Bill C-34 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
Don Boudria Liberal
Not active, as of Nov. 7, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)
Oral Question Period
October 31st, 2003 / noon
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely inaccurate and the hon. member should know it.
He knows that the framework legislation that we put forward, Bill C-34, has two components in it, one for ministers, and that the ministers, in any case, are also subject to the code, generally, as it applies to members of Parliament. In fact, there are supplementary requirements for ministers, not less requirements.
Parliament of Canada Act
October 1st, 2003 / 6 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
I declare the motion carried.
The question is on the main motion for third reading of Bill C-34.
Parliament of Canada Act
October 1st, 2003 / 5:25 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
It being 5:29 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the previous question at third reading stage of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
Parliament of Canada Act
October 1st, 2003 / 3:50 p.m.
Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the debate regarding the government's ethics bill.
I find it difficult however to give the government much credit for this long overdue legislation when so many scandals have emerged and continue to emerge on a daily basis.
These ethical question marks take away from the work of government and tarnish the reputation of parliamentarians and Parliament. They draw attention away from key issues that remain to be resolved, such as the continuing difficulties resulting from softwood lumber, the BSE trade concerns with the U.S., and the timely provision of emergency aid in response to crises, such as the recent hurricane that hit Nova Scotia, as well as the VIP, of which I spoke about today.
Meanwhile, long standing concerns continue to be neglected, such as the reduction of our foreign diplomatic presence and reputation, our inability to protect our coastlines, and the shocking state of funding that exists for Canada's military. All these important issues are not given the attention they deserve because the Liberal government remains distracted by one scandal after another.
This is one last attempt to carve out a legacy for the Prime Minister in the final days of his 10 years in power. History books will reveal a different story on the legacy of the government. Beginning in the early 1990s, when the government took office, it campaigned on a theme of ethical government.
Canadians will remember that this is the government that promised, in its 1993 red book, to introduce change to revive parliamentary democracy by improving ethics, elections and introducing parliamentary reform. A decade later these promises have not yet been met and one wonders if the government ever intended to fulfill these promises.
The government was once quick to pounce on the former Conservative government on ethical questions, even though it pursued this path with only the slimmest shreds of evidence. The Liberals continued to follow this road, even after allegations were proven false and millions of dollars were spent, and official apologies had to be given to the individuals under suspicion. That was a disgrace and a great deal of lost money.
At the same time the government faced a long list of scandals and ethical debacles that forced the resignation of four ministers of the Crown.
Prime Minister number one, as I will call him, faces unresolved questions regarding the now infamous Shawinigate affair. Prime Minister number two faces unresolved questions regarding his blind trust and conflict of interest with his multimillion dollar shipping empire.
Canadians unfortunately are not provided the details of the secret meetings he enjoyed as finance minister. Instead, Canadians and Parliament are expected to trust the word of the Prime Minister and his loyal ethics counsellor.
How this situation gives the Liberals the mandate to introduce legislation on the ethical conduct of government is beyond me, but that is what is on the table today.
Canadians now sit and wait as Prime Minister number one sits on his throne long enough to cause Prime Minister number two as much grief as possible and prevent Parliament from doing its job.
The incoming Prime Minister has taken to saying absolutely nothing at all on any policy issue, including legislation that is still before the House and that will be in place only when the current Prime Minister is long gone.
Our new Prime Minister will be the man responsible for implementing an ethics bill, yet his Liberal government has failed to earn the public's trust to set ethical standards. We all know that as we voted a week ago on marriage and now it is talking about decriminalizing marijuana.
Let me tell the House that I have worked with children who were on marijuana and I worked to get them out of an alleyway. They have come to thank me for that. This is another big mistake for the government.
The Liberal government has also failed to hold to the principles of effective parliamentary democracy or accountability. In recent days one example after another of lavish spending practices has cast a deeper shadow on Liberal government fiscal accountability. This is a government however that, in spite of its long list of ethical problems, proposes to introduce ethical reform in Canada's Parliament. We can only shake our heads in amazement and look for a silver lining.
The PC Party supports the principles of improved ethics, parliamentary improvement and electoral reform. For the last decade, PCs have been by far the most effective party in holding this government to account in Parliament and our efforts are now forcing results.
Effective democracy in Canada will be well served by efforts to recognize the need for an appointed, independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament, not reporting to the Prime Minister.
The proposed ethics commissioner will have powers to investigate ethical issues, analyze facts and draw conclusions. That information will be released to the Prime Minister, to the person making the complaint, and to the minister under investigation.
I have to say that the Auditor General we have today does an independent job. She does not hold back. She does what she thinks is right. That is the type of ethics commissioner we should have as well.
The PC Party notes, however, that Bill C-34 discusses only the means to enforce ethics rather than the code of ethics itself. If this bill were to pass, what ethical code would the ethics commissioner enforce?
We note also that although the bill calls for information to be released simultaneously to the public, the commissioner will also provide the Prime Minister with confidential information that will not be included in the public report. That is not right.
In other words, the government is reserving the right to edit the public record and hold back any damaging or unethical findings. The PC Party urges the government to ensure that all relevant findings are made available to both Parliament and the public, all of them, not just part of them but all of them.
We have also raised concerns on the issue of the salary of the ethics commissioner. Currently the salary would be set by cabinet, despite the fact that this could have the negative effect of making the commissioner beholden to cabinet for raises in pay. I would like the government to explain how someone can conduct an unbiased investigation into individuals who buy their groceries and pay their rent.
The PC Party would prefer that the salary of the ethics commissioner be set as it is for the privacy and information commissioners. That is:
That the Ethics Commissioner should be paid a salary equal to the salary of a judge of the Federal Court, other than the Chief Justice or the Associate Chief Justice of that Court, and is entitled to be paid reasonable travel and living expenses incurred in the performance of duties under this or any other Act of Parliament.
My party also has serious concerns that the reports tabled in Parliament will not contain more than a simple statistical list of investigations conducted, dismissed or completed. We trust that they will be considerably more detailed.
Finally, the Progressive Conservative Party is pleased that after many years of appalling ethical conduct, prime minister number one's last gift to Canada will be to impose a stricter code of conduct on his successor. Canadians will wonder, however, whether the timing of this bill is for the good of the country or if it is one last joke at the expense of prime minister number two.
It is the hope of the Progressive Conservative Party that it will not be lame duck legislation and that it will be a first step in leading to improved ethical standards and parliamentary reform in Canada. Canada desperately needs the effective, ethical leadership that it has lacked for far too long.
We can only trust that prime minister number two chooses to improve the ethical standard rather than trample on it as it has been for the last 10 years. Rest assured that the Progressive Conservative Party will continue to hold every government to account and work toward genuine ethical standards and parliamentary reform in Canada.
We look forward to seeing this bill. We look forward to many changes that need to take place.
Parliament of Canada Act
October 1st, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, it says something when the only substantial debate that the Liberals can come up with on this particular bill is to make sure that other people cannot do anything about it, like amending it to make it better. That is atrocious. The Liberals on the other side ought to be hanging their heads in shame. They have come close to coming up with an ethics package that would be useful and workable but it has serious flaws and they will not fix them. I am very disappointed.
I want to talk a little about this whole ethics thing. As we all know it was a little more than a year ago that the Prime Minister came up with an ethics package. One might ask why he would do that. Is it because they were keeping an election promise after 10 years? I do not think so because if they were working on keeping that election promise, one would think they would have brought forward the legislation a long time ago.
The fact of the matter, which is inescapable, and I do not see any Liberal on the other side objecting to what I am saying, is that they brought this forward simply as damage control at a time when the wheels were coming off the Liberal ethical bus. As a matter of fact, I think they have had a tow truck dragging it for the last five or six years. It is a desperate action that they have taken in order to make it look as if they are fixing the problems.
We are in a difficult situation in our party and that is that we have to vote against this package because of its flaws. That produces for us, of course, an extraordinary communication package. I can just see them in the next election going around the country and saying “Here we are, the wonderful Liberal Party. We brought in an ethics package”. Of course they will want the people to believe that they are now becoming very highly ethical. Then they will say “The Canadian Alliance Party voted against it. They are not in favour of ethics”. That is what they will be saying.
Well, I sincerely hope that Canadians will see through that facade and will recognize it for what it is because the occurrences which brought us to this place will not be solved by the ethics package that the Prime Minister announced. I believe that what they are doing is building yet another series of steps that they can take when ethical problems occur so that they can deflect the media interest. I am very concerned about that.
All these breaches that we have heard about have had to do with the executive branch of government: the Prime Minister and the front row of the Liberal Party over there called the cabinet, which is the executive branch in our system of government. Whenever there have been problems, that is from where they have derived. It began, of course, with the Prime Minister himself. He alone has the power to determine whether or not there is an independent inquiry into the thing, and surprise, surprise, he declined. No, let us not find out the truth in this. There was more than ample evidence that he interfered but the results of that are still not in. The new ethics package, which the Liberals have introduced, will not address that problem. It will not require that there be an independent inquiry into such things. It will not require that the minister or the Prime Minister be held to account.
Then we had this dreadful situation with government services and the advertising contracts; contracts being given to advertisers in Quebec, where the only work they did to collect the money was to sign the cheque and take it to the bank. I cannot believe it. No wonder Canadian taxpayers are outraged. We have a government that just loosely gives away the hard-earned taxpayer money.
I regularly hear from constituents that they are having trouble making ends meet and yet their incomes are high enough that they are taxable. I hear particularly from seniors and widows who have a limited amount of income, say $15,000 to $18,000 a year. With that, they have to pay horrendous utility bills and property taxes. Yet the government thinks it is fine for them pay income taxes.
After that money goes to the federal government what does it do with it? It gives it to Liberal friends who presumably contribute to its party during election campaigns, but who do not do anything. They may copy a document that they wrote the year before, put a new date on it, print it again and get another $180,000, or whatever it is that they get for these contracts.
However that money is the hard-earned money of Canadian taxpayers, including those widows who come to my office or who phone me. They want to know what to do. They say that they have expenses but that they will run out of money. They tell me that they have skimped and saved to provide for their future but that after paying high utility bills and all the taxes they will not have enough. Then they read in the paper how some people are getting that money just because of political inbreeding and they are justifiably upset.
The government comes along and says that we will have an independent ethics commissioner because that is what was promised in 1993. That would be wonderful if it were accurate. Unfortunately, it is not. Unfortunately, under Bill C-34 the appointment of the ethics commissioner is, as always, made by the Prime Minister. That is our primary objection to the bill.
When it comes to dealing with ethical breaches on the part of the government, that is the cabinet, what we find is that the ethics commissioner will still be investigating and providing private information and advice to the Prime Minister.
Sure the bill states that the Prime Minister will consult with the leaders of the other parties on the appointment of the ethics commissioner but consultation is left undefined and there is no requirement in that consultation that the Prime Minister actually has to respond if they object.
I find it repulsive that the next time one of the Liberal boondoggles shows up, with a waste of thousands or millions or billions of dollars, the Liberals may haul up some petty little complaint against a backbench MP or an opposition MP and sic the ethics commissioner after them, an ethics commissioner who would have been appointed by the Prime Minister without the concurrence of the other parties.
Some have argued that the ethics commissioner should have the same status as other officers of Parliament. I would tend to agree with that but I would have a further proviso. Since the ethics commissioner would be making judgments that could affect the whole future of another member of Parliament, it should be absolutely mandatory that he receive, for all intents and purposes, the unanimous support of all members of Parliament, instead of just having the Prime Minister appoint him or her.
This is a very frustrating exercise. It is frustrating to the point where one just wants to ask what the point is of it all. What is the point of standing here and arguing, trying to get all those Liberals over there to change their position on this? They do not listen. If they agree with me, let them say so. If they disagree, let them say so. They will not say a thing because they are totally entrenched in their old ways. They will simply vote the way they are told.
The bill will come up for a vote later today and they will stand on command and say that, yes, they agree with the way the Prime Minister wants to do this stuff. That will be the end of the matter and we will have to live with it.
I pledge on behalf of my constituents and all Canadians that we will not rest until there is a procedure in place for a truly independent ethics commissioner, and a truly and transparent set of rules that guide our behaviour so that Canadians can once again put their trust and faith in their institution of government.
Without that, our democracy is at risk, our country is at risk, and our children's future is at risk. We can settle for nothing less.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 30th, 2003 / 5:50 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment of Mr. Forseth on the motion at third reading stage on Bill C-34. The question is on the amendment.
September 30th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.
Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC
Mr. Speaker, I was not particularly surprised by the comments of Liberal members, but I am grateful for the motion introduced by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
However, before I read the motion, I want to talk a bit about the Liberal Party's opposition to this motion. It is rather easy to identify its reasons for opposing this motion.
There is some pretty deep thinking involved here. The party in power thinks that if this is the best country in the world, with the best electoral system in the world and the best government in the world, then nothing should be changed. Except that I will shake up the Liberals a bit by advising them to read a certain UN report—wake up everybody—because we are no longer the best country in the world. Our rating has slipped. The Liberals are so used to being the best that they ensure we are also the best at scandals and fraudulent activities. To this end, they exaggerated and extrapolated their obsession with being first at everything. This is true when it comes to politics, expect that, at some point, we need to slow down. Other people should do that. The courts will rule too on their waste and spending habits, on the somewhat less elegant ways they compensated their friends or those to whom they gave money, later asking for 12% back. This was the case in some provinces or some organizations. Fortunately, that way of doing things has been rectified.
So it is understandable, but perhaps we should look at reality in 2003 and say that examining a position does not necessarily mean one admits to being “the worst”. There is some place between the “best” and the “worst”. Do not worry; if we study this, there will be no problem.
But this debate is on the motion of the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who appears to have been making this a personal issue for a number of years. Permit me to read the motion:
That this House call upon the government to hold a referendum within one year—
I like this part of the motion better.
—to determine whether Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation and, if so, to appoint a commission to consult Canadians on the preferred model of proportional representation and the process of implementation, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.
Personally, I think it would have been much better to ask for the creation of a committee that would hold public consultations and report back in 2006. For reasons I do not understand, they want to make the process more complicated. But it is hard to be opposed to the principle.
We could hardly oppose it, for one simple reason: in Quebec—another distinction or difference—we have not been afraid to engage in this debate and have been doing so for more than 40 years. Mr. Speaker, I realize that you are very knowledgeable about the political parties and politics in Quebec. I am not telling you anything new, but this might be new to a few members in the House.
Over the years, the various political parties tried many times to introduce proportional representation. It was under the René Lévesque government that the process went the furthest with Minister Robert Burns and his excellent deputy minister, Raymond Faucher.
At the time, there was a public consultation process. A bill was also introduced in 1984 concerning territorial proportionality. It was defeated by the caucus after having been supported by the Premier and the leader of the opposition.
So much for transparency in democracy. The Premier and the leader of the opposition agreed, but the caucus defeated the motion for territorial proportionality. At the time, the leader of the opposition was Claude Ryan.
In February—this is a little like what the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is asking for—estates general were held on electoral reform. Countless stakeholders offered their views. These estates general travelled throughout Quebec and there was a large meeting with more than 1,000 people. People were able to discuss which electoral system they preferred or thought to be best suited to the reality of a modern Quebec.
The Liberal Party is currently reviewing the issue and a bill should be introduced during this term. However, there is a small problem. The Liberal Party made a campaign promise to introduce a form of proportional representation for the next election, but after the election they said it would be for the next election, in other words, in five or six years, and that they would review the issue in the meantime.
Forty years might be a long time, but at least we are tackling the issue and working on improving the system. When the government is ready, the work will have been done.
What the Bloc Quebecois appreciates is that the motion by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle does not call for the change to be immediate. That is why we are surprised to see the Liberal's opposition. What we are being asked is to be ready when the time comes, when the change needs to be made.
For example, when we proposed that a commission be set up to address a single currency, they said “Look at the Bloc members. They want us to have the U.S. dollar.” That is not it at all. As they say, when the train pulls into the station, we need to be ready to get on board. So it is better to study the question before something gets imposed upon us. The same goes for proportional representation.
Are we going to wait until we have a federal election turnout of 42% before we address the question of why people do not get out and vote? There is perhaps a defect or shortcoming in the way MPs represent their electorate. Perhaps there is a shortcoming in the amount of work MPs who are not in cabinet do. Perhaps there is a shortcoming in the present electoral system.
If we study this system and reach the conclusion that the system we have is the best, then we stick with it. But if we are confident that the present system is the best, we should not have any problems about comparing it with other hypotheses so as to be able to state at the end of the process that the status quo should prevail.
We are so confident that we do not even want to talk about it; we want to hide it, set it aside, save it. What a great show of confidence.
It seems to me that we are clearly in favour of introducing some form of proportional representation. There lies the question. A form of proportional representation does not mean a uniform system across Canada. There may be a middle ground somewhere. At the very least, there are elements of the proportional system that could help enhance democracy and the representation of citizens in the House of Commons.
Because of the first past the post system, political parties that do well in an election sometimes get blanked out. We find that unfortunate.
This proportional system could have been put forward or examined at the time when the reform of the electoral system was dealt with in committee, along with the new ridings and the appointment of returning officers.
There is also a flaw in the Canadian electoral system in that 100% of the 308 returning officers are said to be appointed by the governor in council. The Chief Electoral Officer—and if ever there were a non-political officer, it is he—has requested the authority to appoint returning officers, through a competitive process, which the government party refused, of course.
In committee at the time, I argued that there should be no hesitation. I am convinced that there are competent Liberals. They may not all be competent, but there must be a few who would go through the competitive process and keep their jobs. However, the Liberals are so sure that their returning officers are good, competent and hard-nosed that they will not consider having a competitive process or proportional representation. That is what I call confidence.
In our internal documents, we have noted that the proportional system is an approach that should be part of a larger effort to enhance political institutions and parliamentarians. The confidence bias the public has for Parliament may be a solution. Under Bill C-34, the ethic counsellor will not be the only one resolving the whole world's problems, but this study could also provide a solution.
We support the principle while at the same time saying that our ultimate goal is to represent the people of Canada well, as long as we in the Bloc Quebecois are here. Our ultimate goal is not to improve the system so that it can be used for another 125 or 150 years and work to our advantage. On the contrary, we want to get out of it following a winning referendum on sovereignty.
However, on the other hand, as long as we are in the system, it is very much to our advantage to ensure that voters in Quebec are recognized in a Parliament whose electoral system could be modernized.
The most important part of the NDP motion concerns public consultations. Bogus prebudget consultations are held. On major international agreements, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade holds consultations that are, more often than not, not very serious. And, moreover, when it comes to something as important as the electing representatives, nothing is said about the way in which public representatives are chosen.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this motion primarily in terms of this need for consultation. Such consultations would lead to an exchange of ideas on the issue and would lead to future replacement models that could work in Canada.
However, we question doing this so early in the process. Studies were doubtless undertaken by various committees, or studies could be undertaken before launching this consultation, to allow people to discuss, using concrete examples, as we heard earlier in this House, those countries which have a different electoral system from our own but which are not necessarily banana republics. There are other countries and other electoral systems.
In representative democracy, the way that representatives are elected is extremely important, since this mechanism translates the public's wishes into the number of seats each party obtains.
There are two major types of voting systems: majority voting and proportional voting. In the majority system, constraints related to governance dominate, while in the proportional system, constraints related to representation are predominant. There are mixed systems as well, aiming at a solution lying somewhere between the two, and that, I think, is what Canada should look into.
Each of these types is divided again according to voting methods. Thus, even though we are in a majority system, there are different kinds of majority systems.
At one extreme, there is the first past the post majority system, the one used in Canada, the United States and Great Britain, the preferential system, as in Australia, and not so far away, there is the two round system used in France. In the last election in France, the importance of the two round majority system became apparent.
On the other hand, in the other type of voting systems, there are proportional elections that can be absolute, as in Israel or the Netherlands, that is with one huge electoral district, or moderate proportional systems with larger or smaller districts, as in Norway, Switzerland and Belgium, with a much higher rate of participation.
We are dealing here of countries with a recognized democratic system, countries that are not in the third world, democracies that could reasonably be taken as inspiration for improvements to our system. From another point of view, some say no, our system is so good that we do not even dare to compare it with others.
Finally, there are mixed systems that combine elements of the majority and proportional systems, for instance those in Germany, New Zealand, Japan, and Russia. There are variations in the mixed systems too. They can be of the reciprocal type, as in Germany and New Zealand, where the seats attributed proportionally are intended to compensate for those filled by a majority. That is one model we might consider as suitable, or at least which might provide Canada with some inspiration.
In contrast, in Russia and Japan, it is a mixed cumulative system, and the element of compensation is lacking. When correcting any failings of the current system, we must not make voting more complex for the voters, thus pushing them farther away from their representatives; we must ensure that they at least understand who their member of Parliament is, and that there are no more ridings and no more party representatives. Thus, if this study is done, one priority must be to maintain the close link between the voter and his or her representative.
There is no sense in trying to correct a problem by creating an even bigger one. That is why I am describing systems that exist in other countries. I think that if we implemented this in Canada, it would have to be done slowly and in stages, to allow the public to properly understand the improvements that we want to see made to the current electoral system.
Of the 53 most stable democracies—in other words, where democratic elections are held at regular intervals, countries with at least 3 million inhabitants and a multi-party system—there are 25 that have proportional representation, 15 that have a first past the post system and 13 with mixed member proportional. Consequently, we can deduce that there is no magic recipe or miracle formula.
If out of 53, there are 25 with proportional representation, 15 with first past the post and 13 with mixed member proportional, that means that culturally and politically, people have to identify the system that best suits them during the development of their country, and that electoral systems can evolve, as society does.
The first past the post system may still be used—this was pointed out earlier by the Liberals—in many major democracies, such as the United States. But we must not forget that George W. Bush was elected with a 50% participation rate and that roughly 50% of those people voted for him. Therefore, roughly 25% of the Americans elected their president.
In this regard, there was a minor problem in a state where his brother was governor.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 12:10 p.m.
Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB
Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to address this particular bill. As we all know, Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, would appoint an ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer.
It frustrates me, as I am sure you as well Mr. Speaker, when we hear members like the previous speaker spout off about things that they feel so passionate about. However, when it actually comes down to demonstrating a commitment to that by making changes in this particular place which would reflect that, which would strengthen our institution of democracy and give more accountability and transparency, which were the words that the member used himself, they refuse to make any commitments. They refuse to vote for changes that would improve the institution of Parliament and improve the ability for Canadians to have a voice in this particular place.
This ethics bill is interesting. What is the reason that we actually have to debate instituting a position of an ethics commissioner in this place? A reflection of the last 10 years will paint a stark picture and give reasons why in fact we are debating this sort of legislation.
Elected officials are held in a higher regard. There should not be questions of conflict of interest. There should not be ethical questions about the ability of ministers to have any influence in their own dealings when they are sitting in those particular departments, but in fact we are debating those very problems.
It is a reflection, unfortunately, of the problems we have seen time and time again from the current government. It started from the top and spread out in an incredible way to all parts of this particular government. This is one of the reasons that this whole debate about the need for an ethics commissioner has come about.
It was not so long ago that I was a student at the University of Ottawa studying political science and economics. I was here and had the fortune of working for a member of Parliament. At that time it was a Liberal MP who currently sits in the House. We often joke about that. But I remember during that time, the Liberals were in opposition and there were many things being debated because it was just before they were going to form the government.
I remember a real void in that particular group. There were a few MPs who really talked passionately about changing this place when they were in opposition, but I started to see a stark difference as that election campaign began between the things that were being said and where the party was going once it actually formed the government. I really lost hope.
Being a first generation Canadian--my family came here as refugees when I was just a baby--the idea of freedom and democracy has always meant a lot to my family, especially my father who taught me about that. That was what inspired me to get involved in politics at a younger age.
I remember that during that transition period I was so disappointed with what I actually saw taking place with the commitment to freedom and democracy, and how to strengthen those principles. It drove me far away from the interest in politics, as someone who came here in an idealistic way and who wanted to get involved in creating a stronger institution for the people. It drove me away from wanting to be involved here because I saw no commitment to that sort of change. Instead, I embraced initially this new movement which, being a new movement, had a lot of challenges, but it talked about bringing those sort of values to Parliament, especially the idea of parliamentary reform.
That is one of the reasons I joined the Reform Party and got involved along with many younger colleagues who got involved in the early 90s. Later we had an impact on that particular process and that particular thinking, and could even get involved in elected office, which is rare to see in many other traditional parties.
However, one the reasons I did get involved, which I mentioned and why I switched from the Liberal Party, was because of the fact that I saw a real void and a lack of commitment to that parliamentary reform. Now the Liberals talk about it in the same way they talk about democratic deficits and strengthening institutions of Parliament, but when it comes down to voting for change, they only go with half measures.
This is a particular example of that when we look at the bill that we are debating, Bill C-34. The amendment deserves merit and deserves some serious debate, which we are not getting from this particular government. The amendment has been put forward because we support the government in its effort to improve Parliament, but again its measures are only half steps.
In trying to improve this bill we would adopt the amendment by having “an all party committee of the House of Commons search for those persons who would be most suitably qualified and fit to hold the office of Ethics Commissioner”. Then the said committee would recommend to the House of Commons the name of the person to hold that particular office. What would be wrong with taking that bit of power away from the Prime Minister?
Currently, the Prime Minister controls almost every aspect of this House. When we go to this particular nomination, it will be appointed by the Prime Minister and then put to the House for a vote. As we have seen in many votes in the past, Liberal members will be whipped to follow the Prime Minister's choice and this particular ethics counsellor will not be independent of Parliament to judge the actions of members of Parliament and their dealings. That person would, in essence, become a lapdog for the Prime Minister.
This minor amendment, that has such profound effects on the way this position would be installed, would seem to me to be something that the government would embrace. What does it fear? What does it have to lose to take that bit of power away from the Prime Minister? Its own backbenchers complain about the fact that they have no say once they come to this particular place.
This slight amendment would strengthen the ability for this House to have more transparency as the previous member talked about. It would allow an independent ethics counsellor to review certain complaints that may be brought forward by members of Parliament against other individuals and report independently of the Prime Minister. It would add a bit of democracy to this place, a bit of freedom that unfortunately continues to be eroded by a government that wants to hang on to power and a Prime Minister on his way out who still does not want to relinquish any of those particular things that would provide effective checks and balances in this place.
That is something that totally amazes us. We know that in the recent past we saw a rift in that particular government when we in the official opposition put forward a motion dealing with committee chairs being selected by secret ballot. We did not want our committees whipped either because, let us face it, committees are supposed to be an independent wing of Parliament. They are supposed to be independent from the House, independent from the government, and they are supposed to study issues and make legislation better. What better way to do it if we could have the chairs of those committees selected by member of Parliaments who they thought were the best candidates for those jobs.
Ultimately it was a tough vote for the government because of the soon to be Prime Minister who has talked about this democratic deficit. There was a huge rift in that particular government when that vote came to the House and in fact that was a small victory for democracy, not for the opposition and not for our goals but for democracy and for Canadians.
Here is a chance for that same spirit to continue, where we could have true transparency by having an independent ethics commissioner chosen by a committee that would select the best possible person for the job and make the recommendation to Parliament.
I want to briefly reflect on the amendment that has been put forward by the NDP. It is something that we did in fact support. We would not be afraid of having the requirement of a two-thirds majority in this place for the appointment of an ethics commissioner. As my hon. colleague from Elk Island had mentioned, there were some complications as they pertained to the Constitution.
On that matter, anything that we could do in this place to evoke change and improve the conditions of this institution, of course, we would support. We want to see Parliament strengthened, we want to see ministers behave in the appropriate manner, and we want Canadians to have the confidence in this place that they should have.
We only wish that instead of talking the talk, the government would actually take the steps necessary to put these sorts of things in place and strengthen the institution's democracy. It is with a great sense of sadness that, unfortunately, we have to debate legislation like this because of the performance of this particular government over the last number of years.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 11:30 a.m.
Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB
My colleague says it is arrogance. I absolutely agree.
The Prime Minister has been in politics for 40 years. Forty years is great. However as everyone else knows there is a time when it is time to go. The country needs a new vision. We need new ideas. I think there should be a fixed term. Twelve years is a pretty good time to be in the political arena because a person becomes burned out. Here we have 40 years. What do we get? We have a ship adrift.
Then of course we have the Senate where senators are politicians for life. Senators are not accountable to anyone, yet they want to make decisions. How can the people of Canada speak? That House is not even elected. What do we have then? We have a de facto opposition taken over by the provincial governments. Then we have the tugs and the pulls of federal and provincial relationships.
Finally something penetrated across the floor and into the government that there was something seriously wrong. It took a long time. There were many scandals. Now the government has come forward with Bill C-34 to try to tell the people of Canada that, yes, there is transparency in the House and, yes, the government will attend to it.
I have read editorials and it is quite generally accepted that elected officials are held to higher standards than the average Canadian. We sit in the chamber and make laws. Therefore, there is an expectation that we have higher standards. It is a given that elected officials should be held to a higher standard than average Canadians. As such, we agree with the intent of Bill C-34 to have an ethics commissioner who can look at affairs of members of Parliament, as well as the government, and to whom we can talk if we feel the rules have not been followed.
However the problem with Bill C-34 is the government is not willing to let go. It is afraid. I do not know why the government is afraid. We tell other countries what to do. The government will not appoint an independent ethics commissioner.
Last year or the year before that the issue with the minister responsible for CIDA came before the House, after I wrote the commissioner. In my dealings on that issue with the minister responsible for CIDA, I came to realize that it was very necessary to have an independent ethics commissioner. It became obvious that it was necessary to have independent officials of the House.
My friend on the other side just asked a question about whether this responsibility should be shared with other officers of Parliament. I say absolutely. These officers should be independent because the Parliament of Canada is independent.
In Bill C-34, while the government technically uses the words an “independent ethics commissioner”, will that person really be independent? The answer is no. The prime minister will appoint the individual in consultations with the opposition parties. What consultations? With the government there has never been consultations. The government does not have a great track record with the Canadian public in reference to transparency. The government does not have a record of cooperating with the provinces, so why would it cooperate with opposition parties.
The simple question being asked by everyone is: Why can there not be a real independent ethics commissioner? Why does the government want to have a noose around the neck of the ethics commissioner? Is it because if he gets out of line the government can pull him back? What does the government fear? There is nothing to fear.
We in the House want to stand up and be counted so Canadians will see that those who are making the laws are people of integrity. I will not deny the fact that everybody in the House is working very hard for Canadians. I therefore have to ask why the government wants a noose around the neck of the ethics commissioner.
Why does the government want to control the ethics commissioner? It is because over the last 40 years that the Prime Minister has been in the House those members have created this power and grabbed it, which s why there is tension between the provinces and the federal government. The Liberals want to grab all the power and do not want to let it go.
We just have to look at how much the Prime Minister's Office controls this country. We just have to look at how much power is concentrated in the Prime Minister's Office. Senators in the other place are appointed by the PMO. They do not run in elections. Individuals who are rejected by Canadians end up in the Senate making rules for the country. Where is the voice of Canadians?
The amendment brought forward by this party would address that concern and would bring back some respectability to the House. The amendment asks that the bill go back to committee so we can really and truly have an independent ethics commissioner. Canadians need to feel confident that an independent ethics commissioner is looking after their interests.
I hope the government will listen. I hope we will not go the same way we have gone year after year, election after election, and not see Canadians turn out at the polls.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 11:20 a.m.
Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-34. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work that the member for Elk Island has done on the bill. He has taken the lead in this debate and has brought out the flaws with Bill C-34.
The amendment proposed by the Canadian Alliance tries in reality to address the bigger concern that we on this side of the House have with the bill. Let me go back and tell members why we have a very serious concern with Bill C-34.
I was elected in 1997. That was the time I put a foot into the political arena. One glaring issue that became quite clear was that Canadians were losing confidence in their elected officials.
Before I carry on, I would like to congratulate my other colleague sitting in the Speaker's chair, who I think is sitting there for the first time and looks pretty good in it. That does not mean my colleague will get my vote.
Back to the business of Bill C-34. As I was saying, when I was elected in 1997 I found that people held elected officials in extremely low esteem. About three or four days ago I was listening to CBC Radio. The issue was why young people did not vote in current elections. A study was commissioned by the Chief Electoral Officer, a copy of which I received yesterday in the mail, and I am sure every member of Parliament received it.
An interesting issue came up on the radio talk show. The host was interviewing a couple of young people from Carleton University in Ottawa, the capital of our country which one would say is a place where politics is very active. The general responses I heard from the young people were they were disconnected from politics. One young girl said that because she had low esteem for politicians, she, to put it in her words, did not trust politicians. Why did she not trust politicians? All she wanted was for the politicians if they made promises, to keep their promises.
The erosion of confidence in young people about their elected officials is a very serious issue. I am glad the Chief Electoral Officer commissioned a study to look into this. Practically everybody in this House works very hard, whether they are on that side of the House or this side of the House, and have the interests of the country at heart, but we seem to have sent out a wrong message to the electoral of Canada. They seem to have decided to disconnect themselves from politics after hearing about some of the things that have gone on here. They feel elected officials cannot be trusted. That is a serious blow. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that many times this impression comes from the governing side as well.
Since I became an MP, I have heard on many occasions the so-called famous words of Prime Minister Trudeau that MPs were nobodies outside Parliament Hill. That was the Prime Minister of Canada talking about elected officials. Talk about having no confidence in these things.
At one time I even heard a minister say to her public official not to worry about members of Parliament but to do what the government said.
The bureaucracy, which is supposed to be an independent arm, should understand that the people of Canada speak through Parliament, through their elected voices. This is the House where we debate. This is the House where the people of Canada have a voice through their elected officials, not the other House because they are not elected. This is the place where the people of Canada can speak. Yet the Liberal government, from Prime Minister Trudeau to the ministers today, have sent out the message that the House is irrelevant, that hard-working people in the House are not relevant. Only the government, the Privy Council and the bureaucracy are relevant. That is the message I got.
As a matter of fact it has been compounded in my dealings with the public service. On many occasions this attitude comes across. The director of Revenue Canada in Calgary, the immigration officer in charge of immigration in Calgary, these public officials have told my office to leave them alone because they know what is best. They are the ones who are not cooperating. They do not understand the fact that democracy is the essence of transparency.
What is ironic is that we in Canada spent a huge amount of money lecturing other countries. Even today we have a delegation of African parliamentarians visiting Canada to look at good governance and transparency. This is what we preach to them. We tell other countries that if they do things this way, then we will look at assisting them in their development needs. That was one of the foundations of NEPAD which the Prime Minister talked about when he was at the G-8 in Kananaskis. We tell everyone out there that transparency, democracy and accountability are the key elements in good governance.
The disconnect continues. Therefore, what do we have? Canadian people are reacting and their reaction is not be good news for us. They are not voting. We can see the numbers of people who vote go down and down. Do we want to make the House of Commons, the voice of the people in Canada, an irrelevant body?
At the end of the day this message seems to have penetrated the governing party. After all the corruption and scandals that we have seen or that many of us have alluded to on this side, the message that there is a serious problem with the confidence of Canadian people in the House of Commons has finally penetrated the government
The prime minister in waiting talks about the democratic deficit. Why is he talking about democratic deficit? His party has brought us to this condition where the democratic deficit is now a glaring reality.
At the end of the day the people of Canada look at the House of Commons and its elected officials and do not see transparency. They have become disconnected and disillusioned. When my colleagues on this side of the House, and I am sure on that side too, go to their ridings and talk at town hall meetings, it is always the same. The degree of frustration is very high.
This is why we have talks of separation. Western alienation and separation are issues about which people talk. I want to make it quite clear that I am not in favour of separation. However that discussion is out there. Why? Because of the level frustration with the House not wanting to reflect the wishes of Canadians. From where does this all come? It comes from the governing party.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.
Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak briefly about the bill before us, Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer), and the Canadian Alliance amendment to send it back to committee.
First I want to mention that the NDP has long been a supporter of the concept of a code of ethics for parliamentarians. I am proud to say that one of my early colleagues when I became an MP in 1997, Gordon Earle, the former member for Halifax West, was first to put forward a code of ethics, in the 36th Parliament. I want to talk briefly about that because I think it sets the tone for this.
Gordon Earle, a man of great integrity and a friend, really did see his job here as one of inspiring and strengthening people's confidence and trust in the democratic process. He felt that integrity, honesty and straight talk were the order of the day, that they are what we are here for, and if we cannot do that then we should be somewhere else. Really there was not a day that went by that Gordon Earle did not spend time talking about this.
He put forward a private member's bill on that very issue. I want to read to the House a couple of the thoughts he put within his private members' bill.
He prefaced his remarks by saying that over the years people have become so cynical and pessimistic concerning their elected officials, and we all know that is true, and that elected officials must not only conduct themselves in a manner befitting of trust but they also “must be seen to be carrying out their responsibilities beyond reproach and free from conflict of interest”.
His bill was based on the following principles, which I think are really central to this debate today. He said:
Parliamentarians should have the highest ethical standards so as to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of parliamentarians and Parliament.
Parliamentarians should perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny.
Parliamentarians should avoid placing themselves under any financial or other obligations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Parliamentarians upon entering office should arrange their private affairs to prevent real or apparent conflict of interest. If such does arise, it should be resolved in a way that protects the public interest.
Parliamentarians should not accept any gifts or personal benefit in connection with their office that may reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity. Parliamentarians would not accept any gift other than those received as a normal expression of protocol and courtesy.
No parliamentarian would be permitted to be a party to a contract with the Government of Canada under which the parliamentarian receives a benefit.
Parliamentarians would be required to make a disclosure of all assets once every calendar year and would be required to make public disclosure of the nature, although not the value, of all assets each year.
Finally, to ensure that public interest and the highest standards are upheld, there would be an ethics counsellor to advise parliamentarians on any question relating to conduct.
So now here we are back to the ethics counsellor, six years later. I am happy to say that the NDP is very much in support of this concept. After Gordon Earle put forward that private member's bill, we saw it reintroduced in this Parliament's first session by the then NDP leader, the member for Halifax.
That bill of the member for Halifax asked for a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons for a vote in favour of an ethics commissioner. That is the central point I want to address here and now. It goes back to the idea that we must have complete confidence in the choice, in the person selected.
That means we have to be above politics. We have to make sure that not just 50 plus one but a large majority of people in the House from all parties are willing to say, “Yes, this is a person we can trust to carry forth the idea of ethics in the House”. That is an amendment we are very strongly putting forward.
The amendment before the House of Commons today calls for sending the bill back to committee to have “an all party committee...search for those persons who would be most suitably qualified and fit to hold the office of Ethics Commissioner”. We support that amendment.
The NDP supports having an ethics commissioner for all parliamentarians. We support a code of conduct which would oversee a regime for the disclosure of the private interests of MPs and senators, including those of their immediate families. We support having an ethics commissioner who gives advice to parliamentarians on issues of ethics and conflicts of interest.
The NDP also feels that the public should have access to the complaint process. The ethics commissioner should have the power to receive and investigate complaints made by the public about improper behaviour. The public should be able to make complaints directly to the ethics commissioner and not just to a member of Parliament. It goes without saying that frivolous accusations should not progress to grievances; this process must be taken seriously. We must look for assurances from the government that complaints from the public will be treated seriously by an ethics commissioner.
A vote in the House of Commons to accept the appointment of an ethics commissioner should require a two-thirds majority of the House, as I have already stated. The NDP made an amendment at committee on this issue and unfortunately the government side voted it down. In our estimation, a simple majority vote of the House to support an ethics commissioner would not go the distance in giving parliamentarians and the Canadian public confidence in this office. Again, the ethics commissioner must have the trust and support of all members of Parliament to have the confidence of the House of Commons.
In conclusion, we support the bill in principle. As I have noted and am proud to say again, a couple of our members have been instrumental in bringing forward the language and principles of the bill. I was proud to read some of the references from the former member for Halifax West, Gordon Earle, in the 36th Parliament. We support the principles of the bill. We believe that the amendments improve the selection process of the ethics commissioner and we support them. However, we remain adamant that this process must be backed up by a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons in terms of the approval of the actual ethics commissioner.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 11:05 a.m.
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by the hon. member for St. John's East. He did a very good job in articulating his point of view.
Contrary to the 1993 red book which was co-authored by the member for LaSalle—Émard, the Liberals are breaking their promise not to appoint an independent ethics counsellor. In fact they voted against the Canadian Alliance motion sometime ago to appoint an independent ethics commissioner.
As part of Bill C-34 that we are debating today, the ethics commissioner will be appointed by the Prime Minister. The ethics commissioner will be rubber stamped by the Liberal majority. The ethics commissioner will report to the Prime Minister in confidence and in private.
Does the hon. member think that the ethics commissioner will be a true watchdog overseeing the ethical standards which are already so low in the Liberal government?
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 10:40 a.m.
Norman E. Doyle St. John's East, NL
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on Bill C-34. I am particularly interested in saying a few words on the amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“Bill C-34...be referred back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 4 with the view to ensure that:
(a) a standing or “an all party” committee of the House of Commons search for those persons who would be most suitably qualified and fit to hold the office of Ethics Commissioner; and
(b) the said committee recommend to the House of Commons the name of a person to hold such office”.
My party supports this amendment because it is a good amendment. I cannot see why anyone would not support it. After all, this is public money that the government is spending. It is the hard earned dollars of taxpayers that we are talking about here.
Why would we not want an independent individual, arm's length from government, to oversee the ethics of the people who are spending this money on behalf of the people of Canada? Why would the government not want an all party committee to do the search and find a truly independent individual who would report to Parliament?
The public would then know that we do not have an ethics commissioner who is the lapdog of government, or an individual who is a friend of the Liberal Party of Canada acting as an ethics commissioner for the people of Canada.
It is ridiculous that we should even be talking about this amendment today. The government should already have this amendment in its bill. An all party committee of the House of Commons should be the process to be used to appoint an ethics commissioner.
We all know that an ethics commissioner should have some ethics. If an ethics commissioner were to comment on and preside over the ethics of a minister or the Prime Minister of the country, then his or her own ethics should be above reproach and scrutiny.
One way we could ensure that the ethics commissioner is indeed above reproach is to have an all party committee of the House of Commons do the search. After all, we should have absolute confidence in the ethics commissioner to do what is right.
When we get right down to it, is it fair to ask any future ethics commissioner to go poking around and judging the very people who appointed the individual if that person is not a truly independent individual?
Therefore, one has to ask the question, is the government afraid to have a truly independent individual appointed? Is the government so caught up in scandal, wrongdoing, graft and corruption that it cannot bear the thought of allowing a truly independent person to be poking around in the government's bag of secrets?
We should not even be talking about this amendment today. The amendment should already be included in Bill C-34. After the numerous scandals of the government, it should be truly rushing to have an independent person appointed as the ethics commissioner.
We all remember the main feature of the 1993 election campaign was a promise by the Liberal Party to establish new standards of ethics. It has certainly done that. The Liberals have established new standards of graft and corruption, and standards which the people of Canada are very concerned with.
The Prime Minister, for instance, intervened with a Crown corporation to benefit a business of which he had once been a part owner. At least three ministers have been forced from office for conflicts of interest. A fourth has been given safe refuge as ambassador to Denmark. If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner, I wonder if these things would have occurred?
The Minister of Canadian of Heritage, for instance, broke the guidelines. According to the rules, she should have resigned her cabinet position. However, the Prime Minister, going against his own rules, chose to protect his cabinet colleague. One has to wonder if we had a truly independent ethics commissioner, whether that would have happened?
The government is now proposing new legislation establishing new ethics commissioners whose appointments can be controlled by the government majority. That is not the way to go if we want to give the people of Canada confidence that their money is being spent properly and that their ministers are acting in the way they should be.
Remember the observation on Shawinigate by Gordon Robertson, the distinguished former clerk of the Privy Council, who wrote the first conflict of interest guidelines for Prime Minister Pearson. Mr. Robertson noted that there had been no specific provisions governing the Prime Minister because it never occurred to anyone that a prime minister's actions would require guidelines. It was not until this government made a show of appointing an ethics counsellor and then made a sham of the office by having it report not to Parliament, as has been promised, but to the Prime Minister of Canada. That makes a sham of the ethics commissioner.
The most notorious loosening of the rules involved the so-called blind management trust. We are all very well aware of that. For decades cabinet ministers in the House were required to put their assets in an absolutely blind trust. If one pursued one's private interests, one stayed out of cabinet and if one served the public interest, one cut off all contact with one's private assets. A choice was made. That is the way it worked way back when.
The government changed that rule deliberately. It deliberately broke the separation between private interest and public interest. It created a system where a minister could look after his or her private interests and at the very same time he or she was purported to be acting in the public interest.
If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner acting for the people of Canada over the last four or five years in particular, I am convinced that the scandals that have plagued the government and the people of the country would not have occurred, or at least would have been a whole lot less serious than they were.
As a footnote, but to make matters worse, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that this system had been used by ministers of former governments. He knows that is not true, but he has not had the rectitude to correct the record of Parliament.
I do not know why the government lets ministers abandon blind trusts. I do not know if that was done specifically to meet the requirements of the Prime Minister-in-waiting, the member for LaSalle-Émard, but he was certainly quick to take advantage of the looser system that had been established. As the Minister of Finance for the country, he knew very well how he could take advantage of that system.
Some time ago, under pressure, the member for LaSalle--Émard, the individual who will be the Prime Minister of Canada, announced that he was divesting himself from his giant shipping company, Canada Steamship Lines. He admitted that during the time he was Minister of Finance he held 12 separate private meetings with his company officials regarding business activities of the multi-national private company that he personally owned. I really do not know if people are truly aware of the seriousness of that.
The Prime Minister-in-waiting--the person who was second in command in this country, the most powerful position outside of the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Finance--held 12 separate private meetings with officials of his own company while he was sitting around the cabinet table of Canada talking about tax havens, environmental problems, shipping standards, and all kinds of things pertaining to the operation of his own company. He sat around the table with his corporate officials on 12 different occasions and had 12 different meetings while he was number two in power in Canada.
For the record, I do not believe he had these meetings to make himself any richer than what he already was. He came here as a rich individual, and I do not believe he needed any more money. F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that the rich are not like the rest of us. He probably did it because he thought the rules that applied to others should not apply to him The former Minister of Finance felt that the rules that had been established really did not apply to him, but did apply to everyone else. If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner who was capable of delving into these problems, would this have happened?
Whatever the motive, the government broke down the wall between private and public interests. That is what it amounts to. Even the member himself, the Prime Minister-in-waiting, now admits that the system fails the test of appearing to be fair. We always hear that not only must the system be fair, but it must have the appearance of being fair as well. What is clear is that the tailor-made system was not recommended by independent, outside experts who could examine the current rules and regulations and come up with some really good ones to make cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister truly accountable to the people of Canada.
Justice Parker, who conducted a public formal inquiry into the Sinclair Stevens affair, which I am sure all members remember, warned specifically against the type of arrangement that we have today. Justice Parker defined conflict of interest in his report as:
--a situation in which a minister of the Crown has knowledge of a private economic interest that is sufficient to influence the exercise of his or her public duties and responsibilities.
The minister need not act on that knowledge. Justice Parker did not find that Mr. Stevens acted on that knowledge. He was required to resign simply because it was alleged that he had done nothing more than what the member for LaSalle--Émard has set limits on doing on 12 separate occasions. That is worth noting.
That was the standard in Canada before the Liberal government deliberately lowered the bar on ethics in this country. Simple knowledge of a private economic interest was enough to constitute a conflict of interest. Is that not interesting? Simple knowledge of a private economic interest was enough to constitute a conflict of interest. We are all very much aware that for eight years the member for LaSalle--Émard, the prime minister in waiting, regularly acquired that kind of knowledge. That is not in dispute. The member himself admitted that he regularly acquired that kind of knowledge.
According to the Prime Minister, Justice Parker's definition of conflict of interest is at the heart of the government's code of conduct for ministers. He has repeatedly said that in the House of Commons.
Here is a very interesting quote from former Liberal Prime Minister Turner who said in Parliament on May 12, 1986:
In public administration a minister has the burden of proof, the duty to show that what he is doing is beyond reproach. The burden of proof is not on Parliament. It is not on the opposition, nor the media. The burden of proof is on the minister.
That is what former Prime Minister John Turner said on May 12, 1986. But the new looser system of the managed blind trust does have its own clear rules. Canadians have a right to know whether even these rules were respected. Article 7 of the agreement stipulates that if at any time while this agreement remains in effect it appears that an extraordinary corporate event is proposed or threatened which might have a material effect on the shares of an asset, the supervisors may consult with and obtain the advice, direction or instruction of the public office holder.
The then minister of finance was allowed to be briefed only if first, Canada Steamship Lines had an extraordinary corporate event, second, if it had a material effect on the asset, and third, the supervisor was unable to handle it on his or her own. We are asked to believe that that happened 12 times in eight years, with the former minister of finance, the prime minister in waiting, and Canada Steamship Lines.
The Prime Minister says that while he has no knowledge of the subject of these 12 meetings, he is satisfied that each of them met the criteria of article 7. Why? Because Howard Wilson said so. The member for LaSalle--Émard agreed and the Prime Minister declined to do his duty and find out if his new loose rules were respected or whether they were broken. Again this points out the need to have a truly independent ethics commissioner who will be appointed by an all party committee of the House.
The member for LaSalle--Émard says he excused himself, that he stepped aside from the cabinet table whenever there was a possible conflict of interest. However, more than the vast majority of companies, Canada Steamship Lines is critically dependent upon a wide range of federal laws and regulations, including the tax system. The question has to be asked, was the then minister of finance outside the room whenever taxes were talked about, or environmental laws, or shipping regulations, or safety standards, or changes in international laws or treaties?
Hopefully the government will agree to have an all party committee of the House look at this issue and make recommendations for a truly independent ethics commissioner.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 25th, 2003 / 10:20 a.m.
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in today's debate on Bill C-34 regarding the ethics commissioner. I already spoke to the bill at second reading stage.
As members of the House know, the bill would appoint a Senate ethics officer whose duties and functions would be assigned by the Senate regarding the conduct of its members and most important to us here in the House of Commons, an ethics commissioner whose duties and functions would be assigned by the House of Commons.
All members, and indeed all constituents, are concerned with the conduct of its members and the administration of ethical principles by the members of Parliament in this place.
The return of the bill to the House of Commons for debate this week is very interesting and perhaps very timely. We all know that the bill is part of the Prime Minister's ethics initiative first announced in May of last year, a time when he and others in his caucus were increasingly under the ethics magnifying glass.
The bill was born out of public necessity, not through foresight and careful planning. Furthermore, and as is all too often the case with the government, the Liberals use the right words but shift the meanings in such a way that what most Canadians expect and what the Liberal government delivers are often two entirely different things.
They say “independent ethics commissioner” but we all know that since the prime minister would make the choice there is no real independence. The consultation process would be with the leaders of the parties in the House and then there would be a vote following in the House itself. Remember that the prime minister does not have to follow any recommendations that are made and the confirming vote in the House would undoubtedly be a vote in which all Liberals would mysteriously vote in favour of the prime minister's choice regardless of who the person is and what that person thinks about him.
The House of Commons ethics commissioner would work under the general direction of a committee of the House of Commons, presumably the committee on procedure and House affairs.
It is appropriate that the ethics commissioner would perform the duties and functions assigned by the House of Commons for governing the conduct of its members of the House of Commons. A code of standards would be established and at some point would become part of the Standing Orders by which we all abide.
I trust then that the committee responsible for drafting the code would take a truly a non-partisan and honest approach to this very important task.
I will commend one aspect of the bill that I certainly can support. I believe it is important to recognize that a ministerial investigation can be initiated by a formal complaint from a member of Parliament or Senator and the fact that the results of such an investigation will be made public.
That sounds very good and I certainly agree with it. However I am concerned that the public report could be sanitized by removing all confidential information and what power that report might have after that is a moot point.
If there has been a breach of ethics, I firmly believe that Canadians have a right to know. What I am not pleased with is the lack of clarity as to whether a minister of the crown, a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary would be held accountable under the same rules that would apply to all other members of Parliament. This is assumed but it is certainly not specific in the bill.
Many years ago the Canadian Alliance addressed the whole issue and in our policy statement we said:
We will facilitate the appointment of an independent Ethics Counsellor by the House of Commons. The Ethics Counsellor will report directly to the House of Commons and be given the mandate to investigate, and where applicable, recommend prosecution for conflict-of-interest infractions by a Member of Parliament and/or his/her staff.
I strongly favour a high standard of ethical conduct by government and parliamentarians. I believe this is a core value in our democracy and one of the main reasons why the Canadian public sometimes views many politicians and politics in general with disdain because we simply do not measure up to the mark.
There are members of the House, past and present, who have abused the trust that Canadians have placed in them. The end result is the democratic deficit that is apparent all across Canada today: voter apathy, low voter turnout and contempt for many politicians.
This is not to say that my Canadian Alliance colleagues and I are in any way opposed to a code of ethics. Quite the contrary, I believe that ethics and moral standards are at the very core of what we do, so much so that we must strive for and maintain the highest standards possible. The Liberal lowest common denominator is simply not acceptable to us.
If we truly want a code of ethics that applies to all current and future members of the House we must have an ethics commissioner who is chosen by all, not appointed by and answerable only to the Prime Minister himself. To do otherwise will do all Canadians a great disservice in this exercise.
I believe that we need to give active consideration to having a truly independent commissioner being approved not by just a simple House majority but by both government and opposition parties as well.
Unfortunately, when the final vote is scheduled for the bill the government majority will prevail here in this place and, in the end, the ethics commissioner will be nothing more than a political appointment of the Prime Minister and confirmed by the Liberal majority of the House.
The one way that this may be overcome, of course, is to make this a truly free vote. It would be most refreshing if we saw a truly free vote on the government benches, not the type of free vote that the Liberal government has shown time and time again, most recently in the vote on the traditional definition of marriage, which is so important to the country, when cabinet is whipped and pressure is exerted on backbenchers to violate their consciences and not stand up for the majority wishes of their constituents.
Once again I note that in my home province of British Columbia the ethics commissioner is chosen by an all party committee that makes a recommendation to the premier, who must then obtain a two-thirds confirming vote by the assembly in order to make the appointment. Alberta has a similar process.
Let us be clear: the bill is primarily a damage control exercise. When minister after minister was shown to be in conflict and either removed from his or her posting, and we see frequent changes on the government frontbench in this place, or shipped off to Denmark or shuffled off to be quiet on the backbenches, the Prime Minister simply was forced to act. The bill did not come out of the Liberal red book, although the Liberals made that promise back in 1993. It came from the anger of Canadians all across the country who are simply fed up with the way this government handles its ethical standards.
Like a good Liberal, the Prime Minister checked which way the wind was blowing and quickly came up with a poorly thought through plan. The result is the bill that we have before us today.
The ethics commissioner should be totally and completely politically neutral. I question whether under this bill that will ever be the case. For a government that has had a decade to draft and bring a bill forward for public debate, this is a poor, last minute approach to somehow substantiate the Prime Minister's legacy and leaves much to be desired.
If this is the best the Liberals can come up with in a decade of ministerial mishaps, then shame on them, and we really are concerned about the future of the country.
Parliament of Canada Act
September 22nd, 2003 / 6:10 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this debate on Bill C-34. As we are aware from speeches in the House both today and earlier, there are many who have great concerns about the current state of ethics in government and how the current government proposes to address these concerns in the current legislation.
Let us remember first and foremost that we are privileged to be a multi-party democracy where there is a parliamentary opposition. The opposition serves as the conscience of government, acting in a way to curb unethical behaviours as well as to advance political perspectives other than those favoured by the government.
We see how important an opposition is to the workings of government when we reflect on comparable circumstances in single party states. The fact is that no matter how concerned the government of a single party state may be for the welfare of its people, corruption is far greater and far more institutionalized than is found in a multi-party democracy such as Canada's. That is due in no small part to the role of the opposition in bringing government unethical behaviours to public light and in seeking that justice be done concerning unethical behaviours.
Some might argue that ethical breaches in our current government are best addressed through public awareness, through the actions of the opposition and the actions of our Canadian investigative media. These people would argue that an ethics commissioner is not necessary or is acceptable in whatever flawed form is proposed. The fact is, while there is an active opposition in Canada and a degree of quality investigative coverage by media, both need the assistance of an independent oversight body in order to best curtail government ethical wrongdoing and to bring the wrongdoers to justice.
Let us remember that a majority government must effectively be shamed into acting against its own transgressions. If we have a government with no sense of shame, and I believe that to be the case with our current federal government, raising issues of ethical malfeasance in the House of Commons becomes little more than today's news. The government becomes too accustomed to simply shrugging off matters and assuming that gaps in public memory will ultimately save it from being at the mercy of enraged electors. Since when have we seen the current government act independently or as motivated by opposition criticisms to fundamentally change the cronyism that seems to be so readily associated with abuses of power?
This leads us to a point of debate on the legislation before us. Regrettably, Canadians need an ethics commissioner. I say “regrettably” because one would like to think that those who hold such esteemed elected public office would shirk from being associated with any actions that in any way could be called into question ethically. Unfortunately, political leadership can be visionary and charismatic or it can lead by example into an ethical cesspool. When one reflects on the Prime Minister's reactions to so many ethical concerns raised about his behaviour with public funds in matters associated with his own riding, when one sees an attitude of virtual indifference on his part to how his behaviour would appear to any reasonable person, then one can see why there is so much ethical abuse at other levels of government.
If the leader is using his position in an unethical manner, subordinates use that as a cue to what is acceptable behaviour on their own part. Let us remember that in the disgrace of Enron in the United States, as well as that of WorldCom, what was noted in both cases was a culture of deceit extending from the most senior levels downward. I would hate to think that our current government, from a leadership perspective, may be viewed as demonstrating an Enron-like culture, but there is no escaping the analogy in my view and to my regret.
We live in a world that is very different in terms of ethical concerns from the world of even a decade ago. Even a decade ago there was still some belief that conscience and deeply held beliefs would guard from corruption those in senior positions in politics, business and the professions. In terms of the professions such as law and accounting, we placed our confidence in their self-regulatory regimes. Accountants regulated accountants. Lawyers regulated lawyers.
The idea was that the accountants were in the best position to assess and discipline the breaches of ethics of other accountants. Yet what the accountants had and what the lawyers generally still have is something approaching the ethics commissioner being proposed under Bill C-34, an oversight body that is not independent in fact or in appearance. It is only after the Enron scandal and its related impact in Canada that public accountants have realized that their self-regulatory model was inadequate. They are now instead in the process of supporting the creation of a totally independent oversight regime, independent in fact and appearance, something the current federal government could use a few lessons from in my view.
Under Bill C-34, what the Liberals have suggested is the creation of an ethics overseer who really is not independent at all. As proposed, the ethics commissioner would be appointed by the prime minister and that choice would be ratified by a vote in the House of Commons by a majority government.
It is true that the prime minister would have to consult the leaders of the other political parties, but the scope of that consultation has not been defined. Essentially, the prime minister could say to other party leaders, “This is who I have chosen. What do you think?”, and then simply ignore any feedback he receives.
The ethics commissioner would be responsible for investigating misconduct of MPs from all parties. It is therefore absolutely mandatory that the commissioner be totally neutral from a political perspective. The appointment process outlined in the bill sets the foundation for just the opposite circumstance: an individual who could be biased in favour of the ruling party that chose him or her for the job.
All parties should approve the appointment so that the commissioner may be viewed as being truly independent in fact and appearance. Otherwise, the government majority will prevail in hand-picking its so-called independent watchdog and skewing any possible perception of fairness.
I am also concerned about the appearance and presence of accountability within this system. Some time ago I sent a survey to every household in my riding. One of the questions asked constituents to rank several issues in terms of their importance. The number one issue was not health care, it was not taxes nor was it defence. The overwhelming majority of respondents identified government accountability as the most important issue facing our country today.
That is where I am coming from in making my points today. The Canadian people continue to yearn for a government that remains consistently committed to the highest standards of ethical behaviour, from the leadership downwards. The Canadian people continue to be disappointed in governments that once in power seem to forget the hope for change that brought them to power in the first place. Those who continue to believe in ethics in government may be viewed as demonstrating the triumph of optimism over experience. Since there is little cause for optimism in the context of the behaviour of the current government, one can only hope to see changes as matters evolve on Canada's political landscape over the next year.
Observations include the following. The bill is part of the Prime Minister's ethics initiative first announced in May 2002. It is often the case with this government that it uses the right words, but the meanings are shifted in such a way that the results are confusing.
The term “independent ethics commissioner” is misleading. Since the prime minister will make the choice, there will be consultation with the leaders of the parties in the House and there will be a confirming vote in the House. This sounds good, but we must consider that consultation with the leaders does not mandate that the prime minister may change his mind if they disagree, and the confirming vote in the House will undoubtedly be a vote in which all Liberals will vote in favour of the prime minister's choice.
The Senate ethics officer is appointed for an initial seven year term and is eligible for reappointment. The House of Commons commissioner's term will be an initial five year term and the commissioner is eligible for reappointment. The House of Commons ethics commissioner will work under the general direction of a committee of the House of Commons, presumably the committee on procedure and House affairs.
The ethics commissioner will perform duties and functions assigned in the House of Commons for governing the conduct of its members when carrying out the duties and functions of their office as members of that House. This means that a separate code will be established and will become part of the standing orders. It is this code that the commissioner will enforce.
The commissioner's supervision of cabinet ministers will be about the same as now. There is private, confidential advice to them and to the Prime Minister.
The fact that an investigation of a minister can be triggered by a formal complaint from a member of Parliament or a senator is positive, as is the fact that the results of such an investigation will be made public.
It is not satisfactorily clear that a minister of the crown, a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary can be held accountable under the same rules as those applying to ordinary members of Parliament. This is assumed but it is not specific.
We are in favour of a high standard of ethical conduct by government and parliamentarians. It is the Liberal version of ethics to which we are opposed. The Liberals, undoubtedly, will try to characterize us as being against a code of ethics if we do not vote for this bill. However we must emphasize over and over again that we object to this interpretation.
We object to the fact that an ethics commissioner appointed by and answerable to the prime minister will have jurisdiction over backbench and opposition MPs. Our primary objection is that the ethics commissioner will be appointed by the prime minister without a meaningful role by rank and file members of Parliament. The bill contains a provision for consultation with party leaders but no requirement.
The bill does not change the relationship between public office holders and the ethics commissioner. He or she will continue to administer the prime minister's code and provide confidential advice to the prime minister and to the ministers. If an investigation of a minister is requested by a senator or an MP, the ethics commissioner would be obliged to investigate it but any public report arising from this investigation could be suitably sanitized by withholding any information considered confidential.
Scandals have plagued the Liberal government and this will probably not be preventable or subject to exposure under this legislation.
Coming back to my point, the Canadian people do yearn and continue to yearn for a government that remains consistently committed to the highest standards of ethical behaviours from the leadership downward. The Canadian people continue to be disappointed in governments that once in power seem to forget the hope for change that brought them to power in the first place.
Those who continue to believe in ethics in government may be viewed as demonstrating that triumph of optimism over experience. Since there is little cause for optimism in the context of the behaviours of the current government, one can only hope to see changes as matters evolve on Canada's political landscape over the next year.