Mr. Speaker, I would first like to welcome all of the members back from a long summer in their constituencies, and who serve the people who place their trust in us. Welcome back, to all of my colleagues.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide the government's response to Bill C-520, an act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament. I am certain most would agree that non-partisanship is an essential element of both the professional public administration and responsible democratic government. A non-partisan public service is one where appointments are based on merit and are free of political influence, and where public servants perform their duties and are seen to perform their duties in a politically impartial manner. The government values this vital feature of our Westminster system of government and is committed to safeguarding the principle of political impartiality, which is why it is pleased to support the bill before us.
We are privileged in this country. We have one of the best public services in the world. Public servants are vital to the success of our country. No government, of any partisan stripe, can maintain and build a strong, united, and secure Canada without the assistance of a professional, capable public service that is committed to the public interest.
One has to only look at the public service awards of excellence to see how public servants make a difference in the lives of Canadians. From investigating and reporting on disasters, to improving access to data, to engaging Canadians across the country from space, public servants rise to the challenges presented to them daily and make us all proud. Public servants are dedicated people, who care about our country and want to contribute to making it a better place to live. It is public servants who welcome immigrants to start new lives here by deciding on cases of individual applicants. It is public servants who administer income support programs, such as the Canada pension plan and old age security, and provide approximately 200,000 Canadian seniors with their only source of income. An effective public service is key to getting things done for ordinary working Canadians and their families.
This is important. One of the keys to an effective public service is the principle of non-partisanship. In fact, one of the drivers behind the creation of a non-partisan public service some 100 years ago was the view that the public service had become inefficient and ineffective because it was largely staffed on a partisan basis. As a result, public servants often lacked the necessary qualifications for their positions. Furthermore, a century ago the appointment of public servants for partisan reasons was blamed for swelling the ranks of the public service. It is therefore essential to the success of the public service that its reputation and tradition of impartiality be maintained and protected, which is why this bill is so welcomed.
In budget 2013, the government committed to review and update public service processes and systems to ensure that the public service continues to serve all Canadians well. This bill is consistent with that commitment. It recognizes that while non-partisanship is expected of all public servants, agents of Parliament play a particularly important role in government oversight. Agents of Parliament carry out duties assigned by statute and report directly to Parliament. The individuals appointed to these offices perform work on behalf of Parliament and report to both chambers, usually through the Speakers.
Given the close relationship between parliamentarians, agents of Parliament, and their employees, it is vital that they carry out their duties free from political interference, and that they remain independent of all political affiliations.
Furthermore, given the high level of visibility of these offices, it is vital that their work be approached in a non-partisan way to maintain the confidence of parliamentarians and Canadians. To that end, this bill would require every person who applies for a position in an office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration about their past engagements in politically partisan positions. This declaration would state whether in the last 10 years before applying for that position the person occupied certain specified politically partisan positions. The declarations would be posted on the website of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament. As well, the bill would require persons who work in these offices to provide a written undertaking that they will conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner in fulfilling the official duties and responsibilities of their positions.
I am pleased to report that the bill was subject to a thorough examination by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The committee heard from a number of witnesses and has recommended a number of amendments. In particular, I would like to highlight the following amendment, which is that agents of Parliament would no longer be required to conduct an examination of alleged partisan conduct and that they would therefore no longer be required to report to Parliament on such examinations.
In sum, the bill as it now stands provides enhanced accountability and transparency. It gives parliamentarians the confidence they need that the conduct of those who work in the offices of agents of Parliament is impartial. As stated in the bill itself, it would help to avoid potential conflicts that are likely to arise or be perceived to arise between partisan activities and the official duties and responsibilities of an agent of Parliament or any person who works in the office of an agent of Parliament.
I therefore call on all members to join me in supporting Bill C-520.