Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand today to talk about what I believe is a very important piece of legislation. Many members of the chamber will recall the debate on Bill C-51. That is where I would like to start this morning, to give a bit of perspective on why we have this bill before us today.
It is important to note that the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, brought in Bill C-51, a bill that had some fundamental flaws. At the time, the Liberal Party was the third party in the chamber, and we felt strongly, based on the feedback we were receiving and the research we were doing on the bill, that it was important to vote in favour of it. As the debate continued, many hours of debate in the House on that issue, I, for one, must have talked about the need for a parliamentary oversight committee at least a dozen times, possibly 15 or 20 times. That was when I was on the other side of the House.
The point is that it was a very important issue a couple of years ago. It raised quite a commotion outside the House. Many members, I suspect all 338 of us, can relate to Bill C-51, because it was an issue that was constantly being raised at the time. I even knocked on a few doors where people talked to me about the bill and how, if the Liberal Party leader was elected prime minister, he would respond to Bill C-51.
There was a commitment made by all members of the Liberal team, in particular the Prime Minister, that we would bring in a parliamentary oversight committee. Whether it was during the debates when Bill C-51 was in the House, in the lead-up to the campaign, through the media, in public meetings, or when we were going door to door throughout the last federal election campaign, Liberals were advocating how important it was to have an oversight committee made up of parliamentarians.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to parliamentarians across the way that we are debating a bill that, in essence, captures the commitment the Prime Minister and every member of the Liberal caucus made as part of our election platform. No one should be surprised in the House of Commons, and I suspect that Canadians will look at this piece of legislation and see it as fulfilling an election promise.
I said yesterday that the Prime Minister says how important it is to him personally that when members of Parliament come to Ottawa they represent their constituents here. I can tell the Prime Minister and my caucus colleagues that this is something I believe the residents of Winnipeg North are behind 100%. I am convinced that this is good, solid legislation.
I would like to commend the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the government House leader for doing a phenomenal job in ensuring that this commitment is being fulfilled in such a timely fashion.
That is how I wanted to start my comments today. I know there has been concern among opposition members about how the bill would ultimately be passed. Maybe I could attempt to answer some of the questions they might have.
For example, we know that more than 40 members have been afforded the opportunity to give a 10- or 20-minute speech. Well over 100 have been afforded the opportunity to be engaged in one way or another on the floor of the House of Commons.
I also want to compliment the excellent standing committee that dealt with Bill C-22. I would argue that this was a fulfillment of one of the other aspects the Prime Minister has talked about. As a government, we want to bring more life to our standing committees. We want members on all sides of the House to be more engaged in a positive way in terms of trying to improve legislation. That is exactly what we have done here. After second reading, the bill went to committee, and in that committee, what did we see? A number of witnesses came before the committee, from different regions of the country, and made recommendations on how the legislation could be improved. A good number of those expert witnesses were very complimentary to the government about the legislation as it was presented to committee. They were very supportive of that legislation.
They recognized, as many of us have, that there is always room for improvement. We have encouraged that, and what we saw was a series of amendments brought forward. The ideas were talked about. The standing committee did its job in terms of setting the agenda and inviting witnesses.
I look at the standing committees as the backbone of the fine work parliamentarians do. All we need to do is focus some attention on that standing committee. There was a great list developed for witnesses who presented their reports and came up with ideas. The committee took a number of those thoughts and presented amendments. It was not just amendments from the government side of the House. There were amendments suggested, and some were accepted, from the opposition side of the House. That demonstrates the changes we are seeing at the committee level. I bring that to people's attention, because it is worthy of note.
The legislation has come back to the House. The government has the opportunity to review some of the work that was done at committee. Yes, there was a need to make some changes to it. I will give an example of one of the changes.
The witness protection program is of critical importance. Canadians appreciate the importance of informants or individuals who might be testifying before a court of law, when their life or their family's lives may be put at risk. Because there is risk, we need to have a system that protects those witnesses. That is why we have a witness protection program.
The committee, for a number of reasons, felt that we should talk about the names of witnesses and drawing too much information from that. A caveat was put in, in the form an amendment, and the government, at this point, felt that we might have been going too far on that particular issue. That is one of the amendments and why it is that some amendments were made at third reading.
I raise that because I believe that is really what Parliament should be doing on its legislation. We had the opportunity to see the legislation through first reading. Members were able to be engaged. No one would have been surprised by the introduction of the bill, given the fact that it was something that was talked about. It was brought in for second reading. Dozens of members were able to speak to it. Even more were able to be engaged in that debate. It then went to committee. In committee, it received wonderful support, and a number of ideas that would improve it were incorporated into amendments. Ultimately it went to report stage, at which point there were a few modifications. Now we are into third reading and we are debating it again in anticipation of the legislation being ready to pass.
We have a government that has made a commitment to Canadians. It brought in the legislation. The legislation has been improved through the process, and ultimately, we are getting into a position where we will be seeing it pass. I see that as a very strong positive. We should all take some pride in the manner in which it has actually gone through.
I know there have been some concerns among the opposition members with respect to the legislation, specifically dealing with what sorts of exemptions there will be. They are indicating that we could have done better in terms of not allowing as many exemptions.
I would like to address that point. It is important to recognize that this is somewhat historical in the sense that Canada will have a parliamentary oversight committee, among many other things. I like to think of it as an oversight committee that will protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians in a very respectful fashion. That is one reason I am such a strong advocate for Bill C-22, because I believe in the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
It is the first time Canada is going to have a parliamentary oversight committee that is going to be looking at all of our security agencies and ensuring that there is a higher sense of accountability, whether it is border controls, corporations, or the RCMP. This is good news.
I want to be sensitive in terms of what the opposition is saying, but I want to assure members that it is very robust legislation. In fact, even though we might be the last of the Five Eyes countries, countries that move together in dealing with issues of this nature, immigration and so forth, I would suggest that we could be very proud of how robust our legislation is in comparison with the other countries' legislation.
Let me give an example. When we talk about the exemptions of what cannot be talked about, or what can be withdrawn from the committee, this is something that comes from the New Zealand act, which is one of the Five Eyes countries. In New Zealand, the act allows for the government to inform the committee that the documents or information cannot be disclosed because, in the opinion of the chief executive of the relevant intelligence and security agency, the documents or information are sensitive. In all fairness, I suspect that if we were to ask even the members of the opposition, one would think that our legislation is more robust than that. I would challenge the members across the way, who are concerned about that aspect, to indicate to this House whether they believe that the New Zealand legislation is more robust than ours. I do not believe it is, but that is an issue that is raised.
That is not the only country that we can draw a comparison to, but before I leave the subject of New Zealand, there is another point related to this. I want to talk about the Prime Minister, because a number of members across the way have talked about the influence of the Prime Minister. I will get to that right away, because there is another good example with respect to New Zealand.
On the same thought, let us look at what is being done in the U.K. act. The government is able to inform the intelligence and security committee, which is the equivalent of what we are establishing, that the information cannot be disclosed because the secretary of state has decided that it should not be disclosed. Again, I would suggest that our legislation is more robust than that, yet this is a big issue that is being raised, in particular by the New Democrats, and other opposition members also. That is not to say that our legislation is 100% perfect. There is always room for improvement. That is one of the reasons we are saying that we will take another look at it in the years ahead, and that is within the legislation itself.
I made reference to the Prime Minister. The members across the way talk about the Prime Minister and the control from the PMO. I would encourage them not to be paranoid about that particular issue. In New Zealand, the prime minister actually sits on the security committee. In Canada, we have a parliamentary oversight committee where the government members of Parliament make up the minority of the committee. That is a fairly significant piece in the legislation. In fairness, the opposition should recognize that it reinforces that we have excellent legislation in comparison to other Five Eyes countries.
Not only that, but the good news continues. Within the framework, we have a Prime Minister who is obligated to work with the opposition to fill the opposition member spots on the committee. Let me suggest to members that if we were to talk to Canadians to get a better sense of what Canadians believe, I would like to think that our Minister of Public Safety has done a phenomenal job with respect to this legislation, in bringing it forward and defending it. If there is any doubt in the minds of members as to why or how they should be voting, if they read what the Minister of Public Safety has put on the record here, I am sure that their concerns will be addressed.
I would argue that this is one of those pieces of legislation that should be passed unanimously by this House, because I believe that all Canadians want to see a parliamentary oversight committee. Even under Stephen Harper, where there was some reluctance—actually there was a lot of reluctance—I know there are now many members across the way who understand the value of a parliamentary oversight committee. I hope that they will come on side and support this good legislation.