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House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was petro-canada.

Topics

Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is not a matter of consent. The government is entitled to change the designated order for anything under government orders. I do not believe that it is a matter of the consent of the House because we did not begin with the item the clerk read at the table. I believe it is completely normal for the government to determine the order in which we will deal with items under government orders.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

September 28th, 2000 / 10:10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That, in accordance with subsection 53(1) of the Act to extend the present laws of Canada that protect the privacy of individuals and that provide individuals with a right of access to personal information about themselves, Chapter P-21 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1985, this House approve the appointment of George Radwanski of Toronto, Ontario, as Privacy Commissioner for a term of seven years.

First, I want to thank Bruce Phillips whose mandate ended on August 30 and who carried out his duties with integrity and professionalism.

An eminent journalist, Mr. Phillips served as deputy privacy commissioner from February 1990 to April 1991. He then assumed the position of privacy commissioner from April 1991 to quite recently, namely August 30.

With the ongoing responsibilities and the extremely delicate nature of the position of privacy commissioner, it should be filled quickly.

Therefore, pursuant to subsection 53(4) of the Privacy Act, the governor in council may give any qualified individual the powers and functions of the incumbent of this position. George Radwanski has therefore been appointed acting commissioner.

I hope that all members of this House will support the appointment of Mr. Radwanski as the next privacy commissioner.

The Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations met to consider Mr. Radwanski's appointment last Thursday, September 21. The committee reviewed Mr. Radwanski's extensive experience which, as I am sure all hon. members will agree, makes him very well qualified to assume the role of privacy commissioner.

A former journalist, Mr. Radwanski is currently president of his own public policy and communications consulting firm. From 1965 until 1985 he held journalism positions of increasing responsibility for various newspapers, including associate editor of the Montreal Gazette , Ottawa editor and national affairs columnist with the Financial Times of Canada and editor in chief with the Toronto Star .

Indeed, he was honoured by his peers in the journalism profession on two occasions, namely in 1980 and 1981 with the national newspaper award for editorial writing.

Following his departure from the journalism field, Mr. Radwanski entered the public service when he was appointed by the then Ontario premier, David Peterson, to head major studies into matters of importance to the Canadian public, including a study into the service sector in Ontario.

In 1996 at the request of the Canadian government, Mr. Radwanski chaired the mandate review of the Canada Post Corporation, a very important task.

During his journalism career and indeed his professional activities following his departure from the journalism field, George Radwanski has demonstrated a commitment to Canadian values and to serving the Canadian public. His long and distinguished career will hold him in good stead in this future position.

With his background he will bring to the position both knowledge and experience with the delicate and difficult problems of balancing the public's right to know and the individual's right to privacy. He will also bring to the position of privacy commissioner the independence of mind of a journalist, which I am sure all hon. members will agree is an extremely important qualification for the job of privacy commissioner.

In conclusion, I encourage all members of this House to support the motion to have the House approve the appointment of George Radwanski as the privacy commissioner.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, the official opposition certainly supports the appointment of Mr. Radwanski as the privacy commissioner.

For years now the official opposition has asked that when appointing people like this to key positions, the individual should be interviewed by certain standing parliamentary committees, and that was done in part in this case.

Before I proceed any further, I would like to pay tribute to the previous privacy commissioner, Mr. Bruce Phillips. It was my privilege to meet with him on several occasions and I have a lot of respect for the gentleman. He did the office a great honour and carried out his responsibilities with respect and also with great confidentiality. I am sure that Mr. Radwanski will do the same.

I want to refer back to the particular interview process that took place at the parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Government Operations. This particular committee met and the members of the committee were invited “to an informal meeting for the purpose of consulting with the interim privacy commissioner.”

The hon. member opposite just indicated that the committee met to consider the the appointment of Mr. Radwanski. To the best of my recollection there was no motion made at this particular committee, neither was it ever indicated that there was a consideration here. It was for the purpose of consulting with, which is quite different from the implication left by the words that the hon. member used a moment ago.

Unfortunately, the committee interviewed someone who had already been appointed. In one sense it was really a ratification and, indeed, the motion here before the House is in fact a ratification. It is my understanding that Mr. Radwanski has occupied the position since September 1, 2000.

I want to ask this question. What was the status of this committee meeting at that time? It was my understanding that the committee was to have been conducted in a manner similar to that of a regular meeting of the standing committee. While an interview took place, while there was translation services and while there was a broadcast on the usual radio channels, there was no official record kept of what transpired at the committee meeting.

I submit that there is little practical use of a meeting like this, when it is purely a motion. I want to reinforce the concept that we agree that these kinds of interviews should take place with people who will be occupying key positions. It is essential that we do this. There should be transparency, there should be respect and there should be dignity for the office and also for the people who are being chosen to occupy these positions. In order to have meaningful input it should not be simply a consultation and it should not be simply a matter of meeting with this person.

We met Mr. Radwanski. He was a good individual. He met with the group and expressed himself well and demonstrated that he was able to do the job.

I would suggest that in future the record of these meetings be recorded. It will help both the memory of the members who were there and will also help to make the process transparent and accountable and it will give the respect deserved to these kinds of appointments.

I would like to say something as well about the individual who is being considered today, Mr. George Radwanski. I do not think there is any doubt that he is a very capable individual and that he has extensive academic and experiential credentials to do the job. However, one wonders whether his connections and association, past and present, with the Liberal Party, both federally and provincially, may have influenced the selection of him as the privacy commissioner.

To be specific, I want to refer to some of these connections. First, he was the special adviser to the treasurer of Ontario, appointed by then Premier Peterson to undertake a study of the service sector. He published the study known as “Ontario Study of the Service Sector, 1986”.

Then, in 1987 he was the special adviser for the minister of education in Ontario, again appointed by then Premier Peterson. He undertook a major study which resulted in a publication entitled “Ontario Study of the Relevance of Education, and the Issue of Dropouts, 1987”.

He served as a senior strategy and policy adviser and principal speech writer for the Right Hon. John Turner in the 1988 election campaign. Then very recently, Mr. Radwanski served as a senior policy, strategy and communications adviser to the Right Hon. Prime Minister of Canada in the House today.

During the discussion and consultation in no way did Mr. Radwanski ever try to cover this up or in any way suggest that he did not have these associations. In fact, he had had these associations and was quite open about that. I commend him for that.

He indicated that he wanted to make some recommendations with regard to the Privacy Act so that the act could be brought more up to date and more commensurate with the conditions in the world of government and business today.

He wrote “The Future of Canada Post Corporation”, which was a review of the Canada Post mandate to which the hon. member opposite just referred. The publication was given to the hon. minister then responsible for Canada Post Corporation in 1996. Unfortunately, those recommendations did not go anywhere. I hope the recommendations he will make on the Privacy Act will go a little further than that.

The Canada Post mandate reflected in my opinion both depth of understanding of sound management principles and what a strong organizational structure should look like. His comments, even in this early tenure in the position of privacy commissioner, showed the same kind of understanding and sensitivity that he revealed in that earlier review. I certainly wish him well.

In my mind there is no doubt about the competency of this individual. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that his appointment was not totally void of patronage considerations by those making the recommendation to appoint him the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will make just a few comments on what the House has before it today, this motion to appoint Mr. George Radwanski as the new privacy commissioner.

At the outset, I want to say that everything I have to say today should not be taken as a reflection in any way upon the integrity of Mr. Radwanski or his competence as an individual, an administrator or, for that matter, potentially as a privacy commissioner. However, there are a number of concerns that should be registered at this time.

If we have a recorded vote on this, it may well be that we might choose to vote against the motion, not so much as an expression of opposition to Mr. Radwanski, but more as our expression of opposition to the process which has been followed and the fact that the government has missed an opportunity to really do the right thing and break new ground with respect to the appointments being made to these kinds of positions.

One can understand, to a certain degree, what we normally call patronage when the government appoints people to carry out its policies. It is understandable even though this can be done to excess and improperly with people without merit sometimes getting appointed. Nevertheless, governments have a right to appoint people to carry out policy whom they trust share their world view and can carry out their policy thrusts in any particular area.

However, there are a number of other positions that are not positions in which people are entrusted with the carrying out of government policy. What they are entrusted with is the scrutiny of government policy. Their job is to criticize, if necessary, government policy. For instance, there is no possibility that part of the job of an ambassador is to criticize government policy. He is an extension of government policy. However, a privacy commissioner, an information commissioner, an official languages commissioner and a number of other of those kinds of appointments that may exist either as officers of the House or out in the broader realm of the public service are quite different in that respect. Certainly the Office of the privacy commissioner falls within that realm.

I go back, at the risk of sounding repetitive, as I know I do to some people in the House, to the McGrath report. We suggested in that report that real power be given to committees of the House when it comes to these kinds of appointments and, for that matter, when it comes to a variety of other critical appointments, like the appointment of the head of the CRTC, at that time called the CTC, and those to a number of other government boards and commissions. This was not just to have informal consultations but to give committees real power to hear from potential candidates, not just candidates that the government had already selected, or if it was fixed on only one candidate, to hear from that candidate and make a recommendation. For that matter, we even suggested that the committee have some measure of veto power over whether or not an appointment was to be made.

That long standing recommendation goes back some 15 years. The government had an opportunity here to implement that recommendation in one way or another through having a much more meaningful process than it did, instead of asking us what we thought of a candidate and then appointing him as an interim privacy commissioner.

This is putting the rest of us on the spot now. The government tells us that a candidate is going to come before the committee and at committee we then find out that it is a hybrid event. It is not really a committee meeting but an informal discussion. There may or may not be a record of the conversation. I raised this matter with the chairman at the time and I understood from what he said that there would be a record, but now I understand that there is not. The record is not available. As far as I am concerned, I was misled at the time with respect to the nature of the meeting.

There is a lot to be unhappy about. There is the failure of the government to implement a long standing recommendation when it had an opportunity to do so with respect to these kinds of appointments. We are unhappy with the inadequacy of the government's process, by its own standards.

Mr. Radwanski is capable of impartiality. Even though he was an active Liberal, he has a history of being critical of the Liberal government and the Liberal Party from time to time. That is beside the point. The point is that when it comes to this kind of position the government should have chosen someone who was beyond reproach at the level of perception. I am sure that there are many capable Canadians who have no particular political party association and who would make great privacy commissioners. They would not necessarily come from the public service because, as we know, sometimes bureaucrats have a tendency to secrecy. I do not mean secrecy in the privacy sense, but secrecy in the secrecy sense. They might not fit the bill either.

I am sure that there are Canadians who would have been great nominees. Parliament could have had some role in short listing them and suggesting to the government that it select from half a dozen people. This would have been a much more meaningful process and would have helped, in the public's mind, to reduce the cynicism about parliament being a rubber stamp for things that are decided elsewhere. Let us not kid ourselves. This was clearly decided elsewhere.

We could, for the sake of Mr. Radwanski and for the sake of public perception, have a nice touchy feely debate in the House and pretend that parliament is doing something. That is not what is happening. Parliament has been presented with a fait accompli and an inadequate process. This is another missed opportunity. As far as I am concerned, this is another demonstration of the fact that the government and the Liberal Party are a hopeless case when it comes to democratic reform or doing anything that would really enhance the perception and the power of parliament.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, before discussing this appointment, I would like, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, to acknowledge the work of Bruce Phillips who, in spite of often extremely difficult circumstances, did a professional job. Mr. Phillips can only be praised for the impartiality and common sense that he displayed.

At this point, I think that the Parliament of Canada and all Canadians and Quebecers want the privacy commissioner to be someone with good judgment and with the ability to objectively evaluate the facts before him.

We congratulate Bruce Phillips and we wish him a new career that will allow him to use his skills for the benefit of society.

As for the appointment of Mr. Radwanski, anyone taking the time to read his resumé can only agree that this man has a very extensive knowledge of Canadian politics. He is most certainly a brilliant and very intelligent person.

We all know, however, that these qualities are important but do not necessarily provide all the rigour required to hold an office that must be totally exempt from any partisan behaviour. The Bloc Quebecois will not approve this appointment for the simple reason that parliament must be allowed to ask questions to a candidate to the position of privacy commissioner.

This is another appointment made by the executive branch of government and it could be perceived as a political appointment. I believe the government—the one that is still in office—would definitely not want to give that impression. I humbly suggest that the government order that this candidate be called by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to answer the questions of members of parliament. In my view, this is the least we can ask in a parliament that claims to be the most democratic and the best one in the world.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member from the Bloc for her statement.

The other day we were informed that the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation in Winnipeg has been given another board director through order in council without any consultation from the fisheries committee, without any consultation from anyone. This name just appeared, and bang. Through government order in council this person is now in a very important position within the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation in Winnipeg.

I would like to have the hon. member's comments both on the systemic attitude that the government has shown in ignoring past recommendations and on making these appointments much more open and much more transparent to all Canadians.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the issue of transparency in parliaments is taking on increasing importance. With the emergence of all the information technologies, the average person is becoming increasingly aware that things are not as they should be.

The appointment to which the hon. member referred is just one more example of what I would call the almost disturbing power wielded by a majority government which has the right to decide on a number of appointments with ramifications for the public.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, as our House leader said earlier, our opposition to this process is not based on any personal judgment about Mr. Radwanski, who is a journalist of some renown although he does have historic and close ties with the Liberal Party. It is the process we do not like.

Can my hon. friend from the Bloc enlighten us briefly about what sort of process would be better in a case like this, rather than having the government simply dip into its bag of Liberal contacts and friends to make an appointment that really flies in the face of any parliamentary debate or participation? What process would be better?

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will give an example of what I think would be a clear way of doing things.

We will be having an election soon, in three weeks or three months. We do not know when but there will be one. When elected parliamentarians return to the House how will they choose their Speaker?

It is the role of the Speaker of the House of Commons to be impartial, to use judgment and common sense. These are three attributes required of the privacy commissioner. I think that everyone would agree with me.

Why, therefore, would parliament not elect one of several candidates? Naturally this takes longer and is more complicated than just appointing someone, but when it is a question of privacy, something that affects us all, is it not worth taking a little of the House's time? This is something that is very basic and I am certain that Canadians as well as Quebecers would see it as a plus for democracy.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

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.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the remarks made by the hon. member from the Progressive Conservative Party as well as by all our colleagues from the other political parties, except those from the party in power.

We are now speaking about an officer of parliament. The privacy commissioner is indeed an officer of parliament.

Would my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party be in agreement with what my colleague from Laval Centre proposed, that is that it should be up to parliament, therefore to all the members in this House, to appoint officers of parliament? These officers should have no connection of any kind since they are supposed to represent the whole population.

Would he agree that all the members of parliament should elect the privacy commissioner?

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

I would certainly agree that parliament should have greater say and greater participation in the selection of the officers of this place.

To rule out individuals who have had active participation in the political process is somewhat naive. I am not saying this personally to the member. We do want to encourage people to participate in the political process to whatever degree, through support of the party, through support of an individual, or through participation in politics generally. We do not want to say that would somehow negate a person's ability to fill an office.

However, if there is to be confidence and the perception that the person will perform the role impartially, then parliament should have the final say. I believe that having an open vote is appropriate in some cases, not necessarily in all appointment cases, but for roles in which the underlying objective and need to be fulfilled is the duty to respond to parliament. Yes, at the end of the day, parliament should have the final say in electing those individuals.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for his comments. I only wish his good friend the premier of Nova Scotia, Dr. John Hamm, would hear his comments. As we all know, a former major Conservative member received a very plum position in Nova Scotia as deputy minister of education and received a raise on top of what the person previously in that position received. I hope his comments translate to the provincial Conservative premier. But that is just a little punch to a provincial issue.

The member is absolutely correct in that parliament needs to be more relevant, more transparent and more open. What role can the hon. member see the general public playing in this? Would it be just through elected officials in the committee? Would the general public have an actual say in this as well or does he feel that it would get too bogged down in some sort of bureaucratic malaise? Can the hon. member see the general public having an actual say on who is appointed to these very prestigious positions?

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will respond in two parts. First, about trying to make some sort of a tie to what happened in Nova Scotia, that individual was not an officer of parliament obviously. With respect to the NDP, I think there is still some residual smarting for the spanking that party received in the provincial election in Nova Scotia. I will not delve into that partisan boxing match.

My colleague from the eastern shore of Nova Scotia would know that it is sometimes difficult to involve the general public entirely in the appointment processes. I would suggest that is what elected individuals are supposed to do. They are entrusted, one would hope, with the public confidence and with the faith that they will fulfil their roles in critiquing the government or when in government that they will fulfil their roles in an impartial way to as large a degree as possible.

I know my friend from Nova Scotia, my fellow Bluenoser, is a person who appreciates that these processes have to take place sometimes in a speedy fashion. If we go to complete populism where there are referendums on everything and complete public input on every appointment, I would suggest that government and the bureaucratic malaise he refers to would kick in. There would be a grinding, screeching halt to all government operations if we tried to approach it in that fashion.

I take his point. Certainly openness and greater participation from all sides of the House and certainly increased public confidence and increased public participation are things we should all strive for in this place.

Privacy CommissionerGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what my colleagues from the opposition parties had to say. I can only agree with them that this kind of appointment should for the most part be made by parliament and not by the government, its decision then being ratified by the majority in the House.

This is the difference between an appointment made with the consent of all the parties represented in the House and an appointment submitted, brought forward and even, as is the case today, imposed by the government.

To the credit of Bruce Phillips, the privacy commissioner who is stepping down today, I must say that he had a very delicate role to play in the last few months. The commissioner must absolutely deal at arm's length with the government. We saw this not too long ago, when he played a key role when the government tried to link the data from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency with those of the Department of Human Resources Development. Had he been close to the government, he might not have got involved. The retiring commissioner also played a major role in bringing to light the existence of the longitudinal file of the Department of Human Resources Development. Had he been close to the government he might not have got involved.

We should really make sure that the individual appointed to this position is impartial, non-partisan and independent, especially from the government, and all the more so because the new legislation dealing with the protection of personal information in the private sector still seems to us to be very vague, especially as regards the development of e-commerce.

It is important that the appointee be under no suspicion at all for collusion or dubious contacts with the government.

Does the Conservative House leader not find it strange that the appointment process for officials of the House provided in various laws is not exactly the same?

Here is an example. Subsection 49(1) of the Official Languages Act reads:

49.(1) There shall be a Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada who shall be appointed by commission under the Great Seal after approval of the appointment by resolution of the Senate and House of Commons.

As for the Privacy Act, it states under subsection 53(1):

  1. (1) The Governor in Council shall, by commission under the Great Seal, appoint a privacy commissioner after approval of the appointment by resolution of the Senate and House of Commons.

A simple approval is all that is required.

Is it not strange that the appointment process is not exactly the same for the various House officials and that, in this case, the commissioner is appointed by the governor in council?

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11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I think my colleague is absolutely right. I believe it is necessary to apply the same standards so that there is a balance.

The hon. member is right to point out that for these positions there should be a higher standard. If we are going to expect the office to hold the respect of the public, if we are going to expect there to be confidence in the proficiency and in the process, we should have this equal standard that requires the approval and examination and the penetrating view of both houses.

Surely anything to suggest otherwise diminishes the importance of the role itself. The privacy commissioner, language commissioner, ethics commissioner and information commissioner are all extremely important offices that serve or should serve Canadians with the highest degree of professionalism and non-partisanship. To ensure that happens in the first instance, maybe we should be looking at a similar standard apply that will give Canadians the confidence and that will give parliament itself the confidence and dignity and raise the standard which is applied to these appointments and the process.

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11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleagues know, I have been a member of this House for many years. September 4 marked my 16th anniversary of continuous service in this place. You know that I always follow with great interest and take part in every debate in this House.

I have heard the speeches of the four opposition parties, particularly that of the chief whip of my party on the appointment process for the offices of commissioner of official languages and privacy commissioner. There is a double standard. I think that you, Mr. Speaker, would find unanimous consent to withdraw the motion and to appoint privacy commissioners in the future using the same appointment process as for the commissioner of official languages.

Accordingly, I ask for unanimous consent to withdraw the motion so that in the future appointments to that position will be made the same way as appointments to that of commissioner of official languages.

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11:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Some hon. members

No.

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11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am wondering if I could request the unanimous consent of the House to table the curriculum vitae of Mr. Radwanski. This is an important part of the debate and it would reflect some of the comments that have been made during the course of this debate.

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11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to permit the tabling of the document?

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11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Document tabled)

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11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.