Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-22, an act to establish the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain acts, or, as I call it, another piece of bad legislation to cover for a campaign promise the Liberals made without really thinking it through.
There are some points I want to address in discussing this bill, as I mentioned: using bad legislation to cover for bad campaign promises, the problem with creating legislation that relies on putting blind trust in the government, a redundancy of some of the legislation, and what stakeholders are saying about the bill.
We start with a campaign talking point that turned out to be a poorly phrased policy platform: how to reconcile the Prime Minister's support of Bill C-51 when he was a third party leader and his current compulsion to oppose everything the previous government did. My colleague from Parry Sound—Muskoka said it perfectly when he said, “the devil is not only in the details; the devil is in the fundamental misappropriation of the bill to promise something to the electorate and then not deliver.”
Today's legislation is just another in a string of poor attempts to cover up politically popular, but operationally difficult, campaign promises. This bill gives broad discretion over intelligence and national security discussions to the government, with “strong” oversight from the PMO, but not from Parliament. MPs are told to just trust the Liberals and they will figure it all out later. We know from their actions, though, they cannot be so easily trusted. They find ways to bend, break, and skirt the rules.
Therefore, we use the mechanisms within the House to hold the government to account and make sure that Canadians are aware of what the Liberal government is up to. Bill C-22 creates a committee with broad oversight, heavy Liberal influence, and public disclosure solely at the discretion of the PMO. It is a system designed to operate on blind trust in the government of the day, but we know that a strong and secure democratic system of government will ensure our security and liberty no matter who is in charge. Bill C-22, demanding that Canadians blindly trust the Liberals, does not accomplish this.
With their already lengthy track record of abuse of privileges, ethical lapses, and skirting responsibility for their mistakes, as well as their general contempt for the opposition when it opposes flawed legislation, I just cannot trust the government to act in the best interests of Canadians. Bill C-22 simply does not provide reasonable, meaningful mechanisms for parliamentary oversight.
Let us look at the track record of this bill. The special committee is appointed by, and reports to, the PMO. It should, instead, be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. The Prime Minister campaigned on a reduced role for the PMO, but his actions do not follow his words. Similarly, the Prime Minister, independent of any discussion with the other parties, appointed the committee chair in January before the legislation was even created. He refused to consult with the opposition parties, despite the public willingness of my party and the NDP to discuss this important committee. We were at the table, willing and ready to talk, but they stood us up.
The purpose of this committee is not to encourage and ensure transparency for the security agencies that are already as transparent as they can be while still protecting Canada and Canada's interests, rather it is a knee-jerk policy decision to shore up public support the Liberals lost when they voted in favour of Bill C-51 previously. Bill C-22 is a roundabout way for the Prime Minister's Office to direct the way our national security agencies function, effectively politicizing institutions that should always operate at arm's length from political sources. If the bill achieved some balance between oversight for parliamentarians and effective oversight for the committee while enhancing our national security, perhaps Conservatives could support it, but the bill, as it is, is purposeless.
Oversight agencies, including the Office of the Communications Security Establishment Commissioner, Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the RCMP External Review Committee, National Defence and Canadian Forces ombudsman, and the Security Intelligence Review Committee are already mandated to provide oversight for each department or agency. This includes providing annual reports to Parliament.
Let us look at the membership process of the committee. Subclause 4(2) of the bill states:
The Committee is to consist of not more than two members who are members of the Senate and not more than seven members who are members of the House of Commons. Not more than four Committee members who are members of the House of Commons may be members of the government party.
There are two members of the Senate, seven members of this House, and not more than four government members, so we could easily be looking at four parliamentary secretaries from the government, notably members who are accountable first to their cabinet ministers, two so-called independent senators, and three members of the opposition.
I have heard government members state that they only get up to, but not necessarily, four members. Let us be honest here. No one expects the government to appoint a majority made up of opposition members and Conservative senators.
We have seen all too often that the Prime Minister and his office truly believe that their unilateral decisions are the best courses of action for Canadians. They dictate the issues of the day and the alleged solutions to those issues.
The government House leader has offered amendments so that subclause 4(2) would instead read: “The Committee is to consist of not more than three members who are members of the Senate and not more than eight members who are members of the House of Commons. Not more than five committee members who are members of the House of Commons may be members of the government party”.
Even with this, we could have five government members, three so-called independent senators, and three opposition members. We would still be faced with a Liberal majority on the committee that could unilaterally direct our intelligence and security agencies.
We always talk about how important it is to consult with the relevant stakeholders on legislation, so I will read what a couple of stakeholders are saying about Bill C-22. Here is a spoiler alert. It is not praise.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said:
we are concerned by the government’s power to halt a Committee investigation, or refuse to provide information, when it is deemed “injurious to national security.” While we recognize that the utmost secrecy is sometimes required, this is particularly worrisome because these decisions are final, and are not subject to judicial review or any other dispute resolution process. Also concerning is the prime minister’s power to redact Committee reports (without any evidence that redactions were made), as well as the numerous categories of information the committee cannot access. Furthermore, it should be the Committee members themselves—not the prime minister—that chooses the Committee chair.
The Civil Liberties Association seems to broadly agree with our concerns, that Bill C-22 would leave most of the discretionary decisions and oversight resolution mechanisms to the Prime Minister.
I am really not sure how the government can genuinely argue that it is increasing oversight by increasing the discretionary power of the PMO to censor information that claims to be injurious to national security but may actually just be injurious to the Liberal government.
The government seems to hide things it does not like. Just two weeks ago, members of the House debated a motion calling on the government to release the finance department's redacted data on a federal carbon tax. The information was unfavourable to the government, so it refused to disclose the information and voted it down.
The government has muzzled more than 100 public servants for life on the purchase of the politically motivated, sole-sourced Super Hornet purchase. We have heard testimony in committee that the government did not even bother to make these muzzled public servants aware of their rights under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, but it sure went out of its way to muzzle them for life.
The Canadian Bar Association, which I understand might be versed on the impacts of laws, waded in on Bill C-22 by saying:
While we have made suggestions and expressed concerns about various aspects of the Bill, our concerns about section 16 of the Bill are greater by several orders of magnitude. That section would provide broad discretion for Ministers and departments to refuse to provide information on vague national security grounds and on the basis of the expansive definition of ‘special operational information’ in the Security of Information Act.
Just recently, in the government operations and estimates committee, we heard how the government is making extensive use of national security exemptions to skirt rules on the procurement of such items as jackets for Syrian refugees, under the guise of national security, yet we are supposed to trust that government ministers are not going to opt out of the disclosure regime under Bill C-22 when they see fit.
However, it is okay, just trust that the Liberal government will always act in everyone's best interest, and shame on us for again questioning its so-called commitment to act openly and honestly.
I do not like legislation that relies solely on trusting the government to act properly. We have seen too many examples of the government hiding from responsibility for political gain, and this legislation will only make that easier, without tangibly increasing Canada's national security oversight.
As such, I cannot in good conscience support the bill.