Mr. Speaker, Bill C-32 is an act respecting the Department of Foreign Affairs. The bill amends the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and other acts as a consequence of the establishment of the Department of International Trade.
The bill takes account of changes of responsibilities held by the Minister of Foreign Affairs following the establishment of the now separate Department of International Trade. It also makes brief reference to the relationship of the Minister of International Cooperation to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Most changes appear merely to make adjustments in language as a result of the severance of the responsibilities of the Minister of International Trade from the package of responsibilities formerly conducted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
However, the present text needs clarification or expansion at several points. As it stands, it leaves the impression that the combined Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade remains, when it will not upon the passing of Bill C-31. The devolution of certain responsibilities upon another minister is apparent rather than concrete, these being the responsibilities of the Minister of International Cooperation.
The bill codifies the December 12, 2003, order in council, as has been said, separating the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade into two departments.
By introducing the legislation, the government is formalizing the changes made last December. Since then, Foreign Affairs Canada, FAC, has continued to coordinate and conduct Canada's foreign policy, providing the services to Canadians travelling, working and living abroad. The creation of separate Departments of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will, it is hoped, enable both departments to better focus on their core mandates, with separate budget building capabilities and distinct lines of authority, or so the theory goes.
The act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act codifies the changes made in the order. Specifically, it is supposed to reaffirm that FAC is under the authority of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is responsible for the management and direction of the department both in Canada and abroad. The bill sets out the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which largely mirror those set out in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act, minus those responsibilities related to international trade. It also adjusts several federal acts to reflect the appearance that FAC and International Trade Canada, which is now known as ITCan, are two separate departments. They are separate, but maybe they are not.
We need to ask for clarifications of certain ambiguities. The language produced for a revised section 1, subsection 2(1) provides that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is continued under the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs, over which the Minister of Foreign Affairs, appointed by the Commission under the Great Seal, presides. If the combined department, DFAIT, still lives as one body, how can its minister not be master of the whole body? Thus, it appears that the separation of the Department of International Trade from DFAIT is apparent, not real.
The Minister of International Cooperation likewise appears to have only subordinate authority. That minister is described as carrying out his or her responsibilities with the concurrence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, while using the “services and facilities of the Department of Foreign Affairs”.
A further ambiguity surrounds the description of associate deputy ministers. While the foreign affairs act provides for three associate deputy ministers, the proposed legislation provides for only two. Was the missing third responsible for international cooperation? Were that officer's responsibilities those now performed by the Minister of International Trade?
Exact responsibilities for the associate deputy ministers are not provided, but it is stated that the governor in council may designate one of the associate deputy ministers appointed under subsection (1) to be deputy minister for political affairs. What is the force of this word “may”? Is it intended to create this office or not? What are the contemplated responsibilities of the other associate deputy minister?
The official opposition must just not swallow everything that comes from the government side. We in the past have criticized governments for the practice of multiplying ministers of the Crown. The opposition has regularly maintained that lines of responsibility for governmental policy and action must be rigorously defined for the purpose of ministerial accountability. Multiplication of persons answering for shared government policies complicates the business of securing authoritative answers in the House on behalf of the people of Canada.
There has also been no statement as to the estimated costs. Government suggests that this exercise will be cost neutral, but that is really unrealistic. Talk to any public middle manager going through this exercise and he or she will tell us there are a lot of costs.
Implementing this so-called separation will inevitably entail costs in reassignment of personnel, changes in facilities, titles, names of offices and officers, attendant requirements for communication and budget building. The whole thing will be quite expensive.
Questions about such details should be asked at both committees. Comprehensive estimates are required to justify the main case.
The government is proposing this move, but has it really made its core case to do so? What is accomplished by having ministers without ministries? Is this a pattern: magnifying the titles of deputy ministers; creating ministers of second rank without ministries; complicating chains of responsibility; causing opposition critics to chase down responsible ministers for questioning in the House? The same obstacles are presented to journalists and commentators and the rank and file of citizens who seek information about public programs and decisions of government.
The government must offer in committee answers to remaining questions, particularly the matter of the continuing existence of DFAIT. The minister should explain to us in detail what authority he will have or will continue to have over the Minister of International Cooperation, and why this ministerial position exists without its own full separate department.
Some questions come to mind about the bill. There were good reasons to combine in the past. Were all those reasons in the past wrong?
What were the real problems which preceded this decision to separate? Did the initiative come from within external affairs? If so, what problems were they trying to solve by making this proposal? What is the substantive background justification for the move?
Has any research been done into the reasons that were used at the time of the combination of the two departments?
Certainly the chain of command which is envisaged following the creation of the new ministers and the deputy ministers needs to be clarified. Will the new ministers and deputy ministers continually answer to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or will they become separate entities?
Who is being served by this move? What are the improved end product results identified that will make a difference to Canadians? How will the voters be better served? How will our Canadian national interest be enhanced? Will it make the government any faster off the mark in dealing with the legal challenge, for instance, on the Byrd amendment regarding softwood lumber? Those are the kinds of issues we should be dealing with, not reorganizing our own offices.
Parliament is not the government. Parliament is where the government comes to get permission to tax and spend the people's money, and to get legislation passed by the people's representatives. The government proposes, but Parliament is a separate entity that must vote and pass the legislation and vote the money. Government must make its case to Parliament. The question remains open if it has made that case with this bill.
The government has danced all around the central question of why and for whom. When all is said and done, maybe it is nothing more than a payoff to a political buddy, so that Liberals can hook their thumbs in their lapels, smile and turn to the world and say, “I am a full minister. I am a somebody”. Sadly, this seems to be the Liberal way.