Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the motion put forward by the hon. member opposite about government science and government scientists speaking publicly about their work. Allow me to offer a few points that are relevant to the issue.
One of the concerns suggested in the motion is that government scientists are not allowed to speak publicly about their work for the federal government.
Let me be clear. We understand and support the desire for government scientists to share their work and speak publicly about the work they do for the Government of Canada. Government scientists can do this. However, they must do so within the framework of policies and procedures that govern communications within the Government of Canada.
The Government of Canada, as we know, is large and complex as an organization. There are almost 260,000 employees in the core federal public service spread across many different departments, and like many large organizations, the federal government needs to ensure its messages are consistent and coordinated. In fact, there are best practices in large organizations, both private and in the public sector, to ensure this happens, and the Government of Canada is certainly no different.
The framework of rules in the federal government includes a number of guidelines.
For example, the Government of Canada is guided by the communications policy of the Government of Canada. This is a Treasury Board policy that applies to many government departments. In a nutshell, it sets out the protocol that departments have in place to ensure it communicates effectively.
In their roles as principal spokespersons for their departments, the ministers are supported by their aides. These, of course, can be executive assistants, communications directors, and press secretaries in the ministers' offices. Ministers can also be supported in their roles by the senior management teams of government institutions. These include deputy heads, heads of communications, and other officials. Within the institution itself, officials can also be designated to speak on behalf of ministers, and those include technical and, of course, subject matter experts. There is a protocol in place to ensure that the information being shared or communicated to the public by those designated to speak on behalf of the government is consistent and coordinated.
The communications policy of the Government of Canada provides other safeguards as well. Departmental spokespersons, at all times, must respect privacy rights, security needs, matters before the courts, government policy, cabinet confidences and ministerial responsibility.
In addition, they must also confine their remarks to matters of fact concerning the policies, programs, services or initiatives of their institution. So while the communications policy of the Government of Canada allows for designated spokespersons to speak to the media, it requires they follow the rules in doing so.
In fact, there is a whole raft of good reasons why those speaking to the media or sharing information or commenting on the affairs of government are required to follow our best practices. Canada is one of the world's leading democracies, and the ability of government scientists to talk to others and to the public about their work is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.
It is a feature of our democracy that protects both the interests and the rights of the employer, as well as the Canadian public it represents. It is just common sense to have a balanced approach like this. When individuals are employees of an organization, they are usually bound not to share details of their employer's business without permission, whether they work for Apple, Google, or the Government of Canada.
And as we all know, confidentiality is also the basis of professional integrity in fields such as law, medicine, accounting and journalism. The point is that being an employee brings with it a responsibility to those who employ you to follow the protocols that govern communications to protect the interests of all.
Another government guideline that speaks to this issue is the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.
This code outlines the values and expected behaviours that guide public servants in all activities related to their professional duties and is a condition of employment for all public servants in the federal public sector. There is also a policy on conflict of interest and post-employment, which is also a condition of employment in the public service. It guides public servants to contribute to good government, democracy, and Canadian society through the loyal, impartial, and non-partisan support they provide to the elected government.
As dedicated professionals, they serve the public interest and uphold the public trust. Public servants must recognize that elected officials are accountable to Parliament and, ultimately, to the Canadian people and that a non-partisan public sector is essential to our democratic system. Therefore, communications by public service employees must take place within certain prescribed limits to ensure their impartiality. There is also the public interest to be protected, and our framework of policies has been created over the years to do exactly that.
All of us who are employees of the public institutions in this country have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of the Government of Canada. That is our job. It is our duty to do so. That includes, of course, ensuring information about programs and services is communicated to the public and is communicated responsibly.
Our policies on government communications are also in line with the government’s move to open government in general. Open government is, among other things, about improving transparency and accountability in public institutions. It is a way to strengthen our democratic institutions, our economy and society in the digital world.
Canada, among the world's nations, is a leader in bringing open government principles to fruition in this country. It is something we believe in very strongly and wholeheartedly, whether we are sharing government data, disclosing information on government expenses or sharing information with the public. Open government and open communications go hand in hand. We will protect, we will promote and we will practise these principles in an intelligent and balanced way. That, of course, applies to government scientists sharing their information and communications with the public as well.
I would ask our hon. friends to join us in promoting responsible open communications within the Government of Canada.