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National security oversight committee seeking $4.5M to get off the ground

The committee will be a new 'departmental entity,' according to PCO, with a deputy minister-level head.

Liberal MP David McGuinty, chair of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, says the politicians won't have any say in staffing the committee's secretariat, except for the prime minister's appointment of the executive director. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 12:00 AM

The new government department-style entity being created to support a group of Parliamentarians charged with overseeing the country’s national security and intelligence operations is expected to cost about $4.5-million this fiscal year, with the Privy Council Office taking on half of the start-up costs.

The Privy Council Office is requesting an additional $2.2-million in funding through the second set of supplementary estimates for the 2017-18 fiscal year for its role in establishing the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) Secretariat.

As set out in its establishing legislation, which received royal assent in June, a new secretariat is required to “assist the committee in fulfilling its mandate.”

Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.) who was appointed to chair the 11-member committee—with members from all recognized parties in the House and Senate—said the secretariat’s role is that of a “full and independent organization, legally. It may be called ‘committee,’ but it’s got the status—that I understand it—of what’s called a departmental corporation.”

  

The Privy Council Office “assumed a leadership role to expedite the establishment of the Secretariat of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, a new departmental entity,” said an email from spokesman Paul Duchesne.

This means the secretariat will have to make Treasury Board submissions, produce a report on plans and priorities, and would eventually be subject to auditing, Mr. McGuinty said. The legislation allows for the government House leader to be the ministerial point person for the organization.

The $2.2-million requested in the supplementary estimates will “cover set-up costs assumed by PCO, such as accommodation, security and information technology requirements, salary costs, as well as operating costs only until the Secretariat of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians receives appropriations,” said Mr. Duchesne, which won’t happen until later in the year. “PCO’s involvement in this initial phase is corporate in nature.”

The new secretariat itself is proposing closer to $2.3-million in appropriations to carry it through from December to the end of the fiscal year, on March 31, 2018, for a total of almost $4.5-million in start-up costs.

  

The executive director, also the CEO of the new organization, will be appointed by cabinet (a governor-in-council appointee), who will serve a term of up to five years, and have the status of a departmental deputy head.

By comparison, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which only oversees the activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, employed 31 people, according to its 2016-17 annual report, to support the committee of five civilians. Its executive director, Michael Doucet, is not a governor-in-council appointee. SIRC spent nearly $4.5-million in 2016-17, with a little more than $5-million laid out in planned spending for 2017-18, according to the report.

Finding permanent space in the national capital region for the new secretariat to work out of and for the committee to meet in is “a considerable outlay at the front end, because of the cost of fitting up an operation,” Mr. McGuinty said.

As The Hill Times reported in January, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness indicated that it could cost about $224,000 to alter a room in the Parliamentary Precinct for the committee’s use. Members will be dealing with sensitive documents and their discussions will be kept secret.

  

Neither Mr. McGuinty nor the Privy Council Office would elaborate on the type of space they were going to move in to.

In his email, Mr. Duchesne would only say that the “Committee and secretariat will have secure facilities from which to operate.”

Mr. McGuinty said he hopes the committee will start meeting to have briefings “within the next two weeks,” and that there are “transitional arrangements that have been made for us,” but he wouldn’t elaborate.

Both the committee chair and the PCO said the number of staff is up to the new secretariat’s executive director to decide.

“Employees will be part of the secretariat, as it is established as a separate departmental entity. In this manner, the secretariat will provide the committee with independent resources and support,” Mr. Duchesne said.

Having that role of the secretariat enshrined in the legislation makes the Canadian committee structure the envy of its British counterpart, said Wesley Wark, a visiting research professor at the University of Ottawa and national security and intelligence expert.

“From my perspective, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians is going to have a difficult birth. It’s going to face challenges. It needs a very strong support in terms of research and advisory support from an independent secretariat. And that secretariat will also have to help it build the bridges it will need between itself and the various elements of the Canadian security and intelligence community,” Prof. Wark told The Hill Times. “It’s all a work in progress, but from my perspective the secretariat is a big piece of the equation, and in many respects the success or failure of the National Sec and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians will depend on the success or failure of the secretariat.”

Prof. Wesley Wark, right, pictured during a 2015 House committee meeting with Chief Stewart Phillip, left, and Robert Morrison, centre, said the Canadian secretariat being enshrined in legislation is the envy of its British counterpart. The Hill Times file photograph

Scott Newark, a former Alberta Crown prosecutor and former security adviser for the government of Ontario, said the secretariat will play an important role given the committee is comprised of Parliamentarians who have other things on their plate outside of national security oversight.

“You want to make sure that there are people who are able to help them raise issues, or proactively raise issues they may wish to consider, or when committee members themselves say, ‘Well what about this,’ you’ve got people who are sufficiently skilled to be able to go out and do that background digging, to prepare the information, to help them, in effect, do their job by asking the right questions of the right people,” Mr. Newark said. This team of people should contain some “policy geeks,” he said, who understand issues ranging from the activities of extremist organizations and counterterrorism, cyber security, as well as people with an operational background in national security and intelligence as well government.

The committee members themselves won’t have a say in the staffing of the secretariat, Mr. McGuinty said.

“We need a fully independent, permanent secretariat staffed up with professionals against objective criteria that go through hiring interview practices that are standard at a senior level in the government of Canada,” he said. “The only position over which the prime minister has any control is the appointment of the executive director, as you know the prime minister does appoint every deputy minister in the federal government.”

Prof. Wark said he thinks the pool of recently retired former senior officials will be looked at to fill the executive director role, but noted that person will have to be carefully vetted for any “baggage that’s of concern” that would keep them from having the necessary independence.

“Are they too close to the security and intelligence community? Are they going to be too pal-sy? Too much a defender of the security and intelligence community?” he said, adding “there are all kinds of examples of people making the transition from the senior ranks of the civil service to other jobs, like agents of Parliament—the privacy commissioner comes to mind for example—in terms of being able to transform themselves into a different kind of role and set aside whatever their professional experience was in the government and adopt very successfully a new kind of role and a new kind of outlook.”

cevelyn@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect that the executive director of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Secretariat will have the status of a deputy head of a department, not deputy minister. It has also been corrected to reflect that the executive director of SIRC is not the organization’s CEO.

 

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians members

Liberal MP David McGuinty (chair)

Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg

Liberal MP Hedy Fry

Liberal MP Gudie Hutchings

Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan

Conservative MP Gordon Brown

Conservative MP Tony Clement

NDP MP Murray Rankin

Liberal Senator Percy Downe

Independent Senator Frances Lankin

Conservative Senator Vernon White