House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liability.


Bill C-479, An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent Offenders

11 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I wish to inform the House of an administrative error that occurred with regard to Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims).

Members may recall that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security made a series of amendments to the bill, which were presented to the House in the committee's second report on March 5, 2014. The committee also ordered that the bill, as amended, be reprinted for the use of the House at report stage.

On May 7, 2014, the House concurred in the bill as amended at report stage with a further amendment, and later adopted the bill at third reading.

As is the usual practice following passage at third reading, House officials prepared a parchment version of the bill and transmitted this parchment to the Senate. Due to an administrative error, the version of the bill that was transmitted to the other place did not reflect the amendment adopted by the House at report stage, but was instead a reflection of the bill as it had been reported back from committee. Unfortunately, this error was not detected until after both houses had adjourned for the summer.

I wish to reassure the House that this error was strictly administrative in nature and occurred after third reading was given to Bill C-479. The proceedings which took place in this House and the decisions made by the House with respect to Bill C-479 remain entirely valid. The records of the House relating to this bill are clear and complete.

However, the documents relating to Bill C-479 that were sent to the other place were not an accurate reflection of the House’s decisions.

My predecessor, Speaker Milliken, addressed a similar situation in a ruling given on November 22, 2001, and found on page 7455 of Debates. Guided by this precedent, similar steps have been undertaken in this case. First, once this discrepancy was detected, House officials immediately communicated with their counterparts in the Senate to set about resolving it. Next, I have instructed the Acting Clerk and his officials to take the necessary steps to rectify this error and to ensure that the other place has a corrected copy of Bill C-479 which reflects the proceedings which occurred in this House. Thus, a revised version of the bill will be transmitted to the other place through the usual administrative procedures of Parliament. Finally, I have asked that the “as passed at third reading” version of the bill be reprinted.

The Senate will of course make its own determination as to how it proceeds with Bill C-479 in light of this situation.

I wish to reassure members that steps have been taken to ensure that similar errors, rare though they may be, do not reoccur.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

It being 11:05, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-520, An Act supporting non-partisan agents of Parliament, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are 11 motions and amendments standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-520.

Motions Nos. 1 to 11 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 to 11 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 1.

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 4.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 5.

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 7.

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 8.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON


Motion No. 8

That Bill C-520, in Clause 8, be amended by replacing, in the English version, lines 39 to 41 on page 4 with the following:

“responsibilities of the position in the office of the agent of Parliament, conduct”

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON


Motion No. 9

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 11.

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 12.

Motion No. 11

That Bill C-520 be amended by deleting Clause 13.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to have the first speech in what might be the final session of this Parliament.

The debate we are having today is very telling. We in this House represent our partisan interests. We are a party-based system, so we are expected to come in wearing our partisan interests.

However, all of us, regardless of what party we are in, have a larger responsibility, in that we are parliamentarians. We are part of a system of democratic accountability that has been worked out in the Westminster tradition through centuries. Each one of the precedents that have been established in the various Westminster systems establishes a code of conduct that we are all supposed to be part of, which is that the overall obligation of Parliament is to represent the interests of the Canadian people in an accountable and fair manner.

However, what we have seen with the current government is a steady attack on the basic institutions that hold this Parliament to account. We are now moving to the stage where this Parliament has become very much a Potemkin democracy. Certainly we have debates and we have votes, but it is becoming more and more of a charade in which the powers of decision-making are being moved into the executive around the Prime Minister's Office through cabinet secrecies without accountability, and Canadians are left watching a spectacle in this House that is often a degradation of the very notion of parliamentary accountability.

We see that what has happened in this Parliament under the current majority government is a steady attack on the officers of Parliament. People back home need to understand that the role of the officers in Parliament is of non-partisan experts whose job is to hold parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and cabinet ministers to account. However, that runs counter to the Conservative notion of accountability, which is hold their enemies to account and use the levers and powers of government to go after their straw men and their perceived enemies.

All parliamentarians have to be engaged in ensuring that our parliamentary officers have the powers they need to ensure a functioning democracy. These officers include the ethics commissioner, the lobbying commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the access to information commissioner, Elections Canada, and official languages. As well, we have recently brought in a parliamentary budget office.

Let us look at the pattern under the current government before we get to this rather ridiculous bill that we are debating today.

Everyone remembers the absolutely vicious trashing of the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, whose credibility probably ranks him as one of the most respected public servants I have met in my public career and who was relentlessly attacked because he was not a toady for the Prime Minister's Office.

We see the attack on Elections Canada and the attempt to change the electoral laws to make it illegal for the Elections Canada officer to speak out about the basic rights Canadians have in a voting democracy. Certainly they had to pull back some of those amendments because they were so far over the line, but the attack from the Prime Minister's spokesman on the credibility of Elections Canada is once again moving us much further across this moral Rubicon that the Conservatives crossed many years ago.

We saw the gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act when they brought in recommendations that not a single witness supported or even talked about because they were so ridiculous. The gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act is so ridiculous that the Conservatives would now hold 250,000 civil servants to the same account as a parliamentary secretary. People working in a Service Canada call centre in Moose Jaw would now be under the ethics commissioner in the same way as a parliamentary secretary who is receiving money from lobbyists for fundraisers. They would be held to the same account. The Conservatives have watered down the act to make it virtually useless.

We see their use of government resources against charities, again their perceived enemies, by using the Income Tax Act to go after Oxfam and tell Oxfam, an internationally respected organization, that in the country of Canada it cannot declare that it is out to fight poverty.

We see the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who always has a light bulb burning half bright with some of the motions that she has brought forward. She has now brought forward this motion that NGOs, which are health organizations and international groups, will have to announce what kind of international money and connections are backing them. This is not about going after backroom lobbyists or bureaucrats; it is about going after charities and NGOs.

I was looking at the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke's bill. The only bills similar to it anywhere in the world are in Belarus, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China. There is not a credible western democracy that would use its levers of government to go after NGOs, except the current government. We see with Bill C-520, which was rightly called a government witch hunt, that there is no legislation anywhere in the world that is even close to what is proposed here.

This is a fascinating bill, because it was so badly thought out and such an overreach that the Conservatives could not bring any witnesses to back it up. Even right-wing ideologues with tinfoil hats would not come forward to defend this ugly baby. The government did not want any witnesses, so it had to strip its own bill because the bill was so odious. Under this bill, a parliamentary secretary under investigation for receiving all kinds of money for lobbyists could demand an investigation of the lobbying commissioner. Again, the people who are supposed to be investigated are the ones who have the power to do the investigating.

This bill, which was called a witch hunt, is an attack on the credibility of independent parliamentary officers so that now they have to make declarations. There is not much left in this bill. This bill was so odious that, my God, the poor Conservatives had come in and squeeze all the ugly guts out. They were pale when having to deal with it because it was such a dumbed-down bill, but what they left in it was the obligation that if someone is working in the ethics office or wants to work for the Privacy Commissioner, that person has to make a declaration of all his or her political activity going back 10 years.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

And forward.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

And forward.

This is about the Conservatives searching out the hidden Liberals underneath the bedcovers. This is about attacking the fundamental merit-based system that we have for approving the officers of Parliament.

One would think that there is some kind of problem that they were responding to, but no. Other than Conservative smears against the Elections Canada office, there has never been a case that has ever shown that the people who work in the access to information commission or the privacy commission, the officers of Parliament, have ever done this in a partisan manner that needed investigation. In fact, they are already covered under part 7 of the Public Service Employment Act, the Political Activities Regulations, and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. We are talking about some of the most qualified and highly credible people in our system, but the government is saying we cannot trust them.

Therefore, we have a situation in which a bill is being brought forward that allows the Conservatives, when they are under investigation, to say that nine years ago a secretary in someone's office was on a riding association and there must be some kind of political skulduggery, because she also had a sign on her lawn.

This is about undermining a credible system that is in place.

Viewers back home should always remember this: the role of government is to be accountable to the Canadian people, and there are institutions that hold government to account. The Conservative government believes that it is accountable to no one and can undermine the basic rules of parliamentary process so that they can hold the people who are supposed to be investigating them to account.

We have sat through the discussion on this bill. The Conservatives have brought forward no witnesses. We have seen nothing credible. They have absolutely no basis for this bill. It has been called a despicable witch hunt, which it is, and now it is just an non-credible witch hunt. The fact is that the government had to basically strip its own bill down to nothing.

Let us save the member for York Centre further embarrassment. Let us kill this bill now and stop this spineless attack on the institutions that hold Parliament accountable.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

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.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and address Bill C-520 today. I have a few things that I would like to get on the record.

I would challenge the member and the Conservative Party as to why they have felt it necessary to bring forward the bill. As has been illustrated by the New Democratic speaker, the current government has not been a friend to our agents of Parliament, and I think we could come up with a number of examples which would clearly demonstrate that.

Canadians should be concerned regarding the general attitude that the Conservative Party majority has towards agents of Parliament. I think we have witnessed over the last few years an abuse of government power in using that majority to quite often override what our agents of Parliament have been trying to address in the best interest of Canadians.

There are a number of thoughts that come to mind, but first I will highlight what this particular bill is about.

The proposed legislation would do nothing to deal with the elaborate and partisan appointments of the current government. I think that is important to recognize because it is a real problem that the current Conservative government has.

Also, the legislation is an underhanded attack on the agents of Parliament and the people who work in the offices of the agents. The agents of Parliament are reputable individuals, and their personal work and life experiences are communicated and understood during the interview process. This is why I ask why we have the proposed legislation before us today. Is it necessary, given the important issues out there that we all have to face?

We just came back after a summer of being with our constituents. I am sure that members of Parliament worked very hard during the summer in trying to get a good sense of the issues that are impacting their constituents. However, I suspect that no one would have raised the issue that is before us in the bill. Therefore, I question the motivation that the member has in bringing forward the bill.

I have a great deal of respect for the role that our parliamentary officers play on many critically important issues.

A couple of years ago, our Parliamentary Budget Officer provided comment on the old age supplement. The Prime Minister was overseas at the time, when he dropped the bombshell that the government wanted to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67, which is something that the Liberal Party has been very clearly opposed to.

We believe the government was wrong in changing the age of retirement for OAS from 65 to 67. It was a bad move. We had the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer in essence indicate that Canada could afford to continue on with the age of 65. However, if we listened to what the government was saying, we heard there was some sort of a crisis situation and if it was not increased to 67 from 65 our system would fall apart. We in the Liberal Party knew that was not the case, and we had our Parliamentary Budget Officer indicate that the Liberal Party was correct and that there was no crisis.

That was a couple of years ago, but just this last session members will remember the issue with the Chief Electoral Officer.

Elections Canada is an institution respected around the world as an organization of immense credibility that is not partisan.

I sat through hours of debate and public consultations, where time after time the Conservative government went against this institution, even when we had the Chief Electoral Officer and previous electoral officers before us saying that the actions taken within that legislation were wrong and that the government was making serious mistakes by forcing through the so-called Fair Elections Act, which is far from what that legislation is actually doing.

What did we have at the time? We had a verbal attack against one of our agents of Parliament, one of the offices that are highly apolitical because they do get engaged in partisanship. The government went after that agency. It went after the Chief Electoral Officer himself, imputing all sorts of motives in an attempt to get what it wanted.

Whether it is the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying, or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, these are very important agents of our parliamentary system. They have a very important role to play in Canadian society. It is one of the ways in which all parliamentarians, whether they are on government benches or on opposition benches, are engaged.

We often turn to the Auditor General of Canada for clarification on important issues. How many times have we had the Auditor General of Canada get engaged with the F-35 contract, the hundreds of millions of tax dollars, actually billions of dollars, when it comes to the F-35 and the debacle that has taken place? We have turned to our Auditor General to try to get a better understanding of those important issues that need to be reported on in an apolitical fashion.

Every year we get reports that highlight inefficiencies and problems the government has not been able to address. Quite often there will be a series of recommendations brought forward, and not just from the Auditor General of Canada but from other agents of Parliament. They are there to improve the system and to ensure that there is more accountability and transparency. Liberal governments in the past acted on the many different recommendations brought forward from these independent agencies.

The government has received numerous reports, numerous recommendations, on everything from the F-35 to the fairness of elections, and it has really done very little, if anything. The government has failed to address those very important issues Canadians want it to address.

Instead, the government has brought forward the piece of legislation before us today, which calls its motivation into question. Why is it this, of all things? If we want to do something--

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I would like to welcome back all hon. members.

I want to take a moment to highlight some of the foolishness from the speaker we just heard. He talked about Canada. When we talk about Canada right now, we have to talk about a country that is leading the world in terms of job creation. We have to talk about a country that has reduced taxes to the average Canadian family by $3,200. There is $3,200 more in their pockets. We have economic growth that is leading the world.

As parliamentarians, I, like many of my colleagues, have had the opportunity to travel. As I have travelled abroad to a number of places during my time in office, I have yet to have found one parliamentarian from another legislature who would not trade places with Canada's position right now. The hon. member might want to think about that.

One of the realities is that the government obviously does not do that alone. It does that with the co-operation of the professional public service.

The member talked about the respect his party has for institutions. The Liberal government was so corrupt when it was tossed out that the first thing our government and our Prime Minister brought in when we came to office was the Federal Accountability Act. It was actually this government and this Prime Minister that brought in the Accountability Act, that brought in the Parliamentary Budget Officer, that brought in the Commissioner of Lobbying, that brought in some of the institutions to address the years of corruption and inactivity and the lack of respect for our institutions that was brought on by the Liberals.

I want to commend the member for York Centre for bringing this legislation forward. He highlighted something he feels is an important mechanism to improve accountability and transparency in the system. As he highlighted, we have if not the best then one of the best public services in the entire world. When I look back at what we were able to achieve through Canada's economic action plan and the speed by which we were able to deliver that, I know that it was done with the assistance of our extraordinary public service. We could not have done that if we did not have one of the best public services in the world. What we have seen is that Canada has led the way in coming out of the global recession and has become a model that other nations look to when they look to bring forward stimulus packages to improve their economies.

The member for York Centre has brought forward a bill after consulting broadly and with a number of people in his riding. He has brought forward a bill that seeks to improve transparency in the public service.

Canada is a great place, in part because we have a non-partisan public service. It is a fundamental principle that has helped make Canada the great nation it is. However, we also know that there are a number of talented, extraordinary people within the public service who want to serve in a different capacity. Although they are happy and have done great things within the public service, they perhaps want to move into a different realm and perhaps participate by being elected to the House of Commons, provincial legislatures, or municipal councils. They choose to serve their nation or their provinces or communities in a different way. Having seen that and understanding the need for continuing to have a non-partisan, open, and transparent public service, the member brought forward a bill that would help to protect the officials who work in the offices of agents of Parliament.

As the member for Timmins—James Bay and the member for York Centre have said, we had this legislation in front of our committee. It was a model of how a committee should work when looking at a private member's bill. It was also a testament to the member for York Centre. After consulting and hearing the depositions in front of the committee, the member himself brought forward a number of reasoned amendments to reflect the fact that the point of the bill was to protect those people within the offices of agents of Parliament, to improve transparency, and to continue to build on what Canadians have come to regard as the best public service in the world. The member brought forward these amendments so that we could review them as a committee.

We spent a lot of time debating the amendments to the bill. Obviously we did not all agree. We did not all agree on either the bill or the amendments that were brought forward. A lot of time was spent debating them, and as members can see, there is some disagreement in the House with respect to the contents of the bill.

However, by and large, it worked as Canadians would expect it to work. A private member brought forward a bill that he thought was important that would improve the public service. He thought it was important to his constituents and that it would provide protection to those people in the public service who want to serve in different capacities, either in this House or in provincial legislatures. He brought forward the bill to provide that protection.

When the member for York Centre heard from witnesses and they asked for amendments to be made to make the bill better, those amendments were brought forward and debated at committee. Ultimately, they were brought forward to the House, where we are debating them today.

I would ask the members, as they are reviewing this bill, to put it in context and for just a moment to put partisan rhetoric aside and look at what the bill seeks to accomplish.

When the Auditor General of Canada came before the committee, he laid on the table some of the areas he was very concerned about. He talked about investigations and reporting back to Parliament and the fact that he was uncomfortable with that. By and large, we heard that from some of the other agents of Parliament, too.

As the committee worked through it, and as it sought to investigate how this would work, it decided that it was probably not something that would be an effective tool for transparency in the public service. It was not being looked upon in the spirit in which it was brought forward, so the hon. member decided to withdraw that provision from the bill.

Just to sum up, this is a very good bill. It is aimed at protecting our public servants. It is aimed at giving them an opportunity to serve in different capacities. It would actually build on the legislation and the rules that are already in place in the broader public sector to ensure that we continue to have a non-partisan, effective public service.

I commend the member for York Centre not only for bringing forward this bill but for doing all the work that needed to be done to modify and amend the bill and to gain the support of individuals who had at one point come before the committee with a different opinion. I suspect now that when people look at this, they will be confident that what they see is the right approach and they will be confident that this bill will do what it is supposed to do, which is protect our public service while guaranteeing a non-partisan public service for many years to come.

Unlike my friends in the opposition, let me close by saying how proud of I am of this country. I have had the opportunity to serve since 2008. When it comes to where Canada has been and where it is going, I cannot tell members how excited I am about where Canada is going. When I look at our job creation and the economic opportunities Canadians have that they did not have before, and when I look at the leadership the Prime Minister is showing on the international stage, I know that Canada is safe. I know that Canada is secure. I know that the opportunities in the job market for our youth are expanding.

I, unlike the opposition, am very confident about where Canada is going and what we have done. I look forward to many more years of helping this great country become even better. Unlike the opposition, I do not look down on this country. I always look forward, and I hope that the opposition will finally join with us in helping to build a bigger, better, stronger, and safer Canada.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

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.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome all of the members here in the House back to Parliament. The New Democrats worked hard this summer. They met with their constituents and knocked on a lot of doors to find out about people's priorities. I myself am so glad that I know more about the issues and concerns that matter most to the people of Terrebonne—Blainville.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-520. Since I am a member of the committee that studied this bill, I feel confident talking about just how bad it is.

I would like to begin by saying that the NDP will always seek to strengthen political impartiality and transparency in Parliament. The NDP believes that Parliament cannot function well without these values, which underpin its credibility and that of its institutions. My NDP colleagues and I fully embrace the principle of political neutrality and transparency.

I also believe that any bill whose purpose is to implement measures based on these principles must be drafted with great care and attention to detail. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Bill C-520. Not only is it badly written, it is also yet another sorry attempt by the government to cover up its own failures in terms of parliamentary accountability.

Other than the title—which, by the way, is a smokescreen—the content of Bill C-520 is useless, redundant and tinged with malice. Still, Canadians will not be taken in. They are well aware that the true purpose of this bill is to intimidate agents of Parliament, the very people whose mandate is to protect Canadians from the government's abuses.

This shows yet again that the Conservatives do not want to be accountable to anyone.They want to do what they want to do when they want to do it, and they could not care less about democracy. With a bill like Bill C-520, they are not even trying to hide the fact. This is another sorry example of the Conservatives' way of doing things: a witch hunt targeting those who would bring them into line.

The NDP strongly opposes this bill, which is rife with flaws, omissions and sinister motives. We are very proud of our work in committee. We worked hard to force the government to eliminate the worst parts of Bill C-520. Even so, this bill serves no purpose, and that is what I would like to demonstrate today.

When the hon. member for York Centre appeared before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to defend his bill, he described it as “imperative” and “critical”. Using such an alarming tone suggests that the political neutrality of agents of Parliament is often threatened. That is what my colleague, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, was trying to find out more about. He asked the member for York Centre whether he had any examples of partisan activities conducted by any of the nine offices of the agents of Parliament who are subject to his bill. Oddly, the hon. member for York Centre had no concrete examples to provide. Not one.

It is odd that Bill C-520 is meant to address a problem that does not exist. Even more strange, or more worrisome, I should say, is that during review in committee we found out that the hon. member for York Centre did not contact any of the nine offices of the agents of Parliament when his bill was being drafted, even though they will be directly affected by the proposed measures in the bill.

If the hon. member had bothered to take this more seriously and had held consultations, he would have soon realized that we already have a whole series of laws and codes of ethics governing the offices of agents of Parliament and that those laws and codes impose political neutrality on anyone employed by those offices. For example, most of the offices of agents of Parliament are already regulated by the Public Service Employment Act, the Political Activities Regulations and the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.

Other laws are in place to ensure the political neutrality of offices that are not subject to the Public Service Employment Act, such as the office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who is appointed under the Parliament of Canada Act. This statute takes political neutrality into account in the appointment process. What is more, the commissioner's office is governed by a code of values and standards of conduct that specifically and thoroughly addresses political activities and neutrality. A number of other agents of Parliament have their own code of conduct that complements the current legislative regime.

As hon. members can see, we already have a host of laws and public policies that ensure the political neutrality of agents of Parliament and their employees.

The three agents of Parliament who testified before the committee did not provide any examples of a conflict of interest or political partisanship. Their employees are professionals who carry out their official duties in a strictly non-partisan way.

Clearly, the current system is working. It is effective and, as a result, Bill C-520 is unnecessary and redundant. It is therefore not surprising that the member for York Centre was unable to provide any examples of partisan actions.

If the government was really serious about its approach and was actually acting in good faith, it would have consulted all of the agents of Parliament and invited all of the agents affected by Bill C-520 to testify in committee. However, it did not do so. In my opinion, that was the least the government could have done.

When I read Bill C-520 for the first time, I wondered what the real motives of the member for York Centre were. After all, this bill does not solve a problem; rather, it is a solution that is looking for a problem.

We have to ask ourselves why such a bill is being introduced since, in addition to duplicating systems and creating overlap, Bill C-520 is seriously flawed. Well, I got an answer this past June.

Everyone agrees that Bill C-520 is an unfair attack on the agents of Parliament whose duty it is to monitor the Conservatives. We learned from an article in the National Post that the member for York Centre, the sponsor of this bill, accepted inappropriate donations from lobbyists that he met as part of his work on the Standing Committee on Finance.

This type of solicitation violates the guidelines issued by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, which prohibit MPs from targeting any organizations or individuals with which they anticipate having official dealings.

This is not the first time that this type of thing has happened. Over the past few months, even Conservative ministers have had to pay back donations that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner deemed inappropriate.

Clearly, the current government does not want to be accountable any more than it wants to be monitored. The agents of Parliament are doing an excellent job of protecting us from government abuse, since the Conservatives are being caught with their hands in the cookie jar on a regular basis.

Rather than following the rules, the Conservatives are seeking to undermine the credibility of those who monitor them by unfairly attacking those individuals. That is what happened with the former parliamentary budget officer and, more recently, with the Chief Electoral Officer.

Bill C-520 is nothing more than a cynical attempt on the part of the Conservatives to make Parliament less accountable to Canadians. It is very worrisome.

Canadians deserve a government that respects parliamentary institutions, not one that tries to circumvent the rules and take advantage of the system.

I would like to speak to another aspect of this bill that is of great concern to me, namely the privacy rights of employees in the offices of agents of Parliament.

This bill requires anyone who applies for a position with or works in the office of an agent of Parliament to produce a written declaration indicating any partisan positions they have held in the past 10 years. The bill also requires that the declaration be posted on the office's website. In my opinion, these requirements are unnecessary and violate employees' privacy.

Everyone knows that the Conservatives do not care about Canadians' privacy. That is blatantly obvious in this case.

Forcing office employees to publicly divulge this type of information could have serious consequences because their work location and political affiliations would be made public. What is more, in 10 years, an employee could have changed affiliations or completely ceased any political involvement.

Those kinds of factors could cause employees keep quiet instead of disclosing this information. In addition, they may be concerned about the impact such declarations could have on their career and therefore may be reluctant to disclose anything.

Thanks to the NDP's hard work and effort, we avoided the worst. When this bill was studied in committee, we got the government to back down and forced it to withdraw the most dangerous provisions in the original bill.

Unfortunately, the concessions the Conservatives made do very little to assuage our concerns, which are shared by the agents of Parliament. Bill C-520 is still a set of useless provisions that will lead to confusion and make agents of Parliament less independent.

The NDP will continue to work to protect the agencies of parliamentary oversight.

Our country deserves better than a selfish, mean-spirited government.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will only have two minutes before this stage of the debate ends.

Motions in AmendmentSpeaker's RulingPrivate Members' Business



Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, even if it is only for two minutes, I am glad to join the debate on Bill C-520 because I have watched it with great interest since it was first introduced. My observation, after listening to the debate from my colleagues and observing the member for York Centre who sponsored the bill, is that the Conservatives' all too evident disrespect for Parliament seems to have made a quantum leap to an out-and-out contempt for Parliament. The bill personifies the attitude that they will systematically undermine and chip away at all of the things that make our Westminster parliamentary system function, and one of those is the independence of members of Parliament. They undermine and try to bring into disrepute the reputations of some of the most honourable people who uphold the integrity of our parliamentary system.

However, we cannot really blame the member for York Centre for this. We all know this is not a private member's bill. In fact, the Conservatives use their private members' bills in the cheapest way possible as a way to avoid the scrutiny and oversight that government bills actually receive.

We know that 25 out of 30 of the so-called crime bills put forward by the Conservative Party were put forward as private members' bills. The Prime Minister's Office writes them and finds a willing stooge within the Conservative caucus to sponsor these bills. That way they do not go through the same legislative and constitutionality checks to ensure these bills do not offend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They get all the media advantage without any of the scrutiny and oversight that are supposed to take place on bills.

I wish the member for York Centre had done one thing. He had a last opportunity in this second hour of debate to apologize to the officers of Parliament whose reputations he undermined and made accusations about. Somebody has to tell Conservatives that the truth does not have a liberal bias. Their xenophobia, their paranoia is that those people who make detrimental comments about anything they do are somehow now enemies of the state and they have the rug pulled out from under them and their reputations tarnished. That is offensive to me. The member for York Centre could have used this opportunity to apologize. This is one of the things that parties do to floor-crossers. They have give them a dog of a bill because they do not really trust them anyway.

The House resumed from June 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-21, An Act to control the administrative burden that regulations impose on businesses, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Red Tape Reduction ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of State (Small Business and Tourism

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to share my time here today with my colleague from Don Valley West and particularly to have the opportunity to speak to this bill.

As members are aware, I had the opportunity to chair the Red Tape Reduction Commission several months ago. This bill enshrines in law a very important rule. Of course I am referring to the one-for-one rule, which entrepreneurs asked for in consultations.

What does this rule mean in terms of regulations?

It is quite simple: any time one of my cabinet colleagues wishes to introduce a new regulation that affects entrepreneurs and business people, he or she must remove or eliminate another. That is why it is called the one-for-one rule. This will ensure that the administrative burden on businesses does not increase from year to year.

This rule has already been in effect for a year here in the government. It is a pleasure for me to enshrine it in law to ensure that it is always followed and to fulfill our campaign commitment to Canadians.

When a minister has to repeal a regulation, he or she must remove a regulation with an administrative burden that is equal to that of the regulation to be implemented. This new regulation must therefore have the same cost of compliance for businesses.

Consequently, regulations are assessed so that when the minister wants to implement a new regulation, he or she removes a regulation that carries the same weight for small businesses.

This rule was instituted as a result of the consultations that we, the members of the commission, conducted. In all, 15 round tables were held in 13 different Canadian cities, and they were attended by 189 entrepreneurs or their representatives through their associations. We also received submissions through the Internet.

We concluded that business people want less government regulation and a more efficient government that does not treat people like children by holding their hands their whole life. They want a government that respects individuals' freedom and responsibility and that treats Canadians and entrepreneurs like free and responsible people. Canadians are responsible and they know that they must obey Canada's laws. However, we must eliminate redundant regulations that affect the profitability of businesses. That is why we have introduced the one-for-one rule.

People who appeared before the commission told us that government regulations have an impact on their companies' bottom line. We all know that time is money. In a small business with less than 10 employees, filling out a form required by the state means that they are not doing what they do best, that is, working for themselves, creating jobs and being more productive. That is why this rule is in the bill and will be enshrined in law so as to ensure that the administrative burden on businesses does not increase.

During our consultations, we identified more than 2,300 clear and specific irritants. I invite members and Canadians to have a look at the Red Tape Reduction Commission's report, which provides a list of irritants specific to various federal government departments. There were more than 2,300—

Red Tape Reduction ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle on a point of order.

Red Tape Reduction ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not see how this in any way relates to the bill we are discussing.

Red Tape Reduction ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I think it is in order.

The minister of state may continue.

Red Tape Reduction ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was saying that these 2,300 irritants identified by the commission, with the support and the vigilance of Canadians, have been eliminated. As I said earlier, this rule was put in place in April 2012. It will now be legislated.

I would also like to inform the House that as of June 16, 2014, the reduction in administration burden under the rule was valued at more than $20 million. That is $20 million in net savings for Canadian business owners. How did we manage these savings and ensure that Canadian business owners would benefit from them? We did so by reducing and abolishing 19 regulations at the federal level. We made the regulations much simpler and easier to understand, and we ensured that the rules were written in more accessible language.

I remind members that in budget 2007, we committed to reducing the overall paper burden on businesses by 20%. I have good news about that. Our government fulfilled this commitment in March 2009. We have eliminated some 80,000 regulatory requirements and obligations. The effect has been quite simple: business owners now have more time to focus on creating wealth and jobs in Canada.

One example of these unnecessary regulations that were imposed by departments and that we abolished came from the Canada Revenue Agency. The agency has many regulations, especially for entrepreneurs. We identified more than 8,000 obsolete forms, filings and obligations that the agency required from entrepreneurs and Canadians. We simply abolished them. Now we know that when the agency is dealing with Canadians, it is treating them the way it treats every other commercial enterprise. That is to say that when an individual sends a written request to the agency about the interpretation of a regulation or a law, that person will receive a written response from the agency. In that way, the agency is serving Canadians better. When entrepreneurs have a question about how to interpret a tax law or regulation, they can simply write to the agency and it will respond within a reasonable time frame.

It seems quite simple, but these are the sorts of things that were not done before at the agency and that are done now. It means that entrepreneurs can know in advance how the agency interprets a regulation so that they can legitimately comply with it.

We also ensured that companies can now submit more than 1,200 electronic records of employment at the same time. That was a request from the associations that represent the majority of Canada's entrepreneurs. We made it happen.

In the 2011 throne speech, we also committed to reducing red tape. That commitment is reflected in the fact that the agency is now listening to the public and entrepreneurs and is responding to requests from Canadians in a timely manner.

There are many other initiatives that we have taken within the government to reduce red tape. I would like to point out that Canadians can now obtain a passport that is valid for 10 years instead of only five. That, too, will reduce red tape.

I am proud to have been able to speak to this bill, since I worked with my government colleagues to develop the bill as it now stands. It addresses the concerns of entrepreneurs. I am pleased that the one-for-one rule will be enshrined in law.