Mr. Speaker, I look forward to addressing the concern raised by the member. I have read the motion, and I appreciate the opportunity to debate it in this place. That is exactly what we were elected to do, so I look forward to the discussion of today.
In the context of agents of Parliament, as indicated on the Parliament of Canada website, there are eight agents of Parliament. The Auditor General was first created in 1868. The Chief Electoral Officer was established in 1920. The Commissioner of Official Languages was established in 1970. The Privacy Commissioner and Information Commissioner were both created in 1983. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner were both established in 2007. The Commissioner of Lobbying was created in 2008.
Each officer of Parliament is given a unique mandate and carries out the duties set out in the legislation. Each one of them plays a crucial role in our democracy. They also share some common threads that are worth keeping in mind today.
By definition, an agent of Parliament reports to parliamentarians in one or both Houses, but is independent from the government of the day. More specifically, agents of Parliament were created to support Parliament in its scrutiny and oversight of government.
Our government recognizes the important work that agents of Parliament do and how that work must reflect the high standards and accountability that Canadians expect.
Allow me to return now to my earlier remarks about the government's GIC appointments approach.
Applicants who submit their candidacy for appointment to an agent of Parliament position are subject to the government's open, transparent, and merit-based selection process approach, as well as other measures of assessment, all in addition to the already existing statutory and Standing Order requirement for approval by one or both Houses of Parliament.
If I may illustrate this again, using the position of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner as an example, candidates for this position must demonstrate, as required under the Language Skills Act, that they are able to speak and understand clearly both official languages.
The Parliament of Canada Act also requires that the commissioner must be one of the following: a former judge of a superior court in Canada, or of any other court whose members are appointed under an act of the legislator of a province; or a former Senate ethics officer or a former ethics commissioner; or a former member of a federal or provincial board, commission, or tribunal who, in the opinion of the Governor in Council, has demonstrated expertise in one or more of the following areas: conflict of interest, financial arrangements, professional regulation and discipline, and ethics.
What does this mean, in practice, for the position and all other agents of Parliament?
It starts with the application process itself. Any Canadian who feels qualified to fill the responsibilities of the position can register online and apply. In fact, if any of my colleagues know any constituents who could be a good fit for one of these positions, I would recommend they be encouraged to apply.
The government is very mindful that we want the best and most qualified people possible for these important roles. This is why each selection process for leadership positions is also supported by a recruitment strategy and the expertise of an executive search firm. This sometimes involves advertising or reaching out to targeted communities, such as professional associations and stakeholders. This process eventually results in the identification of a qualified candidate. There is also a requirement, however, that once the government has identified a candidate, that it consult with the leader of every recognized party in one or both Houses of Parliament, depending upon the legislation.
Let me be clear that under the current process, these appointments must be approved by a resolution of one or both Houses. This resolution is one that all members of this place have the right to vote on whether they agree with the appointment or not and in all instances. The reality is that the motion before us today would take that right away. Not only that, it would essentially delegate this place's power to decide to a small subcommittee composed of only three members of Parliament and the Deputy Speaker.
The House should continue to have the ability to vote on these nominations and allow the recommendations that the current committee makes to inform their vote on the motion to confirm the nomination.
I would like to take a few more minutes to touch on another example which demonstrates the progress that has been made under the new GIC appointments approach.
In August 2016, our government announced a new process for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. Canadians were tired of patronage appointments and asked us to do things differently. As a result, we wanted to deliver on a process that assured Canadians that our new approach would be transparent, inclusive, and accountable to all Canadians.
To deliver on this commitment to Canadians, we created an independent and non-partisan advisory board. It was established to recommend qualified, functionally bilingual candidates who reflected a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. This approach respects Canadians and reflects Canada.
In September, following the retirement of Justice Thomas Cromwell, qualified lawyers and persons holding judicial office who wished to be considered for this vacancy were directed to apply to the independent advisory board for the Supreme Court of Canada judicial appointments through the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada. It is noteworthy that the advisory board was chaired by a former Conservative prime minister, the Right Hon. Kim Campbell, the first and only woman to serve as Prime Minister of Canada.
Those interested in applying were encouraged to first review the statutory requirements set out in the Supreme Court Act, as well as the statement of qualifications and assessment criteria that guided the advisory board in evaluating candidate suitability. Applicants were also told that they needed to complete and submit an application package that included a questionnaire, an authorization form, and a background check consent form.
This process led to the appointment of Justice Malcolm Rowe, a remarkably accomplished jurist, law professor, and lawyer. He also happens to be the first Newfoundlander bilingual jurist to be appointed to Canada's highest court.
This appointment was well received. A glowing profile of a Canadian lawyer described him as “A bilingual, empathetic, passionate judge”. His role as a long-time mentor of future Canadian leaders also drew praise.
Grace Pastine, litigation director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, told The Globe and Mail that she and others mentored by him were “dazzled by the depth of knowledge he has about how government works, about the legal and political history of Canada, and particularly Atlantic Canada.”
The objectives of our approach with Justice Rowe's appointment have guided all judicial appointments by my colleague, the Minister of Justice. This reflects our government's emphasis on transparency, merit, and diversity. We will continue to ensure the appointments of jurists who meet the highest standards of excellence and integrity.
This is a good illustration of our approach to all GIC appointments. We must ensure the process is open to all Canadians, providing them with an opportunity, should they be interested and have the required qualifications, to participate in government organizations and make a contribution to Canada's democratic institutions by serving as GIC appointees.
Transparency in the process is crucial. We ensure clear information about the requirements and steps involved in the selection process is readily available to the public. This helps us reach as many Canadians as possible and attract a strong and diverse range of highly-qualified candidates. Decisions on appointments, I should add, are publicly available.
The selection process is also based on merit. It is designed to identify highly-qualified candidates who meet the needs of the organization and are able to perform the duties of the position to which they would be appointed.
It seeks individuals who have the qualifications, and I am talking about education, experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal suitability to fill the position. We also ensure they meet any statutory and/or other conditions.
Finally, we look for diversity. Our recruitment strategy seeks to attract qualified candidates who will help to achieve gender parity and reflect Canada's diversity in terms of linguistic, regional, and employment equity groups. By that I mean indigenous Canadians, women, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minority communities, as well as members of ethnic and cultural groups. With few exceptions, the government seeks to appoint bilingual Canadians to Governor in Council positions.
The Prime Minister made a personal commitment to bringing new leadership and a new approach to Ottawa. He committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government. He committed to a different style of leadership, a style of leadership demanded by Canadians.
I have underlined the important roles that appointees play in our democratic institutions and I must once again point out that the motion put forth by the member opposite is fundamentally flawed. It tries to give a small subcommittee the ability to veto the appointment of an officer of Parliament without having it voted on by the House of Commons, and it thus limits the ability of all members in the House to have a say in the government's nomination of agents and officers of Parliament.
We were all elected to represent Canadians and we must all vote. The motion, as presented, would provide for an environment that could add an additional requirement and lead to delays for these appointments of important officers and agents of Parliament. Our government has committed to ensuring that all Canadians have the opportunity to serve their country through Governor in Council and other appointments.
I again encourage members of the House to promote these opportunities within their constituencies and encourage any Canadian who can add value to apply for opportunities across our institutions, including officers of Parliament.
I cannot emphasize enough that our government recognizes that tough regulations increase public confidence in their elected representatives, our public policies, and the decisions we make in the House.
Agents of Parliament represent key pillars of our democracy. They play a central role in helping us as parliamentarians to hold the government to account. This process works. Now that this new approach is hitting its stride, we will continue to see high-quality appointments being made to the judiciary, boards, and positions of leadership, including officers and agents of Parliament. Already this process has allowed us to make 170 merit-based appointments, of which 70% are women, 12% are visible minorities, and 10% are indigenous. This is a clear demonstration that we have put forward a process that reflects Canada.
I look forward to future appointments that will add to the diversity all Canadians expect their government to reflect in its appointments.