Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Ralph Goodale Profile
Lib. (SK)
View Ralph Goodale Profile
2017-03-24 10:05 [p.9985]
moved that Bill C-22, An Act to establish the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be read the third time and passed.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:05 [p.9985]
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand today to talk about what I believe is a very important piece of legislation. Many members of the chamber will recall the debate on Bill C-51. That is where I would like to start this morning, to give a bit of perspective on why we have this bill before us today.
It is important to note that the former prime minister, Stephen Harper, brought in Bill C-51, a bill that had some fundamental flaws. At the time, the Liberal Party was the third party in the chamber, and we felt strongly, based on the feedback we were receiving and the research we were doing on the bill, that it was important to vote in favour of it. As the debate continued, many hours of debate in the House on that issue, I, for one, must have talked about the need for a parliamentary oversight committee at least a dozen times, possibly 15 or 20 times. That was when I was on the other side of the House.
The point is that it was a very important issue a couple of years ago. It raised quite a commotion outside the House. Many members, I suspect all 338 of us, can relate to Bill C-51, because it was an issue that was constantly being raised at the time. I even knocked on a few doors where people talked to me about the bill and how, if the Liberal Party leader was elected prime minister, he would respond to Bill C-51.
There was a commitment made by all members of the Liberal team, in particular the Prime Minister, that we would bring in a parliamentary oversight committee. Whether it was during the debates when Bill C-51 was in the House, in the lead-up to the campaign, through the media, in public meetings, or when we were going door to door throughout the last federal election campaign, Liberals were advocating how important it was to have an oversight committee made up of parliamentarians.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to parliamentarians across the way that we are debating a bill that, in essence, captures the commitment the Prime Minister and every member of the Liberal caucus made as part of our election platform. No one should be surprised in the House of Commons, and I suspect that Canadians will look at this piece of legislation and see it as fulfilling an election promise.
I said yesterday that the Prime Minister says how important it is to him personally that when members of Parliament come to Ottawa they represent their constituents here. I can tell the Prime Minister and my caucus colleagues that this is something I believe the residents of Winnipeg North are behind 100%. I am convinced that this is good, solid legislation.
I would like to commend the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the government House leader for doing a phenomenal job in ensuring that this commitment is being fulfilled in such a timely fashion.
That is how I wanted to start my comments today. I know there has been concern among opposition members about how the bill would ultimately be passed. Maybe I could attempt to answer some of the questions they might have.
For example, we know that more than 40 members have been afforded the opportunity to give a 10- or 20-minute speech. Well over 100 have been afforded the opportunity to be engaged in one way or another on the floor of the House of Commons.
I also want to compliment the excellent standing committee that dealt with Bill C-22. I would argue that this was a fulfillment of one of the other aspects the Prime Minister has talked about. As a government, we want to bring more life to our standing committees. We want members on all sides of the House to be more engaged in a positive way in terms of trying to improve legislation. That is exactly what we have done here. After second reading, the bill went to committee, and in that committee, what did we see? A number of witnesses came before the committee, from different regions of the country, and made recommendations on how the legislation could be improved. A good number of those expert witnesses were very complimentary to the government about the legislation as it was presented to committee. They were very supportive of that legislation.
They recognized, as many of us have, that there is always room for improvement. We have encouraged that, and what we saw was a series of amendments brought forward. The ideas were talked about. The standing committee did its job in terms of setting the agenda and inviting witnesses.
I look at the standing committees as the backbone of the fine work parliamentarians do. All we need to do is focus some attention on that standing committee. There was a great list developed for witnesses who presented their reports and came up with ideas. The committee took a number of those thoughts and presented amendments. It was not just amendments from the government side of the House. There were amendments suggested, and some were accepted, from the opposition side of the House. That demonstrates the changes we are seeing at the committee level. I bring that to people's attention, because it is worthy of note.
The legislation has come back to the House. The government has the opportunity to review some of the work that was done at committee. Yes, there was a need to make some changes to it. I will give an example of one of the changes.
The witness protection program is of critical importance. Canadians appreciate the importance of informants or individuals who might be testifying before a court of law, when their life or their family's lives may be put at risk. Because there is risk, we need to have a system that protects those witnesses. That is why we have a witness protection program.
The committee, for a number of reasons, felt that we should talk about the names of witnesses and drawing too much information from that. A caveat was put in, in the form an amendment, and the government, at this point, felt that we might have been going too far on that particular issue. That is one of the amendments and why it is that some amendments were made at third reading.
I raise that because I believe that is really what Parliament should be doing on its legislation. We had the opportunity to see the legislation through first reading. Members were able to be engaged. No one would have been surprised by the introduction of the bill, given the fact that it was something that was talked about. It was brought in for second reading. Dozens of members were able to speak to it. Even more were able to be engaged in that debate. It then went to committee. In committee, it received wonderful support, and a number of ideas that would improve it were incorporated into amendments. Ultimately it went to report stage, at which point there were a few modifications. Now we are into third reading and we are debating it again in anticipation of the legislation being ready to pass.
We have a government that has made a commitment to Canadians. It brought in the legislation. The legislation has been improved through the process, and ultimately, we are getting into a position where we will be seeing it pass. I see that as a very strong positive. We should all take some pride in the manner in which it has actually gone through.
I know there have been some concerns among the opposition members with respect to the legislation, specifically dealing with what sorts of exemptions there will be. They are indicating that we could have done better in terms of not allowing as many exemptions.
I would like to address that point. It is important to recognize that this is somewhat historical in the sense that Canada will have a parliamentary oversight committee, among many other things. I like to think of it as an oversight committee that will protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians in a very respectful fashion. That is one reason I am such a strong advocate for Bill C-22, because I believe in the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
It is the first time Canada is going to have a parliamentary oversight committee that is going to be looking at all of our security agencies and ensuring that there is a higher sense of accountability, whether it is border controls, corporations, or the RCMP. This is good news.
I want to be sensitive in terms of what the opposition is saying, but I want to assure members that it is very robust legislation. In fact, even though we might be the last of the Five Eyes countries, countries that move together in dealing with issues of this nature, immigration and so forth, I would suggest that we could be very proud of how robust our legislation is in comparison with the other countries' legislation.
Let me give an example. When we talk about the exemptions of what cannot be talked about, or what can be withdrawn from the committee, this is something that comes from the New Zealand act, which is one of the Five Eyes countries. In New Zealand, the act allows for the government to inform the committee that the documents or information cannot be disclosed because, in the opinion of the chief executive of the relevant intelligence and security agency, the documents or information are sensitive. In all fairness, I suspect that if we were to ask even the members of the opposition, one would think that our legislation is more robust than that. I would challenge the members across the way, who are concerned about that aspect, to indicate to this House whether they believe that the New Zealand legislation is more robust than ours. I do not believe it is, but that is an issue that is raised.
That is not the only country that we can draw a comparison to, but before I leave the subject of New Zealand, there is another point related to this. I want to talk about the Prime Minister, because a number of members across the way have talked about the influence of the Prime Minister. I will get to that right away, because there is another good example with respect to New Zealand.
On the same thought, let us look at what is being done in the U.K. act. The government is able to inform the intelligence and security committee, which is the equivalent of what we are establishing, that the information cannot be disclosed because the secretary of state has decided that it should not be disclosed. Again, I would suggest that our legislation is more robust than that, yet this is a big issue that is being raised, in particular by the New Democrats, and other opposition members also. That is not to say that our legislation is 100% perfect. There is always room for improvement. That is one of the reasons we are saying that we will take another look at it in the years ahead, and that is within the legislation itself.
I made reference to the Prime Minister. The members across the way talk about the Prime Minister and the control from the PMO. I would encourage them not to be paranoid about that particular issue. In New Zealand, the prime minister actually sits on the security committee. In Canada, we have a parliamentary oversight committee where the government members of Parliament make up the minority of the committee. That is a fairly significant piece in the legislation. In fairness, the opposition should recognize that it reinforces that we have excellent legislation in comparison to other Five Eyes countries.
Not only that, but the good news continues. Within the framework, we have a Prime Minister who is obligated to work with the opposition to fill the opposition member spots on the committee. Let me suggest to members that if we were to talk to Canadians to get a better sense of what Canadians believe, I would like to think that our Minister of Public Safety has done a phenomenal job with respect to this legislation, in bringing it forward and defending it. If there is any doubt in the minds of members as to why or how they should be voting, if they read what the Minister of Public Safety has put on the record here, I am sure that their concerns will be addressed.
I would argue that this is one of those pieces of legislation that should be passed unanimously by this House, because I believe that all Canadians want to see a parliamentary oversight committee. Even under Stephen Harper, where there was some reluctance—actually there was a lot of reluctance—I know there are now many members across the way who understand the value of a parliamentary oversight committee. I hope that they will come on side and support this good legislation.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2017-03-24 10:25 [p.9987]
Before we go into the question session, I want to remind the hon. members that I do not know what it is, but every time the hon. parliamentary secretary gets up, the opposition members want to help him out. I am sure that he appreciates the help, but if members do not mind, while he is answering maybe just keep it down.
The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton.
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
2017-03-24 10:25 [p.9987]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. parliamentary secretary to the House leader for being able to make even an oversight committee sound exciting.
One of the concerns that we had with this, and perhaps it has been addressed in the amendments and I missed it, was that there is no independence to this oversight. The Prime Minister picks the chair, the Prime Minister picks who is on the committee, and the Prime Minister gets to edit any of the reports that come out of the committee.
My question for the hon. member is this. What has been done to address that and keep it from being just a duplication of effort?
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:26 [p.9987]
Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that this once again shows that the government takes what is happening in standing committees very seriously. We want to be able to see good, healthy discussions. One of the discussions that took place at this particular standing committee was the issue of the chair not being able to have a double vote, meaning that the chair does not precipitate a tie vote and then vote again as the chair. From what I understand, this is something that was raised at committee, and as a result we have improved the legislation.
The member asked how we ensure that there is a sense of fairness or balance. I would suggest that the best way to ensure that we have that sense of fairness and balance in this situation—I do not want my words to be exploited now—is that in fact on this committee, given its nature, we will see that a minority of the membership is made up of the government members of Parliament. That should provide some assurances to members, given the important role that this particular committee has on national security, and protecting Canadians' rights and freedoms, which, as I say, is one of my favourites.
View Randall Garrison Profile
Mr. Speaker, I listened with astonishment and exasperation to the member's speech on Bill C-22. It included everything from reminding us that this is the only thing the Liberals have to say about Bill C-51, which I have a bill before the House to repeal—they have not presented anything other than this bill—to him saying that if we have objections to stand up and speak about them, when this is under time allocation and the NDP gets exactly one speaker at third reading. I am a bit exasperated.
The final thing I would say is that the member is somehow proud of a bill that, when the committee provided teeth, as the Liberal Prime Minister said he would allow committees to do, then the government proceeded to take the teeth out of this bill and put them in a glass by the Prime Minister's bed. We have a bill here that has absolutely no ability to do what it is supposed to do.
I am exasperated and astonished to hear a speech like this, which would revise history and tries to recast this in a way that is completely false. What we have here is the government taking control of a committee, overruling what was done, and producing a committee that is very important to this country, without any support from the opposition parties. What does the member have to say about that?
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:29 [p.9987]
Mr. Speaker, having been a parliamentarian for a number of years, I know there is never a shortage of rhetoric from the New Democratic benches. At the end of the day, I disagree with what the member is saying. I would challenge the member across the way to stand in his place and tell the House how many times in the last 16 months, in which we have seen changes to legislation or votes inside the House, where we have had a higher sense of participation, where amendments were being proposed, where there were a different type of votes, where even opposition amendments were actually being accepted—
View Randall Garrison Profile
Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I would like to remind the hon. member that he should stop standing up and saying we should speak on this if we have opinions. When the government has introduced time allocation, we are not allowed that opportunity. Repeatedly he calls on me to stand up and speak on this. As the national defence critic, I would love to do that, but because of time allocation, it is not allowed.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2017-03-24 10:30 [p.9988]
The hon. member got his point across, but I think that was more debate than it was a point of order.
The hon. parliamentary secretary.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:30 [p.9988]
I suspect you might be right, Mr. Speaker.
At the end of the day, the member knows full well that the New Democratic Party has had dozens of opportunities to get engaged in debate inside this House. To try to give the impression that the NDP only gets one speaker on this is wrong. The New Democrats have had dozens of engagements on this piece of legislation. If it were up to some members within this House, this bill would never pass. That is unfortunately the reality. At the end of the day, we believe this is something that Canadians want to see. I suspect it might be the case that even the New Democrats might vote in favour of the bill.
Once all is said and done, this is good legislation. It has been improved upon because it went through the committee stage, and it would be very timely to see this bill pass through the House of Commons.
View Lloyd Longfield Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Lloyd Longfield Profile
2017-03-24 10:31 [p.9988]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Winnipeg North for outlining and bringing back some of the thoughts we had during the campaign around Bill C-51. I can remember knocking on doors myself, making phone calls, and explaining why the Liberals wanted to adjust that legislation rather than remove it, the way the New Democrats were recommending.
Now with having an oversight committee, the New Democrats are also making comments that we do not need this. In fact, this committee would include members from the Senate, and New Democrats would like to get rid of the Senate.
I think the Senate brings some value to this. Maybe the hon. member for Winnipeg North could talk to us a bit about why we would like to engage the Senate in this discussion, as well as changing legislation, rather than removing all security legislation, the way the New Democrats are suggesting.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:32 [p.9988]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my caucus colleague. There are many advocates who have proposed that the Senate would play a very positive role on this particular oversight committee. I believe it will, for a number of reasons. It could be everything from continuity, to the level of expertise that is within the other place. I think there is a great deal that can be offered.
We are seeing more and more that the Senate is becoming that independent, sober second-looking oversight body. I believe it can contribute positively to this particular oversight committee.
In regard to the legislation, I think it would be very tragic to see such good legislation not receive the type of support it deserves. At the end of the day, I believe that if we took 100 Canadians at random and we had presentations dealing with this, it would be virtually unanimous in terms of the need for Canada to have an oversight committee.
I am very proud of the government's ability to bring that into a reality, and that is what this legislation would do. I thank in particular the Minister of Public Safety, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and most important, the Prime Minister, for having the foresight in making this election commitment. He understood what Canadians want when it comes to issues such as this which are so very important.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2017-03-24 10:34 [p.9988]
Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman somehow suggested that the opposition challenges the need for an oversight committee. I do not know how one could read the record of these proceedings and come to that conclusion. He commends the work of the public safety committee and fails to remind us that the government gutted that committee's recommendations.
Since this is a “somewhat historical bill”, to quote the hon. gentleman, how is it that we will be proceeding when the opposition is unanimously opposed to such an historic initiative?
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2017-03-24 10:34 [p.9988]
Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to emphasize that when the Conservative Party was on the government benches and we had that great debate on Bill C-51, we knew where the NDP were standing on that and we knew where the Liberal Party stood. We supported the legislation and indicated that if we became government, we would ensure there would be parliamentary oversight. We are fulfilling that commitment.
On the other hand, the Conservative Party, while it was in government, opposed having a parliamentary oversight committee. When I say that there are members of this chamber who oppose having an oversight committee, it is based on past voting records. I sit inside the chamber and I have heard a number of members across the way express concerns in regard to it. Hopefully I am wrong. Hopefully we do see that unanimous support. I would love to see it, because it would send a nice positive message. However, I am inclined to believe that the Conservatives are still out of touch with what Canadians really think on this particular issue. We will find out when it ultimately comes to a vote.
View Sylvie Boucher Profile
A happy Friday to you, Mr. Speaker, and to all of my good friends.
I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in favour of Bill C-22. I will use my time to defend my point of view and common sense, which seems to be lacking across the way.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would like to comment on how the party in power always uses the same tactic when it knows the media and Canadians will take a dim view of its decisions. It sure likes to make itself look cute.
Here is an example of the government's sneaky tactics: it introduced Bill C-22 on June 16 of last year during the dying hours of the session to ensure that neither MPs nor the public would have much opportunity to debate it.
Here is another example. The Minister of Finance tabled a report indicating that the deficit would be $30 billion, not the modest $10-billion deficit they campaigned on. Any deficit at all is hard to swallow. My children and grandchildren will have to pay for it, but apparently the members opposite do not have grandchildren, so they do not care.
Finally, here is the last example. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tabled a document stipulating that the Prime Minister should have to be in the House to answer questions only one hour a week, and that the House should meet only four days week in order to balance work and family. Now that is what I call being a part-time prime minister.
I will now get into the substance of the debate, specifically, Bill C-22. I have no objection to the idea of creating a committee whose members would be tasked with examining and reviewing the legislative, regulatory, strategic, financial, and administrative frameworks of national security and intelligence. What bothers me is how this committee will be formed. I have some concerns about that.
First and foremost, public safety is a non-partisan issue. The fact that the Prime Minister's Office decided way back in January who would chair that committee, before the committee was even struck, says a lot about the Prime Minister's attitude towards the members of the House of Commons.
That decision was made by the Liberal Party alone and not as a result of discussions with the other parties. What is more, the Liberals made this decision without consulting the House, even though hon. members expressed interest in being part of the discussion to select the chair of this important committee. Public safety is very important and should never be a partisan issue.
For its part, the Prime Minister's Office will also be tasked with selecting the committee members, contrary to the election promise made by the member for Papineau, meaning that the committee members will be beholden to him and the committee will no longer able to do what it is asked to do. It will not meet the needs of Canadians, but rather those of the Prime Minister himself, as he sees fit. He will be lord and master as usual. Making the committee not as independent as it should be undermines its usefulness and legitimacy.
Under Bill C-22 the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness will have the authority to change or simply block any report drafted by the committee members. The Prime Minister will therefore yet again be lord and master of the committee. I think he rather likes being lord and master. He should consider the fact that there are members in the House who like doing their job.
Perhaps he does not like it, but we like to speak on behalf of our constituents. Is that not why we were elected to the House? There is a song about the world's kings being at the top, but alone. The Prime Minister should think about that. Someone should buy him a mirror. I think he would like that.
I will elaborate. If the report contained information that the Prime Minister or the Minister of Public Safety considered to be sensitive, they would have the right to delete it from the report. That is unacceptable. By “sensitive information” I do not mean confidential information that would harm Canadians' safety if it were disclosed. I am talking about parts of the report that would reflect poorly on the Liberal Party because they would demonstrate its incompetence and bad judgment when making decisions. Our public safety critic gave a very good explanation of the situation.
He said:
If we are going to implement parliamentary oversight, we need to do it right. It needs to be real and substantial oversight. It needs to be parliamentary. Otherwise, this is simply a Liberal Party communications exercise, and this is not something the Conservative Party can support.
It is very important to remember that the Liberals want a committee of parliamentarians and not a parliamentary committee. There is a big difference. The committee should be an independent body that is not accountable to the party in power. Rather, it must guarantee Canadians that their safety is assured in a legal and professional manner.
I am extremely troubled by the fact that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety could have the last word on the reports of a so-called independent committee. Furthermore, it is truly important that the committee members already have experience handling secret information or experience with public safety, national security, intelligence, and defence issues.
That is one more reason why the leaders of all the parties should be consulted. They could ensure that we have the best parliamentarians for the important task they will be doing.
I would like to close by saying that I cannot support such a bill, unless some major changes are made. First, the opposition parties must be consulted before the committee members are chosen. Second, the committee's autonomy and independence from the Government of Canada must be respected in order to prevent the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety from interfering. Finally, I think that strict criteria must be maintained and that parliamentarians with extensive experience in the fields that I mentioned earlier must be selected so that the committee can provide top-notch service to all Canadians.
We are talking here about public safety. That is extremely important, and this committee must be independent. It must be specialized and non-partisan. However, the Liberal government took the liberty of appointing the committee chair in January without any consultation. The Liberals refused to consult with the opposition parties before the legislative measure was even drafted, despite the willingness of the Conservative Party and the NDP to discuss this important committee.
Like our Five Eyes allies, we think that the members of this committee should have significant experience in dealing with secret information, public safety, national security, intelligence, and defence. The chair who has been appointed does not have that type of experience. The committee members are appointed by and accountable to the Prime Minister's Office.
They should be appointed by Parliament and report to Parliament. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister advocated for a reduced role for the Prime Minister's Office, but no action has been taken in that regard.
Bill C-22 would provide for numerous exceptions, and it permits government departments and agencies to opt out of providing certain information to the committee. This undermines the committee's oversight responsibilities and prevents it from fully carrying out its mandate.
Here on the Conservative benches, as the official opposition, we see public safety as a priority and believe that protecting our security and intelligence officers must be a primary concern. We will examine the bill closely, but we remain concerned about the attempts being made by the Prime Minister's Office and the Liberal Part to make this committee another arm of the Liberal government.
The Prime Minister's comments are becoming increasingly totalitarian, despite his promises to be more transparent. Members across party lines are being silenced, even though we were sent here to represent Canadians. He wants to shut us up. The Prime Minister of Canada will never, ever shut me up. If he ever has the nerve to try, I will go straight to the media and shout at the top of my lungs that this prime minister has become a dictator.
We have a committee that is working so hard for the measures that the leader implemented. It is unacceptable to me that the Prime Minister, who was duly elected by the people and who knew what he was in for when he ran for his party leadership, should sit for just one hour a week. That is ridiculous. Do we have a part-time Canadian Prime Minister on our hands? When will he be accountable to Canadians? This is his job; this is what he is supposed to be doing.
What about the unfortunate Quebeckers working on that side, the 40 members who have been skewered by the Quebec media because we never hear from them? Has the Prime Minister shut them up too? Are they expected to keep quiet about the things that bother them?
People can say what they want about Mr. Harper, they can love him or hate him, but he listened to his Quebec MPs. We sat down with him every day in the lobby. He was always asking us how things were going in Quebec.
Have you had that kind of conversation with your Prime Minister? I highly doubt it. Have you Quebeckers on that side of the House ever sat down with your Prime Minister? Has he ever paid attention to what is going on in your ridings—
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