Conservative MP Mark Adler's watchdog disclosure bill defanged

Just weeks after the government’s proposal to revamp Canada’s election laws underwent a major rewrite at procedure and House affairs, a second Conservative-controlled committee has stripped the most contentious provisions from Mark Adler's bid to force parliamentary watchdogs to disclose past partisan activity.

Ethics committee throws out most contentious elements of Bill C-520

Conservative MP Mark Adler is followed by journalists as he leaves a Commons privacy and ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in February 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Chalk up another quiet victory for common sense by committee.

Just weeks after the government’s proposal to rewrite Canada’s election laws underwent a major edit at procedure and House affairs, a second Conservative-controlled committee has voted to strip the most contentious provisions in caucus colleague Mark Adler’s backbench bid to police parliamentary watchdogs for potentially partisan conduct.

Under the initial draft of Adler’s bill, most parliamentary officers — including the auditor general, the chief electoral officer, and the privacy, information and ethics commissioners — would be subject to extensive new disclosure requirements related to past — and even future — partisan activities. MPs on the ethics committee deleted those provisions on Tuesday.

The committee also nixed the creation of a new complaint system that would have allowed MPs and senators to ask parliamentary officers to investigate allegations that any member of their staff "had conducted their duties in a partisan manner.”

Adler’s bill was introduced last June, and garnered a second-reading nod of parliamentary approval in February after winning the support of the government. Not a single opposition member voted in favour of the bill, which was widely seen as a thinly veiled attempt to rout out partisan operatives within the offices of independent officers. 

It also sparked concern among the parliamentary officers whose offices would be affected by the changes.

In a rare move, five of them, including Auditor General Michael Ferguson, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, submitted a joint letter calling the committee’s attention to their collective and respective concerns, including increasing difficulty recruiting staff and possible conflicts with existing conflict of interest rules.

Last week, Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser issued a final plea to the committee to consider making changes to the bill.

Adler voted to change own bill

It appears the MPs on the Conservative side of the table were listening all along.

During clause-by-clause review on Tuesday, the Conservatives used their majority to vote down several key clauses in the bill, with Adler casting his lot in along with the nays as well.

The amended version will no longer apply to parliamentary agents at all, although potential staffers will still be required to hand over a list of any and all "politically partisan positions” they held within the previous decade as a standard part of the job application process.

Those declarations would be posted to the web within 30 days of hiring.

Staffers will also have to sign a statement pledging to “conduct themselves in a non-partisan manner.”

The committee is expected to wrap up clause-by-clause review later this week, at which point the bill will be sent back to the House for a final vote.


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