Tory MP’s bill unnecessary, could harm independence, say Parliament’s watchdogs

Parliament’s watchdogs have urged a Senate committee to quash a proposal to publish the political backgrounds of their employees, calling it unnecessary and potentially harmful to the independence of their offices.

OTTAWA — Parliament’s watchdogs have urged a Senate committee to quash a proposal to publish the political backgrounds of their employees, calling it unnecessary and potentially harmful to the independence of their offices.

Some Conservative senators also voiced reservations about Toronto-area Conservative MP Mark Adler’s private member’s bill, C-520.

The proposed legislation would require all employees of the various agents of Parliament to publicly disclose any political jobs held over the previous decade. Job seekers would also have to file a declaration during the hiring process.

The public disclosures — by everyone from senior managers to junior staff — would be posted to the Internet. The actual agents of Parliament, such as the auditor general and the chief electoral officer, would not be covered.

Seven of the parliamentary agents sent a letter Tuesday expressing their reservations with the bill. They sent a similar letter to the Commons committee that examined and amended the bill last year.

They noted that the bill requires them to collect information about the political past of prospective employees, but doesn’t indicate what the agents are supposed to do with it. Currently, hiring in the public service is based on merit alone.

The agents also worry about the privacy of employees and the chilling effect they say the bill could have.

“It also subjects the employees to unwarranted public scrutiny and risks hindering the independence and execution of the mandates of the agents of Parliament,” they wrote.

“Individuals who would otherwise be interested in applying for a position in the office of an agent may be discouraged from applying in light of the disclosure of their personal information.”

In a separate letter, the president and two commissioners of the Public Service Commission of Canada noted that public servants are already subject to rules on political activity under the Public Service Employment Act and the government’s ethics code.

Conservative Sen. Diane Bellemare said she worried that some Canadians might not want to participate in the political process because of the scrutiny they would later face. Colleague Michel Rivard raised the fact the bill had not been reviewed for constitutionality.

A 1991 Supreme Court of Canada decision struck down an absolute ban on the political activities of public servants, emphasizing the different levels of responsibility bureaucrats might have and the range of political activities that exist.

Adler appeared before the committee of Tuesday and told the senators that the bill aims to prevent potential conflicts of interest. It will subject the public servants to “the highest standards of accountability,’ he said.

“As the agents and their employees are tasked with oversight of parliamentarians, it is in Canada’s best interest to shine a light on potential conflicts of interest in the preparation of reports,” he added.

“Transparent disclosure will help ensure that even-handedness and neutrality are always applied. This bill speaks to the fact that access to information is a public good.”

Just Posted

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion gets second green light from Ottawa

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is giving the Trans Mountain pipeline… Continue reading

Sneak peak: Take a tour of Red Deer County’s best backyards, acreages and gardens

You can snoop around people’s backyards without any guilt while on a… Continue reading

WATCH: New RDC president has three decades of experience working at colleges and universities

Peter Nunoda says he’s ‘excited’ to help transition the college into a university

Blair says more gun-control action needed, signals no new steps before election

OTTAWA — Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair says more must be done… Continue reading

Pricey tours of decaying Titanic shipwreck delayed until June 2020

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Adventure tourists who paid $168,000 each to help… Continue reading

Police searching for suspect after shooting at Toronto Raptors rally

Toronto police are still looking for a suspect after Monday’s shooting that… Continue reading

The corporate winners and losers from the Toronto Raptors’ historic win

We The North mania spread across Canada as the Toronto Raptors created… Continue reading

Efforts continue to raise profile of New Brunswick sprint champion from 1900s

HALIFAX — A New Brunswick sprinter who achieved world-class success in the… Continue reading

Campaign to eradicate rodents puts other animals at risk

The bird was a female cardinal. It was on the ground and… Continue reading

Opinion: Throwing cold water on fee for calling firefighters

There’s never any upside to adversity. Whether it’s the loss of a… Continue reading

‘This is our story:’ Winnipeg General Strike commemorated on screen, stage

WINNIPEG — A moment in history that changed Canada forever is headed… Continue reading

Most Read