House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parliamentarians.


National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Bill C-22, an act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

We do not support this bill because it is ineffective in its current form. The Prime Minister has all the authority. He chooses the members and the information the committee can have and present to the House of Commons. Having parliamentarians review the actions of the government when it comes to security and intelligence is very important, but this bill does not give us a realistic chance to do that.

This legislation demonstrates another Liberal smoke and mirrors show, another deviation from an election commitment.

I want to go through and in fairly precise detail talk about the mechanisms that this law would create.

I was in the House to listen to the government House leader's presentation. With great respect to the work she is doing, the reality is that many of the things she said, and I pointed one of them out in questions and comments, simply did not accord with the text of the legislation.

It is not sufficient for the minister to reassure us of the government's good intentions, or to somehow interpret what the government is trying to do, or wants to do or wants the legislation to mean. What is important is the substantive text of Bill C-22. If we think through the actual process in place, the mechanisms that the bill would provide, there is not any kind of seriousness in terms of parliamentary review or oversight being proposed.

I want to remind members of a commitment the government made during the election, and I found this on the Liberal Party website. It said that it would create an all-party committee to monitor and oversee the operations of every government department and agency with national security responsibility. Clearly, all-party was mentioned as well as providing meaningful review of past and oversight of present operations. This clearly was the commitment that was in place.

The House passed private members' bills that were proposed by members within the government. The parliamentary secretary who just spoke proposed Bill C-622 and the member for Malpeque previously proposed Bill C-551. It is interesting to look at what was being said by that party when in opposition in terms of structure and mechanism and what this would do, what those private members' bills proposed to do, and the slight of hand variations that were not even being acknowledged in the speeches but are present in Bill C-22. These are the major concerns we have.

Let us just go through it. I am going to talk about the limitations with respect to the appointment process as well as the provision of information, and then finally about the limitations in terms of the reporting process.

In terms of the existing appointment process, unlike Bill C-622 that was proposed previously by the now parliamentary secretary, this bill would provide for not only the appointment of the chair by the Prime Minister, but also the appointment of every member of the committee. It does say that not all of the members can come from the government, but the three members of the House of Commons who are not members of the governing party could be anyone who the Prime Minister chooses.

These could theoretically be independents recently departed from the government caucus. I do not know if that is likely but that is possible. There is nothing in this legislation to suggest that the official opposition would necessarily be represented. There is nothing to suggest that the committee structure should be reflective in some sense of the composition of the House or similar to some degree with what exists in parliamentary committees. This would be a committee where the Prime Minister could, at will, choose seven members of Parliament who he thought should be on that committee and then also two members of the other place.

There is a requirement for consultation with the leaders of parties from which members are appointed if that party has recognized status in the House of Commons. There is no requirement for consultation with the leadership of Senate caucuses or with the leadership of a party in the context of appointments in the Senate. There is no requirement for consultation in the case of members being appointed who are not from recognized parties. Perhaps more importantly, there is no requirement that the consultation actually be meaningful.

The legislation does not say that the leader of another party has to agree. What would be much more sensible, I would argue, if this process were more serious, would be to have the leaders of the different parties put forward names of those within their parties, as is normal practice, and the committee would then select its own chair. However, there is not a meaningful requirement for the engagement of other parties. It is totally and completely up to the Prime Minister as to who gets appointed.

I want to draw the attention of members to subclause 4(3) of the legislation, subtitled “Not a committee of Parliament”. The committee would not be a committee of either House of Parliament or of both Houses. That is a distinction we need to appreciate. The legislation says very specifically that this would not be a parliamentary committee. It would be a committee that happens to include parliamentarians but parliamentarians who are appointed by the Prime Minister and who effectively report directly to him, which I will talk about.

It is interesting, as well, that the way the committee would operate is different from what those of us who participate in parliamentary committees are used to. I will just read a couple of other sections of the bill. These are important to read into the record, as people earlier in the debate were saying things about the bill that just do not reflect the substance of what we are seeing in the bill. Clause 18 states:

Meetings of the Committee are to be held in private if any information that a department is taking measures to protect is likely to be disclosed during the course of the meeting or if the Chair considers it to be otherwise necessary.

Therefore, it would not be up to the will of the committee to determine whether they move in camera, as is the normal practice. It would be solely at the discretion of the chair.

The voting rules would be different as well. The bill states:

The Chair may vote at meetings of the Committee and, in the case of an equality of votes, also has a deciding vote.

This is again different from the normal procedure. Effectively, the chair would always vote, as I understand this section, and in the case of a tie, the chair would vote again. This is a situation where although the government would have only four members from the House, and potentially two appointed members from its own side from the Senate, the chair would effectively have two votes. He or she—but we know who it is going to be; it is going to be a he—would have the ability to vote twice. That is unusual. That is a pretty substantial deviation from the way the process normally operates.

These are limitations in terms of appointments. It is very clear that the government has designed an appointment procedure that gives all the control over who sits on the committee, and by extension, over aspects of its deliberations, directly to the person who happens to be the Prime Minister. Clearly, it would not be a parliamentary committee. It would be a committee made up of some parliamentarians but would not at all be a parliamentary committee.

We go on to the issue of the provision of information in the bill. What information is to be provided, and how would that information then be considered and synthesized by the committee? Again, there are substantial limitations in terms of the work of the committee.

I attended the technical briefing last night, and we were told by the Minister of Public Safety that the goal is to include, as much as possible, both retrospective review and oversight of current operations.

Yet if we look at clause 14 of the legislation, which deals with exceptions, the exceptions would effectively include any possible scrutiny of ongoing operations. I draw the attention of members to clause 14:

(b) information respecting ongoing defence intelligence activities supporting military operations, including the nature and content of plans in support of those military operations;...

(e)information relating directly to an ongoing investigation carried out by a law enforcement agency that may lead to a prosecution;

Effectively then, it would be anything related to investigations that may hypothetically lead to prosecutions or anything related to military operations. I do not dispute the value of some exclusions, although these are people who are going to go through the process of getting security clearances. They are going to be approved for the purpose of doing these kinds of reviews. It is interesting that right at the outset, these exclusions would effectively seem to exclude most of the kinds of information that might be related to ongoing operations. Those exclusions would happen right at the outset.

That is not all. It is not just those automatic exclusions. In clause 16 we have sort of a discretionary exclusion for the minister involved that is extremely broad. It says:

(1) The appropriate Minister for a department may refuse to provide information to which the Committee would, but for this section, otherwise be entitled to have access and that is under the control of that department, but only if he or she is of the opinion that (a) the information constitutes special operational information, as defined in subsection 8(1) of the Security of Information Act; and (b) provision of the information would be injurious to national security.

Again, in the official opposition, we understand the importance of the sensitivity of this information, but this would be a matter of the opinion of the minister; this would not a matter of saying that in the opinion of experts there is a risk to national security. This would purely be a subjective determination by the minister saying that we do not want to give this information to this committee, because in the view of the minister, it is injurious to national security, but we do not actually have to justify that belief in any objective sense.

The legislation is clear that the committee would not have a mechanism, for instance, to challenge the exclusion in court.

The committee, already appointed by the Prime Minister, dominated by members of the government, where the chair, appointed by the Prime Minister, would effectively have two votes, could still be refused information solely on the basis of the opinion of the minister without any kind of review of that determination by the minister.

We talked about the limitations and exclusions in terms of appointments. It is clear that there are substantive limitations and exclusions in terms of the information an already secretive committee would receive itself privately.

Let us go on to the limitations in terms of reporting. Who would the committee report to? The Prime Minister would be appointing it, and the Prime Minister could determine that it would not receive information. Who should the committee report to? Well, let us keep it in the family. The committee would report to the Prime Minister. That is right. This committee of parliamentarians would not report to the House; it would report directly to the Prime Minister. Of course, the Prime Minister would then provide that information back to the House within a certain number of days. I believe it is within 90 days, but the Prime Minister would have total unfettered discretion in limiting what he tabled. I am going to read again from the legislation itself, subclause 21(5):

If, after consulting the Chair of the Committee, the Prime Minister is of the opinion that information in an annual or special report is information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national security, national defence or international relations or is information that is protected by litigation privilege or solicitor-client privilege or, in civil law, by immunity from disclosure or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries, the Prime Minister may direct the Committee to submit to the Prime Minister a revised version of the annual or special report that does not contain that information.

I am sorry, it was not 90 days. The timeline between the Prime Minister receiving this and when he would be obliged to table it would be 45 days.

In terms of this section, it is very clear that, first of all, the Prime Minister would have full and complete discretion in terms of what is and is not tabled. He could go back to the committee and require it to make these kinds of changes before it was tabled. However, it is also clear from this section that he would not even need to invoke national security or national defence, because the section includes, as well, a reference to international relations.

In other words, if the Prime Minister believed that something in this report, which would then be tabled in the House, might have a negative impact on the reputation of the government and therefore would have some implications for our international relations, then on that basis, not even on the asserted basis of security, the Prime Minister could then go back to the committee and say that it needed to exclude that information.

What options would the committee have? Of course, in a normal situation, where we were not dealing with secrets, there would be an opportunity to publicly raise some objection. However, the committee could not do that. There would be no ability for the committee to then draw the attention of the public to this information in some other way, and quite appropriately, in this context.

However, we have to ask what is actually going on here. What is the effective check on the power of the government? Surely that is what is behind the very notion of parliamentary oversight, that there would be some opportunity for parliamentarians to meaningfully check the activities of the intelligence agencies that are accountable to the government.

However, there is no such check. The Prime Minister would fully dominate the appointment process. The Prime Minister and the cabinet would fully dominate the question of what information would flow to the committee, and the Prime Minister would be directly and fully in control of what information was or was not tabled in the House. This clearly is not in any sense a meaningful mechanism of scrutiny, at least as the bill presently stands. It is not a meaningful mechanism for checking the exercise of power by the government.

It is also worth looking at some of the differences between the legislation before us and the other private member's bills we have heard. Again, a few of them I have mentioned. Some of these other proposals refer to an all-party committee and not just to other members being chosen by the government. They also refer to the election of a chair by members.

Also, the legislation before us provides for significant remuneration not just for the chair of this committee but for all the members of the committee. That is a difference from what was promised in the past. The stipend available for the chair, and again the chair position has already been promised to someone, is substantially higher than the normal stipend for committee chairs.

We see these deviations, but we do not see a meaningful check in place.

I would very quickly mention that there are alternative models. The government has referred to our Five Eyes allies. It is worth underlining, for example, the British model, which does involve a parliamentary committee. It is not just a committee that happens to be made up of parliamentarians but is an actual parliamentary committee that reports to Parliament and is, of course, bound by all the same laws this committee would be bound by in terms of respect for secret information. However, it is ultimately accountable to the law and to Parliament, not to providing a report exclusively to a prime minister.

We also have a Canadian law that, frankly, has worked very well. The government has to explain how this addition would interact with our existing, highly effective Canadian model. It is not a parliamentary oversight model. It is a model of genuinely expert, independent oversight.

We have an intelligence review committee that is actually chaired by a former parliamentarian and has the expertise and the ability to provide an effective check, which this legislation just would not. Unfortunately, this is smoke and mirrors, not a substantive check on the power of the government.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as I posed a question earlier today with respect to the Conservative Party's approach to the bill, maybe I could be a bit more concise and specific in asking the member whether or not he actually supports, or the Conservative Party supports the legislation.

It is important to note that the Conservative Party, for well over a decade, has opposed a parliamentary oversight committee. Now, we, the government, have actually put forward parliamentary oversight, something that was a part of an election platform. The member made reference to that platform issue. We were listening to what Canadians wanted. It was highlighted, especially during the great debate regarding Bill C-51. Conservative after Conservative, both in cabinet and outside of cabinet, stood and said, “We don't need a parliamentary oversight committee”.

Now, we have a Prime Minister and a government, concerned about rights and freedoms and security, that has brought forward a piece of legislation that is good for all Canadians.

My question for the member, very specifically, is this. Does the Conservative Party, today, support a parliamentary oversight committee?

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. The legislation would not provide parliamentary oversight. It would introduce a group of parliamentarians who are commissioned to provide advice to the Prime Minister on the basis of information that the government chooses to provide them. That is not at all a serious mechanism of parliamentary oversight.

I think it is important for us to look at individual proposals that come forward, when it comes to oversight. There are different mechanisms that work. There is nothing wrong with having an ongoing conversation about changes that could be made to improve how we do things. I do think it is worth acknowledging that Canada's experience in this respect has been very good. We have had an effective body that has done this for a while. However, what the government is proposing just is not parliamentary oversight in any sense worthy of the term.

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12:30 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech made by my colleague, the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. We differed with him on Bill C-51, as we differed with the Liberals. Last year, the NDP was the party that stood up against Bill C-51 because we thought that the cost, in terms of civil liberties and rights and freedoms, was too high and we raised a whole range of measures that the government could take to increase security without diminishing our civil liberties.

Now, on this particular issue, the government has been bringing forward oversight but refuses to put in place an independent chair. As the member knows, most of the countries that have this type of oversight actually allow for an independent chair of that committee.

I want to hear the member's views on why he thinks the government has taken this approach when most of our allies, and other countries that have put this type of structure in place, have an independent chair who is elected by the members of the committee.

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12:35 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do credit the NDP for standing up for what it believed in on Bill C-51. Of course, he points out that we had a different point of view on that issue. I will note that some of the powers in Bill C-51 are being used by the RCMP, and our agencies have talked about how they have used the powers and the value that those things provide.

However, I will say, with respect to the issue of parliamentary oversight, it appears that actually doing it is not really a priority for the government. It wants to say that it has checked the box, but substantively, it is not introducing a system where members of Parliament have a meaningful ability to study, to exercise oversight, and to report that back to Parliament.

The member refers to other international examples. I talked briefly about, and I will just underline again, the British experience in this respect. The British committee was actually changed in 2013 and expanded, in terms of its powers. Members of that committee are appointed by Parliament. They come from both Houses. They report directly to Parliament and they are required to do so on the basis of security legislation. They are responsible for doing that and the model is working well.

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12:35 p.m.


Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for again a very thoughtful and thorough examination of the shortcomings of the legislation before us. In fact, he has made clear, as all of the opposition speakers have today, that in fact this proposed parliamentary oversight committee is nothing like the British parliamentary oversight in at least half a dozen key areas.

I would like to ask the member about an observation in his remarks that caught me a bit off guard. He said he attended a briefing last night on the detail of the legislation. He informed the House that in fact the Minister of Public Safety conducted this briefing, where, as a number of us have lamented in debate today, the minister did not present and defend his legislation but left it to the House leader to do so.

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12:35 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, just to clarify, both ministers were present at the technical briefing, the government House leader and the Minister of Public Safety. Most of the detailed information on the legislation was provided by the Minister of Public Safety.

The point the member makes is important, about the active participation of ministers in this debate. Of course it is not parliamentary to draw attention to the presence or absence of ministers or members in the House, and I would not dream of doing it.

However, I would say it is important that ministers are here to discuss the legislation, especially when we have an opening speech from the government that misunderstands fundamental aspects of the legislation. It talked about reporting to Parliament, for example, instead of reporting to the Prime Minister. I cannot speak for what exactly the process is on the other side of the House, but I think it is important when they have a detailed piece of legislation to engage in the detail and to accurately describe that detail in our debates.

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12:35 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, maybe I can help the member. The government House leader is the minister who is responsible for the legislation's introduction because the legislation would have an impact on, I believe, 17 departments plus many other aspects in terms of the issue of accountability, dealing with freedoms and securities, individual rights, and so forth. The Minister of Public Safety will in fact be making a presentation today, as other members will make presentations.

It is a bit disingenuous of Conservative members to take away the importance of the legislation not just to one department but to a number of departments. This is something that the Prime Minister and the government have been very clear on. It is not just one department that the legislation would affect. The most appropriate minister would in fact be the government House leader in terms of its introduction.

Will the member not at the very least acknowledge that the bill applies to more than one department and that in fact it makes sense to have the government House leader introduce the bill? Would the member want all 17 ministers and be critical of those ministers for not making presentations?

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12:40 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to be very clear about this. I at no point criticized the fact that the government House leader proposed the legislation. Whichever minister the Liberals wish to have propose it is of course the business of the government. I have risen to discuss the substance of the legislation, which, as always in discussion with my friend from Winnipeg North, I try to bring us back to because it is important for us to be evaluating the substance of what we are talking about.

My point about the government House leader was not about the fact that she was the one who moved the legislation. It was simply about the fact that some of the things she said about the legislation do not reflect what is in the legislation. That is the issue. The issue is that members need to know that we are talking about a committee that would be appointed by the Prime Minister, whose access to information would be fundamentally controlled by the Prime Minister and cabinet, and that would report back to the Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister could choose not to have information tabled in the House even if he does not see it as a threat to national security. He could even use potential harm to international relations as the basis for excluding information.

It is just important that members know the facts on the legislation and are analyzing it carefully. Unfortunately, the point about the government House leader's speech was simply that there were things that were said that did not reflect the substance of the legislation.

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12:40 p.m.


Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to indicate that I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague, the member for Surrey Centre.

I am honoured to speak today to Bill C-22, which would create, for the first time, a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians. There can be no more important obligation of government than the responsibility to protect the safety and security of its citizens, both at home and abroad. However, there is another equally important obligation for government in a country like Canada that values our hard-earned freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law, an obligation to uphold the Constitution of Canada and ensure that all laws respect the rights and freedoms we enjoy as people who live in a free and democratic society.

The need to balance these two obligations simultaneously lies at the heart of the bill before us today. The legislation responds to the threats and attacks that have afflicted countries around the world, including Canada and some of our closest allies, in the face of which we must remain clear-eyed and ever vigilant.

Bill C-22 also responds to the many calls over many years for enhanced accountability of departments and agencies with national security responsibilities. Hon. members will remember that these calls intensified last year when the previous government introduced the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, also known as Bill C-51 at the time.

Then, the Liberal party made the argument that Canada's approach to national security legislation should avoid both naïveté, on the one hand, and fearmongering, on the other. The threats are real, and so is the need to protect civil liberties. That is why we included improvements to our national security framework, including the creation of a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians as a major part of our campaign platform in the last election.

The bill before us would establish a committee with nine members. Seven of the committee members would be drawn from the House of Commons, of which only four can be government members. Two members would be drawn from the other place. This committee will be different from other committees and offices established to review security and intelligence matters.

In the accountability system now in place, some review bodies can access classified documents, but only for a specified department or agency. The members of these committees are not sitting parliamentarians. Where parliamentarians do have a role, they do not have access to classified documents.

None of the existing independent review bodies, including the Security Intelligence Review Committee that reviews CSIS, the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, includes sitting parliamentarians. On the other hand, parliamentary committees examine security and intelligence matters, but carry out their mandates primarily through listening to testimony at public meetings.

In the other place, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has a broad mandate to examine any legislation or issues related to national defence or security. In the House, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security studies legislation or issues related to Public Safety Canada and the other agencies in the public safety portfolio. They do exceedingly valuable and good work, but as a rule, neither of these committees has access to classified information. They have neither the mandate nor the resources to dig deep into the details of national security matters in order to hold the government and national security agencies truly accountable.

Under the bill before us today, members of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians would obtain the appropriate level of security clearance and would, therefore, have access to highly classified security and intelligence information regarding national security and intelligence activities across the Government of Canada.

I would also point out that our Five Eyes partners have review bodies that function in similar ways. In those countries, select parliamentarians have access to highly sensitive intelligence so that they can help to protect the public interest with regard to civil rights while also helping to protect public safety by ensuring that national security organizations are functioning effectively.

Until now, Canada has been alone among the Five Eyes partners in not having a committee where parliamentary representatives can access classified information. This bill would close that gap. In fact, in some regards, our proposal goes further than our allies in the Westminster democracies. This committee would review any and all government departments and agencies that are involved in security and intelligence. It would also have the authority to investigate ongoing operations.

When it comes to establishing a national security accountability mechanism, the bill before us sets a new standard that some of our allies might well follow. The powers given to this committee, its members, and its secretariat are robust. The committee would be able to access any information it needs to conduct its reviews, subject to some specific and reasonable limitations. As is the case with similar committees in other countries, while committee members would not be able to publicly divulge the classified information to which they would have access, they would be empowered to bring tremendous pressure to bear on a particular agency or on the government of the day by letting Canadians know if something is not right.

Clearly, this new committee represents a major step forward in strengthening the accountability of our national security and intelligence system. It would give the people's representatives a true opportunity to evaluate our national security policies and operations, and ensure that both Canadians' safety and their civil liberties are protected.

For those reasons, I urge hon. members to join me in supporting this very important and historic bill.

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12:50 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his input into the discussion on the security committee of parliamentarians, a committee that the NDP has been calling for. In fact, this recommendation has been on the books for 35 years and has never really been applied.

The committee would ensure that Canadians would have renewed trust in our national security system. With Bill C-51 being passed and supported by the Liberals, we really need Canadians to believe that their information, rights, and security are protected.

Even though this is a step in the right direction, many experts have expressed concern over flaws in the process of forming the committee, including the Prime Minister's power to censor the committee's reports, which in fact we want to limit.

For example, under the current wording, the Prime Minister has a great deal of latitude for requiring the committee to revise its reports in order to exclude information, but nothing requires the final report to spell out the fact that some passages were redacted and what types of information were excluded. Transparency would be lacking. There needs to be a great deal of transparency for Canadians to be able to trust the committee.

What does my colleague opposite think about that? Would his party agree to an amendment?

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12:50 p.m.


Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share the sentiment that there has been, for quite some time, a public conversation about the need to elevate the standards of accountability through the creation of a parliamentary oversight committee.

We heard earlier today in the House that the origins of that conversation go as far back as the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the McDonald commission recommended as much.

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out all of the hard work of my colleagues the member for Charlottetown and the parliamentary secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, for their work in past sessions, where they advanced the important work of elevating the standard of transparency and accountability through the creation of a parliamentary oversight committee.

For all of those reasons, I am very proud today to stand here in support of Bill C-22.

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12:50 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is striking to hear the way the government members are characterizing this legislation. In my speech, I read directly from it some of the ways in which it is very clear that the process is dominated from the beginning to the end by the Prime Minister's Office.

I would ask to specifically hear the member's reflections on clause 21(5), which I asked the government House leader about. It says that the Prime Minister can exclude from the final report information that he believes, subjectively, would be injurious to international relations. If the government is going to have such a general criterion that does not even reference security, should there not be at least some external expert review of the Prime Minister's use of this power, because otherwise this exercise is totally meaningless? If the Prime Minister for such justification can limit the tabling of information in the House, then surely that is not in any way a substantive check on the power of the government.

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12:50 p.m.


Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have taken my colleague up on his offer to take a look at proposed clause 21(5). The first thing that I would point out to my colleague is that there is a reference to the word security. He just indicated that there was none. I just want to clarify that there are certain important thresholds that do form the Prime Minister's discretion when it comes to having an ongoing dialogue with the committee about the nature of the report, which will be filed in the House as is required by the legislation. The other important thing that I would like to point out to my colleague is that the clause does require the Prime Minister to consult with the chair of the parliamentary oversight committee.

When it comes to consultation and to having a two-way dialogue, I am proud of the way our government has raised the standards on both of these important principles, something that the hon. member and his party would do well to learn.

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12:55 p.m.


Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to the proposed legislation before us today to deliver on the commitment we made to Canadians to improve the scrutiny and review of the national security and intelligence activities of the Government of Canada. It is in answer to what Canadians wanted and what was reflected when I knocked on doors in my riding of Surrey Centre.

As members have heard, Bill C-22 would allow for the establishment of a national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, a multi-partisan committee that would examine and report on the government's national security and intelligence activities, an area that many Canadians feel is far too opaque.

This important bill is a key component of our ambitious national security agenda, one that is focused on achieving the dual objectives of keeping Canadians safe and safeguarding the rights and freedoms we all enjoy as Canadians. As I will explain today, the work of the committee will be vital in helping us achieve both of those objectives.

In terms of structure, the proposed committee would be a statutory entity whose members would be drawn from the ranks of current parliamentarians across party lines. It would be composed of nine members, which includes seven members of Parliament, with a maximum of four being from the governing party, and two from the Senate.

Given the nature of its mandate, the committee would be granted unprecedented access to classified material. A dedicated, professional, and independent secretariat would support the work of the committee to ensure it has the tools and resources it needs to carry out its work.

The next element I want to touch upon is the proposed mandate of the committee. Indeed, one of the ways in which we would ensure that the committee is effective is by giving it a broad mandate. It would have the ability to review the full range of national security activities in all departments and agencies across the Government of Canada. That is a key tenet of the bill and is crucial to what we are trying to achieve.

Some 20 different agencies and departments are involved, albeit to varying degrees, in national security and intelligence activities. The committee would be able to look at all of this work to gain a full picture of what government agencies and departments are doing in national security and intelligence matters.

In terms of this mandate, the model and vision go even further than that which exists in most countries in the world where a similar type of committee currently exists. The committee would have the authority to self-initiate reviews of the legislative, regulatory, policy, financial, and administrative frameworks for national security in Canada; in other words, it would be able to look at the matters it wants to look at. Its goal would be to ensure the effectiveness of the framework, as well as its respect for Canadian values.

Beyond this power to look at the national security framework, it would also be empowered to review specific national security and intelligence operations, notably including those that are still ongoing. Understandably, this power would not be entirely unfettered. The appropriate minister for a department or agency may refuse to provide information if the information constitutes special operational information and the provision of information would be injurious to national security. This is a necessary provision to ensure the integrity of our national security operations, which can be highly sensitive. However, committee members would be able to bring pressure to bear on the government of the day by telling Canadians if they have uncovered something problematic, without discussing the specifics.

We also know that the Prime Minister or minister would not want to be the one defending his or her position to block an inquiry unless it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, I feel that this on its own would be an adequate deterrent to prevent the unnecessary blocks to inquiries.

Our government is incredibly proud of this bill because it would fill a gap in the national security accountability framework in our country, an assessment with which I know many members of this House would agree.

I would note that it is a shortcoming that several past and present parliamentarians have tried to address with other legislative proposals in the past. We certainly look forward to hearing any input from them, and indeed all members, throughout this legislative process.

At the same time, there may be some who would say that the review and accountability already exist when it comes to national security. It is true, of course, that a number of review bodies already provide a review function for their own specific organization, as the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission does for the RCMP and the Security and Intelligence Review Committee does for CSIS.

However, at a time when departments and agencies have been granted new mandates and new powers to disclose national security related information to each other, it is incumbent on parliamentarians to be able to meaningfully review Canada's overarching national security framework, as well as the operations of our national security agencies, so that we can make informed decisions about our laws and the effective use of our resources in protecting our national security.

Thankfully, Canada's security agencies have not been abused by the ministers or governments that run them, but in countries where there is an absence of parliamentary oversight, the security and intelligence review agencies have become political tools for the powers that govern them. Therefore, the prudent thing to do is to create a parliamentary oversight committee prior to such events occurring here in Canada.

That is also why we will be encouraging the new committee to co-operate and collaborate with existing review bodies, to avoid overlap and build on the great work that has already been done. For example, receiving copies of the reports that the review bodies draft would be beneficial for the committee for a number of reasons, including avoiding inadvertent duplication of effort, keeping abreast of potential areas of concern, and being able to follow up with its own reviews when deemed necessary. It is important to note, however, that the existing review bodies would remain autonomous institutions with distinct mandates, and such collaboration, while desirable, would be voluntary.

In terms of reporting, the committee would be required to prepare a minimum of one annual report. After the appropriate vetting to safeguard classified information, that report would be tabled in Parliament. It would also have latitude to issue other reports on any topics it deemed urgent and in the public interest.

On that note, I suggest that when the committee is struck, it be a committee that ensures that Canadians from all walks of life, races, creeds, cultures, and minority groups be protected and included.

Canadians must have faith in our security operations that are designed to protect us from the very real threats that we face in 2016. That said, it is important to maintain the dignity and the trust in the government departments and agencies whose mandates include security, and the bill before this House does exactly that.

At the helms of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are Canada's best and brightest. Canadians are proud of the hard work and sacrifice they make to protect our country. However, it is common when organizations work in silos that the big picture may be omitted.

Retired Justice John Major once said that it was a cascading series of errors in response to the early interactions between the RCMP and the newly created security agency, CSIS, that resulted in a security breech. We have come a long way since and have made significant improvements in that relationship, and the bill represents the next step in that progress.

I ask the House to monitor and scrutinize this legislation as necessary in the years ahead. As parliamentarians, it is our job to ensure that the legislation is up to date and that it is always in the best interests of Canadians.

We look forward to engaging in constructive and thoughtful debate with members on all sides of the House on this and other issues related to improving our national security.

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1:05 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, there are some things that are concerning to me.

In the past, the Liberal Party became very concerned and expressed angst about there being too much power in the previous PMO. The member said that the current review systems could become political tools of the government of the day. When he says things like that, I wonder why he can justify Bill C-22, which basically gives an amazing amount of control and power to the PM, or possibly to his office. Why is he comfortable with the bill giving so much power to the Prime Minister?

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1:05 p.m.


Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I have found troubling is the security agencies in countries like India and Pakistan and others, which have western democratic systems, that are working in the silos of the ministry on their own. These countries have used these agencies as political tools to advance their own political agenda, and the agencies have been unfettered. No one there has had any oversight. In fact, a critique of one of their own retired senior intelligence officers was that one of the problems with those agencies was that they have no parliamentary oversight.

I am not troubled when I know that ministers, in particular the Prime Minister, may at certain times have to block these reports, because even if he or she blocks them, a committee of parliamentarians will know that the reports have been blocked. They will be able to go public and say they were blocked without jeopardizing any investigation. Therefore, this power will not be used very lightly and I am comfortable for our national security interests and our ongoing operations that the power may reside in the Government of Canada.

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1:05 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Surrey Centre for his well-spoken remarks. He sits in the seat I first sat in when I arrived in the House back in 2004. I think some of his comments bear follow-up, particularly on the difference between what the government purported it would do with oversight and what it is actually doing in the bill.

There are a number of concerns. First, our allies have independent elected chairs of their oversight committees. That will not happen in the bill, tragically. Second, the ability of the Prime Minister's Office to censor the oversight committee's reports is a real concern. Third, and this is something that flies right back to 2004 when I was first elected and this issue was studied by an all-party committee, an oversight committee must have full access to classified information. That will not happen in the bill either.

These are major shortcomings, major problems. The principle of the bill is one thing, but the shortcomings are quite another. I would like the member to comment on these shortcomings.

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1:05 p.m.


Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad I am filling the member's shoes in this seat. He is a member of Parliament for my former area of residence, and I am glad I am following in good footsteps.

When it comes to the censorship issue, I believe the only thing that would be censored would be classified information, particularly with respect to intelligence agents and informants. As we have been advised, even the Minister of Public Safety does not want to know the names of informants. I think that is integral to maintaining the sanctity of the relationship with informants. It is critical in our system, and if I were on that committee, I would not want to know those names for their sake and their operational safety.

When it comes to some of the responsibilities to appoint the chair and the ability of the Prime Minister to stop an investigation from happening, we must take this legislation as something that is going to grow and be revised from time to time, if we see it as ineffective and not achieving its mandate. However, in its current form, it will be very adequate. It will govern itself and the fact that there are parliamentarians who will know they were blocked on this will in itself be a great deterrent. However, if it—

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1:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. Unfortunately, the time for questions and comments has expired.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound.

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1:10 p.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-22, the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians act. Today, I would like to focus my remarks on four main areas of concern I have with the legislation as currently drafted.

However, before I begin, I would like to take a few moments to recognize the important work done by the men and women who serve our country's national security agencies. The work done by these agencies is paramount to the public safety of all Canadians, and I commend those who work tirelessly to keep us all safe. Like you, Mr. Speaker, and anyone else who was in the House two years ago on October 22, I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who kept us all safe that day. It could have been a different outcome. To all of those who were here that day and kept us all safe and able to go home to our families, I thank them very much.

We are not immune to the threats our allies are facing around the world from terrorism and homegrown radicalization. In fact, we all witnessed the tremendous work of our national security agencies this summer when they were able to stop a potential terror attack in Strathroy, Ontario, a community just a few hours south of my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. My colleague here beside me represents that area and knows how the situation could have turned out much worse. Our security agencies were able to identify and intercept a threat from a radicalized individual before he was able to place homemade explosive devices in public locations. Without our security agencies, this could have ended in disaster. Again, I thank those who work around the clock to keep us all safe from threats like these and all others.

I would like to highlight four main areas of concern that I have with the legislation. They include the timing of the legislation and appointment of the chair; the membership of the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, which I will refer to as the committee; the level of access that the committee will have to important information; and the channels through which the committee will release its reports.

First and foremost, I feel that the timing of the legislation is strange. The government introduced the legislation in the final days before the House rose for the summer last session. This is fine and dandy, but we found out during the summer that the Minister of Public Safety would be launching a cross-country consultation on Canada's national security framework. The Department of Public Safety listed the topics for discussion at this consultation as accountability, prevention, threat reduction, domestic national security information sharing, the passenger protect program, the Criminal Code's terrorism measures, the terrorist entry listing procedures, and others as part of the scope of the consultation. It seems to me there are a number of aspects of the legislation that could be significantly impacted by what is heard from Canadians as the government carries out these consultations.

Furthermore, the minister has written to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, which I am a member of, to ask that the committee also engage in cross-country consultations with Canadians on Canada's national security framework. As vice-chair of this committee, I am looking forward to travelling across Canada to hear from interested Canadians on what they think about these very important topics. However, what I am concerned about is that the government once again has put the cart before the horse. I do not understand why or how it makes sense to anyone to table this legislation and several other pieces of legislation before the House when we have not yet consulted Canadians, unless of course the government is just carrying out these consultations to pretend it is actually consulting. I sincerely hope that that is not the case, but it certainly appears that it is exactly what it is doing.

Furthermore, I find it deeply concerning that the government named the chair of the committee before it even put the legislation before the House. The member for Ottawa South was named as the chair of the committee more than five months before the legislation was brought before the House.

I respect the member for Ottawa South as I do all colleagues in the House. I sat for a few years on the transportation committee with him. It is not about him so much as the process, and some other points that I will mention.

I have served on many different committees since I became a member of Parliament back in 2004, and never, not once, have I joined a newly-formed committee that already has had a chair for months. The chair is always selected by the committee members through an election at the first meeting of the committee.

We all know, and I am not naive, that when the Liberals are in power, or whichever party is in power, that it will be one of them that gets elected. However, we still have the election, and that is not happening in this case.

I actually find it very ironic that the government has already named the chair of this important committee, given that it was the Liberal Party during the election campaign that called and screamed for more accountability for parliamentary committees. Where is it?

The Liberal Party platform states on the increase on accountability that “...we will strengthen the role of Parliamentary committee chairs, including elections by secret ballot”. Does that sound like what we are doing? Not at all.

Why should the process be any different for this new committee? The chair should have never been appointed before the membership was even consulted.

This leads to my second concern with the legislation as it is currently drafted. I have several concerns with how the membership of this new committee will be formed.

The legislation states that the committee will be composed of the chair, up to seven members of Parliament, and up to two senators, and will become members of the committee through a Governor in Council appointment on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

My concern is that membership on the committee is at the discretion of the Prime Minister rather than Parliament. Indeed, it has been expressed by many Canadians that they want parliamentary oversight of their national security agencies. What they do not want is for the Prime Minister to basically bypass Parliament and have full control of the committee, because that is the way it is designed.

If this committee is going to provide parliamentary oversight, then the membership of the committee should be approved by Parliament and not the Prime Minister. This committee should not be seen as an extension of the PMO.

Furthermore, in reading the legislation further, I note that the bill does outline security and confidentiality guidelines for the members of the committee, with each member having to obtain and maintain a security clearance, which is all good. They also have to take an oath or solemn affirmation, and comply with procedures and practices. Additionally, members are prohibited from knowingly disclosing information that was obtained in the course of exercising their under the act, and no member of the committee may claim immunity based on parliamentary privilege. I totally agree with that.

These provisions are very important, and I am delighted to see them in the bill. However, it is very unfortunate that there is not one measure or clause that would require members who are appointed to the committee to have at least some type of former experience related to the national security environment. The current chair does not have any previous such experience. I find it very difficult to believe that this committee will be able to effectively carry out important work related to our national security agencies if this is the very first time it has ever worked in such a field. It simply does not add up.

The reason for oversight is actual and legitimate oversight. We are not going to get that. I do not know how someone who is still getting his or her feet wet on the file is able to provide proper and actual oversight. This is a significant flaw in the legislation which I hope will be addressed as we move forward on the bill.

My third area of concern with the legislation relates to the level of access that the committee would have to important documents regarding the operation of Canada's national security and intelligence agencies.

As the legislation is currently drafted, it is extremely limiting with respect to the information that the committee will have access to and it entrusts a lot of power to the Prime Minister and several ministers to limit access to information for the committee when they see fit. It is totally inappropriate and absolutely unacceptable.

If we want this committee to provide true, independent oversight of our national security agencies, then the bill will need some amending. I hope the government is open to constructive criticism.

As it stands, the bill would give the government far too much power to block the committee at every turn and to limit what it would be able to investigate. This would significantly limit the ability of the committee to fulfill its mandate. Again, this is supposed to be a committee of parliamentarians, not an arm of the Liberal Party of Canada.

My final area of concern deals with the way in which the committee would report its findings to the House and by extension, the public.

The legislation is clear in stating that the committee will be required to submit annual reports on a yearly basis and special reports as required. This is great. The only problem is that these reports are given directly to the Prime Minister, rather than to all of us in Parliament. Again, that is totally unacceptable.

These reports are to contain the committee's findings and recommendations, and the Prime Minister then has the ability to remove any information that he may deem harmful to national security or defence before the report is tabled in the House of Commons. Essentially, the legislation would give the Prime Minister a final say on what is reported to the House.

I know members have sat on various committees. That is not how it works and that is not how it is supposed to work. However, under the current government, it seems to be the way it wants to do some things.

While it is very important that there are checks and balances, and I do not have an issue with that, to ensure that nothing in the committee reports harms our national security, I am definitely sure that giving the Prime Minister's Office a veto power over the contents of this report is not the best way to go about this. That is the committee's responsibility.

As I have stated a number of times throughout my remarks today, this is supposed to be a committee that provides parliamentary oversight. In this regard, the committee should be reporting directly to Parliament and should not have to get a stamp of approval from the PMO.

This truly removes the ability of the committee to act independently and gives the PMO a significant amount of influence over the committee, which I find ironic since the Prime Minister promised during the campaign to decrease the role of the PMO. I guess that was 2015 then. It is 2016 now.

Having highlighted my main areas of concern with the legislation, I want to take just a few moments to highlight how the United Kingdom has formed its own committee for parliamentary oversight of its national security agencies.

I know the minister and the chair of the committee have done some travel to do some fact-finding, but I am not sure the best practices from other countries have made their way into this legislation. We should learn from other countries when possible. We do not need to reinvent the wheel.

It is important to only make comparisons between Canada and other Westminister parliaments because, as I have repeatedly stated today, this is to be a committee of parliamentarians that reports to and for Parliament. This leads into the comparison that I want to make.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom established its intelligence and security committee of Parliament in 1994 to examine policy, administration, and expenditures of the security service, secret intelligence service, and the government communications headquarters.

In 2013, three years ago, and some nineteen years after the original legislation, it made very significant reforms to make this a committee of Parliament, with a number of greater powers. The members of this committee are appointed by Parliament, and it reports directly to Parliament. Issues of national security are reported directly to the Prime Minister. Furthermore, the members are given access to highly classified material.

To me, this seems like a committee that has much more independence from the prime minister's office and has the appropriate level of access to classified material to truly provide proper oversight.

The most important fundamental difference between the committee proposed in Bill C-22 and the committee that operates in the United Kingdom is that members are appointed by, and report to, Parliament and Parliament alone.

Again, as I have stated, if this is to be a committee of parliamentarians that provides parliamentary oversight, then the committee should be beholden to Parliament and not to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office.

I would be very curious to know this. When the minister travelled to the United Kingdom, was he advised against making this committee an extension of the PMO? Was he encouraged to adopt the committee structure that came out of the reforms in the United Kingdom in 2013?

The reason this is a key point is that we have been a little away from some of the hot spots in the Middle East, where terrorism seemed to blossom. However, England and Britain saw this a lot quicker than we did, so their legislation has been there for some time. The longer a piece of legislation is place, no matter what it has to deal with, we learn things from it. I do not care how smart any of us in the House are, or any government, It would be wrong to say that every bill we draft is perfect. That is not the case. As things evolve and change, we adapt and make changes, which is what the Brits did in 2013.

The other bill seemed to be very similar to what the government is putting in place today. The United Kingdom realized that after 19 years, or 17 years, whatever it turned out to be, that it was not doing the job, that it was not right. Therefore, it has been changed to make it right. We should have followed those changes, and it is obvious we did not.

The Parliaments of Australia and New Zealand also have parliamentary committees that provide oversight over their national security agencies, though they are much different than what is proposed by Bill C-22. The United Kingdom offers the closest comparison to Bill C-22.

Therefore, we should learn from the experience of the United Kingdom. It has had some form of parliamentary oversight since 1994. Clearly the reforms that were made back in 2013 were brought about for a reason. We should, to the greatest extent possible, offer a similar model that reflects the lessons learned in the UK from having such a body in place for more than 20 years now.

Finally, I hope the minister and his department consulted all of the current oversight agencies when drafting this legislation to ensure that there would not be a duplication of work on this committee. The committee should respect the agencies already in place and work alongside them in providing parliamentary oversight.

I look forward to hearing from oversight agencies, such as the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, and the Security Intelligence Review Committee on this legislation.

In closing, I look forward to the rest of the debate that is going to take place today and in the coming weeks and months. I look forward to taking some questions from my hon. colleagues.

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1:30 p.m.


Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for what I thought was a very thoughtful and engaging presentation to the House of his thoughts on Bill C-22. I have listened carefully to the comments from the official opposition over the course of the debate so far, and I do want to say that I am heartened here on the government side that there seems to have been a change of heart now that the official opposition sits on the opposition benches. Not too long ago it was the government and was at that time not as receptive to the basic content of what now is being proposed with Bill C-22.

My friend laid out, I think, four broad criticisms, and to me they seem primarily related to issues of process. I am only going to dig into one of them.

That, namely, is with respect to membership in the committee. The member indicated that it was his view that the members of this particular parliamentary review committee should have a background in security. However, I would argue, perhaps, that what is most important is that the members be independent and have an open mind with respect to challenging the positions that are advanced by the government, and not necessarily be captured by particular perspectives; for example, if they had previously served in a security agency or with the police, they would have particular perspectives.

Does my friend have a particular thought, or would he be willing to consider who ought to sit on that particular committee?

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1:30 p.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague on the other side for his question, and welcome him to this very prestigious place.

There are just two points I want to make. Not once did I or anyone from this side, to my recollection, say that we should not have this kind oversight or committee with our security intelligence agencies. However, it was the process. Way back when, the minister announced there was going to be a committee, and before that committee was even formed he told us who the chair was. It is not about not supporting this kind of a committee. It never was about that, and it never will be. Again, it is that process.

To the member's question, if I were a police officer or somebody out there who has some background in intelligence and security, I think I would have taken his comment as basically implying that it would be better not to have members with experience from the security or policing side. I do not think they would agree with that.

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1:30 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. He pointed out most of the shortcomings of Bill C-22.

For example, he noted that the chair would be appointed rather than elected by his peers on the parliamentary committee. Given that he would by appointed by the Prime Minister himself, the chair would be beholden to him.

In addition, unlike our security agencies, the committee's access to certain information will be limited. Furthermore, the Prime Minister can accept or reject certain parts or all of the report to be tabled in Parliament. In other words, it is as though the Prime Minister was telling a parliamentary committee that he had the final say on the parliamentary committee's report.

My colleague has a lot of experience sitting on parliamentary committees, and he knows how they work. It would be inconceivable for the Prime Minister to have the power to completely suppress the entire report that a committee wants to table in the House.

What message does that send about the Prime Minister's confidence in the institution of the House and its members?

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1:35 p.m.


Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for a great question and a dead-on observation.

Of course giving lip service is all that this is doing. The committee is just a figurehead, so to speak. The Prime Minister, in his instructions to the minister, obviously has told the minister to draft this legislation so that basically the Prime Minister has final say. I can dwell on and talk about that for another hour, but I know I do not have that time.

The bottom line is that the member who just asked the question is absolutely right. The committee just turns out to be a figurehead, its members will go through the due process, but at the end of the day it will not matter one iota.