Debates of May 11th, 1995
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.
- Government Response To Petitions
- Committees Of The House
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Point Of Order
- Report Of Auditor General
- The Media
- Official Languages Act
- The Family
- National Forest Week
- Cedarbrae Collegiate
- Crime Prevention
- Quebec Finance Minister's Budget
- Human Rights
- Auditor General Report
- The Environment
- Dr. Réjean Ménard
- Hearing Awareness Month
- Auditor General's Report
- Ontario Election
- Research And Development
- Gun Control
- Thunder Bay
- Tainted Blood
- Auditor General's Report
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Arts And Culture
- Prime Minister's Moscow Visit
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
- Firearms Legislation
- Gun Control
- Hate Literature
- Employability Of Young People
- Human Rights
- Business Of The House
Oral Question Period
Ovid Jackson Bruce—Grey, ON
Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue.
In March 1994 the government introduced an anti-smuggling initiative to combat contraband such as cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and firearms. I ask the parliamentary secretary what progress Canada customs has made in stopping the flow of contraband goods at our borders.
Oral Question Period
Susan Whelan Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.
I am pleased to announce that as recently as Monday, May 8 a customs detector dog identified 25 pounds of cocaine hidden in luggage at Pearson airport worth an estimated $5 million in street value. On Saturday, May 6 another customs detector dog uncovered $7.5 million worth of hashish at Mirabel airport. On April 29 Revenue Canada seized another $4.4 million worth of cocaine at Pearson airport.
That represents a seizure of $16.9 million of illegal drugs by Revenue Canada in less than 10 days. The minister, the customs officers and our fine nosed dogs, Shad and Buck, should be congratulated.
Business Of The House
Oral Question Period
May 11th, 1995 / 3 p.m.
Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Leader of the Government in the House to provide details on what is in store for the next few days.
Business Of The House
Oral Question Period
Herb Gray Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to see that it is Thursday once again and I have a chance to provide the weekly business statement.
Today we will continue with the opposition motion. Tomorrow we will resume the legislative list on which we have been working: Bill C-67, the veterans' bill; Bill C-54 regarding pensions; Bill C-88 regarding internal trade; Bill C-87 with respect to chemical weapons; Bill C-86 regarding the dairy commission; Bill C-82 concerning the Mint; Bill C-85 with respect to MPs' pensions; and Bill C-65 regarding the reorganization of certain agencies.
On Monday we will begin with Bill C-89, the CNR legislation and then return to the list just given. We will continue with this list on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding items to it as we make progress. In particular, we would like to proceed quickly with the bill on the Federal Business Development Bank which the Minister of Industry is introducing this week.
Finally, next Thursday shall be an allotted day.
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor regarding the Reform
Party's motion condemning the government for its lack of transparency and its inability to keep its red book election promises regarding the accountability of MPs to the electorate.
Above all, I would like to thank my Reform Party colleagues for introducing this motion condemning the government and the least I can say is that it is timely.
I therefore would like to take advantage of my time to bring to the attention of this House what I think is the most important point in this motion: the Liberals' lack of transparency. Indeed, day in, day out, these first 18 months of the Liberal government's mandate are far from shining examples of transparency, both as regards political appointments-a point which my colleague from Berthier-Montcalm irrefutably demonstrated this morning-and contract awarding and management. It is obvious that the promise of transparency contained in the red book was a trick to fool the Canadian public. Just smoke and mirrors to get elected.
Regarding the Reform Party's motion on the Liberal government's lack of transparency, I would like to raise the following issues in the House: firstly, the status quo regarding access to information since the Liberals acceded to power and, secondly, the role of lobbyists in the management of this government's affairs.
The Access to Information Act was passed in 1982 and went into effect the following year. It gives people the right to obtain federal government documents. Under this act, government institutions must give people access to their documents. Logically, we would have expected the Liberal government to rigorously apply the Access to Information Act, given the promises of transparency contained in the red book which the Liberal Party of Canada trumpeted so loudly during the election campaign.
On the contrary, after 18 years of Liberal reign, government bodies such as the House of Commons, the Senate and certain positions reporting directly to Parliament, such as the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Auditor General of Canada are still not subject to the Access to Information Act. Another example, that of Atomic Energy of Canada, is particularly striking. Why has this body never come under access to information legislation? Does such a dangerous and polluting energy have to be developed in the utmost secrecy, far from public scrutiny? I ask the question.
What about the transparency described in the red book? Why not make Canada's Parliament subject to the Access to Information Act, since it is the ultimate symbol of democracy in the Canadian federal system? In this context, the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, in the name of democratic principles and through its desire for greater transparency in the present system, has no choice but to support the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General of March 1987, which recommended that the Access to Information Act be applied to all federal institutions, including administrative tribunals, the Senate and the House of Commons.
The Bloc Quebecois gives particular importance to increased transparency in the Senate, our dear Senate.
The public is entitled to be able to study in depth the wild imaginings of this body, which is nothing more than a place for political appointments. Given the political context in Canada since the reign of the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1970s, we stress the urgent need for such transparency throughout the entire administration of federal institutions.
The events of the last few years, especially those involving the conduct of government members, raise serious doubts as to the Liberal government's political will to establish a code of conduct ensuring total openness in public administration. The red book promises are pure fantasies needed to ease the Liberals' conscience and to make Canadian federalist democracy look good.
Throughout the fall 1993 election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada maintained that ethics would be an important part of its mandate. In the January 1994 throne speech, the government claimed that it attached the utmost importance to integrity and that it wanted to enjoy the people's confidence. It would therefore appoint an ethics counsellor to watch over government integrity and restore public confidence. So what happened? The ethics counsellor, who was appointed by the Liberal government, still reports to the Privy Council. He has no independent power of investigation and continues to report to the Prime Minister. The official opposition has often pointed out in the House that this hurts credibility.
According to the Liberal Party's red book, government integrity is in question every time people feel that lobbyists set public policy by wielding undue influence behind the scenes.
Recent events show that the whole Liberal strategy regarding a parliamentary code of ethics, confirmed by a government motion tabled in this House some 10 days ago, is just a smoke screen. The Broadcasting Act, which comes under the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is no match for the powerful lobby for PowerDirecTv, a company run by André Desmarais, the Prime Minister's son-in-law. The Liberal government even started defending ideas that Brian Mulroney's Conservative government held dear, turning into the advocate of competitiveness in North America.
Reading the ministerial orders from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, one can only bow before the powerful lobby for PowerDirecTv and kiss democracy goodbye at the federal level, where money and political friends rule.
The weakness of our political institutions and representatives is cause for concern. Not only does the government flout its own law and disown the CRTC, which is responsible for its application, but it takes retroactive measures preventing Expressvu, a competitor, from starting to provide service in September. All that in the name of competitiveness. In the meantime, the ethics counsellor promised in the red book is cooling his heels in the Prime Minister's outer office. And what about the recent visit of the Minister of Canadian Heritage to Los Angeles, where he was to meet with the majors of the American film industry.
The facts are as follows: three weeks ago, Edgar Bronfman Junior, an American citizen, and Seagram announced the takeover of the American giant MCA, a multi-million dollar deal. This announcement was made from a Los Angeles hotel, with the heritage minister in the next room. So far, no problem, or so it seemed. But it must be pointed out that MCA holds 20 per cent of the shares of Cineplex, a Canadian company controlled by another branch of the Bronfman empire.
MCA also wants to control Cineplex by merging with Cinemark USA Inc., whose head office is in Dallas. The trip made to Los Angeles by the Minister of Canadian Heritage makes me wonder, considering that Edgar Bronfman Junior seems to be trying to convince the federal government that MCA is a Canadian company, so as to avoid a review by Investment Canada. This is the kind of transparency displayed by the government.
Let us not forget that, according to the government's official policy, companies actively involved in the cultural sector must be controlled by Canadian interests. This explains why Mr. Bronfman is trying to give a Canadian identity to MCA. Under the circumstances, it becomes obvious that the real purpose of the minister's trip to Los Angeles was to reassure Liberal friends, namely Seagram, of the federal government's support.
While the government House leader is tabling a motion to establish a special committee to develop a code of conduct for parliamentarians, that same government violates the most basic rules of democracy by favouring friends of the Liberal Party and by governing on behalf of the Canadian financial establishment.
Another example which illustrates the political trickery of the red book, and which also shows the flaws of Bill C-43 regarding the ethics counsellor, is the letter sent by the heritage minister to the CRTC, supposedly an independent body under his authority, in support of a licence application.
It must be remembered that the Prime Minister waited more than three weeks before seeking the ethics counsellor's advice on this sensitive issue. How can we not come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister cares little about the ethics counsellor and, therefore, about ethics?
The Liberal leader simply wanted to save face. The appointment of an ethics counsellor and the Liberals' campaign promise to that effect were supposed to give the public the impression that the government is really doing something about restoring the integrity of our institutions.
In the West, democratic institutions are now facing a crisis in public confidence. It is clear that in the future, it will be necessary to restore the trust that should exist between governments and the public they serve. This means public policy must be discussed, debated, influenced, changed and identified in a process that is absolutely open and transparent.
This is one of the concerns that goes to the very heart of the kind of society we want for Quebec. The federal political scene has for too long been dominated by the political scheming of the Liberals and their friends. The acknowledged expert on scheming and adumbration in the political arena is unquestionably Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
As Professor Guy Laforest explained, this bourgeois aristocrat, this lackey of Canada's financial establishment and anti-Quebecer managed, during his many years in power, to establish close ties between the Canadian financial establishment and the Liberal Party. This political and financial network is the engine of Canadian Liberal ideology, a political perspective that makes every effort to isolate Quebec, to take away its distinct identity and make it a part of Anglo-Canadian culture.
It is easy to identify the members of this political and financial network. They are the ones who keep referring to "the most beautiful country in the world to govern". The present Prime Minister is this network's new lieutenant. We have the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is responsible for Quebec. And remember Eddie Goldenberg, the Prime Minister's trusty adviser, who happens to be the son of Carl Goldenberg who helped Pierre Elliott Trudeau draft his bill for patriation and a charter of rights in the summer of 1967.
The Senate still harbours Leo Kolber, one of the Liberal Party's great bagmen, childhood friend of Charles Bronfman and member of the board at Seagram. Mr. Kolber is also a friend of Tom Axworthy, who was Mr. Trudeau's former chief of staff and is the current Minister of Human Resources Development's brother and the manager of The CRB Foundation, which was set up by Mr. Bronfman. As we know, The CRB Foundation is greatly involved in promoting Canadian nationalism. And Paul Desmarais, Charles Bronfman's equal, is still in Montreal.
As Professor Guy Laforest wrote: "-by boards of trustees and collaborators, their networks are interlaced. The Liberal planet finds everything it needs in its network. John Rae, one
of the key people at Power Corporation, was one of the most important strategists behind the campaigns of the current Prime Minister of Canada".
It is the financial interests of the richest Canadians which govern Ottawa, not the elected representatives of the people. They are all following in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's tradition, and that is having a one track mind when it comes to Quebec: having Quebecers assimilate anglo-Canadian values as quickly as possible.
Before our very eyes, once this government got to office, it considerably diluted commitments it made in its red book during the 1993 election campaign. Such an about face raises in the minds of the public a legitimate doubt about whether the Liberal government truly intends to legislate ethics in Parliament.
The Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, believes that, to re-establish the integrity of our democratic institutions, we must put a stop to the empty promises of the past 30 years to legislate parliamentary ethics.
In addition, the administration of the affairs of government must be as transparent as possible in order to eliminate the grey areas and to ensure Canadians that public policy decisions reflect the general interests of the people and not those of powerful lobbys. However, with the Liberals in power, the reality of the matter is something else.
In the context of Bill C-43 governing the registration of lobbyists, the lobbyists increased their meetings in the months before the tabling of this bill. Others threatened suits if the law forced them to disclose their political ties. In this instance, as in others, a lack of transparency prevented the people of Canada from knowing the extent and the nature of lobby activities with regard to Bill C-43.
We have to admit that Bill C-43 as it stands will not likely prevent such troubling events as those surrounding the privatization of Pearson airport or the business involving the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Worse yet, according to Mitchell Sharp, the Prime Minister's principal adviser on matters of ethics, even if the legislation arising from Bill C-43 had been in effect at the time of the discussions on the privatization of terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson airport, the public would have been none the wiser.
The Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, presented more than twenty amendments in committee on Bill C-43. They were rejected by government members who had not even been at the hearings or taken part in discussions in recent months.
We were also hoping, good players that we are, that the new rules, or at least the approach taken and the commitments made by the Liberal Party of Canada in its red book would permit in depth discussion of this issue, so vital to a democracy.
However, we have to admit that the Liberals' intentions with regard to transparency and ethics are those of the Bronfman, Seagram and Power Corporation families. These measures serve solely to impress, with the government using all kinds of lofty language to keep up appearances for political reasons.
Once again, the federal Liberals' version of history is written on the backs of the country's most disadvantaged, and, just as obviously, on the back of Quebec.
Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB
Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask the hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe a question about an incident that occurred in the House a while ago. Perhaps it is a sensitive issue for him. I pose this question with all due respect. It is about integrity. It is about respect. It is about his feeling of frustration.
One day when asking questions in question period he became frustrated with either the answers or the commentary or the behaviour of a minister of the crown or the representative of the minister of the crown. I wish the member would share his experience with us of the incident in which he stuck to his guns and was asked to leave the House. He had to go through a lot. I think it is an example of the lack of integrity displayed by certain ministers of the crown. If he would like to share that incident with us and tell us his true feelings about it, I think it would be another example of the lack of integrity of the government.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Before I give the floor to the hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe, I agree with the member for Calgary Centre that he raises an issue of great sensitivity, but I feel very strongly that we are on the edge.
I want to mention a fact regarding the incident being raised. Had the member withdrawn, the Chair would have deemed the matter closed and would not have allowed the question to continue. I will listen attentively to the reply of the member for Richmond-Wolfe.
Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank my colleague for addressing this issue because, as I just said, today, the Reform Party launched a debate on a fundamental exercise in democracy, that is, openness in government, the role of MPs representing their fellow citizens and constituents, and the possibility for each member to do his or her job honestly and to act in accordance with his or her principles.
As for my experience as a member of Parliament, I think I have been guided by the desire to do my job very openly and honestly. I have been guided by this desire, although I was troubled for a while in this House to hear comments, opinions
and answers that went this way and that way, that were contradictory. It was obvious to me that everything was far from clear and open in this matter.
My conduct as a member of Parliament has been guided by the desire to be honest, to act in accordance with my principles, and to represent my constituents in a responsible manner. To allow MPs to do their job properly, the government must be open and answer straightforward questions truthfully. I thank the hon. member for his question.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)
Mr. Speaker, I want to add a brief comment. Without expressing a view for or against the opinions of either member who just had the floor, I appreciate the way both members handled the question and the answer on a very delicate and sensitive matter.
Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to commend the hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe for his excellent presentation. He correctly identified all aspects of the problem. He reminded us that the official opposition had proposed amendments. I want to ask him a question which, in my opinion, is related to the issue. As he said himself, many people seem to have lost confidence in government because they see links with large corporations.
Does the hon. member think that there is a way to change this, if only symbolically, for example by providing that political parties should be financed only by individuals and that businesses should not be allowed to contribute?
Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. Indeed, the hon. member for Lévis raises a fundamental issue relating to the democratic process and the ability of a government, opposition or third party to intervene in public interest issues or matters with maximum latitude and independence from lobbies, financial networks or any form of lobbying. One approach developed by the Quebec government and put in place following years of extremely aggressive and stormy debate was party financing.
It is clear that when, in an effort to raise funds to pay its for publicity, promotion and propaganda bills, a political party has to go to large corporations and major financial concerns and that there are no regulations as to how much money can be raised and from whom, this party may find itself in an extremely difficult situation or literally have its hands tied if and when it becomes the government or the official opposition. There is no way that a political party that gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from institutions and corporations can act with complete freedom once in office. It is just not true.
What happened at the federal level when it was suggested that election campaigns and political parties be funded through donations from the public at large and not from large corporations or labour associations? The federal government never had the courage to amend the provisions of the Election Act dealing with party financing. In that context, while governed by a federal legislation that does not contain any restrictions, yet refusing to be attached to any financial concern, the Bloc Quebecois decided on its own, during the last federal election campaign, to operate under the Quebec legislation providing for political parties to be funded solely by donations from the public. The Bloc never accepted donations from businesses or organizations.
With respect to my hon. colleague's question, it is obvious that as long as this government will not take the necessary steps-and the first one is party financing-to free itself from the hold of Power DirecTv, the Bronfmans and the Seagrams of this world, with or without a code of conduct, it will continue to have its hands tied by these major financial concerns and the lobby of backroom boys.
Kingston and the Islands
Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the debate this afternoon. I heard a few speeches earlier, including the one made by the hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe, whose arguments were completely out of line.
The member made all kinds of suggestions on other bills before the House, but not on the issue being debated today.
The motion tabled by the hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster, reads:
That this House condemn the government for its failure to keep its Red Book promise to make the government more open and permitting Members of Parliament to be more accountable to their constituents.
Jim Abbott Kootenay East, BC
What a great idea.
Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON
Frankly this is one of the silliest motions we have debated in this Parliament. It is based on a completely false premise about what the government has done in the time it has been in office. There has hardly ever been a government in Canadian history that has so fulfilled the promises it outlined at the beginning of its mandate.
In 30 some years of being a participant in this process I cannot think of another document that has so affected the lives of Canadians and so directed the operations of a govern-
ment than this red book has done. It has been a guide book of promises that the government undertook to do and it has kept the promises.
I want to quote from the red book because it is extremely relevant to the motion before the House. After all the motion does mention this little tome. I will read the whole section on parliamentary reform. I know this may be a little long for the concentration of members opposite but I want to read it in any event.
In the House of Commons, a Liberal government will give MPs a greater role in drafting legislation, through House of Commons committees. These committees will also be given greater influence over government expenditures. More free votes will be allowed in the House of Commons, and individual members of Parliament will be involved in an effective pre-budget consultation process. We will establish mechanisms to permit parliamentary review of some senior Order-in-Council appointments.
The pension regime of members of Parliament has been the focus of considerable controversy. It is now the subject of an independent review, which Liberals support. We believe that reform is necessary.