Mr. Speaker, one of the most important duties of any national government is the safety and security of its citizens. That is what people look to the government for, that is what they trust their government will do, and that is indeed one of our most important obligations here in this House, but more importantly for any government in Canada.
I come to this debate as a former public safety minister. While aware of the national security threats that we face as a country and how we work to deal with those threats, it also means that I understand full well that there are very good reasons that one might not want to have a committee such as this. Those arguments have been articulated in the past.
On the one hand, for example, one could argue that our national security agencies conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and that the existing oversight mechanisms we have are adequate and do a fine job in providing oversight of those mechanisms to protect the public interest. I think all of us would agree that is indeed largely the case here in Canada today, and I think it is clear that the Liberal government has concluded the same, based on the approach it is taking to the bill.
The second argument that we hear from time to time is that we cannot really trust politicians, especially those with a partisan interest, with this kind of sensitive security information. If they see a partisan gain to be had, they will find some way to use that information to their advantage, even if it would hurt national security.
The Liberals have clearly concluded that they believe both of these two perspectives. However, they are stuck with a problem. The problem is that notwithstanding their conclusions on this front, they have this promise from the last election to establish an all-party national oversight committee. They feel they must somehow fulfill that promise. They noted when they were out campaigning that Canada is “the sole nation among our Five Eyes allies whose elected officials cannot scrutinize security operations”. Therefore, they come to us with a bill today that ensures that parliamentarians will not be able to scrutinize national security operations, i.e., their solution does not address what they say was their problem.
The Liberals' solution indicates that they do not believe we can trust politicians, which is one of those arguments for not having such a body in the first place. What we are dealing with here is a fascinating shell game. We are establishing something that has the name, national security committee of parliamentarians, but it is not a parliamentary committee; it is a committee of parliamentarians. It seems to belong to the Prime Minister as his personal group, but it is not a parliamentary committee. It has none of those privileges. It is simply an empty shell, with none of the powers we would think such a committee would have.
While we are going through a tremendous charade to pretend we are carrying through on a commitment to do something from the election, we are creating it in name but not in substance.
That is the problem we have in the Conservative Party. I believe it is legitimate to have a perspective where we make those arguments and say we will not have a parliamentary oversight committee because of those reasons, because our existing system works well: “We think our bodies do well. We are concerned about trusting politicians.” We could say that, or we could say that those statements are not true: “We really do need to have parliamentary oversight.” Then, we can actually create it. The bill does not create it. It is consistent. In fact, one of the ironies is that the underlying premise of the argument that we cannot trust politicians is proven by this bill. The Liberals went out there and told Canadians they would do something, and they are not. They are doing something very different. They are proving that very argument by their actions in this case.
This committee, as I said, is not a parliamentary committee. It has none of the associated powers and privileges of a parliamentary committee, and, by its structure, is isolated and cut off entirely from this parliamentary process. Members will see that it does not have the ability to appeal to the rights that one has as parliamentarians by virtue of our long-standing traditions in this House of Commons, and which for centuries of the Westminister system has worked.
The body is not a parliamentary committee; it is a committee merely of parliamentarians. The bill before us ensures that the body cannot scrutinize ongoing operations, and it says that when the operations are complete then of course it can reflect upon them. However, in this day and age, there is no such thing.
As a former public safety minister, I can say that no investigation is ever complete. The principal threat that we face, as the public safety department and the government assess in their national security priorities documents on the terrorism front, is the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism. Every time we have had such an incident, though, even when the incident is over and the perpetrator may be killed, the fact is that investigations continue with the people they have dealt with, in the context they have had, and the networks they have, and these investigations continue on and on. By their very nature, they do not come to a conclusion.
By the definitions of the exclusions that have been created for this committee, they are effectively, de facto, excluded from ever dealing with anything of substance that is actually happening on the national security front. Then, ironically, most of all, the authority that it would be given to seek information, to ask for documents, the mandate it would be given and the realms in which it can investigate, are more limited than the existing oversight bodies that are doing their work. They are duplicative, but more narrow. They are not even in other areas. They are in the exact same areas, but they are more narrow.
Therefore, it is a paper shell that is being proposed by the government. It is a meaningless shell. It certainly underlines those two principal arguments that I made in the first case about why the government probably has come to the conclusion that it would not, if it had its preferences and had not made such a rash promise in the last election, be proceeding with this committee.
Let us deal with the first of those arguments, whether our existing national security organizations do their jobs well and have adequate oversight. I can say, I think without compromising any oaths or laws, that our Canadian Security Intelligence Service is highly professional. We are very fortunate to have it working for us. I believe the men and women in that organization are second to none. They provide a service to Canadians that has kept us safe countless times.
They resist any temptation to put themselves in the spotlight, to tell success stories of their work, but there is a myriad of success stories of their work. The threats that they have shut down, which we have never ever heard about, that they have neutralized, prevented from happening, have identified, and appropriately tracked to protect us are numerous. We can be very proud of the work of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It is indeed highly professional.
I have heard occasional criticisms of individuals on the Security Intelligence Review Committee. After all, a lot of them are politicians and people like to criticize politicians. However, I have never heard any substantive criticisms of the work they have done being inadequate. We can conclude that both the organization and the oversight have worked very well.
Another one of the three organizations that we are dealing with, the Communications Security Establishment, is outstanding. It is a second-to-none, world-class operation, and we can commend its work. Fortunately, most of us do not know the work that it does, which is the way it is supposed to be, but I can assure everyone that it does outstanding work. I have never ever heard a single credible criticism of the quality of work done by the commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment. Again, it is high quality.
The RCMP is a bit of a different body. One of the difficulties is that we ask our police to spread themselves across an incredibly large mandate, everything from local and municipal policing to counterterrorism investigations, to dealing with money laundering, to dealing with very sophisticated financial transactions. It is a mandate that is truly broad, so their work is not always perfect. However, that being said, the work of Ian McPhail and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission has been excellent. I have not heard any credible complaints. They are providing very high-quality reviews.
When I look at these, I can see that the government has concluded there is not a problem. However, Liberals have talked about it in opposition, whipping up a frenzy of concerns. They do not really share that. They do not really believe that. At the end of day, they honestly do not believe politicians should have oversight. That is why they have created this limited scope, this inability. In fact, as I said, this body would become a pale duplication. It is a duplication of the existing oversight, but it is a pale duplication. The committee of parliamentarians will have less power than those existing oversight bodies that we talked about that are doing their work.
Not only will it have less scope, but the government almost implicitly in this bill acknowledges embarrassment that it is creating a body that is merely a duplication with fewer powers. It does that with an entire clause, clause 9 of the bill, that requires the review bodies and this new committee to “avoid any unnecessary duplication of work.” The government has actually acknowledged it is asking this committee to do the exact same thing. Just a little slice of it is all the government is going to let the committee do and please, no duplication.
At one point in time when this was proposed, I thought that as a former public safety minister, it would be great for me to be on this committee. Now I look at this committee as it is being proposed by the government, and it is such a meaningless shell. I can assure every member in this House who is interested in serving on it that they are going to find it a very frustrating and empty experience, because they are not going to see too much and they are not going to have much power to actually do anything. Certainly, it is a far cry from a substantive committee such as we see, for example, south of the border.