Evidence of meeting #7 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chair.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Miriam Burke

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Because the subamendment has been moved...yes.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Okay, please put me on the list.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Seeing that there are members of the government getting on the speaking list, I would certainly like to hear what they have to say about this and look forward to—I would hope in an expeditious way—seeing that we can begin the process of shedding light on the many issues to come.

I'll just end my comments with one more paraphrase of a conversation that I had on Tuesday, yesterday, with a constituent specifically referencing the filibuster. They were reading the news and saw that the government members were participating in this filibuster, and this constituent didn't really understand what a filibuster was. At the end of the conversation, they asked, “Well, why would they want to hold up getting to the bottom of this?” I think that's a good question.

With that, I would move the subamendment, which I hope is in line with the original intent of what my friends in the NDP intended, which was to ensure that we can simply do that, get to the bottom of this. The outstanding question is, why not?

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Kurek.

Folks, we have now moved from a motion to considering an amendment to that motion, and now we are considering a subamendment. With that, we begin a new speakers list for the subamendment.

First up I have Mr. Barrett.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thanks to Mr. Kurek for his remarks.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

I have a point of order.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Do you want on the speakers list?

Yes, you are on there already.

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Chair, we submitted names, and other names were added. That's why I want to know where my name is on the list.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Sure, just one moment here.

For the subamendment, we are hearing from Mr. Barrett currently and then Madam Shanahan.

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Pardon me, Madam Chair, but I was asking a question.

My name is on the list, but I'd like to know where it is on the list. Is it fourth or fifth, for example?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm answering your question.

We have Mr. Barrett, Madam Shanahan, Mr. Green, Mr. Fergus, Madam Gaudreau, Madam Brière and Mr. Kurek.

Mr. Barrett.

July 22nd, 2020 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Thanks, Madam Chair.

Ms. Brière, every time I've spoken in this committee, you've interrupted me within 10 seconds on a point of order to add your name to the speakers list. I find that fascinating. Ms. Shanahan took the opportunity at the last meeting to interrupt on points immediately after I started speaking.

In the interest of collegiality, and that spirit of collegiality that we talked about early on, I won't be interrupting you ad nauseam, and with a predictable cycle, throughout your speaking at this meeting. I do find it interesting—I do find that very interesting—that other members are able to draw the chair's attention without interrupting another member when making their remarks.

In my letter to the clerk dated July 13, I raised the point that it is concerning to think that payments might be funnelled this way in order to secure government contracts with respect to the $300,000 paid to members of the Trudeau family by the WE organization. Having visibility on speaking engagements that the family members have been paid for is germane to having an understanding of breaches that may have occurred. We have a situation where it is evolving minute by minute. It's important to understand if organizations are using members of the Prime Minister's family to gain access to government. That's important.

It's important to reiterate also that the issue is not with members of the Prime Minister's family being paid for their profile, be it for their work in a particular field or because, in the case of Ms. Margaret Trudeau, she is the wife of a former prime minister. That would garner some interest on the speaking circuit for sure, but when we have this organization that was not paying other speakers and only paid speakers who were related to someone who could financially benefit their organization, it's important to understand how widespread this is. That's necessary.

There's no intention or desire on my part or on the part of my Conservative colleagues to call any members of the Trudeau family other than the Prime Minister. I don't think that is necessary. The personal information with respect to addresses, contact information, is not germane, but with respect to speaking fees paid, and speaking fees paid by whom, that is germane to the work of this committee.

I will be supporting the subamendment.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Barrett, thank you.

Madam Shanahan.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you, Chair.

I just want to point out to Mr. Barrett that he certainly has had ample opportunity during the course of this and earlier committee meetings to speak at length and without interruption. I think it is the business of all committee members here to participate to the fullest extent in the meeting. I think it's the right of every committee member just to make sure that they're on the speakers list and that—

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

On a point of order, Madam Chair, could I get myself on the speakers list, please?

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Barrett.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Thanks.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Ms. Shanahan.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Madam Chair, I'd like to talk about a few points.

To the subamendment, I think we had a thorough discussion at the last meeting about what the mandate of this committee was and about the different roles this committee has. I made the point in my discussions that, for the committee here, our role is to review the work of the four officers of Parliament who are included in our mandate.

I am wondering if the subamendment is expressing some lack of confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, so I'd like to share with the committee some notes I made concerning the commissioner, the act and the role of the commissioner in executing that act.

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner administers the Conflict of Interest Act by establishing compliance measures, investigating possible contraventions of the act and providing advice to public office holders on their obligations. The commissioner is an officer of Parliament. Officers of Parliament are independent from the government and report directly to Parliament.

The Conflict of Interest Act came into force on July 9, 2007, which created for the first time a legislative regime governing the ethical conduct of public officer holders. Prior to this date, public office holders were subject to non-statutory codes of conduct.

Some additional information on the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is that this person is appointed by the Governor in Council, by commission under the Great Seal, after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the House of Commons, and after approval of the appointment by resolution of the House. He or she holds the office for a seven-year term.

Under the Conflict of Interest Act, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner must be a former judge of a superior court in Canada or of a provincial court; or a former member of a federal or provincial board, commission or tribunal who has demonstrated expertise in at least one of the following areas: conflict of interest, financial arrangements, professional regulation and discipline or ethics; or a former Senate ethics officer or former ethics commissioner. The position was created in 2007 and replaced the Office of the Ethics Commissioner under Parliament of Canada Act, section 81.

The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner also provides confidential advice to the Prime Minister and to public office holders on all matters pertaining to the implementation of the Conflict of Interest Act, and in addition the commissioner may, at the request of a parliamentarian or on their own initiative, investigate any alleged breach of the act by a public officer holder. The commissioner may, in the course of investigation, consider information provided by the public that is conveyed to the commissioner by a parliamentarian.

I think this information that is publicly available is important for the Canadian public to understand. The role of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is to undertake any investigation of alleged violations of the Conflict of Interest Act.

I would like to return once again to our mandate here in the committee, because many members here did cite the text of Standing Order 108(3)(h), paragraphs (v), (vi) and (vii), during the course of their interventions. I just want to point out, especially in (vi), that the text must be read in its entirety. It's in a certain context:

(vi) in cooperation with other committees, the review and report on any federal legislation, regulation or standing order which impacts upon the access to information or privacy of Canadians or the ethical standards of public office holders;

It's not to investigate public office holders themselves.

This was very interesting to me as I was reviewing all our statutory requirements for this committee, because I took a look at the work of this committee historically. I think it's something that behooves us to see how the important work of committee members actually leads to the creation and the evolution of better standards of practice—

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

I have a point of order, Madam Chair. I would clarify with respect to the member opposite, a vice-chair of this committee, that much of the concern of the members, certainly from the Conservatives, and I've heard from at least one of the other parties regarding the reference to the mandate of this committee, conveniently, some of the sentences were—

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Is this a point of order or a debate?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

—left out.

I would just note in reference to this that there were a number of times when members talked about the mandate of this committee.

She's right. It does need to be read in its entirety, but in its entirety and not just select aspects of it.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Madam Shanahan.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you.

Returning to the work of this committee over the years, its early work before the creation of this committee was the creation of a Special Joint Committee on a Code of Conduct. Then, in the 38th Parliament, the mandate of this committee was studied at length, and I think it behooves us, as I say, at the beginning of starting any work in a committee, to know what the mandate is.

Studies since that time related to disclosure of names of the access to information applicants. Again, looking at the appropriate execution of the legislation at the time, there was a calling of witnesses in the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, which was actually.... There was a lot of testimony towards a full public enquiry, and to my mind, it points again to the fact that this is not the appropriate place for this kind of committee work, this kind of investigation.

Other work since then had to do with the estimates, the Access to Information Act and the naming of the different officers, including work on some of the more recent initiatives that had to do with privacy and social media in the age of big data. I think this points to the clause in our mandate that talks about initiatives. Indeed, some very good work was done on the growing problem of identity theft and its economic and social impacts, as well as on protecting Canadians' privacy at the U.S. border.

Also, more recently, in the 42nd Parliament, work was done on “Addressing Digital Privacy Vulnerabilities and Potential Threats to Canada's Democratic Electoral Process”. Also, of course, there was report 20, the “International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy”. This is the kind of work that this committee undertakes.

Coming to the subamendment, it is not for this committee to be receiving personal documents. That is the prerogative, the job and, in fact, the very important work of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, because this is the person who has been named, with the agreement of all parties, to undertake this work. It is not the work of this committee. We are not an investigative body.

Thank you, Chair.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Madam Shanahan.

Mr. Green, you are next.