Mr. Speaker, I am certainly happy to stand in this House in support of the NDP motion put forward by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley on the appointment of parliamentary officers.
The Liberals campaigned on, and continue to promise, an open and transparent government. As the Prime Minister has said, and has stated on the Liberal website, “Liberals will shed new light on the government and ensure that it is focused on the people it is meant to serve: Canadians.”
Canadians put their hope for social democracy in the current Prime Minister. It was he who called on Canadians to step up and pitch in, to get involved in the public life of this country, and to know that a positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life is not a naive dream; it can be a powerful force for change.
What he appears to have left out is the truth we have seen come into play in the events of the last few weeks with his unilateral appointment of Madeleine Meilleur as the Commissioner of Official Languages: that a powerful, optimistic, and hopeful vision of public life is possible only if one has demonstrated too much partisanship to be appointed as a senator and has made sufficient donations to the Liberal Party of Canada.
Thus far, the Prime Minister has exposed the singular cynicism of his election night speech with his action, or more accurately his inaction, on key portfolio promises. He has backtracked on his promise to protect the environment. He has yet to restore protections for our navigable waters in response to destructive legislation by the previous Conservative government that gutted the important environmental laws that protected water. The Prime Minister has refused to recognize the devastating effects of colonialism and continues to underfund first nation education. He pays ineffectual lip service to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He continues to challenge veterans in court. He has executed a blatant about-face on the promise of electoral reform. Most recently, he has spearheaded a half-hearted attempt to address the child care crisis in this country by allotting funds for additional child care spaces at half the rate he has allowed for increased military spending. That is in an effort to appease Mr. Trump.
In light of the fiasco that occurred when the current Prime Minister attempted to sidestep the process and appoint Madeleine Meilleur as the next Commissioner of Official Languages on May 15, the motion the New Democrats are putting forward today is timely and relevant.
In the case of the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Prime Minister was obligated to consult other leaders on the appointment. Instead, he sent a letter informing them of his decision. We have seen this type of autocratic dictatorial behaviour on the part of our Prime Minister before. When he backtracked on his promise that 2015 would be the last first-past-the-post election in Canada, it was not as a result of extensive consultation or implementing the will of the majority of Canadians consulted. Rather, it was the result of his dislike of the recommendations of the all-party committee for a system of proportional representation, as opposed to the Prime Minister's preferred system of ranked ballots. In effect, the Prime Minister felt free to override the will of the people for his own personal advantage and decided to take his ball and go home rather than engage in fair democratic play.
Of course, there was the cowardly manner in which the Prime Minister delivered his backtracking on electoral reform. He had rookie ministers deliver his message rather than step up to take the heat for his own decision.
The Commissioner of Official Languages is one of eight officers of Parliament. It is a non-partisan role mandated by the 1988 Official Languages Act. Madeleine Meilleur's nomination received criticism from New Democrats and Conservatives because of her ties to Ontario and federal Liberals. Neither New Democrats nor Conservatives were consulted on Meilleur's nomination.
On June 7, Ms. Meilleur withdrew her nomination for the Commissioner of Official Languages position, as it had become “the object of controversy.” We know that Ms. Meilleur had initially sought a Senate seat, but she said Monday she bowed out after she realized it would be impossible, given the government's new non-partisan, merit-based application process for the upper House. If Ms. Meilleur was too partisan for the Senate, she was most certainly too partisan to be appointed Commissioner of Official Languages.
My colleague from Windsor West, with whom I am going to split my time, may have some remarks in that regard.
The lack of consultation among parties for new commissioners raises questions about whether commissioners will be non-partisan and able to do their jobs. Having a committee on which no party has a majority to pre-approve nominations significantly increases the likelihood of non-partisan appointments.
I would like to highlight the historical importance of having people who are objective and non-partisan appointed to parliamentary office. Their work is to serve and inform Parliament, not government. Parliament is the representative and democratic House of governance. It remains while governments ebb and flow according to political trends. The deliberations of parliamentary appointees must be immune from the partisan leanings of governments.
Our motion calls for a parliamentary committee comprising members of all political parties to consider such appointments to ensure that the successful candidate is objective and non-partisan. I can give a concrete example from my tenure as an NDP government member of the provincial parliament in Ontario in 1994.
Our government was intent on ensuring that the Environmental Bill of Rights was implemented and respected across the province, and it set about appointing the province's first environmental commissioner. The selection committee comprised members from all parties, and deliberations on the appointment were lengthy. We were tasked with assigning the role to the right person, someone who would be objective. There were many names put forward, including an ex-NDP member of the provincial legislature. He did not get the appointment, much to the consternation of some New Democrats at the time.
The successful appointee, Eva Ligeti, turned out to be a strong voice for the environment. She was non-partisan and impartial. Her tenure as environmental commissioner survived the NDP government in Ontario and continued into the days of the Harris revolution, a period marked by draconian and austere measures that included a tax on the poor, on health care, on education, and on the environment. In her 1999 annual report to the Legislative Assembly, Ms. Ligeti warned of a public health crisis that would result from unacceptable levels of air pollution, a prediction we have come to realize was entirely founded, with the increased number of smog-alert days we now experience in Ontario.
Because Ms. Ligeti was objective, strong, and impartial in her role as environmental commissioner, she was able to stand up to the government of the day to defend the people of Ontario and the Environmental Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, because of her disfavour in speaking truth to power, Ms. Ligeti's tenure as environmental commissioner was not renewed after her initial appointment ended in 1999, and Mike Harris unilaterally terminated her from the post. Opposition members argued that the termination of the commissioner should have been a vote of the provincial legislature, but their objections were ignored.
The similarities between Mike Harris and our current Prime Minister in making unilateral and partisan decisions regarding the appointment of parliamentary officers should be quite evident. The Prime Minister might want to consider revising his party's messaging around sunny ways and “real change” to “It's my way or the highway.”
Parliamentary officers serve Parliament, the representative body of the Canadian people, and not governments, which can come and go. It is therefore imperative that officers be chosen by an impartial body from a pool of diverse and qualified candidates and that the selection committee comprise members who understand the role of a parliamentary officer.
The United Kingdom has a commission for public appointments, named by the Queen and independent from government and the civil service. The commissioner oversees the appointments and makes sure a set of criteria, which include fairness, impartiality, openness, transparency, and merit, is scrupulously followed. It seems to me that if this Prime Minister is so intent on revising the way we do business in this House to be more democratic and representative of Canadians, he should be doing more than just cherry-picking the elements that serve him politically, such as attending question period every Wednesday to answer every question. He should put some real, substantive thought into the consideration of changes, such as empowering the Speaker of the House to require the Prime Minister to actually answer the questions, as they do in the U.K.
Once again, New Democrats are offering the Prime Minister and his government the opportunity to do this right. We encourage him to support this motion today and to back our campaign and the Liberals' promises of effective change that will outlive their political tenure and serve Canadians well. It is what we were elected to do, and I, for one, will settle for nothing less.