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.