House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

Citizenship Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-271, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (revocation of citizenship).

Mr. Speaker, there are over six million Canadians who are citizens by choice, not by birth. They came here believing that Canada would be a place where they could be safe and secure because their civil rights were enshrined in our Constitution and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is doubly ironic that the revocation process in the Citizenship Act does not provide for their security of citizenship. This flawed process does not allow for the normal judicial process for establishing guilt or innocence by the judiciary with appeal rights based on matters of fact and law.

Further, it politicizes the process by allowing cabinet to make the final decision to remove citizenship, in secret, with no representation for the person whose citizenship is being revoked.

The bill I have introduced today will remedy this situation by placing the citizenship revocation process under the normal judicial process with appeal rights, where it will be administered according to the principles of fundamental justice.

It is high time that we end the secondclass citizenship status of Canadians who have chosen Canada as their home.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, a number of petitioners draw to the attention of the House that hundreds of thousands of Canadians suffer from debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer and so on. They point out that Canadians do support ethical stem cell research but do not support embryonic stem cell research because of more apparent benefits from adult stem cell research.

The petitioners therefore call upon Parliament to focus its legislative support for adult stem cell research to find the cures and therapies necessary to treat the illnesses and diseases of suffering Canadians.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

October 29th, 2002 / 10:05 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be sponsoring the first opposition motion presented by the Bloc Quebecois during this second session of the 37th Parliament. This honour is even more appreciated because the subject matter of today will hopefully launch a vigorous debate involving each and every one of us in this House.

Over the last few years, the more perceptive observers of the federal political scene have noted that the role and the functions of members of Parliament have been increasingly eroded. This government certainly had a part to play in the loss of the nobleness that once was attached to our profession. The concentration of power in the executive branch, and more specifically in the hands of the Prime Minister, has led to decreased influence of the backbenchers on both sides of the House.

This is a stark statement, and the shock is even greater. Democracy in Canada is sick, sicker than it has ever been, it would seem. To put it more precisely, we can say that Parliamentary democracy in Canada is affected by this malaise, which makes it impossible for us to perform some of the duties the people of our ridings have entrusted to us. Fortunately, we seem to still have a bit of time to be able to reverse engines and regain control over the meaning and value of our commitment to public service.

The media and numerous academics are currently involved in examining the endemic loss of importance by the House of Commons and are engaged in an open debate on how the influence of MPs has been reduced, despite their being elected representatives of the people.

There have been some comprehensive and well documented works published on this matter, one of the most interesting and most current of these being Governing from the Center by Professor Donald Savoie of the Université de Moncton. The vision he offers of the situation could not be any more lucid, and comes from a man with close ties to the federal cabinet in the days of first Mulroney mandate.

According to Professor Savoie, Canada has fallen into a form of presidential regime, but without the advantage of what the U.S. system has in its principle of checks and balances.

Similarly, the author describes the role of the Prime Minister as no longer being primus inter pares but one of absolute power, the power to step into any area and to dictate, over the head of the person holding the portfolio, the direction the government will take on a given issue.

Professor Savoie's rigorous and highly documented conclusions tend to demonstrate the erosion of Parliament, the legislative branch, compared to the executive, and the omnipotence of the head of the government, through his direct control over caucus and the agenda of the houses of Parliament. The author goes so far as to state that, in certain cases, the wishes of the cabinet and the orientation of the government can be overthrown by nothing more than the wishes of the Prime Minister and of his immediate entourage.

As a further demonstration of the irony of the situation, we might use the example of Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States between 1861 and 1865. At a cabinet meeting, he was the only one voting in favour of a motion, with all other cabinet members opposed. His reaction was to announce, “Yeas: one; Nays: eight. The Yeas have it!” It is no exaggeration to believe that the Canadian federal cabinet is operating along those lines today.

As a matter of fact, the former finance minister and hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has come to a similar conclusion. Last week, at a meeting with Osgoode Hall students in Toronto, he made a strong plea for an in-depth reform of our parliamentary institutions and of the exercise of power.

What he termed a democratic deficit and made abundantly clear, in connection with his well publicized campaign to replace the current Prime Minister, is nevertheless the same conclusion as the one the Bloc Quebecois reached over two years ago in its discussion paper entitled “Chantier de réflexion sur la démocratie”, a study of democracy launched by our leader, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie.

Besides, and in the same vein, several weeks ago, the Quebec government undertook a broad consultation process with the Quebec society about its institutions and its democratic system. There also, a loss of the power and importance of elected officials has been identified. So the estates general on the reform of democratic institutions, chaired by Claude Béland, will really sound out the population, and no option will be excluded.

Getting back to the federal level, the reality is getting such that, as the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard rightly pointed out, the only viable solution for a member wanting to get legislation close to his or her heart enacted is to relentlessly and effectively lobby the Prime Minister's Office, and thus to answer our colleague's question, “Who do you know in the PMO?”

The centralization and concentration of decision-making power in the Prime Minister's Office and in the hands of the Prime Minister himself are very bad for the health of democracy.

The most direct and probably telling consequence of this reality is no doubt the transformation of the House of Commons into a rubber stamp for approving whatever the Prime Minister wants, and the initiatives led by cabinet members who have received the imprimatur of the Prime Minister's Office. In other words, Parliament would become nothing more than the government's rubber stamp.

In theory, we know that, in the British parliamentary system, the House of Commons is there to counterbalance and control the government in its decisions and in how it manages the state. Yet, the situation has deteriorated to the point where the opposite is true, to the point where it is now the government that, in reality, controls the House of Commons and its committees.

This shift has led to increased dissatisfaction among members of Parliament, who feel less involved in the process of government and less valued as Parliamentarians. The current political situation within the Liberal Party of Canada—now that the Prime Minister has announced that he will step down in February, 2004—seems to be lessening, to some extent, the frustration that Liberal members have been feeling. As a result, they do not fear the consequences as much as they used to, if they take a stand against the official position of the Prime Minister and his advisers.

Members who under the current regime have no hope at all of one day sitting at the cabinet table, or of being given the chairmanship of a parliamentary committee, or of having some type of official government duties, now have the courage to take a stand and openly criticize their own government on occasion. This situation is likely the healthiest one we could imagine, even though it is guided, unfortunately, by the personal ambition and prestige of those involved, rather than by any democratic concern.

Nonetheless, the Prime Minister seems to be getting what he deserves. His moral and political authority over the government and the party he leads is now being undermined by the regime that he himself built. When one tries to control everything, it breeds discontent.

Liberal backbench members, first the member for Louis-Hébert, then the member for Ajax and then the member for Winnipeg South, are no longer shying away from criticizing the government, with the Prime Minister at the top of their lists. They are breaking from the traditional partisan solidarity that their disconcerting submissiveness allowed the Prime Minister and his advisers to take for granted until recently. Unfortunately, they are the exception.

Dozens of members on both sides of the House are discouraged, when it comes to their role and their duties.

Frustration reaches its peak on the opposition side when members know from the start that their proposals, which are generally very constructive, will be defeated by their Liberal opponents who are under orders to blindly object to any initiatives not originating from the Prime Minister's Office.

The Liberal government is using the House of Commons and its forums as an extension of its executive arm, thereby polluting the climate of discussion, negotiation and debate that should exist in this place.

Powerless, Liberal backbenchers witness their own humiliation, often orchestrated by non-elected individuals who draw legitimacy from their obedience and loyalty to the Prime Minister. This is how Liberal members come to vote, blindly, on issues that are often crucial, without even appreciating the impact of their action.

I have seen in this House Liberal members forced to vote against their conscience in the debate on the compensation of hepatitis C victims. That is unacceptable.

By obediently following the course mapped out by the ministers, themselves bound by the Prime Minister's Office, they just keep rubberstamping the PM's whims.

Out of respect for my hon. colleagues, I will not dwell on the thankless role they are made to play, nor will I enumerate all of these unfortunate behaviours. However, I hope some will appreciate what I am saying. I am thinking for instance of the openmindedness and insight exhibited from time to time by the hon. members for Ottawa—Vanier, Lac-Saint-Louis, Davenport and Sarnia—Lambton, to name but a few.

In light of all this, it would seem that oral question period is ultimately the last bastion of parliamentary efficiency, and this is only because of the media attention surrounding this high point of the day. Without the media, the relevance of this House would be even more compromised.

On the topic of this key element of the parliamentary system and the government's arrogance, one has no trouble understanding the joke about question period being only about questions, not answers.

As a result, media coverage is ensured because of the sensational nature of the event, which captures the public's attention, and not because of its impact on the government. Liberal members are becoming little more than pawns in a game to manipulate the public, nevertheless leaving the wisest players with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Several approaches have been suggested over the years to counter the growing alienation of members of Parliament from their basic functions. Reforms that can be described as major or even revolutionary have been suggested, but they never materialized.

For example, it has often been suggested that the present electoral system be changed to a more proportional type of system, with all the variations we know and can imagine. Thought was even given to replacing the British parliamentary system with a presidential or quasi-presidential system, although this idea was not thoroughly considered and its implementation was not encouraged.

Others have come up with less sweeping suggestions. In this respect, the reforms the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard described to the students at Osgoode Hall, in Toronto, are hardly innovative, although they are a good starting point.

More independent parliamentary committees would certainly make a better job of examining bills and would be more responsive to the public's needs and concerns. The public interest would be better served. It could even contribute to a better examination of the many government appointments made every year.

We should keep in mind that the governor in council, that is the Prime Minister, makes appointments by order in council for over 3,500 positions, that is about 1,000 judges, about 100 heads of missions abroad, particularly ambassadors and high commissioners, and 500 full time employees and 1,900 part time employees in a whole range of agencies, boards, commissions, Crown corporations and federal departments.

Among these appointees there are deputy ministers, heads and members of organizations, CEOs and board members of crown corporations as well as returning officers. Their responsibilities are varied and range from making quasi-judicial decisions to developing recommendations in the field of socio-economic development, and managing large corporations, to name but a few. The Prime Minister's powers of appointment are quasi-imperial.

The Bloc Quebecois' motion is aimed at restricting this power of appointment and increasing the government's transparency and accountability. The motion says:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

The acknowledged purpose of the motion is to allow members of Parliament, on behalf of the people they represent, to review more carefully and intervene directly in the appointment process of certain high-ranking government officials.

Recent history has shown what a futile exercise the review of government appointments by parliamentary committees has been. I would not want to suggest that we again go over the murky circumstances under which the previous public works minister, Alfonso Gagliano, was expelled from cabinet, but his immediate appointment as Canada's ambassador to Denmark baffled and surprised everybody, and probably frustrated many diplomats who were highly qualified for the job. The diplomatic credentials of the disgraced minister were highly questionable, and the fact that this colourful character on the Canadian political scene was on his way to their country raised many eyebrows among the Danish media and government.

As members will recall, at the time, it took a broad consensus from across Canada and in the House of Commons to compel Alfonso Gagliano to appear before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Moreover, we will also recall that the committee chair, no doubt on the orders of the PMO, prevented members from fully grilling Mr. Gagliano.

If committees were more independent and had broader powers, such a situation would never occur again. The same goes for the appointment of top government officials. The appointment of CEOs and managers of crown corporations and federal agencies should always be based on merit and competence.

In his report tabled in the House of Commons on February 6, 2001, then Auditor General Denis Desautels urged the government to improve the way Crown corporations were managed. He also reported flaws within the boards of directors and the audit committees and in the very role played by the government in the strategic orientation of the Crown corporations. The Auditor General also said that these flaws persisted, even if they had been flagged again and again in the past in his reports and in other external studies and documents.

On this subject, Mr. Desautels said:

Crown corporations account for a significant portion of government activity and play an important role in the policy making process of the country. As public sector organizations, it is of the utmost importance that Crown corporations be well managed to guarantee that public money is well spent.

To be well managed, Crown corporations must be headed by people who are more than competent. Unfortunately, political patronage sometimes prevails. Some observers would have liked us to mention the judicial appointments to the Appeal Court and to the Supreme Court of Canada in this motion. I did it in a motion, Motion M-288, that was tabled last Friday in the House of Commons.

I urge my colleagues opposite to support the Bloc Quebecois reform, to support the Bloc Quebecois motion on accountability, to assume their true duties and to vote in favour of including the relevant committees in the nomination process for many other positions at the top of many Crown corporations.

Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on his speech. I believe he has given the House an opportunity to hold a very relevant debate that will allow us to show the public that it is possible to bring in a breath of fresh air and eliminate political patronage.

I wish to come back to the example he gave, that of Mr. Gagliano. When Mr. Gagliano was named ambassador to Denmark, we could at that time have passed a definitive judgment on his involvement in the sponsorship scandal, which would have triggered a public inquiry. In terms of the appearance of justice, it is clear that it was unacceptable for this person to be named Canada's representative abroad, when important doubts still lingered.

Would the hon. member's motion not allow us to have an even broader debate on the whole issue of appointments? One or two years down the road, we could have significant statistics allowing us to see if the problem is very deep-rooted, as many of our fellow Canadians believe. So, in the vast majority of appointments, we would be able to know if the person chosen were a member of the government family, of the Liberal family. After this first screening, we would appoint the person who presents the best profile.

I would like to know if my colleague believes that, if this motion were passed, we could have a still broader debate allowing us to clean up this unacceptable situation.

Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Indeed, to have a democracy that works and institutions that are respected by the population in general, it must be ensured that the people who are appointed to head these institutions are recognized as having the skills necessary to hold these positions.

However, in the case of the appointment of Jean Carle to the Business Development Bank of Canada, or of Jean Pelletier as the head of VIA Rail, for example, we know full well that these people were not appointed because of their skills, but because they were friends of the Prime Minister and had worked in his cabinet. It is time we were treated as adults, as the member for Mississauga Centre was today quoted in a newspaper as saying.

I would invite my colleagues from all parties in the House not to ask the government to treat us as adults. We must treat ourselves as adults, take our responsibilities and reclaim powers that were given to the Prime Minister, powers that rightfully belong to members of Parliament in committees and in the House of Commons.

I ask members of the House, including members opposite, in particular the member for LaSalle—Émard and those who support him, to take action instead of just talking, and to support the motion of the Bloc Quebecois, which would allow us to take responsibility for ourselves, as we must do, because otherwise, we will remain the eunuchs that we are.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier for his speech and most of all for the initiative he took this morning by introducing this motion--

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

--despite the protests of the House leader. As all members have noticed, we are dealing this morning a huge legislative void, for which this government is responsible. Fortunately, we have this debate. The party in power obviously has nothing new to propose, at least for the time being.

Since we are given the opportunity in this debate, and we hear a lot about it in the news, we will discuss the issue of secret ballots in committees. I would like the hon. member who introduced this motion to explain his position on this point.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, to a certain extent, the government House leader is undermining this debate about the choice of committee chairs by a secret ballot.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is currently considering this possibility. The liberal federal government, through its House leader who is acting as a strategist, is stonewalling and filibustering to prevent members of Parliament from choosing committee chairs by a secret ballot.

Today, the member for Mississauga Centre said in a newspaper that a vote is an important thing and that she would support the motion now before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. However, aware of the fact that several government backbenchers are supporting this motion, the government House leader decided to get tough with them and to turn the screws to deny them a free vote on the issue.

I am happy to be able to tell the truth and repeat what the member for Mississauga Centre said, namely that she is not being treated as an adult by this government. She is tired of being treated like a child. She is right and I agree with her.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier for his initiative and the passion he used to convince the Bloc leadership to put forward this motion today.

I have two questions for him, one that has to do with the past and one that is related to a more current issue. Let me begin with the more current issue.

We know that, as a matter of internal policy I guess, the Liberal Party of Canada used taxpayer dollars to very politely invite the former member for Verdun--Saint-Henri--Saint-Paul--Pointe Saint-Charles to take a very comfortable seat in the Canadian Senate.

Pursuant to a decision made behind closed doors by the apparatchiks surrounding the Prime Minister, the former member of Parliament is now sitting in the Senate. As the member for Saint-Maurice put it, the riding was practically handed over to the current member for Verdun—Saint-Henri—Saint-Paul—Pointe Saint-Charles on a silver platter, and she only had to make a personal decision.

I would like the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier to tell us how such a phenomenon fits in the Canadian culture.

My second question has more to do with the past.

Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry, but I have to interrupt the hon. member, because we are running out of time. We have to give the main speaker the opportunity to reply. The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier has the floor.