Editorial: Partisanship bill off the mark

It’s a bit ironic that an MP from a party that’s played a big role in encouraging partisanship in the last few years while muzzling presumably neutral government scientists and researchers is making a fuss about the political links of some members of the public service.

Last week, critics and legal experts raised concerns about the proposed bill C-250, legislation supported by the prime minister that would require “every person who applies for a position in the office of an agent of Parliament to make a declaration stating whether, in the 10 years before applying for that position, they occupied specified politically partisan positions. . . . The declarations are to be posted on the web site of the office of the relevant agent of Parliament.”

Besides the declarations, the private member’s bill proposed by Conservative MP Mark Adler would allow parliamentarians to request an investigation should they suspect an employee is doing their job in a partisan manner, according to the Toronto Star.

Adler raises a legitimate concern about the idea of reports released by parliamentary agents whose staff worked for political parties. But is this really a problem? Someone like Adler might argue we don’t know if it’s a problem since employees don’t currently have to disclose previous partisan positions. But if there were a significant number of people in that position, it’s likely it would have already come to light given that political parties know who worked for them.

So the bill seems to be targeting a problem there’s little evidence exists and may put us on the potentially slippery slope towards trying to put a damper on political activities within the public service more generally. Obviously, government employees shouldn’t do their jobs in a partisan manner, but that doesn’t mean either their political pasts or their current activities preclude them from doing so. Certainly, lots of judges have run for elected office or been party donors or workers and we trust them to keep their bias in check when they join the bench.

In the end, we should be looking to encourage political involvement by Canadians more generally, something this bill certainly doesn’t promote. Given that some aspects of it are unclear and the fact it really wouldn’t accomplish anything, it’s not worthy of the government’s support. And if the government has such a big concern about partisanship, it could start by looking at the excesses among parliamentarians first. Politicians, of course will naturally and legitimately be partisan, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect them to be more mindful of the public interest in the way they conduct themselves.
Glenn Kauth

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