Mr. Speaker, I must say at the outset that I certainly would never take a view as pessimistic of the role of Parliament and the work of the new Liberal government as my friend opposite has. Perhaps we simply see things from different sides of the House.
I can assure my constituents and other colleagues in the House who would care to listen that my experience in Parliament is much more positive than my friend articulates. Again, by another dimension of measurement, my experience in Parliament is much more satisfying and fulfilling to me, to
Parliament, and I hope to my constituents than was my experience in the last Parliament.
Hopefully we can continue to make things better. To be sure, things are not yet ideal. All of us in the House are working to improve the way the House represents Canadians in debate and in the generation of legislation and in that other area, which often goes unnoticed in the House, the area of delegated legislation; the field of creation of statutory instruments and regulations.
The government has made great strides in fulfilling our red book commitments for a more open and accountable process based on fair play and other principles that they know Canadians will endorse. We have made a commitment in the red book to review the appointment process to ensure that necessary appointments are made on the basis of competence, not political affiliation or other criteria.
My friend opposite has listed a number of appointments and made reference to their relationship and affiliation with the Liberal Party. He failed in almost every instance to make reference to the abilities of those individuals.
As the Prime Minister has said, and I support him wholeheartedly on this, one is never going to be prejudiced from serving in a part time or full time position for the Government of Canada just because the person happens to be a Liberal.
We promised accessibility and transparency. I accept that things do not necessarily happen overnight around here. One does not simply push a button and get exactly what one wants. But the process has been in place for over a year and we have produced some excellent results.
We also undertook to examine the size and relevance of existing boards and commissions to achieve cost savings and to fill the remaining vacancies in relation to some of these agencies, boards, and commissions by way of an improved appointment system. The first step to establish an efficient appointment system was by means of a thorough review of the agencies. More than 350 agencies, boards, and commissions were examined, which involved 500 full time positions and 2,000 part time positions.
As a result of the review, 30 per cent of federal boards, agencies and commissions have been wound up or streamlined. Wound up means gone. We want to eliminate overlap, duplication, and to simplify government. Again, this is easy to say, tougher to do. We are still working on it. We will continue to wind up those agencies that no longer serve a purpose. This agency review has improved the accountability regime for governor in council appointments, and this enables the government to manage these agencies more effectively.
The second part of this process, after streamlining the agencies and reducing the number, was to improve the appointment process. There also the government has done a thorough review of the process. We want to make it more open and accessible.
The role that boards and agencies are expected to play is clear and appropriate. When that is the case it is possible to be more precise in identifying the qualifications needed by appointees. This in turn permits improvements in the recruiting process. In this respect the government has made changes in the process for these appointments, always keeping in mind accessibility, transparency and confidence.
The appointment process has been made more open and transparent through the advertisement of vacancies for full time GIC positions in the Canada Gazette . I know a lot of Canadians do not wake up with the Canada Gazette on their doorstep, but it is one instrument that publicizes for the public record all these openings and is disseminated across the country, including to all the libraries on the list. All these openings are advertised there. People who have an interest will be able to find out when the vacancies come open.
In order to place the advertisements it is necessary to develop job profiles that contain job descriptions and selection criteria. In those notices there are references to job descriptions and selection criteria. All federal agencies are required to provide job profiles and these same selection criteria for full time fixed positions. The selection criteria are then used to find the most competent people to fill these positions.
The advertisement of vacancies in the Canada Gazette generates a greater pool of candidates and contributes to better appointments. Interested individuals send their CVs either to the agency or to the minister's office. Some people even send it to the Prime Minister's office. At the end of the day these resumes and CVs end up in one pile. Each CV is then evaluated in accordance with the established selection criteria.
This particular process has been in place for nearly a year. As I say, it was not in place when we first took over government. It may be some time before all of the wrinkles and variations in the process are fully dealt with. The improvements have begun. I can testify to that.
As a Liberal member of Parliament in the last Parliament I sat in opposition and watched the appointment process as it was. While on the opposition benches we noted what we regarded as deficiencies in the process. We did not have much impact on it.
In this Parliament we have made a change in the process. What is remarkable to me is that after nine years on the opposition benches and as a person active in Liberal politics, having ended the nine year mandate of the previous government, I have had more than one Liberal come to me and
question me as to why it is not possible for Liberals to get appointed to agencies, boards and commissions.
To be sure there are many Liberals being appointed. People I have worked with in the party have taken note of the fact that being a Liberal and just being there is no longer the way one gets appointed to an agency, board or commission. One has to have the competence. I have passed that message on to many. It is a change from what has happened in the past, going back five or 10 years.
The other part of the motion today has to do with parliamentary reform. It is a subject I have always taken a great interest in. I have said to my spouse and friends that I would be willing at the appropriate point in time to lay my career on the altar of parliamentary reform. I have not had to do that yet.
Parliament is changing. It is reforming. This government made a commitment to be a part of the reform process. I have to point out something that is very fundamental in understanding what drives parliamentary reform. It is almost impossible for a government to say that it will and that it does take full responsibility for parliamentary reform. A government does not own Parliament. A government does not at all times of the day drive Parliament. Parliament belongs to its members and through them to the electorate of Canada.
People must realize that this Parliament is a distinct branch of government, distinct from the executive. The lay person who has not spent time around the House of Commons or who has not studied it in great detail in high school or university might miss some of the more obvious distinctions between the executive branch of government and Parliament.
Let me record my perception that there is a huge difference. If Parliament is to be what Canadians expect it to be, it is important for members of Parliament and Canadians to understand that distinction and to understand what drives Parliament and parliamentary reform.
The government has gone on record as wanting to play a role in the restoration of confidence in Parliament and confidence in government. The government can take care of the government but it is those of us in Parliament who have to take the responsibility for Parliament.
It has to be pointed out as well that all ministers of the government sit in Parliament. I hope that their focus when they sit here is as much parliamentary as it is governmental, but I accept that from time to time a minister's role is to account to Parliament for the management of his or her portfolio. The ministers will not, by the nature of their work, be fundamentally involved in driving parliamentary reform.
In any event, from the point of view of the government this is just not talk. We started with parliamentary reform very early in our mandate. In January 1994 we introduced quite significant rule changes to open up the parliamentary decision making process.
The objectives of the reform were to make Parliament more relevant and to consult and work with MPs more in the day to day decisions of government so that MPs would have a greater impact on those day to day decisions. We have to keep in mind that outside of Parliament there is a vast public service which is loyal and operates 99.9 per cent of the time within the law in accordance with the mandate which comes to it by statute or by policy. We also wanted to give MPs a greater role in influencing legislation as it developed.
That is what the government said it wanted to give Parliament. I would like to repeat that it is not as much for the government to give than it is for MPs to take. The history of this place includes the history of all the British Parliaments. Over time, parliamentarians have given their lives to ensure there was a Parliament which would work. We in this country are the beneficiaries of that history. All of us ought to subscribe to the philosophy where we accept the burden of making Parliament work and take the obligation to reform it to make it vital and responsive to Canadians.
We made four changes in the rules of this place at the behest of the government. Committees of the House, which are a very vital part of Parliament, may now draft bills. Those are not just words. That was done.
Bill C-69 was drafted in committee. I sat on that committee. It was a tedious exercise. It is one which MPs are not used to, to actually meticulously draft a bill. We needed a lot of help but we got it done. It was a big job and there is room for more of that in this Parliament.
Bills can now be referred to a committee before the second reading vote. That is the point in time when Parliament approves a bill in principle. By referring it to a committee before the second reading vote, before approval in principle, it provides the committee with much more latitude to make changes or additions to the bill. The committee is not bound by the principles articulated in the bill which would have been adopted at second reading.
That is a very important change. We have already seen the benefit of it several times in this Parliament, including the Marine Transportation Security Act, the amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act and the amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I sat on that particular exercise and found it useful. There are a couple of other bills coming into the House where we believe colleagues may be so disposed as to refer them to committee before second reading.
Two of these are Bill C-62 and Bill C-84. My experience is that this is a very useful device.
Standing committees of the House will have the power to look at the department's future spending priorities. If there is one area of work in Parliament where I think Parliament and the government has let Canadians down it is in the review of the estimates. It is an institutional fault. The estimates procedure as it has evolved over many years has left this House almost functionless in carefully reviewing government's proposed expenditures.
The new rules turn the tide and provide another area of work for MPs. As a member of Parliament, I cannot say that MPs have taken up the challenge. The process is just beginning and the proof will be in the pudding. I do not know where it will end up. However, if MPs do not take the challenge and work with the new procedures, then we may be seen to have been as ineffective under the new rules as we were under the old rules. That is something which is coming down the pipeline. I for one will watch it closely and do my best to make the system work.
The finance committee was given the power to report on the budgetary policy of the Government of Canada. That was a specific mandate given to a specific committee. There is some historical precedent for that.
There used to be a committee and I think it was called the committee of the whole but it was not the committee in the House. It was a standing committee that used to review all of the estimates and put its stamp of approval on it at the very end. That ended about the time John Diefenbaker ended his career here. He was one person who regretted the demise of that particular committee and procedure. In any event, we are making an attempt to get back to focusing on government expenditure policy in the one committee. At least one committee will make some macroeconomic comment on it, if I can put it that way.
The last thing has to do with Parliament's right and ability to require disclosure from Canadians. In this place we call it the power to call for persons and papers. It basically consists of requiring people to attend, give answers to questions and produce documents much like the power a subpoena would have.
There are a number of things developing in this Parliament where we will have an opportunity as a House to reconfirm the rights and authorities that we have as a Parliament to require disclosure. Over the last decades we have not used it. We have accepted an ill advised view of the executive branch of government that we really do not have those powers. However, we do. Parliament does and at the end of the day we may exercise them at committee and on the floor the House.
I hope when these parliamentary tests both in the House and in the other place come up this year or next, MPs will make the right decision to confirm those powers which have been passed on to us over a number of generations of parliamentary history. It is a challenge and I hope my colleagues will not let us down. I am sure they will not, but the challenge will not be here until it gets here. I invite MPs to play a role in that vital element of parliamentary reform when it gets here.