Mr. Speaker, I am both happy and sad at being required to stand in the House today regarding this motion, and that the NDP was required to table it. Contrary to what my colleague has just stated, the appointment process for senior parliamentary officials is flawed. It does not work. It has been damaged and has lost a lot of credibility.
I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for Sherbrooke, the champion of mandatory labelling of GMOs. That is another fight that we are leading together to ensure that one day there will be transparency and all Canadians will know what they are eating.
That is the transparency that we also want to see in the appointment process for the highest offices in government. Officers of Parliament are hired by Parliament, not by the Liberal government. It is important for the Liberals to understand that. Officers of Parliament are not only accountable to the government, they are also accountable to Parliament.
Those officers of Parliament are our watchdogs. They ensure that the government follows the rules and the laws. It is very important to have these impartial people. That is the entire problem with the last appointment.
I will come back to that, as it is a matter that I followed with much interest. It took up almost six weeks of my time and the time of official language communities, including FCFA and QCGN members. They all lost precious time because of the partisan appointment of Madeleine Meilleur, instead of working on extremely important official languages issues, such as immigration in official language communities. We are facing a major problem, as we are not meeting our immigration targets.
Early childhood is another important issue. If we want to ensure that younger generations are committed to our official language communities, children must be able to attend day care in French, or in English in Quebec.
These are issues that we must address. In the meantime, we must ensure that the appointment process is not tainted by Liberal partisanship.
The new process was used to appoint Ms. Meilleur. We are not calling into question everything about the new process. The problem is that the process was undermined internally because Madeleine Meilleur had privileged access to the Prime Minister's senior officials, people in charge of the Liberal machine. I am talking about Katie Telford and Gerry Butts.
Ms. Meilleur had coffee with these people, which is something that the other candidates did not have the opportunity to do. Then, after enjoying that privileged access, she got a call from a public servant at the Department of Justice, which is quite an impressive thing.
On Thursday, May 18, 2017, when Madeleine Meilleur appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, she was asked who had told her that she was the candidate who had been selected.
She said, “I got a telephone call that my name was going to be put forward to the Prime Minister.”
She was then asked who had called her, and she responded, “It was staff from the Minister of Justice.”
She was asked on what date that had occurred and she answered, “It was late April, I think.”
We all know what happened next.
In April, an employee of the Department of Justice called Madeleine Meilleur to tell her that she was the successful candidate. In May, the opposition leaders received a letter telling them that Ms. Meilleur had been selected. There was no consultation.
How can we talk about consultation when Ms. Meilleur was already told last April that she had the job?
If there had been consultation, the leaders of the opposition parties would have been consulted, and Ms. Meilleur would then have been advised that her appointment had also been approved by the leaders of the opposition. The process in this case was completely backwards. That does not work.
This whole affair so undermined the credibility of the process that the FCFA said that it absolutely had to have a meeting, because the process was not working and there were outcries on all sides. The FCFA and the QCGN stated that they absolutely had to meet with the highest office holder in official languages, the Prime Minister of the country, who is responsible for official languages. They requested a meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada. Numerous newspaper articles mentioned that the FCFA and the QCGN wanted to meet with the Prime Minister because this was a serious situation. It is unprecedented for an appointment to be questioned that way, during six weeks of total unending controversy.
It did not end there. People filed complaints with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages because the Liberal government, the Prime Minister’s Office, did not comply with the Official Languages Act. Subsection 49(1) was breached. I myself filed a complaint, along with other Canadians. Why? Because that section is very important. It clearly states that “[t]he Governor in Council shall…appoint a Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons…”, which was not done.
That is the second time that I file a complaint against the Prime Minister. The other time was when he wanted to speak only in English in Ontario, while on a cross-country consultation, a consultation of all Canadians. There are official language communities that speak only French in Ontario. After that, he went to the Sherbrooke area, the riding of my colleague and champion of GMO labelling. He spoke only in French, saying that he would not answer questions in English. That is a failure to recognize the reality of Canada. There are two official languages.
When you are Prime Minister of Canada and you embark on a cross-Canada consultation, you must respect both official languages, hence my question:
Does anyone think that I or any other Canadian citizen would have been able to file a complaint against the Prime Minister if the commissioner had been a personal friend of the Prime Minister's, a personal friend of the highest-ranking people in government and the Liberal Party? I am talking about Katie Telford and Gerald Butts.
Does anyone think I would have been comfortable with that?
According to subsection 58(4), the commissioner has the right to refuse to investigate. The Act says:
The Commissioner may refuse to investigate or cease to investigate any complaint if in the opinion of the Commissioner (a) the subject-matter of the complaint is trivial; (b) the complaint is frivolous or vexatious...; or (c) the subject-matter of the complaint does not involve a contravention...of this Act....
Ms. Meilleur could have rejected the complaint. How would I have known if it had to do with a different assessment of the situation or a desire to protect her Liberal friends?
To say that what has happened up to now was legitimate is false. The process was completely undermined. It needs to be revised and revamped. The vision set out in my colleague's motion is a good one. It outlines a process that includes opposition parties and relevant communities and guards against bad decisions like the one to appoint Madeleine Meilleur.
My colleague said that she was a very good candidate. Despite having all the skills, however, her one flaw is that she is too close to the government. She lacks impartiality, which is critical to serving in a watchdog position such as official languages commissioner. Commissioners are the highest-ranking officers in Parliament.
In conclusion, I hope that the Liberal government will implement a better process for the very important appointments that it will soon be making.