Skip to main content

Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, has optimistically declared that the new national security and intelligence committee of Parliament "will set its own agenda and report when it sees fit."

Well, maybe. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and presumably his successors, will appoint all nine members of the committee. An incisive report by the Library of Parliament has pointed out quite a few limits of the committee members' powers under Bill C-22, which will set the rules for the committee.

The committee is modelled on Britain's, with seven MPs and two senators. In the United States, things are very different. Because of the constitutional separation of powers, the Senate intelligence committee is not subordinate to the executive branch of government.

The Library of Parliament points out that C-22 doesn't grant the broader powers that the British Parliament has enacted for its intelligence committee in the Justice and Security Act in 2013, after some years of satisfactory experience.

But that's precisely why we should be patient, even if the Trudeau government has some steely authoritarianism underneath its ostensibly sunny ways.

Any new parliamentary committee needs to learn to walk before it runs. As yet, we have no idea whom Mr. Trudeau will appoint to this certainly new and supposedly independent committee.

But it is fairly safe to say that most members will not have substantial experience in security and intelligence – perhaps none of them will.

These novices will have to exercise their common sense, and sometimes a degree of healthy skepticism about what security and intelligence officials tell them.

The Library of Parliament report pinpoints what is perhaps the least satisfactory clause in C-22. On the dissolution of Parliament, all nine members of the security and intelligence committee lose their status as such – as if the ensuing election automatically turns them into irresponsible demagogues – and nothing is said about any reappointment.

This new, untried committee should build on experience. It should not be frittered away.