Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague very much for his presentation.
I also thank my colleague, the hon. member for Parry Sound—Muskoka, the official opposition critic for public safety, for his outstanding work on this very important issue.
I was prepared to speak to Bill C-22 in a perfectly normal debate in keeping with the standard procedures of the House. Unfortunately, today, we have all once again witnessed, as we have on a number of occasions, the government's willingness to shorten debate so that all those who have things to say on Bill C-22 cannot do so.
This is surprising in the case of a bill sponsored by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. The minister has previously had a very different view of the contribution of parliamentarians here in the House, if we go by a short article from 2013 on the website of the minister, who was then a member of Parliament. I will quote two short excerpts in English; it will be easier.
The piece is entitled Ideas For Making Our Democracy Stronger, and the paragraph that caught my attention reads as follows:
Ministers wanting to advance policy initiatives should be required to convince not only cabinet colleagues, but also backbenchers. They should not simply rely on the Whip to enforce support–they should earn it by merit.
However, what we are seeing today is quite the opposite. Not only is the whip being used, but so is the Leader of the Government in the House to move Bill C-22 quickly through all stages in the House.
In the same piece, when the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness was a member of Parliament, he says:
Restrictions are needed on the use of ancient but recently-abused Parliamentary tools such as Omnibus Bills, Closure Motions to terminate debates, and Prorogation. They have their place, but should be confined to their original purpose and intent.
Once again, what we are seeing today is completely the opposite. Those are the very words of the minister who is sponsoring Bill C-22.
Bill C-22 was introduced in the House of Commons last June 16, in order to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Let us recall that the establishment of a parliamentary oversight committee was a promise made by the Liberals. Clearly, it is important to make sure that our national security bodies are properly examined. We must absolutely ensure that this committee has the tools it needs to do its work.
However, we know that the Prime Minister has already appointed a member of his caucus, the member for Ottawa South, as chair of that committee, even though the legislation has not yet passed. A gag was used today. A committee chair was appointed. There is no legislation in place, but we already know the name of the chair of a committee that does not exist.
The government is breaking a well-established tradition of our parliamentary system by imposing a chair the way it did. Committee chairs have always been elected by the committees themselves, not imposed by the Prime Minister's Office. The Liberals promised Canadians during the election campaign that they would form a committee of parliamentarians on national security. They said, promised and repeated that this committee would be non-partisan. Bill C-22 does not create a committee of parliamentarians. It is not neutral nor is it non-partisan. It is controlled by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
We have to realize that the Liberal government is much better at making speeches and symbolic gestures than it is at taking real action. However, in finest federal Liberal tradition, they promise one thing in a campaign and do the opposite once ensconced on the government benches. This is called being partisan. It reeks of partisanship.
Bill C-22 imposes many barriers on the committee's ability to access information or call witnesses. This, also, is unlike similar committees that operate effectively in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom. The official opposition presented motions to amend Bill C-22 to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in December.
On the issue of a non-partisan committee, we would expect some of the opposition's recommendations to be accepted, but all of the official opposition's proposed amendments were rejected. We only wanted to ensure that the composition of the committee is not partisan and that its chair and its members are not appointed by the Prime Minister.
Clearly, as we now know, that recommendation was not accepted. The committee should be established by Parliament and be accountable to Parliament, not just to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety. However, the Liberal government is not listening.
We also wanted to remove the many blocking mechanisms in Bill C-22 that limit the committee's access to information and power to call witnesses. Once again, the Liberal government has said no. We wanted to ensure the committee's annual reporting process to Parliament will be more transparent. The Liberal government has decided otherwise. This is what sunny ways look like. This government is becoming a master in the art breaking promises.
The Liberals promised a modest deficit. If we were to give them a report card today, they would get a failing grade. The same goes for electoral reform. The Minister of Public Safety even talks about this in the fascinating piece I just read from. I quoted a few passages, but I will refrain from quoting it any further. I will have other opportunities to do so. The issue of electoral reform was a monumental failure, even though the Liberals spent hundreds of thousands of dollars consulting Canadians. They ignored the results of those consultations. They simply went ahead and did what they wanted anyway.
There is no denying that the Prime Minister's sunny ways have also failed when it comes to transparency and accountability. If I were a teacher, I would be forced to write “fail” in big red letters on this government's report card.
On September 30, 2016, which was not so long ago, the Liberal member for Willowdale stated the following in this House:
In keeping with our government's commitment to evidence-based decision-making, Bill C-22 notably aligns Canada's security regime with accepted international best practices. As colleagues before me have highlighted, Canada is currently the only member of the Five Eyes alliance lacking a security oversight committee that grants sitting legislators access to confidential national security information.
Many of my colleagues have demonstrated in the House that the government has failed to do this. It has not kept its promise to align this committee with the best practices of our allies, including Great Britain. Will the member for Willowdale vote against the wishes of the Prime Minister's Office and honour the promise he solemnly made to his own constituents?
On September 28, 2016, the member for Montarville, who is now on the back benches but was then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, said the following in the House:
The bill before us would establish a committee with nine members. Seven of the committee members would be drawn from the House of Commons, and of these seven, only four can be government members. Two members would be drawn from the other place. This committee will be different from other committees and offices established to review security and intelligence matters.
A little further on in his speech, which was probably prepared by officials from the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and edited by the Prime Minister's Office, he added:
Robust powers are given to this committee, its members, and its secretariat. The committee will be able to access any information it needs to conduct its reviews, subject to some specific and reasonable limits.
The powers conferred upon the executive, meaning the ministers of the Liberal government, are huge. For instance, subclause 8(2) of the bill states:
If the appropriate Minister determines that a review would be injurious to national security, he or she must inform the Committee of his or her determination and the reasons for it.
In language that everyone can understand, that means that a minister can decide what the committee will study. I am not sure that that is what voters voted for on October 19, 2015.
In conclusion, I invite my Liberal colleagues and all members to assert their independence with respect to the Prime Minister's cabinet and his staff. They already did so in the not too distant past when voting on Bill S-201. I believe that the members opposite are capable of doing it again if they can muster the courage.
I invite them to vote against Bill C-22 and not to renege on the promise they made to their respective constituents in the last election campaign.