Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. I think it is about a very important matter.
I will begin my remarks by commending and thanking Mr. Phillips for his work. He has worked very hard for the country.
I think it is fair to say that he brought great competence and great class to the office he filled and to the work he did on behalf of Canadians in his capacity as privacy commissioner.
I would very much like to attach myself to the remarks of prior speakers on the opposition side of the House, particularly those of the House leader of the New Democratic Party, who has a great deal of experience and a remarkable degree of understanding of the inner workings of parliament.
Much of the theme he touched on in his remarks is that which is most important, which we are discussing here, and that is, it is not the personal aspects of this appointment but the process that was followed that is offensive to those previous speakers on the opposition side.
I also must take issue with the way in which we were given some semblance of an opportunity to have interaction and discussions with Mr. Radwanski. I want to preface everything by saying this is not to in any way question the integrity, competence or ability of this individual. Yet when the name was first brought forward in February of this year by the government House leader, there was some initial resistance, some initial question, that was expressed on the part of other government House leaders. I note that my colleague from the Bloc is indicating likewise.
The issue just seemed to disappear. It just seemed to go away. Then, while parliament was not in session this summer, we were suddenly notified after the fact that this person would be given this appointment. It was a very after the fact, stealth like consultation.
The government House leader is being a little economical with the truth when he says this has been an open and inclusive process. It is a shame, a crying shame, because in my opinion this puts a pall over an individual who very well could serve the country in the same professional, proficient fashion we have seen of Mr. Phillips. That remains to be seen. We will see how this turns out.
It is very important to note, as my colleague from the reform alliance has put on record, the very close personal contacts this individual has with the Liberal government. Something else important to point out is that the resumé we received at the pseudo-committee meeting we had did not include the same connections that were on the initial résumé given back in February. Those references have already been pointed out.
That is not to say a person who was senior policy strategy and communications adviser to the Prime Minister would necessarily be partisan. However, one would assume that working in that capacity he would be called upon on occasion to dispense partisan advice. One would also assume that working in that capacity very closely with the Prime Minister he would achieve some level of personal attachment and friendship. Similarly one would suspect that in working as a senior strategy and policy adviser and principal speech writer for the Right Hon. John Turner a personal relationship and connection would develop.
We know times change. We know things evolve. Yet the same government House leader who, while a prominent member of the rat pack, used to stand on his desk and rail like a banshee at the prior Conservative government, using words such as patronage orgy and nepotism while in opposition, now has very much embraced this supposedly offensive practice. He has wrapped his arms around it.
I have a compiled list of over 500 appointments in the past seven years that indicate a very strong golden thread of connection to the Liberal Party which leads to very lucrative and rewarding patronage type appointments. The shoe is on the other foot and is now kicking the opposition in the teeth.
I know I cannot use the word hypocrisy in this place. I am not allowed to use that word, but it is a shame because it seems to me it smacks of just that. Famous words were uttered in debate when Mr. Turner was left with that anvil of patronage appointments hanging around his neck. It was pointed out by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that he had a choice. He had to wear that albatross. Yet it appears the government House leader did not have a choice. He had to take his marching orders from Mr. Goldenberg and the Prime Minister's Office. He had to follow along the same path. He obviously was in the same boat as Mr. Turner.
We know other very important supposedly non-partisan roles have been filled on the advice of Mr. Goldenberg and others in the Prime Minister's Office. As the House leader for the New Democratic Party alluded to, it diminishes and sullies the process when this attachment exists.
We know as well the significance of the office cannot be lost. The significance should never be undermined or in any way attacked or somehow devalued during the course of the debate, because the ethics commissioner's office is very important, if it is exercised in the way it is supposed to be.
Similarly, regarding the privacy commissioner, the information commissioner and all of the roles that are filled by individuals, I say with great sincerity that one hopes the persons in those positions will exercise their duties in a non-partisan fashion. When the perception exists that the only reason the appointment has occurred is a close connection to an individual in government, in this case the Prime Minister, or an individual with strong Liberal connections, in my opinion this leads to questions and further cynicism, almost bordering on apathy at times on the part of the public when this practice continues.
As was mentioned as well, the qualifications of the particular person whose name has been brought forward are very impressive. He is an author of great renown and an individual with connections in the journalistic community. I am yet to be convinced and I am yet to even hear proper explanation as to why it is that a person necessarily with a journalistic background or an academic background is the person who should fill the role of privacy commissioner. I do not quite follow that thinking.
Again, this is not to attack the personalities here, but what special qualifications do journalists have that make them good privacy commissioners? We know the natural role of a journalist is to disseminate and distribute information, as opposed to protecting the public information. It seems to me a completely contrary role is filled by a journalist or author.
In this context, in this parliament we have seen an occasion when private information of Canadian citizens was being distributed and was being handled in a very sloppy fashion, shall we say, by the HRDC, and the privacy commissioner in his capacity played a very important role in making that public. Would this person, with his close Liberal connections, have done the same thing?
Again we must ask that question because it is also the public perception of impartiality that is important here, not just the real impartiality, but the perception of same. We see that phrase used quite often in the courtroom: it is not only that justice be done, but that justice is seen to be done. That is exactly what is at issue in this debate and the questions surrounding this appointment.
The government, I would suggest, has failed to discharge its duty of giving that public assurance and giving that impression. Therefore we have some difficulties with this: difficulty with the process, difficulty with that same old Liberal arrogance that is being displayed more and more with each passing day.
The neutrality of this position has to be paramount, as well as certainly a working knowledge of the Privacy Act. Again, I did have the opportunity to participate in the sham of a committee. As was alluded to, it was a hybrid. It was not really a committee, but it was an opportunity after the fact to examine the qualifications of this individual. To his credit, he certainly owned up very quickly to his connections to the Liberal government and expounded on his abilities in other areas.
One concern I have is a full appreciation and working knowledge of technology. I suspect that in the capacity of privacy commissioner there has to be a real indepth grasp and knowledge of the information technology explosion and an ability to understand how important it is to protect information that is now available in computer banks and computer information that is held by the government. Again we are not completely clear on the connection and the ability of the particular individual in that capacity, but time will tell. Certainly we will have the benefit of hindsight, one would argue, at some time to come.
The government should be the focus of this debate. The Liberal government has created this situation. It could have been avoided with a more open and inclusive process, if there had even been the invitation early on to simply sit down and talk with this person, to have an opportunity to meet him even, on an informal basis, instead of this stealthy, behind the scenes appointment process that occurred in this instance. Perhaps we should have had an opportunity early on to do that, and it would have avoided some of the unpleasantness and some of the bad taste left in the mouth of the opposition with this appointment.
I want to conclude my remarks by reminding the House of something I was reminded of quite recently. The individual is an officer of parliament whose duty, first and foremost, is to the people of Canada and to the Parliament of Canada, to discharge his or her duties honourably, with professionalism, and in an impartial way, devoid of any sort of partisan political considerations.
We are unfortunately left, to some degree, with damaged goods. That is most unfortunate for the privacy commissioner. This could have been avoided if the government had chosen to go about this in a different fashion and if the nominee had been given an opportunity earlier to meet with opposition members to satisfy concerns they might have about the way in which this process took place.
Again I would suggest that our retiring privacy commissioner, Mr. Phillips, certainly performed very ably on behalf of the country. We wish him well in his future endeavours.
We hope this debate, to some small degree, will be a reminder to the government that those on the opposition side of the House have every right to question. There is in fact a public expectation that the opposition will question the way in which these appointments are made. They should not have the ring or the stench of patronage. They should not reflect nepotism.
If competence is to be the true criterion, let us ensure that takes place through a fair, open and inclusive process of examination of those appointments.