Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak about this important opposition day motion, something we should all be considering seriously because it concerns our democracy. Democracy is a strange word. We can use it as a noun, and as a verb. Canada is a democracy, but we also practise democracy, which is the process by which we make decisions. There are certain qualifications for this process. I will not go into all of them, but one of the important things is the whole idea of the process by which we make decisions. It is not only that we are elected to this place, and that we abide by the rule of law and those types of issues, it is also about the micro-processes by which we conduct ourselves both here in the House of Commons and in our governing business, in general.
The motion presents an opportunity, a moment in time. A lot of it has been connected to a discussion about a recent appointment, but in fact it is an opportunity for us to talk about our general process in this House, to step back, put down the partisan gloves, and ask how we could improve the process in the House of Commons.
This is a very good motion. It would remove any partisanship from appointments of parliamentary officers, which is a very good first step. It is practised in a number of provinces. I come from British Columbia, which has actually led the way in Canada, in terms of trying to ensure officers of parliament and the legislature were appointed in an independent way. That is something we should emulate. In fact, we need to catch-up a bit to what has been done in British Columbia.
There is a reason why officers of Parliament are important. We have had elusion to American politics. It is hard not to escape the tsunami of press that comes from the United States, especially now with President Trump in office. However, the United States has checks and balances. The American system was, in essence, designed to make sure that no one gets too much power. Congress, the courts, and the president all balance each other out. We can see, even with control of the two houses of representatives in the United States and the presidency, the Republicans still do not push many things through their legislative process because of the checks and balances, and also because their parties are not disciplined. They do not have the same ability to whip members in the senate or house of representatives that we do here in the House.
What we have in Canada is a very concentrated process where, with the Prime Minister, there is a great concentration of power, and since that power has been centralized through political parties since the 1970s, essentially, we have a tremendous amount of power centred in the hands of the Prime Minister. Independent officers of Parliament are important because they provide an important check to that power. We all wait for the Auditor General's reports to come out, because we know they are independent assessments of what is happening in the House, what is happening with budgets, what is happening with processes. We wait for those reports, and we need to very much respect the person, and we do, who is putting out those reports. In many ways, the officers of Parliament have to be seen as above politics, and they have to have the confidence of everybody.
We have been very lucky in Canada to have a number of independent officers. They have had great respect over the years. However, there is not always a guarantee that happens, especially if the government is using these offices to insert people who are deeply partisan in their outlook. This motion is making sure we can have confidence in these independent officers of Parliament.
My colleague from Saskatchewan made some very good points about the details of this process. What is really important, for example, in the conflict of interest legislation, we have conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest. In terms of appointments of parliamentary officers, we have to look our for the same thing. Even though an officer may not be in conflict, or may not be offering partisan favour, if the appearance is there of such a conflict, or such favouritism toward a particular side, then that erodes the sanctity and the confidence we have in those officers.
In a way, what we are proposing here with the standing committee where one party cannot make a unilateral decision on who is appointed, it protects that office. It ensures that we have the confidence that not only would there not be any kind of favouritism but there would be no appearance of favouritism. That is so important because, without that confidence—or say someone is appointed who is very partisan—the danger is that the moniker of an independent officer provides a kind of shield for that person.
Say, for example—and I do not want to cast aspersions on the current government—some prime minister is deeply partisan and decides only to appoint partisan members to be independent officers. Those officers then would be provided the shield of independence, people being lulled into a false sense of security that these officers are actually independent. What is being proposed here is a necessary check and balance. I think it needs to be put in place, and I do hear from the other side that members are considering it. There are a few minor objections, but I hope that they move forward and support our motion.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my own proposal for a new independent officer of Parliament, and that is the parliamentary science officer. I tabled a bill in the House in the last Parliament and this Parliament. I had support from the Royal Society and other noted science bodies to have an independent officer of Parliament here who would be devoted purely to science. That office would be open to all members of the House. It would be open to senators as well. If there were a question of science within a committee, which arises all the time, this independent officer would be able to go out and provide the necessary information to inform either individual members of the government or committees in terms of what the proper science is.
For example, the natural resources committee might be debating climate change. The independent officer of Parliament would go out and get all the best information about this and then report back to the committee and give the best information available. In that case, it would be very important for that officer to be independent and to be seen as independent. For example, if a certain government appointed a climate change denier as a parliamentary science officer, that would not work very well, so that is why we need this balance and that is why I am providing this example.
I see this as a growth area for government. I think we have found how necessary it is to have auditors general, parliamentary budget officers, and conflict of interest officers. These are very important positions that are being adopted all over the world now, and now there are other positions. They are very low cost for what we actually get out of these positions. In some cases, they are a single office and they have limited staff, but they provide assurance that our democracy is working properly.
I love these kinds of debates. I find the substance of policy debates important.
I would like to read a motion into the record. Seconded by the member for London—Fanshawe, I move:
That the motion be amended:
(a) by replacing section 4 of the proposed Standing Order with the following:
(4) Not later than the expiry of the thirty-day period provided for in the present Standing Order, a notice of motion to concur in the report referred to in section (3) of this Standing Order shall be put under Routine Proceedings, to be decided without debate or amendment.
(b) by deleting section 5 of the proposed Standing Order.