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  • His favourite word was going.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Hamilton Centre (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Auditor General of Canada June 12th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the 2015 Liberal platform promised this: “We will ensure that all of the officers [of Parliament] are properly funded and accountable only to Parliament.”

Now the public accounts committee has unanimously called for the Auditor General's $10.8-million underfunding to be reversed.

The government promised to respect Parliament, respect its officers and respect its standing committees. I ask the Prime Minister, where is this respect, and, more importantly, where is the money?

Finance June 3rd, 2019

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time in the history of Canada that the government of the day has failed to adequately fund the work plan of the Auditor General.

Given that one of the planned audits being killed is on cybersecurity, how can the government possibly justify this unprecedented attack on the work of the Auditor General and the work of oversight and accountability?

Officers of Parliament May 15th, 2019

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking colleagues both in the first hour and specifically today.

My friend for Beauport—Limoilou was very generous in his remarks. He was very kind with regard to my time here. I am reminded that there is an axiom in politics that I am finding to be absolutely accurate, which is that one is never more loved than when one first gets here and when one leaves. It is the stuff in between that tends to be a little rocky.

I want to thank my good friend and caucus colleague for Trois-Rivières for his remarks and also for taking the time to care enough about this issue to work with me to ensure that we have wording that, quite frankly, stands the best chance of passing.

Finally, I want to thank my colleague from Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook for his remarks. I appreciate his taking the time to make those remarks.

Here is where I am on this. I originally had a motion that sort of spoke to the principle. My goal, if it carried, was that it would lay the groundwork for the next parliament to pick up that torch and run with it. We then went through the tragedy of the untimely death of Michael Ferguson, who was a phenomenal Canadian and an amazing agent of Parliament. I thought this could be in his memory, because he was one of those, as far as I know, along with all the other agents of Parliament, who signed a document recommending this change. The government likes to brag about the quality of appointments, but these very appointments recommended the very change that is in front of us right now. We cannot say that they are high-quality people with great advice and then ignore them.

There has been a movement in the last few months in particular and over the last year, especially among new members, which I am not. The new members who came in wanted to reform this place. In large part, they wanted to make sure of the relevance of ordinary MPs, meaning those who are not in a leadership capacity or ministers of the Crown. They would become more meaningful, and being here would have a purpose.

There are people working in the background now. We now have a democracy caucus. There are cross-party discussions. There are proposals in front of the House and in front of PROC to consider further changes. It is not easy. It is complicated.

The beauty of this motion and this matter is that the power to hire the agents of Parliament is already ours. We do not have to change a single law. All we have to do is follow a different procedure. If a majority of members in the House, never mind government caucuses, ministers or whips, stand up and say yes to this motion, we will have struck the single biggest blow against keeping backbenchers from playing a meaningful role. It is one vote.

Will the process be completed in this term? No, but I would hope that it would at least get started. More importantly, it would send a message to the next parliament and those after it, which is that in this Parliament, we cared enough about our work to stand up to our own leadership and say that we are members of Parliament, and we will oversee the hiring of our own agents. That is what this is about. It is about us standing up in the majority and saying that enough is enough. These are our agents and our process, and we are now standing up and taking ownership of it, and from this day forward, all agents of Parliament will be hired by Parliament and not by the executive.

Officers of Parliament May 15th, 2019

Madam Speaker, the wording reflects the wording that I would like to have, and therefore, I formally accept the proposed amendment, with thanks.

Michael Ferguson February 4th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to pay tribute to a friend and Canada's Auditor General, Michael Ferguson.

Canada has lost an exemplary public servant. On behalf of the NDP and myself, I want to begin by expressing my sincere condolences to Michael's family and his colleagues at the Office of the Auditor General.

A true professional who understood the importance that oversight has on the performance of government, Michael was a leader in the field of auditing and highly respected across Canada and around the world.

I would like to begin my short remarks by reading quotes from Michael Ferguson to us, to Parliament. This is actually from a report entitled “A Message from the Auditor General” in 2016. This is Michael talking to us.

I believe that the Office of the Auditor General of Canada is uniquely equipped to support Parliament in its oversight role. Indeed, in our work, it does not matter who sits on which side of the House of Commons. Our business is to examine the activities and programs of government, and to provide parliamentarians with impartial information about what is working and what is not.

The report goes on:

Despite those good outcomes, I believe that government could get more value from our audits if it used them differently—if departments and agencies focused on becoming more productive and put more emphasis on what they are delivering. After all, in one way or another, everything that government does is intended to serve Canadians. As such, government should “do service well,” to benefit Canadians, both individually and collectively.

That “do service well” was a main theme that he instilled in the current public accounts committee: the idea that at the end of the day, all of the measuring, all of the performance audits, all of the accountability are about Canadians receiving the service that they are entitled to. That is what Michael was all about.

I was actually the chair of the public accounts committee during the transition from Sheila Fraser to Michael Ferguson. I am going to be honest with colleagues: the only thing that was on my mind when Sheila's term was up was who on earth and where on earth were we going to find anybody who could fill Sheila Fraser's shoes. I mean, Sheila was a force of nature. The world knew about the work that Sheila Fraser did.

Then along came this name. I had met him at Canadian Council of Public Accounts meetings, but I did not really know him. He was a long drink of water named Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General from New Brunswick. He did not speak French, which was a problem politically. He did not speak French at that time, as my friend from Quebec is emphasizing.

I think the important end of that story is that he made commitments to ensure that he was as fluent as he needed to be in our second official language, our equal official language, and from all accounts he did that. It was another commitment that he kept when he made it to Canadians.

However, those things were working a bit against him, as members can imagine, given the politics of the day, and I did not really know where to go. I had heard he was pretty good, but we had this French problem, and what were we going to do?

Then I got a phone call from Sheila. I knew Sheila well. We worked together for seven years on the public accounts committee. I do not think I am betraying any confidences at this point now, given where we are. She said to me, “Look, David, I know that there is the issue around the French, and you have to deal with that. I won't speak to that. That's not my role, but I am here, David, to say that if you believe that I have any credibility and you respect my word as the former auditor general of Canada, then please do everything you can to make sure Michael Ferguson becomes the next auditor general.”

Boy, did she have that right. Michael Ferguson was our auditor general. By the time Michael was done, Michael was the people's auditor. The people in Canada knew that they had a friend, an ally, in Michael Ferguson, just as they had with Sheila Fraser, and that his sole purpose was to provide accountability and transparency regardless of what party was in power, knowing the importance of working with a non-partisan public accounts committee.

Those who have served on it know that it is a special calling. One does not perform the same way one does on other committees. One's job is to leave one's membership card at the door, go in and deal with the Auditor General's report findings as a parliamentarian. That is what Michael was about. He was about making sure the system worked for Canadians.

In closing, I would like to quote Michael. He said:

Parliamentary committees play a crucial role in challenging departments. I believe that there is an important role for parliamentary committees, whether those of the House of Commons or the Senate, to use our audit reports not just to understand what has happened, but also to make sure that changes take place. Committees should invite departments and agencies to appear before them multiple times, until it is evident that they have made the changes needed to improve their services to people.

In a few years, when this government is at the end of its current mandate and I am nearing the end of mine, I wonder if I will find myself repeating these words, or if I will be able to talk about real improvements in government services built around people.

I thank Mike for everything he has done for our country. He has left behind an incredible legacy and challenged us to do service better. It is now up to us, colleagues, to rise to that occasion.

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I have experience too. When I was at Queen's Park, we had to hire the sergeant-at-arms. We pulled together one individual from each of the parties and the Speaker chaired the meeting. How is that unfair? How can that not work?

When I look at the system now and the perfunctory form letters with the one name that appears at the end of the process, if that somehow constitutes our hiring our own officers of Parliament, I do not buy it.

I acknowledged at the beginning that I am not wed to this particular model. I am open to any model, and there are all kinds of different models. The principle is either one way or the other. The current principle is that the government is doing the process. My motion says that is not acceptable anymore. They are our officers. We should control the entire process, and I guarantee that we will have candidates as good if not better than anyone the government chooses.

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and friend for his kind remarks. I remember his dad well and enjoyed working with him very much.

The hon. member mentioned 900 appointments. We just want nine. We want 1%. As to the other ones, I am glad that the government is improving the system and that it is resulting in more diversity. That is all to the good, but it has nothing to do with what I have put before the House.

I have put before the House this question: Should we as Parliament have the responsibility and ownership for hiring our agents?

It is good that the government is making those changes. I hope they do better than the appointments we have seen, because the process is pretty bad.

The issue is really not what the government is doing internally for the positions it is entitled to make appointments for. I am talking about the nine that in my opinion the government is not entitled to appoint.

Officers of Parliament October 23rd, 2018

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to present this motion. It is a pretty simple motion, actually. It is a matter of fixing something that is wrong right now, that our officers or agents of Parliament, the words are interchangeable, are hired by the executive in the process that is used.

My motion is deliberately worded so that I am not calling on the government, today, to implement it this Parliament, because, quite frankly, I have been around long enough to know that is not going to happen. I deliberately placed a model in here. I want to say that I am not married to that model either. The principle is what matters to me. The principle is that Parliament should hire Parliament's agents. It is that simple.

I have to say that I am really looking forward to arguments against this motion, simply because I cannot think of any that hold any merit. I am very much looking forward to the debate that will ensue with those who do not think that Parliament should stand up for its own rights.

I am going to make reference during, and also after, my initial remarks to a Public Policy Forum report that was just issued in April this year. What is interesting is that I had already drafted my motion by the time this report came out, which calls for something similar.

First of all, I want to introduce the report very briefly:

In this report, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) analyzes the current and evolving role of agents at the federal and provincial levels to provide recommendations on how oversight and guidance in the administration of policies can be improved while maintaining their autonomy within Canada’s Westminster system.

Supported by an advisory group of former agents, senior public servants and other experts, PPF conducted 20 interviews and organized three roundtable discussions between October and December 2017.

I do not want to take the time to mention everyone involved in this report, but just to give colleagues a taste of the calibre of the people who were involved in it. There is going to be at least one name that will twig with everybody, I suspect. I am just going to pick some of them: Margaret Bloodworth; Robert Marleau, former Clerk of the House of Commons; Jodi White; David Zussman; Richard Dicerni; Paul Dubé; Janet Ecker; Christine Elliott; Graham Fraser; the amazing Sheila Fraser, who alone should be enough for the House to follow the recommendations; Edward Greenspon; Bonnie Lysyk; John Milloy; Kevin Page, whom we all remember, and for the work he is still doing at the University of Ottawa; James Rajotte, a well-known member to colleagues; and Wayne Wouters, former Clerk of the Privy Council. That is the calibre of people who were involved in this report.

Their number one recommendation out of nine is the following:

The creation of new agents is the purview of Parliament and legislatures, not the executive.

The third recommendation states:

Legislators must be responsible for the appointment of agents, with the aim of having all-party support for the final selection. The Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office should withdraw entirely from the appointments process. A special parliamentary committee should consider the kinds of selection processes operating in provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan.

May I add that the United Kingdom, the mother ship, is really radical in who takes the lead in hiring the U.K. Parliament's auditor general. Guess who it is? It is the public accounts committee, the home committee to our auditor general. How can that not make sense?

Before we get to the principle of why we should be doing this, members need to look at the incompetence on the part of the current government in making appointments and at all the messes and botch-ups it has made through all of it. I expect that all of those details are going to come out over the next couple of hours of discussion, which will be split over a couple of days.

The report I made reference to had something to say about the process the government followed too:

The shambolic nature of the appointments process has done nothing to elevate the standing of agents in the mind of legislators, public servants and the public.

Further, as one round table participant said, one only has to look at the botched effort to appoint former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the Official Languages Commissioner, in 2017, to see how not to handle the appointment of an agent of Parliament.

If we take a look at the current process, it technically meets the law in that this House has to give its final approval with a vote. However, under the current system, the government does the entire hiring process, short of letting the two other leaders know what its intention is.

I just happen to have a sample of that. This is a letter to the leader of the NDP. We will see who knows the rules over there.

It states, “I am writing to seek your views regarding the proposed nominee for the position of Chief Electoral Officer.” I am pulling out bits of this. I love this. It goes on, “Following an open and transparent and merit-based selection process, I propose the nomination of”, Mr. X, “as the next Chief Electoral Officer.” I do not feel it is necessary to mention his name.

That was on April 3. On April 27, the NDP leader got another letter from the Prime Minister, which stated, “I am writing in follow-up to the letter from the government of April 3 regarding the position of Chief Electoral Officer. Your feedback was appreciated. Please be advised that the government will not be proceeding with the nomination, as the principal nominee has been withdrawn.”

We can tell it is a form letter, because it says, “Following an open and transparent and merit-based selection process, I propose the nomination of Stéphane Perrault as the next Chief Electoral Officer.”

That took months and months and months, and it was still screwed up in the end.

This is basic civics. We all know that there are three branches that govern in Canada. First, there is the legislative branch. That is us. That is Parliament, which is every MP who is elected. Second, there is the executive. That is the Prime Minister and cabinet. Finally, we have the Supreme Court, whose primary function in relation to us is to make sure that the laws that are passed are consistent with the Constitution.

Some will recall that when we elect a Speaker at the beginning of Parliament, the Speaker is ceremoniously dragged, as if reluctant to take the very position he or she just spent days, if not weeks, actively running for. Why is that? We have to go back to the beginning, when Parliament first came into existence. All or any of the powers Parliament had came from the monarch. The monarchs, kind of like some of our former prime ministers, did not like it when people opposed them or took away any power they had. They had to remember their place.

Therefore, the Speaker would be the one to report to the monarch on what Parliament had said, and it was not unusual in the early, early days for Speakers to lose their heads. Therefore, it was not a position a lot of people wanted because they had to go in front of the monarch, who may or may not be in a good mood. My point in raising that is to show the separation of those powers. This is not a complicated constitutional issue, in my view.

The Supreme Court hires its own staff. We would not think of deciding for the court who its nominees should be, give it a phone call the night before and say, “After consultation, do you agree with this name?” That is all that happens here. We would never think of doing that with the Supreme Court and the court, of course, would never think of hiring our agents. I remind all of us that Parliament is supreme, not the government. Parliament decides who the government is. That is the power of Parliament.

The executive is a separate, distinct branch and power base of its own. We currently have this ridiculous, unacceptable overlap. In the case of our agents, whether it is ethics, languages or the Auditor General, the government does the advertising, the interviews, the short listing and picks a name from its own short list, phones the opposition leaders and says, “Consistent with the law, this is consultation. Do you agree?” That is unacceptably absurd. Why would we allow that?

I am looking at all fellow MPs when I say that we are parliamentarians. We are the ones who make up this legislature. Why do we allow the executive to control the hiring process of our officers and agents of Parliament? Why would we do that? Some might say we do that because the executive does it so well. It is going to be fun if anybody tries that defence, because I can say that not just me but there are a whole lot of other people who are ready to go on that one. Is it because the executive has the means? We control the purse. We can give the Speaker all the money we feel necessary to run the selection process. I run out of ideas after that. It always was. It is never much of an answer for anything really, to just say “it always was”. This is an attempt to plant a seed, hopefully for the next Parliament, when somebody will grab it, bring it to light, give it life and have the next Parliament do this.

Knowing how tough it is to get a government to change in midstream and how late my number was coming up in the term, I thought that all I really want to achieve, if I can, is a majority vote of parliamentarians who accept and respect that we should control the process of hiring our officers of Parliament. My goal is hopefully to get that majority and if I cannot, I would tell those who do not support this to get ready to defend, because the New Democrats are going to make it an issue.

I do not know what the official opposition is going to do. It will be interesting to see. Part of my thinking is that the Conservatives do not want to give up power because they see themselves going back across the aisle and they would like to have that power for themselves, but, by the same token, they want to oppose the government so here is a chance to stand with the angels. It will be tough. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

At the end of the day, this is about respecting ourselves, respecting Parliament and taking back that which is ours.

Committees of the House September 19th, 2018

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 69th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of committees of the House. If the House gives its consent, I would like to move concurrence at this time.