Debates of May 1st, 1995
House of Commons Hansard #191 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was code.
- Code Of Conduct
- Bala And District Lions Club
- Tax Inequity
- Ontario Elections
- Grand River
- Workers's Rights
- West Coast Fisheries
- Rights Of The Child
- Labour Relations
- Organ Donation
- Biennial Convention Of The Liberal Party
- National Unity
- Gun Control
- Pearson International Airport
- Social Assistance
- Members Of Parliament Pensions
- Winnipeg Jets
- Bosnia And Croatia
- Labour Relations
- Official Languages
- Volunteer Work
- Non-Governmental Organizations
- National Defence
- Government Response To Petitions
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
- Committees Of The House
- Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act
- Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation Act
- Bankruptcy And Insolvency Act
- Committees Of The House
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Code Of Conduct
- Lobbyists Registration Act
Questions On The Order Paper
Kingston and the Islands
Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, Question No. 171 will be answered today.
Question No. 171-
Questions On The Order Paper
May 1st, 1995 / 3:30 p.m.
Stephen Harper Calgary West, AB
With regard to the closure of Canadian Forces Base Calgary, ( a ) how much will it cost to clean up the entire base, including both barracks, training grounds, etc., to a state where the grounds could be resold or returned to the lessor, and how are those costs allocated, ( b ) what other similar clean-ups have been done, and how much did they cost, ( c ) what renovations and improvements were done to CFB Calgary in the last year, and how much did they cost, ( d ) what costs will be incurred to move all equipment and personnel from CFB Calgary to Edmonton, ( e ) what changes will be needed at CFB Edmonton to accommodate the personnel and equipment transferred from CFB Calgary, and what are the associated cost estimates, and ( f ) what additional renovations/maintenance costs are anticipated over the next 10 years for CFB Edmonton?
Questions On The Order Paper
Newfoundland & Labrador
Fred Mifflin Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs
The following table addresses parts (a) to (f) of the question posed:
Questions On The Order Paper
Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON
I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.
Questions On The Order Paper
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Is that agreed?
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
Questions On The Order Paper
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Before proceeding to orders of the day I wish to inform the House that pursuant to Standing Order 33(2) Government Orders will be extended by 13 minutes because of the ministerial statement.
The House resumed consideration of the motion and the amendment.
Code Of Conduct
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Resuming debate. I give the floor to the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who had approximately 12 minutes left.
Code Of Conduct
Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to conclude the remarks I had started a little earlier today regarding the whole issue of public morality. It has to be pointed out in this debate that the whole issue had been left lying around for a few years under the previous administration. Of course, as the old saying goes, what is left lying around gets dirty. It is true.
Legislation was introduced in 1987 as Bill C-114. It was then reprinted as Bill C-46, reprinted again as Bill C-43 and referred-in 1991-to a parliamentary committee. The committee put forward, in its report dated June 1992, a new draft bill. The government used that draft, together with our recommendations, to introduce new legislation, i.e. Bill C-116. The new bill introduced in the House by the government was found lacking, but the minister responsible, Harvie Andre, refused to amend
the bill to make it acceptable, with the result that the whole issue was dropped. No wonder some people think that legislators did drag their feet on this issue. It is true.
I do not intend to deny what happened. I took part in the discussion and sat on the committee examining Bill C-116, and I realized that so much time had gone by that some documents were becoming badly outdated. For example, the report of the Parker Commission on the dealings of Sinclair and Noreen Stevens was just about forgotten and we did not have a clear recollection of its recommendations. It was not easy to examine the whole issue.
However, the issue has not lost any of its importance and we must deal with it. That is why I congratulate the House leader on this motion. Hon. members will remember that the red book stated quite clearly that this issue and that of lobbying would be discussed.
We have dealt first with the lobbying issue. I congratulate all members who contributed. They did a great job. The bill has now reached the third reading stage in the House, and I am sure it will be passed in the next few days. We are now ready to move to the next issue, that of a code of conduct and a conflict of interest code for members of both Houses.
It is important to examine that issue right after concluding committee hearings on lobbying because both issues are related to a certain extent, which is a good reason to proceed right away. Also, it is important for the government to act now in order to show the public that it definitely intends to settle these issues and not to drag things out, as we saw under previous governments.
By introducing this bill, the government is acting with good intentions. As our House leader said earlier, all kinds of questions will be raised. I remember Bill C-116 and all the errors it contained. It was so badly drafted that people under one set of rules were subject to another set and vice versa.
You have to remember that this whole conflict of interest issue really affects three groups. First, there are the members of Parliament and the senators, the so-called ordinary parliamentarians. Then, there are the parliamentarians who are also public office holders; in other words, the ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Finally, there are the order in council appointees, or the top brass of the public service.
So, you have these three groups and then you have a very interesting area, the one where some parliamentarians are also public office holders, because under the Westminster parliamentary system in use in Canada and in several other countries, members of the executive branch of government sit in the House. They are both ministers and parliamentarians. Under such circumstances, you have to determine which system they will be subject to. Will they be subject to the rules applying to public servants and other public office holders or to the code developed for parliamentarians? This was an interesting question which was examined by the committee studying Bill C-43 and then Bill C-116.
We concluded, or rather the government at the time concluded, since our recommandations were slightly different, that the system applying to public servants had to apply at the same time to ministers and other public office holders who are also parliamentarians, but that for backbenchers there should be a separate system. The reason for this type of distinction is simple; it is because a system administered by the government cannot bind members of Parliament.
I find it difficult to imagine that the hon. member for Bellechasse, for example, would agree to be judged by a system reporting to the Prime Minister. Indeed, I would not blame him for refusing. I would not agree to it myself if I were a member of the opposition. Consequently, what we need is a committee reporting to the House to judge conflict of interest cases for parliamentarians.
But, of course, at the same time, we must establish a system by which the member for Bellechasse or another member may ask questions of the Prime Minister concerning the conduct of ministers, questions like the following: "Mr. Prime Minister, since you are the boss, how can you tolerate such and such an action by one of your colleagues and what measures will you take?"
Of course, in a case like that, we would not expect the Prime Minister to say: "No, I am not in charge of these cases, an officer of the House is". The Prime Minister must have the authority to take the necessary disciplinary measures and he must also be responsible in order to be in a position to answer the questions asked by all those who want to make our Parliament accountable, as they have the duty to do.
We will examine issues such as these in our committee. We already know that, in this House, it will be the committee on procedure, of which my colleague opposite, the hon. member for Bellechasse, is a member. Since he is a law professor, I know that he will be able to bring significant input to the work of that committee, as will several other parliamentarians. They will all help us produce a code of conduct that is both acceptable, so that people are not discouraged from running for public office, and strict enough to ensure good conduct and public morality.
I recognize that it is not always easy to rule in this area. I had to deal with such cases for several years when I was the opposition critic for government administration. I look forward to the proceedings of the committee.
But I disagree with some hon. members from the opposition who want to exclude from the committee members from the other place.
I must tell you that the code of conduct has to apply not only to members of the House, but to senators as well. I said it at the beginning of my speech and I will say it again, I ask members who propose that senators not be included in this exercise to reconsider their position because we may be talking about amending the Criminal Code, the Standing Orders of the House, the Rules of the Senate and the Parliament of Canada Act. These laws and some of these rules need to be amended by both houses of Parliament. I am sure that members opposite know that, as does the member for Bellechasse.
So we have to work together to be able to make the necessary changes to the rules in this place and in the other place. Why would we want to adopt a code of conduct regarding conflicts of interest for the members of this House and exempt the members of the other place? I have to tell you that I do not understand why people would want to do such a thing. As a matter of fact, just recently, some members opposite asked questions about a member of the other place who allegedly found himself in a conflict of interest situation or something like that. We know that it was not true, that the allegation came from the media and that the reporter who made the allegation had to retract, but the fact remains that such questions were asked.
That proves that both houses of Parliament must work together to make better rules. That is what I intend to do personally as a parliamentarian who is interested in this issue.
Therefore, I urge the official opposition to withdraw its motion to exempt the Senate from the rules that we want to adopt for parliamentarians.
I hope we work together to arrive at a good code of conduct for members of both Houses of Parliament. In so doing I hope, because it is not the whole picture, that in part we will contribute toward a better acceptance and a better view by Canadians of what we do to govern the country honestly and appropriately. I am sure that is the intention of all members of both Houses.
Code Of Conduct
Jim Gouk Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is extremely important that members of Parliament have some clearly defined rules for dealing with lobbyists. It is important that the Senate have this as well but perhaps it is not incumbent upon this House to enact rules for the unelected Senate. It first has to clean its own house and then develop its own rules.
Lobbying has long been one of those grey areas where the concept has been accepted but frowned upon depending upon who was actually doing it. If organizations such as firefighters lobby to make Parliament aware of problems within their profession, it is considered to be quite acceptable. If business lobbies for a particular advantage, then it becomes less clear. If that business lobbies using its own existing personnel, it is generally considered more acceptable than if it hires somebody to lobby on its behalf.
There is a bit of hypocrisy in this attitude. Lobbying is either right or wrong. We should not be making judgments based solely on who is doing the lobbying. This is one of the first issues that Motion No. 23 should address.
Another area of lobbying that needs to be addressed by Motion No. 23 is what constitutes excessive lobbying. If lobbying is a legal activity with no definition as to who can do it or how much can be done, how can any level of activity be considered excessive under the current unregulated structure?
A lack of specific guidelines for elected members and for that matter the lobbyists themselves have caused many problems for both. It is appropriate to spend some time reviewing one of those problems.
During the 1993 election the Liberals took aim at the Pearson Development Corporation contract to redevelop terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson International Airport. The main hue and cry that they raised was that of excessive lobbying which led to a largely patronage deal which should be cancelled.
Was this contract an example of excessive lobbying? Did that lobbying lead to a patronage deal? To determine this, let us start at the beginning.
Terminal 3 had already been privatized and there was no particular objection to this. In September 1989 the Matthews group submitted an unsolicited bid for the privatization of terminals 1 and 2. The proposal was not accepted. Two and one-half years later in March 1992, the government issued a request for proposal for the privatization of terminals 1 and 2.
One of the Liberals' claims was that the original bid was a form of lobbying and that the original proposal gave the proposers an unfair advantage in their bidding in 1992. If the request for a proposal had followed on the heels of the unsolicited bid, there may have been some justification for such an argument.
Two and one-half years later, a claim such as that is totally invalid. Although there were and still are no guidelines for lobbying, the Liberals pushed forward with their claim that lobbying in the Pearson contract was excessive. This brings me back to my earlier question, how can lobbying be considered excessive to the point of justifying the cancellation of a contract if there are no guidelines to compare it to?
A motorist was driving down the street at the legal speed limit on a clear day when another driver pulled out in front of the motorist and a collision occurred. At the inquiry after the accident it was determined that the speed limit followed by the
first driver was too high given the limited visibility for vehicles entering the street in that area.
The inquiry recommended that the speed be reduced. This does not make the first driver guilty of speeding. The speed limit cannot be retroactively reduced. This, however, is exactly what the Liberals were trying to do with regard to lobbying in the Pearson contract.
There is no definition of excessive and no evidence that there was any abnormal amount of lobbying in the pursuit of the contract. The Liberals, who by this time had formed the government, cancelled the contract citing excessive lobbying and resultant patronage.
At the time of the last election the Pearson contract was very controversial. Allegations of excessive lobbying and patronage flowed freely. Prime reasons for these accusations were not those directly involved in the contract. Rather, it was the fact that it was put together by the Mulroney government which was by then looked upon as unscrupulous and possibly corrupt.
The Pearson contract was a victim of election rhetoric, which I was caught up in as well. I was one of the voices that questioned whether or not the contract holders were entitled to any compensation if the accusations levelled against them were true.
The leader of the Liberal Party stated that if the Liberals formed the government, they would review the contract process and cancel that contract if they found problems in the process. So far so good as far as I was concerned.
As promised, the new Prime Minister set out to review the contract. For that purpose he appointed Robert Nixon as the sole person responsible for carrying out the 30-day review. Nixon was a long time Liberal Party supporter, father of a sitting Liberal MP and was rewarded for his $80,000 report by being appointed chairman of Atomic Energy of Canada, not exactly an auspicious beginning for a party decrying claims of patronage regarding the signing of the Pearson contract. The Nixon review did not interview under oath, talked only to certain people excluding some of the principals involved, and did not allow an opportunity for any of the testimony to be rebutted.
The report stated that the deal was bad and should be cancelled but did not produce one word of evidence to support that claim. Again the general allegation of excessive lobbying was raised as one of the major justifications.
The Nixon report was the rationale for the Liberal's Bill C-22 which not only cancelled the contract but allowed the government to decide for itself who got compensated and how much they got. It also allowed the government to insinuate the deal was crooked because of tactics such as lobbying without allowing the accused to clear their names and reputations in a court of law.
This is a very interesting strategy for the Liberals and it would have worked was if not for all the evidence to the contrary that started to surface. At that point they tried to expand their rhetoric to suggest that it was not a good deal financially but the evidence does not support this either.
The legislation was subject to a debate in the House of Commons. When it reached the committee stage, I started to realize that the flaw in the process may not have been in the awarding of the contract but rather the way in which the contract was cancelled. Many of the witnesses requested by either me or the Bloc representative did not appear and the Liberal dominated committee refused to press those people to attend.
The most significant person to be requested and not appear was Robert Nixon. In his case it was not a matter of not showing up but rather a refusal of the majority of the committee to invite him. The committee response to the request was: You have his report, what do you need him for?
One witness of note who did appear was Sandy Morrison of Air Canada who was the main anchor tenant in the contract. Air Canada spoke strongly in favour of the contract and requested that it proceed as quickly as possible.
By this time it had been decided by the government to set up another Liberal long time supporter and former law partner of the Prime Minister, Robert Wright, to review the compensation claims and to make a report to the minister. From this report the minister would decide who got paid and how much they would receive. Compensation was to be limited to out of pocket claims only with no consideration of any further request including lobbying costs and third party claims against the Pearson Development Corporation.
The report and the decision would be confidential and would be protected from access to information by making it a cabinet document which is protected for 20 years. I questioned why this process was bypassing the transport committee and cloaking itself in secrecy. I did not receive a satisfactory answer.
I believe it is proper that we examine the results of the Liberals' false vendetta against the Pearson group so that we can fully understand the importance of lobbying guidelines and what happens when no such guidelines exist.
As I earlier stated, when it appeared the accusation of excessive lobbying alone would not be enough to justify the cancelling of the contract, the Liberals then tried to suggest it was not a good financial deal to cover up the fact that the real
reason for cancelling the deal was political gain. As evidence later showed, the Liberals knew from the very beginning that it was not a bad financial deal but they had painted themselves into a political corner and they did not know how to get out.
Through access to information, I came into the possession of a secret government document dated October 29, 1993, supplied to Robert Nixon for his review of the Pearson contract. This document was supplied by William Rowat, associate deputy minister of transport. In that document it is clearly stated that the rate of return to the crown from the contract is considerably better than the crown construction option and that the Pearson Development Corporation return on investment was endorsed as reasonable by both the Department of Finance and an independent financial consultant hired by the government.
A second government document dated November 4, 1993 later appeared through court disclosure which further elaborates on the financial feasibility of the contract. This second document was also used to give direction to Nixon. It pointed out that in order for the crown construction option to generate revenues equivalent to the private sector deal, a real revenue growth factor of 10 per cent per year until cost recovery was completed would be necessary.
Historically speaking, the government management growth in revenues has been at or below inflation, projected for the purpose of the analysis at 3 per cent per annum. Using a more realistic real revenue growth rate of 3.5 per cent per year, the crown construction option would have realized $250 million less over the term of the contract than through the privatization method.
The second government document also discusses the possible cost of cancelling the contract. The options identified are: negotiate or expropriate, which leave the government open to damages ranging from $500 million to $2 billion; or legislate, which could limit the government's liability but leave it open to many more potential problems including severe capacity and congestion problems, increased costs and the undermining of government leasing and contracting processes if it is seen as a precedent.
The document also discusses the possibility of renegotiating or restructuring the contract, but it makes it very clear that this is not a desirable option. Nowhere in that document does it suggest that Nixon should examine the deal to see if it is clean and if so, to recommend that it proceed. From this it seems very obvious to conclude that Nixon was directed toward a very specific outcome.
I have never questioned the government's right to cancel the Pearson airport contract. In light of all the information that is now available, I might question the wisdom of the cancellation, but not the right to do so. With that right goes an obligation to see that justice is done, which does not appear to be happening in the handling of this contract.
All of this has been initiated by the Liberal government which was looking for an election issue and seized upon Pearson airport as a viable victim. It utilized a lack of any lobbying guidelines as a way to try to justify its actions. What is the impact of this flagrant attempt to utilize the lack of lobbying guidelines? It can be looked at by a complete factual and documented review of the impact on Pearson airport.
I will pass over commenting on that part because I will be short of time. There is so much evidence on this contract, but I have to move along.
Allow me to mention another aspect of this whole process in which the fact that the Pearson International Airport is involved at all is wholly coincidental. That aspect is the rule of law.
Under Bill C-22 the government is allowed to cancel a signed contract and decide for itself who gets what compensation. It also allows it to insinuate that the deal and those involved in it were crooked without allowing the accused to clear their names and reputations in a court of law.
What that government action does is pronounce a group of Canadians guilty until proven innocent and then removes their right to prove their innocence. This action relates much more to a dictatorship than it does to a democracy.
All of this started as a result of an opportunity for the Liberals to seek political gain by utilizing the fact that there were no guidelines for dealing with lobbyists or lobbying activities.
Motion No. 23 will not only provide clear and long overdue guidelines for all MPs when dealing with lobbyists, it will protect the public from unscrupulous action by a political party. It may even protect the Liberals from their own tendency toward election rhetoric.
Code Of Conduct
Alfonso Gagliano Secretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, the goal of the motion before us today is to strike a special joint committee of the House and the Senate to review the weighty issue of parliamentary ethics.
We are counting on this committee to establish a practical and realistic code of conduct which will help balance the official responsibilities and personal interests of MPs and Senators. This issue obviously affects each member of this House personally while having a wider, much more fundamental scope: it also affects all Canadians. Our conduct as individuals and as a group, in fact, determines the level of confidence that Canadians have in parliamentarians. The way we carry out our daily tasks as parliamentarians molds our institution's image. The trust of
those who elected us to this noble House is either earned or lost by our conduct from day to day.
The important issues of trust, credibility and ethics are at the heart of the agenda we presented to Canadians during the last election campaign.
In fact, we devoted an entire chapter of our red book to parliamentary integrity. We clearly stated the principles whereby we recognize the following: "The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable". We also recognized that the Canadian government would be unable to play the constructive role which it must unless, first and foremost, it restores the integrity of our political institutions.
Since being elected 18 months ago, we have made considerable progress in this area. We reinforced the code of conduct for cabinet members and senior officials. We also appointed an ethics counsellor to help our officials apply these rules correctly. We drastically reduced the range of political appointments.
My colleague, the President of the Privy Council, examined the role and operations of 120 agencies, commissions, councils and advisory committees. At the end of this exercise, on February 16 he announced that 665 positions filled by order in council appointments would be abolished. He ordered 73 agencies to be closed down and 47 others to be restructured.
This initiative alone will save the government as much as $10 million annually. However, it is more than just a matter of efficiency and saving money. It is also an indication that the government does not intend to use political appointments as a way to reward its supporters.
We also reformed the pension plan of members of Parliament which for too long has been a source of controversy. Last week, there was a debate in this House on a bill that will provide a framework for the activities of lobbyists, and today, we are about to create a committee to develop a code of conduct to guide senators and members of the House of Commons.
It is this systematic, methodical and orderly approach to questions that touch on ethical issues that is now helping to restore public confidence in our political institutions.
In an impressive speech yesterday to a meeting of Liberal militants in Trois-Rivières, our Prime Minister once again stressed the importance of integrity and ethical conduct. He pointed out that after 18 months in government, no member of cabinet had resigned or been dismissed for ethical reasons. During a comparable period, the previous government saw at least six resignations from cabinet.
I am not saying we are perfect. To err is human, and errors of judgment do occur, but by acting prudently, according to clearcut rules, we will, both individually and collectively, manage to restore the trust of our fellow citizens.
The role of parliamentarians is difficult and often complex. Society expects all individuals to be as free as possible to manage their economic interests. It also expects that those in public office will not, in the exercise of their duties, be involved in matters in which they have personal financial interests. Some feel that Parliament should enact stiffer laws, others fear that stricter rules will discourage competent individuals from becoming involved in public affairs.
We are looking for a balance. We want rules strict enough to prevent practices contravening the code of ethics and to maintain the reputation of Parliament and parliamentarians among the public. However, we do not want rules that discourage competent individuals from entering public life and serving their fellow citizens. We must strike a balance that allows us to attract the people who are best prepared and most able to lead the country and have them governed by a set of rules that will keep them above all suspicion.
Conflicts of interest are not new. They have always existed. What has changed are people's and taxpayers' attitudes and levels of tolerance.
We have a practical and precise code of ethics governing members of Cabinet and their staff, parliamentary secretaries and senior public servants. We have nothing, however, for members of Parliament and senators. Traditionally, the public has felt they had little importance, individually, in the decision making process. I must disagree.
Members of Parliament have increasing influence on the process. Their role in the various parliamentary committees is growing in importance. Their influence in their individual caucuses is expanding, and their votes on bills before the House is always decisive.
On each issue, in each debate, members of Parliament must reflect, analyze the effect of their decisions on the lives of their constituents and decide on their individual approaches. They are entirely free to defend their viewpoint in the legislative process. They may propose changes and amendments, they may influence their colleagues' thinking. This process of analysis and choice is repeated hundreds of times during the mandate of a member of Parliament. This is why we have a Parliament and this is why members are elected.
However, throughout our term of office, we remain full fledged citizens. We are all taxpayers and consumers. Most of us are parents and many own property. In this regard, we are very much like Canadians as a whole. We may therefore assume that
these essentially undistinguishing characteristics have very little influence on our behaviour as legislators. Some criteria are more regional or specific in nature.
Some parliamentarians share the concerns of their constituents, in areas such as agriculture, fisheries or natural resources for example. Family businesses raise some problems because they encompass a whole range of assets, profits or debts and financial interests. It is usually interests such as these which are covered by conflict of interest legislation.
Maybe we should first of all agree on what constitutes a conflict of interest. There are several definitions. Mr. Justice Parker defined the real conflict of interest as a situation where a minister-or a member of Parliament or a senator-is aware of private financial interests sufficient to exert some influence on the performance of his other official duties and responsibilities.
Therefore, rules must be defined in order to prevent the financial interests of parliamentarians from exerting an influence on the decisions they make while exercising their duties. Several control methods have been tested over the years. Some have proven to be efficient. The first one is disclosure, that is the disclosure of one's assets to a designated person. This information can then be recorded for reference purposes or be made public. When their private interests are known, the holders of public office are less tempted to act in their own interest.
Prevention forces parliamentarians to divest themselves of interests or associations which may distort their judgment, either by selling the interests to third parties with whom they are at arm's length, or by placing them in blind trusts. Finally, relinquishing these interests will prevent parliamentarians from intervening in matters involving personal gain.
Any code of ethics contains a number of such controls. It will be up to the special joint committee members to review these mechanisms and to decide whether they should apply to MPs and senators or whether it would be more desirable to resort to some other kind of control. The committee has all the latitude it needs to consult experts, and to consult with those to whom the code of conduct will apply, in order to come up with a firm, clear and realistic code. The committee will have to take into account the fact that parliamentarians carry on other activities in parallel with their legislative work.
Members from all parties manage significant budgets, their budget as MPs. They must use this money wisely and prudently. MPs represent the citizens of their riding. It is an important part of their mandate. This requires regular attendance and the necessary amount of time. Finally, MPs are often required to represent Canada and Parliament abroad.
These many facets of an MP's mandate raise a number of questions which the committee will probably want to review in detail. First, the committee will certainly want to set rules to avoid conflicts of interest. It will certainly want to question the judiciousness of allowing MPs and senators to pursue other professional activities during their mandate. It will also want to analyze the conditions surrounding our parliamentarians' public or private visits abroad. We want to make sure that these activities are entirely compatible with the Parliament's objectives of transparency and integrity.
The committee will certainly want to review all the rules we are subjected to at the present time. They need to be evaluated to see if they are sufficiently clear, strict and practical for every parliamentarian to be able to abide by them. Finally, the committee has been given the specific mandate to study the relationship between parliamentarians and lobbyists. I believe all members want lobbying activities to be well defined and they will be happy to implement the rules established by the committee.
The committee's task will not be an easy one. Several attempts have been made to give Parliament a code of conduct and they all failed along the way. This time however, there is a political will. This government has said its administration would focus on ethics. This time, all members of all political parties want to restore confidence in Parliament. We have all chosen to serve the public. We want to do it honestly, freely and openly. Even though they might be restrictive, the present rules of ethics governing many of us are precious tools that help us carry out our mandate in a transparent and effective manner.
Quite often, we question the pertinence of an action, the necessity of an intervention, the timeliness of an initiative. In such instances of doubt and questioning, the rules of ethics give us the information and support we need to make the right decisions.
So I ask all members of this House to support and help those who must develop that new code of conduct. Their work and wisdom will profit not only each and every one of us in Parliament, but also Canadians as a whole.
I know that the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, proposed an amendment to exclude the Senate from this exercise. I know very well that the position of the Bloc is to ignore the Senate, but this is not the problem today. The Senate is part of our parliamentary institutions, it completes Parliament. If we want to establish a code of conduct which will make Quebecers and Canadians look upon their politicians with confidence in all their activities, and if we want to proceed according to the rules, can we disregard the other place? We have a two chamber Parliament and until that is changed I do not believe that we can give ourselves a set of rules and leave the other place without such rules, if we want to settle this question once and for all. For the last decade or so, I think each Parliament has studied this difficult, but important issue.
As I said earlier, I believe that this time the government and the other political parties are willing to adopt a code of conduct. Such a code should not be an half-baked affair. It should be complete and we should support the motion of the government House leader so the Special Joint Committee of the House and the Senate can start its work as soon as possible, with a view to making recommendations that will provide members and senators with a tool which will allow them to represent the people of Canada with pride and dignity. That is why we are here.
I hope that by the end of the day, or whenever this debate is finished, the House can give a clear mandate to the special joint committee, supported by all parties, all members of Parliament, and the Senate, so that the committee can begin its mandate and can come back to both Houses with a full report and recommendations once and for all, after so many years.
I tried before I prepared my speech to go back as far as I could to see how many reports have been made. There are many. I know the previous government tried four bills and never succeeded.
I believe this time the government, the opposition parties, and all members of Parliament are clearly interested in solving this problem and giving a clear code of ethics. We can succeed. In order to succeed we must be united so that we can give a clear mandate to the committee. I hope when the question is put we are united in creating this special joint committee as soon as possible.
Code Of Conduct
Gérard Asselin Charlevoix, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the hon. member who just spoke. He told us that in the red book and throughout the election campaign, the Liberals had called for openness and proposed the appointment of an independent ethics counsellor directly accountable to the Prime Minister. He added that the House was now considering a bill which could allow it to have a code of conduct.
My question for the hon. member who just spoke is this: Would a code of conduct have had precedence over the ethics counsellor appointed by the Prime Minister in the matter involving, on the one hand, the Prime Minister's son-in-law and, on the other hand, the decision made by the CRTC?
Would the ethics counsellor have had more power with a code of conduct to take the Minister of Canadian Heritage to task concerning the letter that he passed on to the CRTC on behalf of one applicant? He himself sent a letter to the CRTC.
With a code of conduct, would the ethics counsellor allow the government, when it calls for tenders, to accept the lowest acceptable bid?
Also, what would have happened in the case of Pearson airport if we had had a code of conduct and an ethics counsellor? Would the ethics counsellor, with a code of conduct, have prevented the Liberal government from organizing brunches at $1,000 a plate which allow the lobbyists, the following day, to knock on the doors of Liberal members?
I must say also that, compared to the red book, the Liberals are now doing the exact opposite of what they were preaching when they were in the opposition and the Conservatives formed the government.
Now that we have an ethics counsellor, with a code of conduct what happened, and what is going to happen to the 30 Liberal members who stayed in their offices because they opposed the Justice minister's firearms bill? And what is going to happen to the three Liberal members who voted against their own government and who lost their seats on various committees and commissions?
The main questions are: Where are the openness and the credibility of the Liberal government as far as the code of conduct is concerned? And, is the code of conduct going to prevent the members of the Bloc Quebecois from speaking about sovereignty?
Code Of Conduct
Alfonso Gagliano Saint-Léonard, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will start by using the word used by the honourable member, and that is transparency. I believe that in all the points he raised and which I will try to deal with one by one, there is a question of transparency.
Let us take the decision of the CRTC which has been raised repeatedly during oral question period, over the past few days. The government established a committee which examined this issue and asked all the stakeholders to make representations. The work of the committee was made public and its decision was also made public, so that it could be discussed in the House.
Second, as the Prime Minister said, he did not take part in the discussions and decision in Cabinet. I raise this issue because it affects the members of our families. Does the fact that I have been elected to Parliament or received an appointment as minister mean that my son cannot pursue his career as an accountant?
Therefore transparency is important because it allows disclosure. The same thing applies to the famous letter sent by the Minister of Canadian Heritage to the CRTC. The Prime Minister was immediately informed of the problem. He made the letter public in this very House, and the whole issue was made public.
As I said earlier, we are all humans and a code of ethics or an ethics counsellor will never solve every problem entirely. The
important thing, however, is the will to ensure that things are done with transparency and honesty.
That is what this government promised to do in its red book and this is what it has done since its election on October 23 or since the day the government was formed on November 4.
The disclosure of information on politicians is very important because it will ensure that nothing is kept hidden and that transparency becomes a fact. We will thus avoid criticism and we will make our decisions in accordance with the rules of disclosure and transparency.
It is not easy. Our task today is very difficult. We have to make decisions and pass judgments. People will watch us and will also pass judgments. Therefore we must be logical and transparent in our actions.
Therefore I can say to the hon. member that I am proud of the 18 months of Liberal government under Jean Chrétien. Furthermore, despite the list mentioned by my colleague, this government enjoys the highest rate of popular support recorded since polls were begun in Canada.
Code Of Conduct
François Langlois Bellechasse, QC
Mr. Speaker, once again, the government is hiding behind a motion. Does it ever like to delay proceedings in the House! A motion to create a committee to conduct another study. For more than 20 years, almost 25 years, various attempts by successive governments have met with repeated failure.
Had the government even the slightest political will to find a solution to the issue of conflict of interest, it would not have been satisfied with a vague motion to create a committee, but would have tabled a public bill improving on the ones that failed in the House.
The hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell mentioned Bill C-116 earlier, which finally died on the Order Paper during the previous 34th Parliament. It would probably have been possible to rewrite and refine Bill C-116 with the government policy, while taking into account the views of the opposition. But no. We are being proposed today a motion to create a joint committee made up of eight senators and 14 members of Parliament.
Fortunately, the amendment moved by the hon. member for La Prairie proposes that the committee no longer be a joint committee, but a House committee made up only of members of Parliament. The member for La Prairie even changes the membership; there would be 12 members of Parliament: seven Liberals, three members from the official opposition and two from the second opposition party, which seems fair and reasonable at first glance.
We do not need a joint committee. This House, which is made up of elected people, has its own rules and its own vision of things, while the Senate, which is made up of non elected people who are in office until the age of 75, also has its own different way of seeing things, a way with which we are not always comfortable working. Had the government wanted to involve both Houses in the development of a code of conduct, the best way of doing it would have been to table a bill. Of course, both this House and the Senate would have had to pass this bill before it could receive Royal Assent.
Instead, the government decided to create a working committee, another one. If we are to create such a committee, we should at least let the elected members study, by themselves, what constitutes a conflict of interest in their case. After all, after a maximum of five years, these people must go back to their constituents. They are accountable for their actions; they must explain why they took such and such political decisions. We should have this right, since our colleagues in the Senate do not have this sensitive test to pass. All they need is the Governor General's signature to be in office until the respectable age of 75.
Perhaps it could be interesting to get the other place's point of view, but certainly not in a joint committee. Moreover, such a committee would probably resurrect five Conservative senators whose party was literally eliminated by the Canadians in the October 1993 election and does not have official party status anymore in this House. It would be a way to give back a voice to people that want to be heard, these days. Last week-end, they stated their case in Hull, and with this motion, they would do so in a joint committee made up of members of Parliament and senators.
If nothing but to respect the will of the people, we should reject the creation of a joint committee. The referendum on the Charlottetown accord showed that the people rejected the Senate reforms, particularly in Quebec. The idea of a triple E Senate, that is equal, elected and efficient, was certainly not endorsed. The proposal was for six senators per province, regardless of the size of the province, and it was rejected.
Now, the government party wants an elected Senate, while the Reform Party wants a triple E Senate, which means that there is disagreement on the number of Es. For our part, we want a triple A Senate, that is to say abolished, abolished and abolished. No other institution in the world is denounced by as many people as is this other place we have in the Canadian Parliament. There is no reason for a non-elected house to continue to exist in 1995. Perhaps there was a need for it in 1867, but before 1867, the two Houses we had in the Province of Canada were elected. The legislative assembly of the Province of Canada was an elected assembly. Starting in 1854, the legislative council, which had been an appointed institution since 1840, became an elected one. This means that until 1867, we had two elected Houses. What
happened in 1867 that caused this split, with one house, the House of Commons, being elected, and the other, the Senate of Canada, not?
The preamble of the British North America Act, or BNA Act, 1867, can shed some light on this. In 1867, it was stated in this preamble that the Dominion of Canada wanted to have institutions similar to those of the United Kingdom. What were these institutions in 1867, and what are they still today? The House of Commons, like in Canada, and the House of Lords, made up of peers. Because we did not and still do not have an aristocracy in Canada, we invented our own lords, whom were called senators. Originally, they were appointed for life. But in 1965, the Canadian Constitution was amended so that a senator's tenure of office ends at age 75, while grandfathering the rights of those who were already sitting in the Senate at the time but had not yet reached the age of 75.
Since then, as we can see clearly, the role of the other House has become less important. The Senate now sits some 40 days a year and cannot introduce money bills under section 53 of the 1867 British North America Act. The house of sober second thought likes to drag things out, as demonstrated by the electoral boundaries readjustment bill, the GST legislation introduced by the previous government and other bills that may be filibustered by the other house in the future. Given the cost to Canadian society, I think that we could do without it.
If we asked Canadians, "Do you agree that the Senate should be abolished?", a very high percentage of them would say yes. The problem is, what should we replace it with and how should it be done? Responses vary. There is no consensus on replacement.
I, of course, am eager to support the amendment tabled by the hon. member for La Prairie to restrict committee membership to members of the House of Commons. If the Senate wants to strike its own committee, it will do so.
The hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell said a little earlier this afternoon that our institutions, including Parliament, were based on the Westminster model, while the hon. member for Saint-Léonard made some comments to that effect.
I heard earlier today our colleague, the hon. member for Elk Island, point out that we ranked 36th in the public's esteem, just before used car salesmen. It is probably because we have to defend a used system that should be refurbished, a system that, in the past 50 years, has seen a virtual takeover of the legislative power by the executive power. That was not the case previously, as we can see by looking at history. When our parliamentary ancestors fought to abolish or appropriate royal powers, they insisted that these powers should be held by the House of Commons.
Over time, royal powers shifted from the palace not to the House of Commons but to the Prime Minister's Office. It is there that important decisions are made.
In our constitutional system, which consists of three powers: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive, the legislative branch is, for all practical purposes, under the control of the executive, which in turn is under the control of the Prime Minister's Office.
We have the advantage, and sometimes the disadvantage, of having a neighbour that has inspired us to reform. Our American neighbours have inspired us to carry out some institutional reforms that may not be in our best interests. In a system in which the executive is elected and accountable to the population and not to the American Congress, a system in which members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are elected and not accountable to the executive, the situation is quite different.
In the U.S., what did the political parties decide to do? They decided to choose their party leaders, their candidates for the presidential election, at an all-members convention. We adopted this idea in Canada, so that some of our party leaders are elected by delegates at a general convention while others are elected by all party members.
In principle, this is great, but when we want to apply this to our parliamentary institutions, we face a big problem. The problem is that, when the party leader is also the Prime Minister, the party leader has practically unlimited power. First, to his cabinet colleagues, he can say: "Look, if you are here, it is because I appointed you". To his caucus, he can say: "I do not feel very accountable to you. After all, you are not the ones who elected me party leader. I am accountable to the party members who elected me". The problem is that supporters have no control over what the government party does.
You will see self-congratulatory conventions like the one held in Trois-Rivières, of course, but no real debate on party policies. The intent of the Constitution Act, 1867, was to have institutions similar to those of the United Kingdom. In Great Britain, the Prime Minister is elected by his or her peers. This means that the party leader is elected from within the caucus, primus inter pares , as the Latin saying goes. This was a much more subtle way of governing and a much more equitable one, since the Prime Minister was accountable first and foremost-and in Great Britain this is still the case-to his colleagues or peers.
The role of member of Parliament is all the more important, since members can ask and expect to obtain from their leader the answers they need to continue to support that leader. The Prime Minister's seat is probably more precarious, more of a hot seat in the British system than in ours, where one can wash one's
hands by telling the caucus: "You did not elect me". In fact, under our election law, the Prime Minister can even designate candidates himself, over-ruling the electoral conventions in the various ridings.
Imagine all the power in the hands of just one person. That person appoints cabinet members, ultimately decides who gets the top jobs in the public service, decides who is appointed to the bench, as well as who can run under the party's banner. That is a lot of power in the hands of just one person.
The time has come for a major review. I am not sure if the hon. member for Saint-Léonard was being ironic earlier when he referred to the important role of parliamentarians. Let us not forget that never before was Parliament controlled to such an extent by the executive level.
When we voted on Bill C-68, three Liberal members opposed the legislation, thus breaking ranks with their government colleagues. All three lost the positions which they held in parliamentary committees. And the member for Saint-Léonard has the nerve to tell us that we must respect the parliamentary institution. Was that institution respected then? We have to wonder.
True control is not exercised by MPs. If the government wants to give some control to members, it must first get rid of the executive level in this House. We do not need it here; let it go to Rideau Hall or on Sussex Drive, if there is room. It is quite possible to change the system so that a member's ultimate goal, his or her greatest ambition, will be to be the best possible member. There should be no incentive to eventually become a parliamentary secretary or a minister. Members in this House should have no ambition other than to be able to say: I was the best possible member for my riding. The prospect of future promotions should not be a factor.
Those who want to serve at the executive level can certainly do so. However, let us be careful not to mix the two levels, particularly in this House. We all know the perverse effects of this confusion between the legislative and the executive levels. It is high time we distanced ourselves and shifted more toward a congressional type of decision, adapting it, of course, to our way of thinking, to our practices and to our traditions by regulating the activities of lobbyists, the influence peddlars, in order to control them.
The real issue is not members' powers or conflict of interest. We already have Standing Order 21, which provides the following, and, with your permission, I will quote it:
No member is entitled to vote upon any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and the vote of any Member so interested will be disallowed.
The criterion is there; it is basic. When problems arise, we have the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, previously the committee on privileges and elections, which is empowered to hear all matters that may arise pertaining to a member's status or conflict of interest.
The committee has only to exercise its powers. Nothing is stopping it. If problems are brought to the attention of colleagues in the House, they may be raised, and the Speaker may determine prima facie that there is justification for their referral to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The mechanisms are already in place. Why create more? It would probably be enough to have something more flexible at the level of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs so we could have our committee on the rules of ethics in order to improve our operations. It would be much wiser and better advised to control the goings-on in the Prime Minister's office.
The government is currently behaving like Nero. Legend has it that Nero played his fiddle while Rome burned down. Similarly, while the government fails to follow its own policies on ethical conduct, while the Prime Minister himself tells us that he did not consult his ethics counsellor before taking certain decisions, we are being told that parliamentarians must be watched.
But let us avoid diversion. Diversion may be a very useful tactic in a hockey game during the last few minutes of third period, in order to stop the opponent from scoring a goal. In politics though, diversion tactics should not be overused. I think that we have gone a little too far. Recent cases like that of DirecTv show that mere parliamentarians are not the ones intervening to change decisions. Obviously, people from outside the House are making direct representations to either the Prime Minister's office or to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
Let us start by really enforcing a code of conduct throughout government, at the ministerial and the executive level. Then it will undoubtedly be time to examine the ethics of the members of this House, the legislative branch of our constitution.