MPs drop bid to impose lifetime gag orders on Hill staff
Revamped policy still provides 'indefinite' protection for personal and privileged information
Under threat of a mutiny within the ranks of House of Commons staff, the all-party Board of Internal Economy has quietly backed down from a move to force political and caucus staff to submit to a lifetime gag order on all matters related to their work on the Hill.
The blanket ban on disclosure has been replaced by a general confidentiality clause, which would still extend "indefinite protection" for personal information, including details on individual constituent files, as well as material already covered by parliamentary privilege or other secrecy laws.
Information related to "the employee's employer," however, would be considered confidential for five years, after which point it could be shared with journalists, researchers and anyone else with a hankering to hear tales from the parliamentary frontlines.
The changes are laid out in a backgrounder posted to the parliamentary website last month.
The revamped framework also allows for "flexibility in the degree of consequences … for addressing varying levels of breaches," which would no longer be automatically considered firing offences, but could instead result in less punitive disciplinary measures.
NDP staff union 'pleased' by changes
New Democrat staff union president Anthony Salloum told CBC News his members are pleased to see several key changes, including converting the agreement from a contract to a policy, and explicitly specifying how long information would be considered confidential.
Unifor Local 232 represents nearly 700 NDP staffers across the country.
Another "very, very important change," according to Salloum, is the removal of any reference to the House of Commons as employer.
"The previous agreement allowed for the House of Commons itself to pursue former staffers for alleged violations, even if their former employers, the MPs themselves, had no issue with them," he pointed out.
He's still concerned over the requirement for current staff to sign off on the new provisions in order to receive the raises that, in some cases, were supposed to kick in last year.
"We believe the House is forcing this because it is the only way to impose new work conditions on existing employees."
All staffers who agreed to the original contract will now have the option to replace it with the provisions of the revamped policy, while those who didn't must file a written acknowledgement that they accept the new provisions — unless, that is, they're due for a raise or a promotion.
New hires, meanwhile, will also have to sign the new policy when they formally accept a job offer.
Tweaks to gift disclosure, part-time work rules
Overall, Salloum said, "we are pleased that we were able to achieve significant changes," which he credits in part to the party's representatives on the board, MPs Nycole Turmel and Philip Toone.
The reworked rules will also permit staffers to perform paid part-time for more than one MP, as well as House officers and the caucus research office, which was seemingly, if somewhat inexplicably, forbidden under the earlier contract.
In addition, it limits the disclosure of "gifts, gratuities or payments" from a third party to those that could "reasonably be perceived as being related to their employer."
Here is the full text of the new agreement, as well as an explanation of the changes: