House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition was once a minister, and he knows that as such, one has certain responsibilities. For instance, when people write to complain about the content of television programs, a minister not only has the right but also a responsibility to refer such complaints to the CRTC, which was done in the case of the seven letters. It is, after all, the minister's responsibility to make appropriate references to the CRTC.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Lac-Saint-Jean
Québec

Bloc

Lucien Bouchard Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I may recall that five ministers were caught sending letters of support and, in four cases, letters very specifically advising the CRTC of that support, which means they were directly and unduly interfering with the CRTC's decision-making process.

I want to ask the government how many more letters from the minister it will take to convince the government of the minister's lack of judgment. Does the Deputy Prime Minister share the position taken yesterday by the Minister of Immigration that a minister should not communicate directly with an agency for which he is responsible, thus directly condemning the behaviour of his colleague for Canadian Heritage vis-à-vis the CRTC?

Are we to understand that in the mind of the government, in the mind of the Deputy Prime Minister, there are two codes of ethics, one for the Minister of Immigration and one for the Minister of Canadian Heritage?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition was a minister.

In his capacity as a minister he was required from time to time to write to bodies that were under his authority. Not only did he have the right to contact those bodies he had the responsibility.

It seems to me that when the minister responsible for communications receives complaints from the public about the cost, for example, of cable increases he not only has the right to refer those letters to the CRTC he has the responsibility.

The Leader of the Opposition would be the first person to complain if the minister responsible for communications refused to communicate with the body that develops those kinds of regulations. That is his responsibility. He is doing his job and he will continue to do his job under the guidelines that the Prime Minister has now established.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Lac-Saint-Jean
Québec

Bloc

Lucien Bouchard Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, when we hear the Prime Minister promise a stricter code of ethics for the future, what the Deputy Prime Minister just said is not reassuring. She promises that things will go on as before since there are no objections. I may remind the government that under Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, there were specific rules prohibiting ministers from communicating directly with tribunals like the CRTC.

To show how far removed the Minister of Canadian Heritage is from the real world, I would ask the government to consider the fact that one of the letters that the minister sent to the CRTC and that were revealed this morning is dated October 13, less than two weeks after he received absolution for his first blunder, the letter of support dated March 15. Does the Deputy Prime Minister not realize that the hon. member for Laval West lacks the judgment required of a minister and that he is inept and thus incapable of performing the duties of a minister?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of the letter in question. I would like to table it, along with the other letters that have been referred to, because I think they make the point very clearly that the minister was only carrying out his job, his responsibilities and his function as minister.

What he was responding to was a letter from the member of Parliament for Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt who wrote to the minister complaining on behalf of a constituent about cable television rates.

The minister in his capacity as minister for communications very appropriately referred this letter from the member for Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt to the CRTC. If he had ignored the letter or thrown it in the waste basket, which seems to be the reference of the hon. member, he would have been in breach of his duty.

We believe the minister should carry out his duties in the context of the very strict guidelines that have been established by the Prime Minister to avoid any conflict of interest.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to the Canadian Press, the government's ethics counsellor, Mr. Howard Wilson, had signing authority for federal contracts taken away from him in July 1992 as the result of an investigation by the Auditor General himself. This action was taken against him for having awarded contracts worth close to a million dollars without a call for tenders.

When it was decided to appoint Mr. Wilson ethics counsellor, did the government know that he had his signing authority taken away from him by the Deputy Minister of Industry in 1992?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada have full confidence in the integrity and the ethics of the ethics counsellor.

If the member of the opposition has anything to prove otherwise, let him come forward and make a charge.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I conclude from the Deputy Prime Minister's answer that the government knew and so did the Prime Minister. In this context, how could the Prime Minister hide this information from the opposition? Does the Deputy Prime Minister not recognize that when the Prime Minister consulted the opposition last June regarding the appointment of Mr. Wilson, he himself committed a serious breach of elementary rules of ethics by keeping this information from the opposition?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, at noon, the Leader of the Opposition, in response to the Prime Minister's statement said, and I quote: "We never doubted the Prime Minister's integrity". He said it himself yesterday, he was even consulted on the appointment of the person in question.

The Prime Minister stated yesterday that he takes full and entire responsibility for his ministers' decisions. If the member opposite wants to attack civil servants who are not allowed to defend themselves, let him make accusations.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has said that ministers are handed a set of confidential rules of conduct by the PMO when they assume their responsibilities. This is the minimum we would expect from a government that claims to have a serious interest in integrity. The public and Parliament have a right to see such guidelines so they can judge whether they are kept or broken.

In keeping with the Prime Minister's commitment to integrity and openness in government, would the Deputy Prime Minister agree to table these original guidelines given to the ministers in November so we can compare them with any proposed new guidelines and the government's position on the activities of the Canadian heritage minister?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has promised a full and open debate of the new guidelines. I am sure in the context of those guidelines the commissioner for ethics is going to want to bring all the facts forward.

I hope there will be a full public debate because I know the guidelines will stand the test of time. However no guideline is the measure of a person's honesty.

The Prime Minister said that he was putting his integrity on the line because the hallmark of this government was not determined by what was written down in guidelines, but rather the fact that he and his ministers carried out their jobs with honesty and integrity. Nobody is challenging the honesty or the integrity of the Prime Minister.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, they will not submit the guidelines.

Anyone who has studied the relations of ministers to quasi judicial tribunals knows there is only one guideline that ought to guide their communications. They should communicate only through statutes, orders in council and the submissions to public inquiries.

Yet yesterday the Prime Minister said the only guideline he gave ministers last November on such communications was that they should only do so through the duly authorized officials. Surely a Prime Minister who has spent 30 years in public life, some of them as justice minister, can come up with a better guideline than that.

Are the rest of the government's guidelines on ethics as weak and as poorly worded as this one? If so, what specifically is the government going to do to strengthen them?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, if you follow the rationale of the leader of the third party, basically you would tell the member for Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt, who wrote to the minister on behalf of a constituent who was concerned about the increase in the cost of cable television, that the minister cannot pass his concerns along. The minister has a responsibility in the discharge of his duties to make sure that the cable television system is working properly.

The Prime Minister has set in place is a system where all future correspondence must go through the ethics counsellor. We think that is an interim fair measure. We are looking for a very full and open debate in the House on guidelines that will permit ministers to do their jobs and at the same time will make sure that members of Parliament get the service they deserve from ministers of the government.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Preston Manning Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, what 99 per cent of ministers in other jurisdictions do

in that case is tell the constituent to communicate directly and give the reason why. This is not exactly rocket science.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

An hon. member

That is right.