House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Presence In Gallery
Statements By Members

October 31st, 1996 / 2:15 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, we are going to do something a bit different today.

We have a special guest in our gallery today.

A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, he has become one of Canada's most recognized faces in film and television. My colleagues, please join me in welcoming this accomplished actor, veteran comedian and we claim him as a Canadian, Mr. Leslie Nielsen.

Presence In Gallery
Statements By Members

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

[Translation]

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, a few minutes ago in this House, the secretary of state for youth made a statement concerning the situation which was brought to the Prime Minister's attention a few days ago. We are not in any way questioning the accuracy of this statement, but we have a few questions for the Prime Minister regarding the process which led to the present situation.

Yesterday, CBC's The National informed viewers that the ethics counsellor had not seen the minister's expense account, nor her written statement, when he made his decision. We know the Prime Minister's propensity for defending his ministers right to the limit, and sometimes beyond.

I would like to ask the Prime Minister, and he is the one under scrutiny in this matter, how he justifies his statement of yesterday that he had checked with the ethics counsellor, when the latter has apparently said that he had seen neither the expense account nor the secretary of state's statement. I would like him to give us some explanations.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, as in every matter of this nature, the ethics counsellor was advised of the problem. He spoke with the secretary of state. He then concluded that the explanation was satisfactory.

Allusion has been made in this House to a document that he had not seen, but that had apparently been explained to him verbally. When he saw the document, it confirmed the version given by the secretary of state.

I accept the completely acceptable version given in the House by the secretary of state.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, the question is not about the secretary of state. I took the trouble to point out that we accepted her explanations. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is the Prime Minister's propensity for defending his government at all costs, with or without justification.

When, without taking the facts into consideration, the Prime Minister has relied on an opinion given by the ethics counsellor, how can he claim this opinion is of any value, when it was arrived at solely on the strength of a few discussion, without all the documents having been seen? Of what use is the opinion of an ethics counsellor who has not looked into a matter thoroughly? That is the question.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the counsellor checked the document which was shown in this House. He analyzed it. As I was saying earlier, it was entirely consistent with the version given him by the hon. secretary of state.

I have nothing to add. If the hon. member is not questioning the version given by the secretary of state, let him suit action to word and stop asking questions.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:15 p.m.

Roberval
Québec

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for the Prime Minister, I would like to say to him that I will ask all the questions I want, however I want. That is my affair, not his. And I would like him to be so kind as to answer the question.

How can the Prime Minister justify having sought the opinion of the ethics counsellor without personally ensuring, in his capacity as Prime Minister, since it is a question of defending his government's integrity, that all the documents were brought to the counsellor's attention?

Is that not the normal way to proceed, before holding up such an opinion to defend the integrity of his government? Would that not be wiser, more prudent, more reassuring to the Canadian public? And is not the purpose of seeking opinions of an ethics counsellor who does not have all the documents in his possession so that accommodating opinions will be given?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

I said, and I repeat, that all the documents were checked by the ethics counsellor and that the version given by the Secretary of State is the version behind the decision about which I informed the House yesterday, to the effect that there was no intention to harm in this administrative error. And, as it happened, when the additional document was shown to him, the ethics counsellor examined it and concluded that it in no way changed the decision he had initially made to inform me that there was reason to pursue the matter, that the version given by the secretary of state was acceptable.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in an article published in the Ottawa Citizen and headlined:

"The Deputy Prime Minister dodged the blame for budget cuts at CBC".

-it says, and I quote:

"Don't blame me for cutting the CBC budget", the Minister of Canadian Heritage told an audience of journalists in Ottawa, "blame the finance minister".

The article goes on to say, and I quote:

"She repeated several times that the finance minister should be held accountable for the cuts".

Does the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage admit she said that the Minister of Finance, her very dear colleague, should take the blame for the cuts to the CBC?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, this is not an actual quote, for the very good reason that what I said at the conference is that, when I became minister responsible for the CBC, I told them at the outset that I could not bypass the budgetary process already in place, but that I would fight for a $100 million programming fund.

The Minister of Finance went ahead with this programming fund, 50 per cent of which will go to the CBC. That is what I said when I was appointed at the end of January. That is what I delivered with the finance minister's support.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it may not be an actual quote, but we saw it live on television. It was even better. Another minister who needs video evidence.

Yesterday, the minister said she was working with her colleague, the Minister of Finance, on multi-year financing for the CBC. In fact, Southam reported last weekend, and I quote:

"The finance minister told reporters the government intends to do the right thing for the CBC after it has wrestled the deficit to the ground".

Will the Minister of Canadian Heritage again blame her finance colleague next March on television, whether or not it is an actual quote, for her government's future cuts to the CBC?

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as I said before many times in this House, like all government agencies, like Radio-Québec, the CBC has been cut. Unfortunately, the cuts the Quebec Minister of Culture had to make to Radio-Québec were even deeper than those at the CBC.

We are all going through some difficult times, but I am confident that with the finance minister's support in the upcoming budgets, in the next budget, we will continue to strengthen the CBC for all Canadians.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:20 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government puts ministers in a very awkward spot by not revealing and making public the so-called ethical guidelines for cabinet ministers. Integrity means more than just saying I am sorry after the fact.

The Prime Minister promised and promised again to restore public trust in our political institutions. Canadians deserve to see the ethical guidelines the government says it has come up with. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to hide behind imaginary parliamentary tradition.

In the interest of restoring public trust and confidence in this parliamentary institution, will the Prime Minister release his guidelines on ethics for cabinet ministers? Yes or no.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Saint-Maurice
Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, there is a directive that the Prime Minister sends to his ministers for their guidance. Ethics cases are discussed when they come to the House of Commons. Members of Parliament and the press can look at the decisions that are made.

On the case we discussed yesterday, I am satisfied with the explanation given by the Secretary of State earlier today.

These are the facts. The member may not agree with the facts, but I am satisfied the Secretary of State has acted in good faith all along. All the bills have been repaid properly to the crown. There was some problem in the administration but no money was spent illegally or against any guidelines. It was done properly and all the money has been reimbursed properly in good time.

Ethics
Oral Question Period

2:25 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am not particularly keen on the Prime Minister just saying the facts. I want to see the facts and I think the Canadian public wants the same.

This has been a very awkward spot. I wonder how many more cabinet ministers on the front bench are in the same position today. Maybe we should ask for a show of hands. Why would it be so

strange or incongruous that one minister would get caught in this kind of bind yet there would not be others? Maybe we should ask for a show of hands. We have seen how well some of these systems work with these imaginary guidelines.

Yesterday the Prime Minister said that he consulted the ethics counsellor about the youth minister's expense claims. Lo and behold, the ethics counsellor admitted that he had not seen the expense claims, that he just took people at their word.

Let me ask the Prime Minister about their word, about his word and everyone else's word. Will he come good on his word in the red book that he would have an independent ethics counsellor who is responsible and reportable to Parliament, not just to him?