Evidence of meeting #84 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was office.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mario Dion  Nominee for the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, As an Individual

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

I have just a very short question, Mr. Dion.

Again, just for Mr. Baylis's clarification, we recognize you've had a very distinguished public service career, but in a couple of the appointments you accepted where you were the authority, the individual responsible, capacity seemed to be fairly directly connected to the criticisms that were assigned to you as the authority of those organizations or agencies.

Again, because of the nature of the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, we don't know whether Commissioner Dawson has the capacity to maintain and follow as many investigations as she has had recently. I'm not sure of the reporting command to the House of Commons. The House of Commons, of course, created the office and the commissioner's location. I'm just wondering whether you would convey the information of the need to expand capacity for the office to operate in a timely fashion.

4:35 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, As an Individual

Mario Dion

Mr. Chair, under the act, one of the very significant things is that the commissioner forwards the budgetary needs to the Speaker, and the Speaker essentially asks the President of the Treasury Board to make those allocations.

Right in the statute there is a power to essentially ask for what you need in order to meet the needs of the moment, and there is very little discretion not to give it to you. It has to be done in a responsible way, and throughout my career, I have been involved in numerous Treasury Board submissions, so I know something about calculations and preparation of submissions.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

We didn't get one this year.

4:35 p.m.

Nominee for the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, As an Individual

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Kent.

Now we have a motion from Mr. Erskine-Smith—

Go ahead, Mr. Cullen.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

One of the principles in our House is the independence of the committees to operate fully and perform our functions. One of the functions this committee has is to review certain selections for certain officers of Parliament, this being one of them. We also had lobbying as well.

I'm looking through the timeline and the sequence of events with the process, on which I think I've made fully clear my level of dissatisfaction. After three extensions, 18 months of extensions, for the previous officer, in this case, of ethics, we had a one-hour interview, apparently.

To get the point of order here, we had to call these emergency meetings to facilitate this process as the session is winding up before the holidays. The government introduced a motion to vote on the reference of Mr. Dion in this case almost simultaneous to whether this committee was even going to meet and have this brief one-hour time with him. Now Mr. Erskine-Smith has required.... I'm sure his authorship is all over this and his own insights into the wording—

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

I would like you to get to your point of order, Mr. Cullen.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

My point of order is this. The committee's ability to do our work, which we've been asked and tasked to do from the House of Commons, is infringed upon by the government House leader who introduced the motion to have a vote on Mr. Dion prior to the committee even being assured that we would have this meeting in the first place. We invited Ms. Chagger to appear—Liberals, with one notable abstention, disagreed with that—to explain how we got to this process and this state. I would argue that it puts not only a cloud over this committee, but through no fault of the applicants, the nominees, a cloud over the officers of Parliament who are working, as Mr. Dion rightly said, on behalf of Parliament.

It's very frustrating to allow this vote now, which is what I assume Mr. Erskine-Smith will now move, a vote on the motion to proceed to the House when it was the House leader's choice to, I would argue, subvert the effort of the committee to have a proper hearing.

If we had not been able to meet today, Mr. Chair, the House would have a vote tomorrow afternoon on Mr. Dion. Is that true? So to you to the House—

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

You need to get to the objective, Mr. Cullen.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

What's that?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

I still want you to get to your point of order. It's still debate up to this point. I still haven't heard a valid point of order. You've made some points, but a point of order, I don't believe, is one of them.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Note it through this—and again I said this to our previous candidate—to participate and validate this process in any direction for us is non-tenable, as it was for Mr. Erskine-Smith over the request of the House leader to appear before us. As I said to Mr. Dion off record before this meeting started, I say to him now on record: it's nothing personal, but it's very frustrating and I think regrettable that we're at the stage of this important work the committee is charged with, to hire somebody for seven years to hold us all to account.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Cullen.

We'll go on to the motion.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

The fact is that we did meet and having heard the answers from Mr. Dion, I move:

That the Committee report the following to the House:

Your Committee has considered the Certificate of Nomination of Mario Dion, nominee for the position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, referred on Monday, December 11, 2017, pursuant to Standing Order 111.1(1).

Your Committee has considered the proposed appointment of Mario Dion as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and reports its recommendation that he be confirmed by the House of Commons as Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

It's before committee. Is there any further debate?

Mr. Kent.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let me say the official opposition agrees with the NDP's rejection of a completely unacceptable process and the lack of meaningful consultation in this process, but at the same time, we believe it is most important that we ensure continuity in the operation of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Separating our great concern with the government's process, we believe that we should hold a vote and that, in fact, Mr. Dion, should be recommended for a vote in the House of Commons for appointment.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Mr. Cullen.

December 12th, 2017 / 4:40 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thank you.

I hear Mr. Kent's intervention in terms of continuity. That was one of the concerns we had raised in the media weeks and weeks ago, knowing that Ms. Dawson's term was coming due January 8 and that this committee would not sit until the end of January. In fact, we were the ones who first proposed the idea of the committee coming back together to find out what was going on and whether we were going to have an Ethics Commissioner at all.

That's simply a lack of planning on the government's part. If they conducted the interviews, as Mr. Dion testified today, in mid-August.... Excuse me, if they took the applications in mid-August—I don't want to get the record wrong—and interviewed three weeks ago, which is what I think we determined, and at the very last moments of Parliament's sitting, with the fear of having no Ethics Commissioner at all, this is the path the government has chosen.

My grandmother used to say a lack of planning on your part does not create a crisis on mine. With 18 months' notice, two years plus in government, the government knew this day was coming and chose the eleventh hour in which to put this through.

I don't know about Mr. Dion or my colleagues, but I have more rigour in hiring my legislative assistants and staff assistants in the riding in an hour's interview from a list of one. This is such an incredibly important position. The officers of Parliament have great sway, as Mr. Dion and others have said. This is the process, and the Prime Minister still today chose to call this meaningful consultation. I don't understand how my Liberal colleagues can see it as that. They would certainly not accept it if they were sitting on this side of the table.

In the past, when we've hired Sergeants-at-Arms and other officers of Parliament, other people who work for all of us, we've had multi-party committees. It worked, because every party had input into the candidates, short-listed them, and then put that forward to thePrime Minister for the nomination of a candidate. That's still giving the Prime Minister an enormous amount of discretion, to choose from a list of three or four, but importantly, with all-party support throughout the process so that, as Mr. Dion and others have pointed out, these officers remain beyond any concern of partisanship or influence or any of those things, as was rightly questioned by one of my Liberal colleagues today.

To push the opposition completely out of the process, to send what I think is an insulting letter saying, “Here's the one name. You've been consulted. Congratulations. Have a one-hour meeting and then a vote tomorrow in the House of Commons”, and call that due process.... My Liberal colleagues know it's not.

It's unfortunate, because it creates this tension that, I would argue, is totally unnecessary. We want to get this right. We want the best people in the position, because they run our elections, they guide us on ethics and lobbying, and do all these important things. To create an insulting process is really unfortunate, and it's certainly not the expectation of the promise made by the Liberal Prime Minister when he was running as a candidate for this office. It's unfortunate.

I'll be abstaining again.

As I said to Mr. Dion, it's no reflection on his candidacy. It's just a totally disgraceful process that got us to this place.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Bob Zimmer

Thank you, Mr. Cullen.

Is there any further debate on the motion?

(Motion agreed to)

Thank you, Mr. Dion.

I wish everybody at committee a merry Christmas.

The meeting is adjourned.