NDP calls for new committee to review watchdog appointments

The NDP is calling for the creation of a new subcommittee to approve the nominations of all future parliamentary watchdogs, following the recent controversy over the government's nominee for Canada's next bilingualism watchdog.

'Fundamentally, what we are trying to do is make Parliament work,' says NDP MP Nathan Cullen

B.C. New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen is calling for the creation of a new all-party House of Commons subcommittee that would review the nominations of all future parliamentary watchdogs. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The NDP is calling for the creation of a new subcommittee to approve the nominations of all future parliamentary watchdogs, following the recent controversy over the government's nominee for Canada's next bilingualism watchdog.

But the government isn't supporting the proposal, saying it already has an appointments process for choosing officers of Parliament.  

"I'm frustrated," said B.C. New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen. "We worked really hard at this. We really tried."

Cullen introduced a motion Tuesday that proposes to establish a special all-party House of Commons subcommittee, which would review the government's nominees for officers of Parliament and other parliamentary positions.

The committee would include one member from each of the recognized parties in the House, with a deputy Speaker serving as its chair.

"Fundamentally, what we are trying to do is make Parliament work," Cullen said. "This helps the Liberal government with a problem — in fact, some would argue, [one] of their own creation."

The motion comes less than a week after Madeleine Meilleur, the government's pick to become Canada's next bilingualism watchdog, withdrew her candidacy following accusations she was only nominated because she was a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister who had donated to the federal party.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recused himself from choosing the country's next conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. The current commissioner, Mary Dawson, has an open investigation into Trudeau's vacation to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas. Her term, which was to expire this past January, has been extended for a third time.

'A redundant process': Chagger

Debating the NDP motion Tuesday morning, Liberal House leader Bardish Chagger said the government could not support a motion that would grant the small committee a veto over appointments, which she said would constrain MP oversight.

"Every member of Parliament deserves the right to vote," Chagger said, calling the motion "fundamentally flawed."

According to the motion's original wording, the House would vote on the appointment only if it were approved by the committee. In the event the committee rejects the government's pick, the nomination would be considered withdrawn.

The NDP later amended the motion to allow MPs in the House of Commons to have the final say in a vote, even if the committee were to reject the nomination. But Cullen said the government told the NDP, that despite its amendment, it still plans to vote against the motion.

Tom Mulcair presses Justin Trudeau on appointment process 1:14

"It's pretty obvious to me that they have no interest in fixing the problem that they've created," Cullen said, adding he worries what the Liberals' decision might mean for upcoming appointments. "At what point is it impossible to help somebody out?"

Minister Chagger told CBC that the motion, as amended, proposes a redundant process.

"We already have a process in which nominations for appointments go to a House of Commons committee to be reviewed and then go to the House of Commons for a vote," Chagger said in an email. "Committees should continue to have the ability, should they choose, to study the nominations relevant to their mandates."

In addition to the eight independent officers of Parliament, the motion would have the committee also consider the nominations of the parliamentary budget officer, the parliamentary librarian and the clerk of the House.

"I can't believe that the government is expressing confidence in its appointments process," said Cullen. "Ask Madeleine Meilleur how that went."

MPs are expected to vote on the motion tomorrow after question period.

Officers of Parliament

Officers of Parliament serve as watchdogs, helping to hold the government to account and to protect various rights of individual Canadians. As they report to Parliament, rather than to the federal government, their appointment or removal involves Parliament in some way.

The following positions are typically considered officers of Parliament:

  • Auditor general.
  • Chief electoral officer.
  • Official languages commissioner.
  • Privacy commissioner.
  • Access to information commissioner.
  • Conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.
  • Commissioner of lobbying.
  • Public sector integrity commissioner.