House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was honduras.


The House resumed from October 21, 2013, consideration of the motion.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills has six minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, continuing with the debate on Motion No. 431 moved by the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, it is important to note that this Parliament was created by the Constitution Act, 1867, when it united the three provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. It is important to point that out, because our Parliament derives from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In fact, the Constitution Act, 1867, states that Canada is to have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.”

The reason it is an important point to make is that it is useful to compare how our committees function here in the Canadian Parliament and how committees function in the Parliament in the United Kingdom. Here committee chairs are elected by committee members, but the three whips of the recognized parties in the House of Commons control committee membership. Of the 24 committees of the House, the committee chairs are restricted by the Standing Orders to government members for 20 committees. For the four other committees they are restricted to members of the opposition, and the election of these committee chairs is done not by secret ballot but rather by open vote. Therefore, in fact, the votes are whipped. The whips control the committee chairs as well.

In the U.K. Parliament, a majority of committee chairs are elected by secret ballot. Committee members are appointed by the whips, as they are here. It is important to note that the chairs have been elected by secret ballot only recently in the U.K. Parliament. Before June 2010, they were appointed as committee chairs, as we presently do in the Canadian Parliament. It is important to note that the U.K. Parliament has changed the rules and in the last three and a half years has elected committee chairs by secret ballot vote. If it can change the way its committee chairs are elected, if it can change the way its legislative committees are structured and function, so too can we. That is an important point to make on this whole issue.

I also note that the report of the U.K. Parliament further recommended not only that committee chairs be elected and continue to be elected by secret ballot vote but that members also be selected by secret ballot vote. In other words, not just committee chairs but committee members would be selected by secret ballot vote. That too is something worth consideration, because at the end of the day, legislative committees of this Parliament and this House are separate and independent from the executive branch of government. It is really important that legislative committees have the autonomy to hold the executive branch of government to account in terms of reviewing legislation, governor-in-council appointments, the estimates, and other matters that come under their responsibilities. Committees would be more autonomous and strengthened in that oversight function if the chairs and caucus members were selected for committee by secret ballot vote.

That is an important point we should think about and look at. That is why I support this motion. It would allow us to examine the current system we have. I am personally of the view that parliamentary secretaries should not sit on legislative committees. I have spoken over the years to many members of the House, some of whom are members of the Liberal caucus, who have told me that they too share the view that parliamentary secretaries really should not sit on committees. That would give committees more autonomy and independence in ensuring oversight of the executive branch of government.

I am going to close by making a broad comment about the various proposals for reform. We recently had the adoption of the motion to study e-petitions in the House of Commons and to look at the way it is currently done in the U.K. I note that the White House has an e-petition function on its website as well. We have a motion in front of us right now, Motion No. 431, to look at secret ballot election of committee chairs. I recently introduced the reform act in the House of Commons.

The general point I want to make is this. We live in a rapidly changing era of social media, content communities like YouTube, collaborative projects like Wikipedia, blogs and microblogs like Twitter and Facebook, and increasingly younger people are attuned to and work through these social media.

As parliamentarians, if we do not provide new ways for Canadians to come together in communities, to voice their expression online through functions like e-petitions, to reform Parliament in the way its committees function and to reform it more generally, we risk having reform forced upon us.

I encourage members in the House to seize and support this motion and to adopt the reforms that are necessary to keep this place relevant in the 21st century.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to debate Motion No. 431, which was moved by the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt.

I would like to provide some background. This motion proposes that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the members of the House of Commons.

Pursuant to Standing Order 106(2), committee chairs are currently, and according to tradition, chosen by the committee members.

However, we know that in practice, members do not necessarily have much say in that choice and committee chairs are chosen by the party, the Prime Minister's Office and the whip's office. We need to ensure that the chairs can act impartially and with sound judgment because those are the qualities they must have.

This system has been in place since 2002 and has drawn little criticism. We therefore have never really talked about how electing chairs works.

That is why we are in favour of this motion to consider the system used to elect parliamentary committee chairs.

We support this motion because we think it is a good idea to study new ways to make Parliament's processes more democratic and transparent.

The NDP is strongly in favour of any initiative that would improve transparency. That is supremely important.

As an aside, I would like to say that successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have failed dismally when it comes to upholding transparent and democratic practices.

Later on, I will explain what kind of reform Parliament needs to increase transparency and improve our democracy.

My constituents in La Pointe-de-l'Île expect parliamentarians here in the House to have the highest standards when it comes to transparency and accountability. They expect us to employ the best possible practices when it comes to democracy.

I think this is an issue of vital importance, which is why we support such a study.

However, we have to be careful, because as we know, the devil is often in the details. Some aspects must absolutely be studied. Yes, a general study is being done, but we also need to consider respect for gender equality among committee chairs, as well as the list of committees whose chair positions are reserved for the opposition.

The existing appointment process generally tends to promote the principle of gender equality, which is extremely important. During the study, it will be important to ensure that by removing the influence of the whips and the PMO, the election of committee chairs by all members of the House will not put women at a disadvantage.

I think we all can agree that gender equality within this Parliament is an extremely important issue, and that as parliamentarians, we must ensure that men and women are represented equally on committees and in chair positions.

However, we must also ensure that the opposition retains the major role it plays, under the Standing Orders, in chairing committees.

These two extremely important aspects are part of a fair representation of women, the opposition and the diversity of this Parliament in the chairmanship of committees. This study should cover that.

The study should also consider the voting system, among other things. It should address the methods used for voting. For example, would the vote be by secret ballot? For now, preferential voting is being proposed, but is that the best voting system for our Canadian parliamentary situation, composition, the way we operate, and our traditions?

My colleague already mentioned the study conducted by the British Parliament, following an expenses scandal in 2009 involving British MPs. A committee on House of Commons reform was struck to determine the approach to rebuilding and especially how to restore public confidence. I would like to share with the House the findings of that committee, including those on committee chairs.

The committee recommended that the chairs of government committees and select committees be elected directly by secret ballot by all members by using preferential voting. It suggested that the distribution for each individual chair be established by the parties ahead of time based on a proportional division submitted by the Speaker of the House and presented for leave by the House. It said that committee chair candidates must obtain a minimum of support within their party, just as they must be free to give their support to any candidate.

That is what the committee on reform in Britain's House of Commons concluded. Our Parliament is not the only one that has asked this question. It is important to do so, but we must respect Canadian traditions, gender equality and, most of all, the representation of diversity within this Parliament. We are talking about the opposition, the government, and so on.

The NDP supports this motion. However, as an aside, I want to point out that some other parliamentary reforms could have been examined, in the interests of everyone here, of democracy, of transparency and, therefore, of all Canadians.

For example, we could have considered a more effective question period, with stricter accountability rules for ministers when they answer questions, to ensure that the government cannot simply respond with repetitive talking points.

I have attended question periods in many other parliaments around the world, so I can say that the answers given by our ministers during question period would be considered unparliamentary in many other parliaments. There is work to be done.

We could also limit the overuse of in camera committee meetings to increase transparency, democracy and public access to the work of Parliament. I could also mention the members, especially government members, who use their members' statements to make personal attacks. That is not what is set out in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Furthermore, the use of time allocation motions could also be reviewed.

All of these things could be examined in order to increase transparency, accountability and democracy in the House.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, with great interest I have been listening to the last couple of speeches which talked about some of the pros and cons of what we are about to vote on, and certainly what we are debating.

I want to sincerely thank the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt who brought this forward with a great deal of sincerity and compassion. His argument is quite good as to how this works.

I have been here for almost 10 years, and I have seen committees come and go. I have seen the makeup of committees change, but the game always remains the same. The chairs are always appointed by the executive within the House, as was pointed out by our colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills.

Something that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills said which caught my attention was that “you reform this place or reform will be forced upon us.” This is a very good quote. It is pertinent to this debate because that is exactly where we find ourselves, at a crossroads for all sorts of reform in the House.

This is one element that brings democracy and legitimacy to the House of Commons. On many occasions we take some of the basic functions of the House and farm them out to the executive and they have more control than we desire. We have a choice. We have the power to change that ourselves through a vote in the House of Commons, or we could just let it go on.

I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this motion forward. It states:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session....

I am a fan of the preferential balloting system. We have to achieve over half in order to get the position. What basically happens is that if 50% or more is not achieved by the person in the lead, then the last person is dropped and so on, until we get to that chair.

However, is it not refreshing that all 308 members in the House have the chance to put themselves in a place where they are chair of a committee based on their skill of being a member of Parliament and a decent chair? It is not based on what kind of favours are owed to them in a party structure or a reward given for good behaviour. Quite frankly, that is essentially how it works.

This takes that control away from the executive and brings it back to the House of Commons. After being here for 10 years, I can honestly say that it is stuff like this that reassures my faith in the power of the House of Commons. It brings it back to the individual member of Parliament. It is not whether they are a minister or parliamentary secretary, a critic or a party whip, but it is based on the position of being a member of Parliament. It is a measure of equality that brings us here to vote for this.

I would encourage all members to vote for this motion. Then the study would take place and we would be able to debate the issue in a very mature manner. By doing that we are saying we are going to restore power—I hope that is the conclusion the committee comes to—to the individual member of Parliament. The motion also states:

study the practices of other Westminster-style Parliaments in relation to the election of Committee Chairs; propose any necessary modifications to the Standing Orders and practices of the House; and report its findings to the House no later than six months....

My colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills brought up the matter of parliamentary secretaries sitting in the House of Commons. When I first came here I was on the heritage committee, in the fall of 2004. I remember the opposition of the day were perturbed that there were parliamentary secretaries from our party sitting at the committee table. I thought they had a pretty valid point. There is a function within the executive of the House. There are ministers, but there are also parliamentary secretaries as well, and in many cases they function as the minister, whether the minister might be missing for the day or whether it is answering late show questions and so on.

That is perfectly legitimate, given the fact that the minister cannot be here all the time. The parliamentary secretary can fill in, but that parliamentary secretary carries a title and a function that is of the executive. If parliamentary committees are to provide study of legislation that makes it way through the House, then that skews the matter somewhat, because people sitting on the committee could naturally take direction from the parliamentary secretary.

I say this from experience, because when I first came here, I was with the party that was in government, so I was sitting on the side of committee where the parliamentary secretary was next to us. Many times we would go to the parliamentary secretary for direction about how we would vote or how we would debate. It happens.

The thing is, it is still happening, which is the point my hon. colleague is trying to get at. The nub of the issue is that we need to break this pattern by having a vote and empowering the individual member of Parliament to allow that person to become a committee chair. That is part and parcel of the system. Whether a parliamentary secretary sits on the committee or not is an executive decision.

What I like about this motion is that the spirit of it is to ensure that the power of the committee rests right here within this chamber. If we keep farming out the functions of the House to the executive time and time again, it is that much harder to bring them back. There is enough blame to go around, for anyone who has been in government, as to how, in a piecemeal process, the power of the House has been farmed out to the executive. It is so subtle that we do not even notice it sometimes, yet year after year, slowly, some of the power gets drained from this place, to the point where we function simply as voting machines.

We should be engaged in what I consider to be a wholesome debate on every issue that comes to the House, but let us remember that a fundamental extension of the House is the committee and the work it does. We could debate within the confines of the House. I know I only have 10 minutes like everyone else. I certainly would like more, but at least at the committee level I could be engaged in that as well.

The committee chair takes on a function that is given to that individual by the House of Commons. My hon. colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île also brought up issues of gender parity and other issues of committee chairs being representative of the diversity of the House of Commons. I agree with her, but we have two elements at play here: we have that diversity being reflected in committee chairs, but for the committee to be answerable to the House, it has to be elected by the House. I know, by function, we play this scenario whereby people are elected to a particular committee. We play it out, but we know full well who that will be. We all know who we are going to nominate going in and we all know who will get it coming out.

This is why I commend my colleague for doing this. What it will do with the balloting system is allow a fair vote. It also makes it accessible. It is universal to every member of Parliament in the House, whatever one's party. One could be an independent, or with the largest party, or with the smallest party. Members still have the chance to put themselves in front of the House of Commons as an effective, and now legitimate, chair of a standing committee, which is an essential and proper function of the House of Commons of our country.

Therefore, I urge all my colleagues in the House to say yes. Let us send this to committee, have a reasoned debate within the committee, and make a solid recommendation as to how we can restore power to this institution that we respect so much.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate of Motion No. 431 on the process for electing the chairs of committees of the House.

I know that my colleague, the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, has brought forward this motion in the hopes of improving how we function and operate in this place.

As we know, Motion No. 431 would require the procedure and House affairs committee to consider the election of chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all members of the House. It then goes on to require the committee to study the practice of committee chair elections in other Westminster-style parliaments.

As members of the House know, it is Standing Order 106 that sets out the current rules for electing committee chairs. I am afraid that if Canadians were to read this motion, they might come away with a skewed vision of how our current system actually works. For one, they might think we do not currently elect committee chairs.

It is worth highlighting for the public that our current process already involves the election of committee chairs by members of each committee, and there is nothing stopping them from nominating and electing the candidate of their choice.

While the current system may not be perfect, I think it is fair to say that the current rules have served us well. I was not aware of any egregious flaws in the way we currently elect committee chairs, but I support the intent of my colleague's motion.

I do want to focus my remarks today on what I see as some potential concerns and issues that must be addressed with respect to the system that my colleague is proposing through his motion and, in so doing, provide some additional context for the committee once this motion is adopted and sent to the procedure and House affairs committee for thoughtful consideration.

During the debate on this motion in the last session of Parliament, members from all sides identified a number of concerns and raised a number of questions with the proposed approach of electing committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all members of the House.

As I alluded to just moments ago, I think it is worth asking a very basic question: Is there a need for changing the current system? What is currently not working? The entire premise on which this motion is based implies that our current system is somehow flawed and needs urgent fixing. I believe members on all sides are open to having the procedure and House affairs committee study the matter with this level of diligence.

Currently, as members know, a number of committee chairs are set aside for members of the official opposition. My guess is that the official opposition might take issue with having all members of the House voting for which of their members would become chair of one of those committees. I think it is fair to say that the official opposition, to its credit, has been judicious in who they have put forward to be elected as chairs of such committees as the public accounts committee and the government operations and estimates committee.

Often the chair is a seasoned parliamentarian who has extensive committee experience. I cannot imagine that they would want to lose control and have it thrown open to all members of the House to elect these chairs. However, let me not speak for the opposition. They have been doing so over the course of the debate on the motion, and if the motion is adopted, the procedure and House affairs committee must be mindful of the implications of the proposal.

Just as a government would take issue in a minority setting with having the majority of members of the House vote for all government chairs, so too would the opposition have similar concerns about the implications for a majority government electing government members as chairs of all committees.

Within the context of this issue, and a few others that I will highlight in a moment, I am curious as to why the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt would choose to go into such detail in the motion around the voting protocol that would be employed as part of this new system and stay silent on a myriad of other issues and concerns.

It would seem to me that the motion could have either been very general regarding the question of examining a new system or, alternatively, been as complete and comprehensive as possible.

Despite these reservations, I am prepared to support the motion and, if a majority of members agree, let the procedure and House affairs committee study the matter in greater detail.

There is another aspect of the proposed system that I hope the member can address. There are numerous circumstances that I think would lead a chair to vacate the position. To be consistent, are we then talking about an election by all members of the House every time there is a vacancy?

On a related note, what would be the mechanism for removing a chair, if elected by all members? Would a chair not have to be removed on the basis of a vote by all members as well? The resources and time that would potentially have to be expended under such a system causes concern.

I am aware of a situation occurring with the British Parliament currently. For the first time since a similar system was adopted in Britain, the Commons defence select committee has signalled there will be a first byelection with the impending departure of its chair. That race is being closely watched and may be of interest when considering this motion.

What about the issue of joint committees with the other chamber, where there is a House co-chair? What would the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt propose we do for the chairs of special or legislative committees? Is he suggesting that the Speaker should no longer play a role in the selection of special or legislative committee chairs?

Let us study the models and the facts, and let the committee do its work without constraint.

In looking past these immediate concerns, I do believe we could support our colleague's motion to investigate the merits of his proposal. While I see some flaws in the proposal, there is always merit in due consideration. In a meagre two hours of debate, it is difficult to flesh out an issue that may very well have unforeseen consequences. As a result, I am prepared, and I urge my colleagues, to support the motion so that the procedure and House affairs committee can hear from expert witnesses on the proposal. Before making the changes the motion is proposing, there should be a careful and thorough review of the current rules for committee chairs and serious consideration should be given to any and all potential scenarios and consequences.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise here this evening. I will not take up too much of the House's time because I have already addressed this motion.

I first want to say that I support the motion as put forward and I have jointly seconded it to signify that.

I would also like to say that there is a bit of a spirit of reform in this place. I think all parliamentarians would agree that we have a great democracy in Canada. It is a gem that the world looks to. I know that official delegations from all over the world come to look at Canada to determine how they can construct or make their countries better.

What is happening in the House with the motion by the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt and the bill by the member from Halton Hills is that we are looking at ways of improving what can be done in the House in a reasonable way. Having this motion go to committee is a good idea. It is an appropriate place for these kinds of ideas to be examined and discussed so that we can bring experts in to make sure that we get this right.

There is a general feeling in Canada that this place could work better. That is what a lot of us in the House are trying to do. Therefore, I stand here this evening in support of this motion. I will be working as hard as I can on this side of the House to make sure it, as well as the bill on democratic reform by the member from Halton Hills, passes.

I have already spoken to this motion, so I did not want to take up too much more time. However, I want to say that I very much agree with the spirit of this motion and others that are coming forward.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their constructive criticism. That is how I have taken the comments around here: constructive and criticism together.

As the hon. deputy whip for the government pointed out, there are technical questions that need to addressed. These would be dealt with in committee. This is one of the fine balances we take when we make a motion. We do not want to be so prescriptive and so detailed as to push people away because of the issues of the details, the mechanics. At the same time, we must direct and guide where we want to for reform.

That is what this is about. It is not solely about committee chairs. It is, as some of the hon. members have stated, pushing forward and helping to advance the spirit of reform and the spirit of co-operation among all members.

Some people have said our current system works well. I would say I commend the committee chairs I have worked with. They have been excellent people, opposition and government, over the years. That says something to the quality of our parliamentarians.

There is a saying I once heard. “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. 'Til your good is better and your better is best.”

I think that is what I am looking for and why I support various aspects of reform to our democratic system, because what Canada has in all its institutions is very good. There is nothing in the Canadian system that I would say is not good.

However, I am not content with merely a good Canada. I want a better Canada. I want the best Canada. I am not merely content with a good House of Commons. I want a better House of Commons. I want the best it can be.

If measures such as the one I am proposing in my motion help to make the country better, I think we need to support them, because one of the things we need to understand in our democratic system is that everything we do is an interweaving, an interlinking of rights and responsibilities.

As elected members, we ultimately have responsibilities, and we have rights. We need to link those together. Our responsibilities are to represent our people. Our rights are to speak freely here, to vote, to be involved, to change legislation. The closer and the more directly we can link with our people, link with the issues, link together what we have as our rights as members with our responsibilities to our constituents, the better off this place will be.

I thank all members of this House. Again, I am perfectly happy to accept criticism for this. However, the indications I have are that, if this motion is not accepted unanimously, it will be fairly close to it.

So, I thank all members of this House for their contributions. I also implore all members, as this goes to committee, if they have a good idea to implement this, to improve this or to make this the best it can be, as I said, to contact both committee members and me and to forward their ideas.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is the House ready for the question?

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The question is on the motion.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members



Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Election of Committee ChairsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

In my opinion, the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 5, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

January 29th, 2014 / 7:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on November 28, I raised a question related to the activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada related to that agency's co-operation in providing services to gather intelligence during the G20 meeting held in Canada.

The specific question was: Would the Prime Minister come clean and tell Canadians why he provided access and facilitated this illegal action by CSEC?

The minister responded by pointing out that CSEC is monitored by a commissioner and that CSEC, according to the minister, continues to act lawfully. However, that statement by the minister is not quite accurate.

In the commissioner's most recent annual report, the commissioner, at page 20, states that in a small number of instances there was the possibility that CSEC had directed its activities at Canadians, “contrary to law”. These matters were not resolved to the commissioner's satisfaction at the time of his 2012–13 annual report.

What this minister and the government must begin to understand is that the information made public by Edward Snowden regarding the NSA in the United States has implicated Canada's intelligence gathering agencies. These revelations are very serious.

It just so happens that yesterday I attended an important symposium in Toronto organized by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. It was appropriately named, “Big Surveillance Demands Big Privacy”. Ms. Cavoukian, the Information Commissioner of Ontario, stated in the forward to the meeting that “the focus of this year's symposium was born from the steady stream of revelations by Edward Snowden, who came forward to expose just how invasive and pervasive government surveillance has become in our lives”.

She went on to say that “in what could be considered a direct blow to Canadians, it was revealed that our very own Communications Security Establishment Canada, CSEC, was working alongside the NSA hand-in-hand in what was beginning to look like a worldwide assault on privacy with no government accountability”.

Those are pretty strong words.

I listened to many speakers at the convention and they all called for action. Mr. Ron Deibert spoke of his hope that these revelations would serve as a wake-up call to Canadians. Andrew Clement raised the concern that so much Canadian data passes through the United States and can fall under its surveillance systems.

My hope is that this secretive government will realize the need for parliamentary oversight in a proactive way. I proposed that parliamentary oversight in Bill C-551, but the government has not come forward with its own bill in that regard. It is needed.

An all-party committee, of which two ministers who are currently in the government sat on, unanimously called for that committee, as well as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We need to get there. That committee is needed. I ask the government to consider it.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.

Selkirk—Interlake Manitoba


James Bezan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the opportunity to once again assure this House and Canadians that the foreign intelligence activities of Communications Security Establishment Canada are lawful and serve to protect Canadians from foreign threats.

As a former solicitor general, the hon. member will understand that we do not comment on Canada's foreign intelligence activities or on those of our allies. To do so would be contrary to our laws on the security of information and could unintentionally provide an advantage to foreign terrorists or other threat actors.

I can assure this House that CSEC respects and is bound by Canadian law. By law, CSEC cannot direct its foreign intelligence activities at Canadians anywhere in the world or at any individual here in Canada.

CSEC may assist federal law enforcement and security agencies under their legal authorities, such as applicable court warrants. In addition, CSEC is prohibited from requesting its allies to act in a way that circumvents Canadian law.

As the independent review body for CSEC, the Communication Security Establishment Commissioner, a highly qualified retired or supernumerary judge, reviews all of Communications Security Establishment Canada's activities. In order to review the agency's activities, the commissioner is supported by an expert staff and has full access to CSEC staff, records, and systems.

Despite what the member has said, the commissioner has never found CSEC to have acted unlawfully. In fact, he has specifically noted CSEC's culture of lawful compliance and genuine concern for protecting the privacy of Canadians.

Let me also take this opportunity to note that CSEC's foreign intelligence activities are critical to the ongoing protection of Canada. CSEC plays an essential role in protecting Canada and Canadians from numerous threats, such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human trafficking, foreign espionage, cyber threats, attacks on our embassies, and other serious criminal activities.

The work of this agency has revealed plots to attack Canadian and allied personnel overseas before these plans could be executed. CSEC has also uncovered foreign-led efforts to radicalize and train individuals to carry out attacks in Canada. In addition, CSEC's operations have been critical to supporting Canadian military operations, such as our mission in Afghanistan, where they assisted in the protection of our armed forces from insurgents.

On a daily basis, Communications Security Establishment Canada works to ensure Canada's continued prosperity, security, and stability. As the independent CSEC Commissioner has previously stated, “the protection of the privacy of Canadians is, in the eyes of CSEC and its employees, a genuine concern.”

Protecting the privacy of Canadians will continue to be the agency's most important operational consideration.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, no one is arguing against the security agency. We are arguing for proper review and proactive review by members of this place and the other House, in a proactive way, as all the other Five Eyes countries do, to review what the security intelligence agencies do before it in fact happens.

Even the parliamentary secretary's former colleague, who was chair of SIRC, Mr. Chuck Strahl, raised some concerns about CSEC when he was before committee. He said that changes had to be made.

That is what we need to look at. The government has to get its head out of the sand and ensure that proper, proactive action is taken with CSEC and the other intelligence agencies. That is accepting our responsibilities.

National DefenceAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I should remind the hon. member that in actuality, Parliament has the power, through its committees, to call agencies before the committee that is responsible for them. The Standing Committee on National Defence has the authority and the power to call the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment as well as Communications Security Establishment Canada before committee. It also has the opportunity, if it so desires, to meet with CSEC staff on its premises. They have a new building that members could easily tour around.

Those opportunities already exist. Parliamentary oversight is already in place. We do not need to be reinventing the wheel.

Let me state just once again that while we do not comment on the foreign intelligence activities of Canada or our allies, I can assure the House that the foreign intelligence activities of CSEC are conducted in full, lawful compliance with Canadian law.

The ongoing work of the independent CSE Commissioner and his staff will continue to provide robust review of CSEC activities. By providing valuable foreign intelligence, CSEC contributes significantly to our security and to that of our allies.

Air TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, the airline passenger bill of rights being proposed by the NDP would implement new regulations that will better protect the rights of air passengers when they are treated unfairly by airlines.

The new regulations would require air carriers to compensate passengers if their flight has been overbooked or delayed for a long time or if their luggage is lost. This bill is based on European legislation that greatly reduces delays and problems with overbooking. This is a 21st century bill. It is important to recognize that many airlines already offer passengers good compensation. There is no doubt about that.

The purpose of this bill is not to attack the airlines, but rather to improve services provided by air carriers and penalize only those companies that try to fleece customers in order to increase their profits. Companies that follow the rules will not have to pay. However, those that make a profit at the expense of passengers will have to compensate travellers for their mismanagement. It is as simple as that.

Why should customers not expect better service? Why should passengers not be informed of flight changes, delays and cancellations under penalty to the airlines?

Why not post new regulations at the airline counter informing passengers of their rights and the compensation claims procedure?

Air passengers deserve clear rules for compensation and reimbursement when their travel plans are changed without notice.

In December, I asked the Minister of Transport whether her government would agree to legislation on air passengers' rights. Unfortunately, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport never answered my question.

I will try again and hope for an answer this time. I have heard rumours, and I would like to know whether the Conservatives are interested in joining the 21st century, in creating an air passengers' bill of rights and in doing what is done in Europe, where consumers have rights. During the latest Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives said that consumers would be a priority. They also mentioned the possibility of coming up with such a bill of rights.

I would like to know whether they plan to satisfy the expectations of Canadian consumers. If they do not, why are the Conservatives refusing to adopt an air passengers' bill of rights, as suggested by the NDP? It is not that hard. We do not want to hear the same old lines; we want an answer. Why are the Conservatives opposed to a bill that would bring us into the 21st century and give consumers rights?

Air TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Essex Ontario


Jeff Watson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, air transport is essential to the lives of many Canadians. This government is keenly attentive to the situations that Canadians face when they travel by air.

Canada has a system in place to protect air passengers under the Canada Transportation Act, and this government has undertaken a number of actions to both improve and reinforce it. Our main objective is to provide consumer protection to passengers without unduly increasing costs for users or carriers.

All carriers operating in Canada must have terms and conditions of carriage that they respect and make easily available to passengers. The air transport regulations outline the issues that must be addressed in these terms and conditions, including cancelled and late flights, lost and damaged baggage, and denied boarding due to overbooking. The Canadian Transportation Agency is mandated to assess passengers' complaints by considering whether carriers have acted in accordance with their terms and conditions of carriage as well as whether these terms and conditions are reasonable.

A number of recent agency decisions have resulted in improved passenger protection. For example, in June 2012, the agency issued five different decisions in favour of passengers that addressed the reasonableness of the terms and conditions of carriage for Air Transat, WestJet, and Air Canada regarding the overbooking, cancellation, delay, and rerouting of flights. Other decisions in June and August of this year further reinforced carriers' obligations with regard to denied boarding due to overbooking.

In addition, in December 2012, our government brought into force new measures to ensure that airfare advertising reveals the full price of an air ticket, inclusive of taxes and charges for flights within or originating in Canada.

Canadian families work hard to make ends meet, and every dollar counts. When Canadians make decisions about how to spend their money, they must be assured of a voice, a choice, and fair treatment. While our government provides that voice, the NDP wants to implement a $20-billion job-killing carbon tax, which would ruin the airline industry. The NDP's $20-billion carbon tax would raise the price of airline tickets and would be an additional burden on hard-working Canadians.

In conclusion, our government closely follows air traveller consumer protection issues, and we will take whatever measures are required to ensure that consumers are treated fairly. We will continue to monitor this situation closely. However, we will not undertake initiatives such as those put forward by the NDP, which would result in higher costs for travellers.

Air TransportationAdjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.


Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, listening to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, it is quite clear to me that we do not live on the same planet. When we talk about protecting consumers, what we mean is giving them rights and the means to assert those rights.

What Canadian has never had their luggage lost without being informed, or had their flight delayed or cancelled, or found themselves without any recourse against an airline that refused to listen to them or compensate them for certain delays, and has then had to live with the consequences of such a situation?

All we are asking for is legislation. My colleague is really showing bad faith by saying that the NDP wants to tax Canadians. The NDP wants to give consumers rights. My colleague across the way should see that there is a big difference there. The NDP believes that when voluntary measures do not go far enough, legislation is absolutely needed. The government needs to show the necessary leadership and take responsibility. As we know, when it comes to consumer protection, people will not vote for the Conservatives, because they do not agree with them on that.

To protect consumers, the NDP is proposing all kinds of things. We have our “Making life more affordable” campaign. I invite everyone to check it out, because we are proposing various measures, including not only the air passengers' bill of rights, but other measures to give Canadian consumers a break, because they often have to deal with very difficult situations and need more assistance.