That Standing Order 111.1 be replaced with the following:
“(1) Where the government intends to appoint an Officer of Parliament, the Clerk of the House, the Parliamentary Librarian, the Parliamentary Budget Officer or the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the name of the proposed appointee shall be deemed referred to the Subcommittee on Appointments of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which may consider the appointment during a period of not more than thirty days following the tabling of a document concerning the proposed appointment.
(2) At the beginning of the first session of a Parliament, and thereafter as required, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall name one Member from each of the parties recognized in the House to constitute the Subcommittee on Appointments. The Subcommittee shall be chaired by the Deputy Speaker who shall be deemed to be an associate member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for the purposes of this Standing Order. The Subcommittee shall be empowered to meet forthwith following the referral of a proposed appointee pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order.
(3)(a) After it has met pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, the Subcommittee on Appointments shall forthwith deposit with the clerk of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs a report recommending the approval or rejection of the appointment, and that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee;
(b) If no report has been filed with the clerk of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the thirtieth day following the nomination of a proposed appointee, a report recommending the rejection of the appointment shall be deemed to have been filed with the clerk and that report, which shall be deemed to have been adopted by the Committee, shall be presented to the House at the next earliest opportunity as a report of that Committee.
(4) Immediately after the presentation of a report pursuant to section (3) of this Standing Order which recommends the approval of the appointment, the Clerk of the House shall cause to be placed on the Notice Paper a notice of motion for concurrence in the report, which shall stand in the name of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons under Notices of Motions (Routine Proceedings). Any such motion may be moved during Routine Proceedings on any of the 10 sitting days following the expiry of the notice provided that, if no such motion has been moved on the 10th sitting day following the expiry of the notice, it shall be deemed moved on that day. The question on the motion shall be put forthwith without debate or amendment.
(5) Immediately after the presentation of a report pursuant to section (3) of this Standing Order which recommends the rejection of the appointment, the proposed nomination shall be deemed withdrawn.”; and
That the Clerk of the House be authorized to make any required editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for that impassioned reading of what we can all admit is true poetry in parliamentary terms. I may have welled up a couple of times during your recitation. For folks watching, we will certainly endeavour over the course of not just my speech but speeches of others in the House, I am sure, to translate what was just said and what it actually means for Canadians. Fundamentally, what we are trying to do today is make Parliament work, make government work better for Canadians, and allow Canadians to have more confidence that their government is being held to account when it comes to spending, programs, our elections, and some small things like that.
The place I want to start with is the place I represent. Northwestern British Columbia is the riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley, and the support I receive from the good people there allows me to stand in this place and speak on their behalf. When I think about how we conduct ourselves in our communities in northern British Columbia, good faith, trust, and good-neighbour conduct are at the core of all of our communities because they are small towns. Being able to rely on one another, trust in one another, and have faith in the word of our neighbours is important for conducting business, operating our local governments, and just getting along in small communities; not just in northern British Columbia but right across Canada. People also send us to this place to try to make the country better, sometimes in small and incremental ways and sometimes in significant and larger ways.
The motion we are discussing here today, which will be voted on later this week, attempts to make better one of our most critical and fundamental institutions in our democracy. These are what are called, collectively, the officers of Parliament, a group of watchdogs who work on behalf of Parliament, and we work on behalf of Canadians. The only people who can hire and fire these watchdogs are the people of Parliament itself. The officers of Parliament work for us in doing incredibly difficult and serious work. If we look back through our recent to more distant history at the roles of various watchdogs from the Auditor General to the Commissioner of Languages and the Chief Electoral Officer, we see they all play fundamental and critical roles in the maintaining and the curbing of power.
We have to recognize that the system we have, the Westminster model that we adopted from England, especially with a majority government, allows an enormous amount of power to lie in the hands of the cabinet and the prime minister and those who advise the prime minister. In the nomination of Supreme Court justices, the handing out of thousands of patronage appointments, the orchestration of what happens in the House of Commons and sometimes committee, by extension, watchdogs including the parliamentary budget officer, the Auditor General, the languages commissioner, and the Ethics Commissioner are all a check on that power and play a central role in peace, order, and good governance.
I would like to quote the Prime Minister from early March of this year, when he said:
The Government is today taking further concrete steps to follow through on its commitment to reform the Senate, restore public trust, and bring an end to partisanship in the appointments process.
Those all sound like pretty good things. On reforming the Senate, Lord knows that could use some reforming. Some of us have perhaps more extreme positions on how it might be reformed. Restoring public trust is certainly an issue we have been dealing with as parliamentarians; over time the level of trust within the public toward institutions like government has eroded. Bringing an end to partisanship in the appointments process is also good because too often the appointments process to parole boards and to the hundreds of appointed positions that government can make have had a partisan, patronage nature; those who were helpful to the party that eventually formed government then got rewarded with very well paid jobs that sometimes required some work and sometimes not so much. It is a quid pro quo that goes on within politics that absolutely disgusts Canadians who are not engaged in that process and say, “Wait a second; should it not just go to the best person, the most qualified person, not somebody who has a friend in the Prime Minister's Office, who was a big donor, etc.?”
When there is not a check on power, no accountability, and patronage is the rule of the game, there are the Brazeaus, the Duffys, and the Wallins, where a culture gets created in which people know they are not accountable, know that their access to a patronage position is simply through partisan efforts, and just continue that practice, because it works. They get paid, essentially, and do not have to be accountable to anybody.
The New Democrats' motion is long because we had to be very specific to the government. This is a good faith offer to make the appointments process more accountable to the Parliament that these officers serve and the Canadians, by extension, whom we serve. I will walk through the process because it is important, and then I will put this in the context of what we are dealing with today.
There are eight officers of Parliament, and the government has to fill those positions. By law, the Prime Minister is required to consult the other recognized party leaders. That is the law right now. What consultation means is obviously open to interpretation, but from my perspective, consultation has to be meaningful. It has to mean something; otherwise it is simply cynical. In my resource-rich riding, a lot of consultations go on with industry and government, and the folks I represent are very good at determining early on whether consultation is real, sincere, and meaningful, or is just someone ticking a box by holding a public meeting and writing down a few notes, but the decision has already been made that the government is going to go in a certain path or the mining company is going to perform the project a certain way. Meaningful consultation builds public trust and the social licence we often talk about, not just for industry but for government as well.
Cynical consultation, the kind that people start to understand early on is meaningless, does the opposite. It builds cynicism and resistance and erodes social licence for government, industry, whoever. The process that New Democrats are offering today is the following. When the government needs to fill a nomination, one of the officers of Parliament, it makes known who it would like to fulfill that role. That then is passed to an appointments committee, which most functioning Parliaments around the world use, by the way, detached from government. The appointments committee is made up simply of a representative of each of the recognized parties in the House. It has 30 days, so there is no delay, and much of it is done with an element of privacy in terms of interviewing candidates to make sure they are respected, because we want to be respectful of these folks. They often have high-profile lives and we want to be sure they are respected throughout the process.
After 30 days, the committee has two choices, essentially: it can reject or accept the appointment. If it accepts the appointment by a simple vote, ideally by consensus, which in the past has usually occurred on the appointments of officers, the vote then lands in Parliament, where it must land, because it is us as parliamentarians who these officers work for. Again, Parliament is the only place that hires and fires officers of Parliament, as it should be. It should not be up to anybody except us. That is it.
If the committee fails to report in 30 days, if someone is trying to monkey with the process, drag it out, rag the puck, as we say, then the candidate is assumed to be rejected. However, New Democrats believe that a good faith negotiation between representatives from the parties can certainly eliminate any of the pitfalls that we have seen recently, particularly with the language commissioner, which can not only derail the entire process, but even if the government were to try to force through an appointment that is not respected or condoned by the other recognized parties, it puts a cloud over the head of that officer of Parliament throughout his or her entire tenure, because of possibly being tainted with the notion of partisanship.
One of the key elements New Democrats are looking for is a good and fair process to all sides, both opposition and government, but it is also finding the right people. Clearly when hiring anybody, one wants the right skills and temperament. These are not easy jobs. Being the Auditor General of Canada is not an easy job. As for the Chief Electoral Officer, there is probably a short list of people qualified to fulfill the challenging position of running elections in Canada. The parliamentary budget officer is an incredibly important job, as that person looks to try to understand government promises, match them up with reality, and then report to Canadians as to what is happening. That is also a challenging job.
What cannot be allowed, which was usually the practice of Canada up until recently, is for the appointees, the officers of Parliament, the watchdogs, to be partisan in any way. They cannot be for one side. They cannot be seen as giving favour given to one party or another. It does not work. They will, by definition, be unable to perform their jobs on behalf of Parliament and Canadians.
Therefore, it makes no sense at all to have a process that would allow for partisanship to enter into these critical roles. That would further allow for the conditions, the culture, that would at least encourage, if not permit and make constant, an element and possibility of corruption or of partisanship seeping into everything that goes on here. When an Auditor General's report comes out or when the PBO reports to Parliament, as parliamentarians we can argue about the merits and the qualifications of certain elements of the report. However, never in my experience have we debated or had an argument about whether the report is biased and partisan toward one party or against another. That is good for Canadians. If there is a problem with the Official Languages Act and the languages commissioner reports that there is a problem, we never say that is because the commissioner is affiliated with this party or that party, thank goodness. We have enough partisanship as it is. It is inherent in the model of Parliament that political parties engage and clash on partisan lines. That is fine. That is encouraged. That is how it is designed to be. However, these folks play a unique and independent role, and that must remain so.
I can remember that Jack often said, when talking to us as a caucus, that while in opposition there are moments, and those moments are often frequent, where we must simply oppose, that if there were a proposal coming from the government that we believed and deemed to be bad for the country, we should oppose it, try to change or modify it, or sometimes even block it. He also said we must be in a frame of proposing, so that if we see a problem, we should not just complain about it but offer a solution.
Today that is what we are doing for the government. I sincerely hope and believe, despite some recent examples, that the government will take us up on this offer. It would help the Liberal government with this problem it has, a problem that some would argue is of its own creation, which is that the normal role of appointing an officer of Parliament should be done in such a way that the officer is celebrated, encouraged, and supported by all sides of the House. That is not the recent example, and it is a problem the government should be looking to solve. This is the solution we are offering. If I may say, I feel it is a fairly elegant solution. It does not change any of the statutes with respect to each of the officers of Parliament; it simply changes the rules of Parliament itself in terms of the process, and that is all. It adds in an element where any appointee who has been put forward as a candidate must simply meet with and meaningfully engage with all sides of the House and seek their approval, to make sure things like partisanship are not an element of the conversation.
I think it is fair to say that had this been the process in place in the most recent example with respect to the official languages commissioner, I am fairly confident we would have noticed that there was a clear and obvious element of partisanship present and that the candidate was not acceptable to perform a role such as the languages commissioner, which she has obviously now also deemed true herself because she has withdrawn her name from consideration. It did not have to be that way. I do not know Madame Meilleur; however, I have great empathy for her. I do not think the last month has been necessarily a good time.
Let us go back again to what these roles are, so that Canadians can understand the importance of this, because some of them might look at this motion and try to read through it and understand what it means. The effect of what we are suggesting is to improve how our elections are run; how government spending is monitored and controlled; how future government projections are estimated and understood, and whether they can be believed; whether our official languages are respected in this country, with various linguistic minority groups across Canada; how our ethics are maintained; and how we as parliamentarians are watched for our own ethical behaviour. These are the things we are talking about changing and improving today to make sure that watchdogs are watchdogs and not lapdogs. This is critical to the roles we have as parliamentarians.
I do not want to dwell too much on what happened with the official languages piece, but it is instructive. It is only truly a mistake if, once made, we do not learn from it. We all make mistakes. Things happen. We make a judgment that is the wrong call and turns out to not work so well. It is only a fundamental and worrisome problem if we keep making the mistake over and over again and do not learn from it. Therefore, let us learn from this one. Let us walk through the process.
On May 15 this spring, the government realized it had a number of appointments to fill, and one of those positions was the Commissioner of Official Languages. The government put forward the name of Madeleine Meilleur, a former Liberal MPP in Ontario, a provincial representative. Over her time in office, and even before, she chose to make donations not just provincially but federally, as well to the Prime Minister's leadership campaign.
As the law requires, the Prime Minister was meant to consult with the other party leaders. Let us look at that consultation. A letter was issued by the Prime Minister's Office with his signature to the two party leaders saying that he had made an decision, and this was the appointment. One would really have to stretch the definition of consultation to the breaking point to suggest that this was somehow meaningful.
I might consult with my six-year-old twins that way on what we are having for dinner. I might say, “We are going to have hamburgers. Is everybody good?” I could say I consulted, I suppose, but I was not really open to other radical ideas of what dinner might consist of. When a parent has to get the kids food, these are the decisions that have to be made sometimes. Kids like hamburgers, so there is a pretty good chance that the consultation will go well. I would never suggest to my children or to anyone that it was meaningful consultation.
What happened with the Prime Minister's Office was not consultation. Let us be clear. One cannot simply say a decision has been made, suck it up, this is happening, and members were consulted.
To continue, the letter went out. We saw the candidate, we looked through the résumé, and we raised flags, because partisanship was a problem. It put the individual in a conflict of interest. What kind of conflict of interest? If a person has some association with a member of Parliament, in this case the Prime Minister himself, one cannot investigate that person fairly. It would be like an individual going to court and when pulling into the parking lot seeing the judge and the other lawyer getting out of the same car and finding out over the course of the day that they were golfing buddies and were related. There would be problems with the impartiality of the bench at that point, and there would be a call for a mistrial, which would succeed.
Madame Meilleur recently admitted that she had initially been seeking an appointment to the Senate as an independent senator but realized she was too partisan and withdrew her name from consideration. The Senate is meant to be nonpartisan and impartial. That was a clear admission that she recognized partisanship. I do not know how, when she met with the Prime Minister's advisers prior to being nominated, it was not obvious to them as well, because it was obvious to her. She admitted to the committee that she would have an impossible time investigating the Prime Minister because of that conflict of interest. There are, by the way, investigations by the Commissioner of Official Languages right now as they are by the Ethics Commissioner.
Imagine if one started to name partisan commissioners, and there was a problem with elections, for example, which we have had, and the Chief Electoral Officer said he could not investigate because he had a connection to one of the political actors. What about the Ethics Commissioner or the parliamentary budget officer, and on down the line it goes?
Madame Meilleur's name was finally withdrawn after less than a month. However, for a month the government defended her appointment day after day, saying there was nothing wrong with that partisanship, because they are Liberals, and Liberals investigating Liberals should not be a problem.
We think it is a problem, because there are upcoming appointments. The Liberal government seems to have an appointments problem. It does not seem to be able to make them. There have been many extensions. Many positions have sat vacant for months, coming on years. Appointments are coming up, within weeks, in some cases, for the Auditor General, the Integrity Commissioner, the Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying , the Information Commissioner, the parliamentary budget officer, and of course, the Commissioner of Official Languages.
This change we can make. An elegant, straightforward change to the process to appoint officers of Parliament can be made and voted on this week, and the change can come into force for all these appointments that are coming up to get the process right for Canadians, because that is who we work for, not anyone else.