bill C-520.

Specifically, in terms of what a partisan position is, it clearly states under subclause 2(1):

“politically partisan position” means any of the following positions: (a) electoral candidate; (b) electoral district association officer; (c) member of a ministerial staff; (d) member of a parliamentary staff; or (e) member of a political staff.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Zimmer, for that excellent question.

I chose the 10-year period because it represents two election cycles, more or less. That's the reason I chose 10 years.

I just want to quote from a letter, which I know is in the possession of all the members, that seven heads of the various agencies of Parliament sent to the chair. In the opening paragraph, it says:

As Agents of Parliament we support initiatives that enhance transparency and accountability to Parliament and Canadians. Our role is to serve Parliament in a strictly non-partisan manner. In this regard, we support the principle that underlies Bill C-520 and are committed to ensuring that we, and the employees of our respective offices, discharge our duties and functions in a fair, independent, impartial and non-partisan manner.

In the letter they wrote to you, Mr. Chair, the principle of transparency is supported by seven of the nine heads of agencies of Parliament.

Transparency from my perspective, and I know from the perspective of our government, and I would hope from the perspective of the opposition parties, would be something they would be in favour of supporting.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Mr. Calandra, if I'm going to be consistent on relevance, really I don't know if that has any bearing on Bill C-520.

February 25th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

As long as you can bring it around to Bill C-520.

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

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

The point of order is one on relevance. I'm inclined to agree that you do have a point.

Mr. Calandra, could you limit your questioning to something at least related to Bill C-520.

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

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Chair, with all due respect to my honourable colleague and his questions, I'm here, as I think most of us are, to hear about Bill C-520. I think this line of questioning is irrelevant and not particularly on subject, so I'd like you to rule on that, Mr. Chair.

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

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Their names are in Bill C-520. I'm just wondering if it's a good idea for them to come here to discuss your bill.

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

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Quite frankly, I don't know what you're talking about, because it's not within Bill C-520. I don't—

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.
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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.

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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)