Mr. Speaker, it is a tremendous privilege and honour for me to rise in the House and speak on behalf of the people of Pontiac, which is certainly one of the most beautiful ridings in the country.
Like my colleagues, I was fortunate enough to visit every part of my riding and to listen to my constituents. People everywhere, whether in Maniwaki, Rapides-des-Joachims, Masson-Angers or Buckingham, shared their views, which has re-energized me and given me the boost I needed to represent them here, an honour that I am quite happy to accept. Of course, they also shared their concerns with me.
Many active and retired public servants live in my riding. Given that it is not far from Ottawa, many people follow federal politics closely and have concerns about democracy. They have seen the government put more and more power into the hands of the executive branch in a partisan manner.
This is what is so ironic about the bill. It is a blind, really. It speaks about dealing with partisanship but it does the opposite. One thing we have to fundamentally recognize about the Westminster system is that it is a partisan system. The partisanship goes from the very base all the way to the top.
Therefore, I ask this fundamental question: Who is going to judge partisanship in the bill? The only logical answer to that question is the government. Therefore, we have to be careful with the very definition of partisanship. We are not talking about an arm's length judgment of the agents of Parliament or of the public service. We are talking about a government, which has proven itself highly partisan, giving itself the tools to basically go forward with a witch hunt across the public service.
This ill-conceived, badly written piece of legislation is actually redundant. Somehow, over there on those benches they forgot that there is an entire article in the Public Service Employment Act, part 7, which very clearly defines for the public service what a partisan activity is. That definition applies to employees of agents of Parliament and the public service at large. In fact, as a public servant before becoming an elected official, I myself had to abide by that article very closely. If they happened to take the time to read it and actually look at its details, they would have seen that the bill proposes redundancies.
One might think that we are being partisan in saying that, and that it is the NDP's opinion. In fact, it is an opinion shared by experts and by the commissioners themselves. It is important to put on record what the commissioners actually think about the bill.
The information commissioner said that it is:
Difficult to understand the need for the Bill; or what problem it is attempting to resolve
Although the stated purpose is to avoid conflicts related to “partisan activities” that term is not defined or mentioned in the Bill
Creates an environment that may hinder the independence and the execution of the mandate of the [Office of the Information Commissioner].
I will continue with a quote from no less a person than the Auditor General, Mr. Ferguson. He said:
...I think the way it is drafted now, there are some irritants in it that really aren't necessary and wouldn't help our independence.
It won't affect the way we define these types of activities or the way we manage conflict of interest. But I think, as I've said before, it raises some [important] questions....
It does raise some important questions and I will give that to the government. The problem is that it does not answer them. When it does answer them, it answers in vagaries. Why would it not even define the term "partisanship" in the legislation? There is a clear definition of that in part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act, so why make it even more difficult to judge the partisanship of a public servant or partisan activities if it were not to open the door to what would be political interference?
I do not have to tell my colleagues on this side of the bench. We have seen that political interference time and time again. We saw it recently with an ATIP request. If the government truly believed in transparency and in non-partisanship in the public service, why did some of its staff get involved in an ATIP request? Access to information is one of the fundamental ways for our democracy to get access to information that is owned by Canadian citizens. Time and time again the government has used the cabinet confidentiality clause in order to get around revealing sensitive information to Canadians.
What I would also bring up is that only one session was given to the study of this bill, one session for something so fundamental it affects the independence of the agents of Parliament.
When it comes to the supposed independence of the public service, the government has also shown, in giving new guidelines for the use of social media by the public service, by the way it is dealing with sick leave in the pre-negotiations of the collective agreements, how it has hidden its intentions with regard to a number of matters when dealing with the public service, and not just the fundamental lack of respect that has been shown time and time again by the President of the Treasury Board to our public service. I can understand why Canadians are skeptical about the bill. I can understand why my own constituents are.
Fundamentally, we have to ask ourselves before drafting legislation whether or not there are already existing rules in place that do the same job. This is an issue of sound management and as legislators it is just part of our homework. The fundamental homework on the bill was not done. Obviously, the question that one can ask is: why? I particularly have some doubts about whether or not this bill was cooked up in the PMO's office to deal with people who have an independent voice like Kevin Page and Marc Mayrand. The government has even taken on the Supreme Court, one of the highest, highly-respected, if not most respected institutions in our country.
As democrats and as Canadians, we have to worry when a government tries to slip in these types of rules through no less than a private member's bill. If the government really wants to muzzle our independent agents of Parliament, it should just come out and be honest about it and bring out its duct tape and ropes. Instead, time and time again, it smears their names. If the Parliamentary Budget Officer agrees with it, there is no problem.
The accolades roll in.
However, the second that a parliamentary agent says something critical of the government, the entire Conservative machine and the entire media circus that is there to protect an ideology that wants to concentrate power in the hands of the PMO's office are there to dwindle the quality of our democracy.