Mr. Speaker, I want to mention at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.
I am pleased to rise to what I think is a very timely motion addressing an issue that has been preoccupying this place for a number of weeks, particularly surrounding the nomination of Madame Meilleur to the post of Commissioner of Official Languages. That was an example of partisanship gone completely amok. It is not quite clear from members on the other side of the House what the line of argument is in terms of its justification.
Sometimes it sounds as if they are saying there has always been partisan appointment, so it is okay and we should get over it. We are all just supposed to pretend that is okay. Then there are other lines of argument that say perhaps slightly more compellingly that people should not be penalized for their public service in the past. I think it is the case that people who have served publicly and in partisan roles in the past can occupy some posts—not as independent officers of Parliament, though. There is a much higher threshold.
Partisan appointments of people simply not qualified for the job are not okay at any time. Sometimes it may be that people have served in a partisan role before but they are qualified for a particular position and have demonstrated that they can act in non-partisan ways, and that may be acceptable for some positions. There are a lot of different positions to which governments appoint, but to pretend that someone that partisan, who is still actively partisan, who used partisan connections to be nominated for a post, and that post is not just any of those government appointments, but is meant to serve not the government but Parliament, as an independent officer, is too much. The government has made many appointments, some of which have been Liberal partisans, and these appointments have not preoccupied the House for weeks at a time.
That one was particularly offensive because of the extent of the partisanship and the particular role that person was being nominated to serve. This motion tries to ensure that, for those roles that are for positions that are meant to serve Parliament independently, and not the government in its mandate, there be an appointment process that meaningfully consults the opposition. That is in the legislation for the Commissioner of Official Languages, that there be consultation, but there are no mechanisms to specify what gives meaning to that consultation. We saw that, and we know from testimony by the House leaders of the two recognized official opposition parties and their leaders that they were not consulted, that they got a letter saying this is a fait accompli, that the government wanted them to know, and that we were moving on.
That was problematic because I do not think that was intended by the legislation in the first place, so there is a question of the spirit of the law. It also was problematic because at the end of the day it did not work. The provisions in that legislation that say the opposition parties have to be consulted in order to appoint independent officers of Parliament are not just about some letter of the law; they are about garnering the appropriate moral authority for the appointment that the government wants to make, so that person can be seen by all parties in this place as someone who can be respected and independent in the role.
What that consultation provision means is that it is incumbent on the government to come up with a nominee who receives the approval of those other parties, so that person can perform the role. In the absence of that approval by opposition parties, that person will not be able to fulfill the role. In fact, what the events of the last week or so have shown us is that the person may not even be able to be successfully appointed to that role, because any potential nominee with any integrity and credibility would know that, by the time the nomination process blew up that badly and the opposition parties were that opposed to the appointment to that position, the nominee would not be able to do the job effectively. If the nominee cared a whit about the office to which he or she were nominated to be appointed and the function he or she would be asked to perform in that office, the nominee would have to withdraw. It is a shame on the government that the nominee had to make that call because the government was either too blind or too partisan to see it.
Congratulations, finally, to Madame Meilleur for having seen that she was never going to be able to do the job that she was being asked to do. Shame on the government for not realizing that fact itself and for pressing on, for whatever reasons it had, which are still unclear, and insisting that someone who clearly would not be able to perform the role of an independent officer of Parliament be appointed to that role anyway.
It is surprising to me, frankly, that a lot of members who were elected under the Liberal banner of change, transparency, and accountability, many who did not know Madame Meilleur or have any idea of her existence, would be willing to put their privilege of representing their constituents on the line in the next election to defend the PMO's attachment to Madame Meilleur. That has been interesting for me: the extent to which Liberal backbenchers were willing to rally around a person they did not know, simply because she had a personal relationship with Gerald Butts. That is quite unfortunate and speaks volumes about the extent to which Liberals really need to come around to the responsibility of their own office.
What New Democrats are trying to do with this motion is provide a way for Liberals to do that, because their own government refuses to do so. It would be a good idea for them to rally behind this kind of motion that would help take the politics out of these kinds of appointments by ensuring that the meaningful consultation already foreseen in some of the legislation for these positions is given teeth and that there actually is opposition agreement before the nominations go forward. That would make life easier for them, as they would not be putting their political credibility on the line for the sake of the personal relationships of staff in the PMO. If I were in government, I would certainly appreciate not having to do that, and I would be uncomfortable having to do that. Liberals have been doing that very publicly for weeks and are only now not doing it, to the extent that they are not, because Madame Meilleur herself had the wherewithal, finally, to withdraw her own nomination.
I recommend this to Liberals as a way to solve a problem that their government is creating for them at home in their own ridings, whether they realize it or not. It is similar to the problem that was created when they borrowed the cash for access schemes from the Wynne Liberals in Ontario. When they decided to import that practice here and grant preferential access to government in exchange for high-price tickets to fundraisers, it was something they did that I am sure many of the Liberal backbenchers did not foresee and did not think they were coming to Ottawa to defend. This is not necessary in order to ensure the survival of the Liberal Party and make sure its coffers are full. There is a lot of potential for them to get legitimate donations and not sell access to ministers in order to raise money, so why many backbench Liberals are willing all of a sudden to get behind it and call it an acceptable practice, I do not know.
New Democrats are offering them an out for at least one of their problems. What we have heard today is that they are not interested. Why is that? I do not know. First, the government would have the power of nomination, which is a considerable power. The only people who would be discussed for these positions are those who are, in the first place, put forward by government. That is a significant influence the government would have on the process. This is hardly throwing up their hands and leaving it to opposition parties to decide who will be in these positions.
Second, if the committee accepts the government's recommendation, Parliament has the opportunity to affirm it or reject it with a vote. The idea behind a rejection of a nomination not coming to Parliament is simply to show that it is incumbent upon the government to work well enough with opposition parties in advance to find someone on whom all parties can agree. It is not consensus at the committee, either. Whether there are three, four, or five recognized parties, it is a subcommittee. It has to vote on it. Even if a majority of the government and opposition parties agree on a candidate, it will go forward, there will be a vote, and presumably the party or parties who did not agree will get to express that in the House. That is the point of the vote.
It does not require unanimity between the government and opposition parties. All the motion says is that the government has to work with at least enough opposition parties that one other party agrees with it. That is not a high threshold, but it is better than what there is now, where it is the House leader who will be determining it. The Prime Minister has recused himself from naming the next conflict of interest commissioner, as if that were a high watermark for integrity, and handed it over to the very person who defends him every day in the House when we talk about his ethical lapses. However, I digress.
Suffice it to say that this would be a much better system than what we have now and a step in the right direction. I hope at least the Liberal backbench sees fit to support it.