House of Commons Hansard #199 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was reform.

Topics

Tainted Blood
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

In the light of the serious allegations weighing on her department's officials, is the minister prepared to initiate an internal investigation to find out how such things could have happened and whether present officials are involved in this matter?

Tainted Blood
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Sudbury
Ontario

Liberal

Diane Marleau Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, Justice Krever has full authority to examine everything that happened. He has already examined what happened at the provincial level. Now he is talking to the people at the

Red Cross. He is empowered to look into what happened in those years. We support his work and will continue to support it.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, according to the auditor general's report our public servants' knowledge of ethics guidelines is mediocre at best.

Today's report estimates that 57 per cent of senior managers are either unaware or could not mention any element of the policy governing the ethical conduct of civil servants. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the red book promise of restoring public confidence in government.

My question is for the Deputy Prime Minister. How does the government account for the fact that 57 per cent of its senior civil servants are not aware of their own ethics guidelines?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, a limited and random sample was taken by the auditor general in four departments of the government involving less than 400 people.

There were some statistics as a result of that, but I am very happy to report that 86 per cent of public servants felt the ethics standards were very high. The auditor general said that when it comes to comparisons with other governments or with the private sector there is nobody that surpasses the ethics standards of the Government of Canada.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party recognizes that the ethical conduct of the majority of public servants is beyond reproach. Our concern is with the 25 per cent who would accept goods and services at cost for their own personal use and the 30 per cent who would think it is appropriate to hire their brothers-in-law. Surely the Prime Minister would be relieved to find out that bureaucrats were not asked about sons-in-law.

I have a supplementary question. Given the fact that a notable proportion of the public servants would not report such unethical behaviour, will the government introduce legislation to protect whistleblowers?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, he points out the 30 per cent. How about the 70 per cent that quite clearly understood the question and gave the appropriate answer?

There are systems in place that properly protect the ethics and the cost efficiency of operations of the government. There is an open bidding system. There are contract review boards to help ensure that it is all properly handled and above board. That is the essence of this. Furthermore training is provided for our employees. It has been subscribed to in even greater numbers over the last few years.

I think we are in good shape and I think that is what the auditor general is also saying.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board talks about the training and the auditor general has proposed that we introduce training, reporting and, more important, leadership from the top down.

The auditor general emphasized that it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister and his cabinet to provide ethical leadership and suggested that ethic counsellors be appointed in every government department.

My question is for the Deputy Prime Minister. Will the government lead by example and implement the auditor general's recommendation for an ethical framework for public servants, including establishing truly independent ethics counsellors starting with the cabinet?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, we are doing precisely that. We have a framework for ethics, and the red book is a great demonstration of that.

Since we formed the government, through the initiatives of the Prime Minister an ethics counsellor has been put in place. There is a lobbyist certification for all contracts. The Lobbyist Registration Act has been amended. There is a conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders.

A great deal has been done to ensure confidence in the integrity of the system. I think the auditor general already recognizes that we are building on a very strong base.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Bélisle La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Deputy Prime Minister.

Yesterday, the auditor general released a report-to which my colleague alluded moments ago- regarding ethics in the government, which was based on a survey of 329 federal public servants. It revealed that 46 per cent of those surveyed would not intervene to prevent a member of their family from being hired and that 33 per cent of them feel that they would be putting themselves at risk if they were to point out a conflict of interest implicating their boss.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister admit that these figures are unacceptable and that they are the symptoms of the very serious problem that the public service has with ethics? Is it not the government's responsibility to react quickly to remedy the situation?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Yes and the government is acting quickly, Mr. Speaker.

We have certainly brought to the attention of the deputy ministers in all departments that they are to get the proper information to all employees so that the policies of the government are followed.

It is interesting to note that 91 per cent of public servants would report a significant fraud or illegal activity and that 78 per cent of public servants recognize there are very high ethics within their departments and within the operations of the government.

The vast majority understands the code. They read the code. They are given it. They all sign in writing that they have read it and fully understand it.

We will continue to ensure that the code is followed and that the highest ethical standards are followed both in the public service and in the government itself.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Bélisle La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, given that 12 per cent of all senior officials see nothing wrong with altering contract specifications to give a certain tenderer the edge, a very serious act, will the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledge that the government hierarchy is riddled with problems with ethics and that, unfortunately, the example comes from on high?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, many of the people who were sampled, as I indicated before, are not in a position to make those kinds of decisions.

Nevertheless, the ethics standards are important for all people in the public service to be aware of. The government, as I have said already in answering the question, is making every move to comply with what the auditor general has said. We have no disagreement with the auditor general whatsoever and are already taking steps to ensure that is implemented.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, in news reports released today the auditor general disclosed that 12 per cent of senior managers believe it is appropriate to undermine competition for a contract at the request of a supervisor. Furthermore one in three public servants would not intervene to stop it. Nor would they report it.

My question is for the President of the Treasury Board. How widespread is the undermining of the open bidding process? What checks are in place, if any, to prevent such unethical behaviour?

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, I hope that the opposition, particularly the Reform Party, realizes that it has several people asking the same question.

As I have indicated before, there are systems in place. There is an open bidding system. There are in fact contract review boards. There are codes of behaviour which are known to all of our employers. The vast majority recognize the good ethical standards which need to be followed.

The system is working well. There is always room for improvement. We certainly agree with the auditor general. However, the auditor general also said that in terms of comparison with the private sector or with other governments, the ethics standards of this government and its public service are very high indeed.

Auditor General's Report
Oral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think it is despicable that any senior manager would even consider undermining the competitive process. But then whose example are they following? We have the backroom José Perez deals, the Power Corp. deals, the Canada Communication Group deals, the Seagram MCA takeover.

Ministers and deputies should lead by example. The best way to assure that they are would be to make the ethics counsellor directly responsible to Parliament and not to the Prime Minister.

My question is for the Deputy Prime Minister: For the umpteenth time, will the Prime Minister honour the explicit red book promise and make the position of the ethics counsellor report directly to Parliament?