Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a say in this debate.
The answer regarding the invitation in India is already quite clear. The invitation should have in fact never been extended and, as we have said many times, when the existence of the invitation was discovered, we withdrew it immediately. Another point: we have full confidence in Canada’s security advisors and diplomatic advisors, who consistently act impartially in the best interests of Canadians.
The opposition raises the importance of ensuring that parliamentarians are kept informed of security issues. On that, we absolutely agree. We agreed when former national security minister Anne McLellan introduced Bill C-81 in 2005 establishing a national security committee of parliamentarians. This bill died on the Order Paper when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives took office in 2006.
Each time, the Conservatives opposed the idea that parliamentarians of all parties and of both Houses should have access to secret information, and that they be kept informed of national security issues in Canada.
Fortunately, as my colleagues know, Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, received royal assent in June 2017.
Then, in November, the Prime Minister made it official by saying that “[i]n our system of responsible government, there is no substitute for scrutiny by parliamentarians.”
I am pleased to say that the committee is now in place. Its mandate is to review any matter relating to national security for all government departments and agencies. It will be supported by an independent secretariat headed by an executive director, who will be appointed shortly. The committee will be composed of eight MPs and three senators, all of them holding the highest security clearances.
It is now the appropriate vehicle for parliamentarians to thoroughly review and report on certain national security matters.
The committee is able to analyze the work of a wide range of government departments and agencies involved in security and intelligence.
Establishing this committee closed a loophole in our national security accountability framework. Before, Canada was an outlier in the Five Eyes alliance, since it was the only one not to have such a committee. However, establishing this committee has made Canada a transparency and accountability leader since our committee of parliamentarians has access to ongoing national security and intelligence operations.
By contrast, our committee’s Australian equivalent may only conduct statutory reviews or consider their agencies’ spending and administration. It must obtain a minister’s order to review other matters.
In our case, if the committee believes that a national security matter warrants review, it may simply do so.
In the United Kingdom, the committee must obtain a memorandum of understanding from the Prime Minister in order to review matters that go beyond the work of the three British agencies.
Our committee, with its distinctly Canadian design, has a much broader reach than those of two of our important foreign allies, who also have a Westminster-style system similar to ours.
I was pleased to witness the various debates during all the readings and to see how thorough a review it was given by the standing committee.
The expert consensus is that this new committee strengthens the accountability and effectiveness of Canada’s national security and intelligence system. Bill C-59 will further strengthen it by establishing the national security and intelligence review agency.
Since the current government took office, Canada has made great strides in national security transparency and accountability.
All that is to say that when I hear the opposition insist that parliamentarians should have access to security information, I cannot help but contrast the Conservative decade with the past two years.
The Harper government repeatedly rejected the principles of transparency and accountability when it came to national security. The current government acted to bring in significant transparency, openness and accountability with respect to national security.
We should all be confident that Canada’s security advisors and diplomatic advisors act impartially and in the best interests of Canadians.
They deserve much better than the insinuations and allegations on which this motion is based. I for one have full confidence in their professionalism, expertise, and service to Canada.