Mr. Speaker, before I get under way, I will comment on the last statement from my colleague across the way. Regarding New Zealand where the prime minister sits on the committee, is that something the Conservatives would want to see happen here on our parliamentary oversight committee?
It is important that we recognize that there has been a great deal of work on this. Let me start off my speech, though, by recognizing International Women's Day today, to applaud everyone who is participating in it, and to give a special call-out to my daughter, who is the youngest member of the Manitoba legislature. Her dad is very proud of all the wonderful work that she does.
I wanted to be able to put this thing into perspective. Let us put it into perspective in regard to a couple of points. One is that the Conservatives were out of touch with Canadians prior to the last election and today they demonstrated that they are still out of touch with Canadians. I say that because we know within the Liberal caucus that when the Conservatives introduced Bill C-51 there was a fundamental piece that was missing. We knew that. We understood that. We knew that because we were working and connecting with Canadians, listening to what Canadians actually had to say.
I understand that the prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper, had a bias. His bias was possibly that he did not trust; I do not know. All we know is that at the end of the day he did not want to have a parliamentary oversight committee and have parliamentarians take responsibility in terms of being able to ensure things such as rights and freedoms of Canadians were in fact being protected. We disagreed back then and I stood up across the way on many occasions and talked about how important it was that the government actually bring in parliamentary oversight. I believe the record will show that we pushed that consistently. The Prime Minister, during the last federal election, in addressing the issue of Bill C-51, made a commitment to Canadians, because we were listening, that if we were to form government we would bring in parliamentary oversight.
The concept is not new. As has been pointed out, there are other countries. Canada is part of a group of nations called the Five Eyes dealing with security and national security issues. We were the only country that did not have a parliamentary oversight committee. This Prime Minister recognized that, and even though our first priority was to deliver on that middle class tax cut and for those who are aspiring to be a part of Canada's middle class and the many other nice things that came out of the budget, I can say we did not lose sight of the parliamentary oversight committee. We recognized that this too was important to Canadians. We are a party that brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we stand by that on all occasions.
I started by saying that the Conservatives were out of touch with Canadians, and we saw that in terms of not incorporating it into Bill C-51. I was amazed when the critic for the Conservatives said they accepted the results of the last federal election. If the Conservatives really did accept the results of the last federal election, they would be supporting this bill. However, we heard today that the Conservatives will not be supporting the bill. What did they base their arguments on? They said that we could have improved it here, we should have improved it there.
Let me read some of the things that were said at the committee stage, and this is Bill C-22 as it was in the committee room.
Noted academic Professor Wesley Wark credited the “government for seeing the importance of parliamentary scrutiny of security and intelligence and for making [the committee of parliamentarians] a centrepiece of its response to the previous government's anti-terrorism legislation”. He also told the standing committee that the new committee of parliamentarians “represents a necessary and timely experiment in parliamentary democracy and activism”. He is not alone. There are others. I made reference to Ronald Atkey, a former SIRC chair and former parliamentarian. He stated that the proposed review body “represents a major and welcome change” in Canada. He explained that he meant “welcome” in the sense that, in his view, “Canada in the last three decades [has fallen] behind our parliamentary cousins in the United Kingdom and Australia in terms of accountability to Parliament”.
He also noted, in the standing committee, that Bill C-22 will help to reassure Canadians that their elected representatives will play a key overview role in accountability regarding the serious powers granted to some of the 17 federal departments and agencies that contribute to Canadian national security measures.
The good news is that this is a commitment that was given by the Liberals when we were going through that last election, and that commitment is being materialized in a very tangible way.
Members, who are New Democrats, Conservatives, or even the Green Party, are saying that they did not listen to the committee and that the Prime Minister said we would be changing attitudes in the standing committee.
I was here for a good number of those years when Stephen Harper was the prime minister, and I participated in some of those committees. The opposition never gained anything.
If we look at this particular piece of legislation, amendments were brought forward, and even with these amendments that we have brought forward today, that are still in place. Let us take a look at it in terms of some of those things.
We have had a lot of discussion this afternoon about the exemptions. When the legislation was here, before it went to committee, that is during the same time in which we had professional experts saying how good the legislation was, the committee wanted some more exemptions. There were four exemptions that the government wants to keep, and we are doing that through the amendments.
At the committee stage, the exemptions were reduced down to one. We are putting three of them back in. In my books that means it is better legislation, because we actually accepted some of those exemptions that came from the standing committee. That means the government was listening to what the standing committee was saying. That is another promise that has been kept by this Prime Minister. When the committees and standing committees do good work and put in the effort, we recognize that.
What are the things that we are actually putting in? One of the things that we are putting back in that the committee took out, for example, was information described in the Witness Protection Program Act. I am not a security expert. I am not going to try to convince members that I am security expert. However, I do know that the witness protection program is an essential program here in Canada. We need to go all out in terms of protecting those individuals in that program.
I do not believe it is irresponsible of the government to bring that clause back in, because we need to protect the names of those individuals. Those individuals' lives are at risk. I believe that is a positive measure. This legislation is better today than when it was in second reading in part because of some of the work that was done in the standing committee.
The NDP members in particular are saying that we have too many exemptions. Let me talk about something that has come out in the New Zealand act, and maybe New Democrat members could respond to it. New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes. Its act allows the government to inform the committee that those documents or that information cannot be disclosed because, in the opinion of the chief executive or the relevant intelligence and security agents, those documents or that information is sensitive.
I would argue our legislation is far more effective at getting the badly needed information to our committee members. New Zealand is not alone. What about the U.K.? What is their exemption clause? Let us look at it. It says: inform the intelligence and security committee that the information cannot be disclosed because the secretary of state has decided it should not be disclosed.
I would argue that this is Canada's first, and this is somewhat historic. We have a great piece of legislation here. This is good news for Canadians. It is protecting rights and freedoms. We have gone further, in many ways, than other jurisdictions.
As opposed to trying to come up with excuses as to why members might not want to support it, I would suggest that members should get on board, listen to what Canadians are saying, and vote in favour of Bill C-22.