Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc motion which states:
That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.
The motion itself has been amended to include the caveat that the reference to committee should be made before the appointment is finalized. I will return to that amendment later.
When I first received notice of this motion, I was quite surprised because the standing orders already require that all order in council appointments be tabled in Parliament. They are then referred to standing committees for review where necessary, when the committees decide to review them. The current standing orders are more comprehensive than what the Bloc is proposing for us today. I do not understand why the Bloc is advocating changes to the standing orders that would weaken parliamentary scrutiny of appointments.
The sections of the standing orders dealing with government appointments can be found, as we have heard several times today, in Standing Orders 110 and 111.
Standing Order 110 requires that all non-judicial order in council appointments must be tabled within five sitting days after the order is published in the Canada Gazette . Under the standing order, the appointments are automatically deemed to be referred to the appropriate standing committee for review.
Standing Order 111 goes on to specify that committees have up to 30 sitting days to review the qualifications and competence of the appointee or nominee. Standing Order 111 also requires ministers to provide the curriculum vitae of the appointee to the committee.
As we can see, the House of Commons has procedures in place already to allow government appointments to receive parliamentary scrutiny. In fact approximately 4,300 appointments have been tabled since the government was elected in 1993. Parliamentary committees have been free to scrutinize any and all of these appointments.
Let me return to the motion itself which proposes amendments to the standing orders. I would like to give one reason that demonstrates why this motion would weaken our standing orders.
Under our current practice all appointments of deputy ministers are tabled in the House. The appropriate committee has the opportunity to review the appointment. This is an effective tool for committees as deputy ministers of course provide important advice to ministers and have significant influence over the direction and operation of their departments.
This in fact was identified in the McGrath committee report which led to the procedure for parliamentary review of government appointments. The McGrath report stated:
Although deputy ministers have great power, they can be closely scrutinized by their ministers who are accountable to Parliament. Nevertheless, most deputy ministers exercise wide discretion, and their predisposition to administer in a given way will affect the direction of their departments. Given the expanded role of standing committees in examining government operations, the appointment of a new deputy minister is a significant event, the implications of which should be subject to question by the appropriate standing committee.
Today's motion put forward by the Bloc would not allow parliamentary review of deputy minister appointments. I do not understand why the Bloc would want to do that. I do not understand why the Bloc would propose that the role of the House should be diminished in this way. It makes no sense.
I believe that parliamentary scrutiny supports the transparent selection of qualified candidates for senior government positions. The government supports the parliamentary scrutiny requirement provided under the standing order. It is an important requirement. It makes sense to have that requirement in the standing orders.
The government has taken additional measures to improve the appointment process. For example, professional human resources management techniques are being used to assist in the selection of candidates for many full time, fixed term positions. Since November 1993 134 advertisements have been placed in the Canada Gazette and/or other publications.
The McGrath report noted that parliamentary scrutiny of government appointments “was by far the most difficult” of all the subjects the committee considered.
The committee conducted an extensive review of this matter, which was part of a broader review of parliamentary reform. Of course among us who work on Parliament Hill the review is quite famous. We are all familiar with the McGrath committee's report.
Proposals to significantly change these procedures should be subject to similar scrutiny and review and should not be done in a piecemeal manner, as is being proposed today. They should be done as a part of a review just like the McGrath committee. We have seen other committees like that. More recently there has been the committee on modernization of the House which put forward and brought to us some significant important improvements to the way the work of this House is conducted.
Members should understand that these matters should not be entered into lightly. Like many other members on all sides of the House, I have tremendous respect for this institution and its rules. Those rules are based on almost 800 years of parliamentary history. Changes to them need to be considered carefully.
I would think that what the Bloc proposes is an idea that could be discussed by an all party modernization committee, as is being considered these days. As I understand it, the possibility of further modernization committees is one this side is open to. I hope we will see one coming forward in the near term.
I reiterate that a piecemeal system of change is not the way for anyone to go. If the objection from any quarter is the concentration of power in one place or another, then it must be the culture that has to change.
As for the amendment proposed by our colleagues across the way, it was an admission of defeat of sorts. The Bloc has been forced to amend its own motion mostly because it realizes that as it stood, the point was moot. We already have that rule, so what is the point of it? In its haste to make the debate relevant again, the Bloc has walked into a notion that was already the subject of public debate.
The issue of what appointments should be reviewed and by whom is one that has to be considered in a broader context, by a broader committee. For example, what would happen during long recess periods like January and the summer months? Would the government not be permitted to replace people who had left boards? If someone was deceased or his or her term expired, we would not be able to replace them. That does not make much sense because there is important work on these boards that has to go on.
It is important questions like these that need consideration, that need study by a group of MPs, by a parliamentary review committee. We need a broader study than one supply day motion. This is not the way to do it.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Yukon.
In conclusion, today's motion by the Bloc would actually weaken parliamentary scrutiny of appointments. This would be unfortunate since scrutiny of government appointments is an important function of this House, an important mechanism for members of Parliament to hold the government accountable. Therefore, I do not support the motion.