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

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

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October 29th, 2002 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois motion before the House today reads as follows:

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.

First of all, I wish to say that this motion is redundant. I say this because this topic is already covered in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Parliamentary committees already have the power, after any appointment, to ask the appointee to appear before them.

Not only is this proposal redundant, but it does not include persons appointed by order in council. If we look at the current provisions of the Standing Orders, the government tables the following appointments: deputy ministers, for example, which are not part of the Bloc motion, ambassadors, consuls general, all heads of Crown corporations, heads of regulatory bodies such as the CRTC, the NEB, the Canadian Transportation Agency. There are also certain appointments to quasi-judiciary bodies, in particular the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

As we see, not only is the motion incomplete and redundant, but we do more under the current Standing Orders than what is requested in the motion.

The government supports the Bloc's motion, even if it is incomplete. Our Standing Orders already deal with appointments, and the motion refers only to the appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations.

We support the motion, but we do have a problem with the amendment put forward by a member of the Bloc. Why?

First, the Bloc amended the motion to request that all government appointments be tabled in the House of Commons before they become final. There are several problems with that.

The Bloc amendment would prevent appointments being made when the House has adjourned for a long period or prorogued. For instance, in the summertime, what do we do after June goes by if there are ambassador or consul general positions that need to be filled? What should the government do? Should it wait for the House to resume before appointing a Canadian representative to some country? It does not make any sense. Lastly, it is not a good amendment.

We will have a problem if the government has to take specific measures to appoint a deputy minister or a judge--although judges are not included in the motion.

While the thrust of the proposition by itself is not complete, the government supports the motion, simply put, because the motion is covered under Standing Orders as it is. As I clearly stated a little earlier, the amendment is problematic because it really cuffs the hands of the government when it comes to appointments.

Also there is another element here, that is, we want to have efficiency in government. We want the government to be able to run its operation in the most efficient fashion. So let us imagine, out of 4,300 appointments, if we were to wait for a committee or committees of the House to examine each and every one of them before those appointments could take place. Imagine the many distinguished Canadians who might decide not to allow their names to be put forward if they were to be subjected to questioning or scrutiny by a committee of Parliament that is highly political to a large extent. Many of those people would prefer not to submit their names if they could not be sure that their names would be accepted by the government. Who would want to put up with all of this nonsense that takes place from time to time before committees?

There is a case in point. I do not want to belabour the issue, but I want to provide one example of a situation where a committee of the House was supposed to look into an issue and passed a unanimous motion, by resolution, to hold all of its hearings in camera to interview an individual. After this committee met in camera, after passing the resolution unanimously, the individual appeared before the committee and gave his presentation, trusting that the committee would respect its own resolution, trusting the fact that all the hearings and questioning would remain in camera for a period of time.

Guess what happened afterward? Members of the opposition on that committee were exceptionally quick to leave the committee meeting, go right into the glare of the cameras outside the committee meeting and blurt out most of the stuff that had taken place inside the committee. Not only did they undermine the credibility of the committee itself, but at the same time they put this witness in jeopardy and broke what I would call, in a sense, one of the most fundamental rules of the House, which is respect for the rules themselves.

If we take what happened in that particular committee, transform it and pass it on to other committees we will have a recipe for disaster, whereby every single person who may have some sort of trust in the system will lose confidence in the system and it will not work. There is nothing wrong with what we have before us because as it is right now the committees have a right within their mandate to call for any one of those 4,300 appointments that the government makes from time to time.

I might suggest that by and large the absolute vast majority of those appointments are done with the best interests of the public at heart. These are highly qualified people who serve their nation exceptionally well, many of whom do it on a voluntary basis, many of whom donate endless numbers of hours to serve this great country of ours.

The committees have that within their mandate. They have up to 30 days to call any witness they want.

Some of the committees in the House, in particular the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, have exercised this authority. I remember that one of my colleagues from the Bloc in fact called on one of the appointees to appear before the committee. A number of questions were asked of that particular appointee. The system worked. But to tell me that we want to subject every single one of those appointments not only to scrutiny but to scrutiny before an appointment takes place, I submit that it will not serve democracy well. It will not serve this country well. This country's system works. In fact it was ranked among the best in the world by Transparency International, which is a not for profit organization that looks at countries and nations and decides whether or not the system is transparent.

The system is transparent and it works. If we really want to be fair to ourselves, we have to simplify the system and not make it more cumbersome. We want to have a proper debate in terms of how we can make the system work, not how we can make the system not work.

Not long ago members voted for over five days continuously, 24 hours a day. Approximately 3,000 motions were put before the House. We voted hour in and hour out. My colleagues on both sides of the House were tired at the end. Why did we have to do that if we really have the interests of Parliament and the public at heart? What did we achieve? Nothing. All we did was frustrate democracy.

If we were to move with this proposed system, in particular the amendment, we would be frustrating democracy. We would be putting partisan politics ahead of the public interest. We should not do that.

We have a system that works. We have a government that gets elected by the people. Ultimately the cabinet and the House of Commons are responsible to the people. The Prime Minister is responsible to the people. Every four or five years, sometimes three and a half years, the people of Canada pass their judgment on the government of the day and whether or not it is doing its job.

The system works, but we need proper parliamentary reform. The government House leader, in consultation with the opposition House leaders, is working on proper reform. People are crying out for reasonable, tangible, real reform. We do not want a reform that when we talk about the issues we seem to come forward with some sort of a resolution, and suddenly because some people do not get their way, they block the whole process. That is what has taken place in the past, in particular when we talk about private members' bills.

Many of my colleagues, including some on this side of the House, have been frustrated by this issue for quite some time. I have been frustrated with this. I have firsthand experience which to a large extent has lessened my trust in the parliamentary reform that has taken place up to this point in time because it is tainted with partisanship and it should not be.

The government House leader has continuously said, “Let us put partisan politics aside. Let us talk about real reform”. I put forward a private member's bill dealing with an issue which is very important not only to me but to millions of Canadians, dealing with the definition of a child and whether or not a law of this land should call a child illegitimate. I thought it was a very legitimate proposition. It went through the process. My proposition got to a subcommittee and the report came back to Parliament that no, the House should not deal with the issue and it should not vote on it.

I was frustrated as a member of Parliament and many of my colleagues and constituents were frustrated. My faith in the system was reduced. However, when I saw the House leaders moving forward with propositions for real reform, I got re-energized. I have a lot more confidence now than I did a few months ago.

I believe that we now have a proper platform in order to bring about real reform. We have to put aside the partisan politics when we talk about real parliamentary reform. We have to move forward with real parliamentary reform. As it is, for our part we will be voting for the main motion, but not for the amendment to the motion because it renders the system inefficient. It does not help the system by itself, in a sense, because it makes the government not function properly.

As I said earlier, what would we do if an ambassador's term ended and the ambassador did not want to extend it? Would we wait until the House was back in session? Would we call the committee back into session? What would we do in that type of situation? Why is it not fair or right for the government to make those appointments and then allow the committees, as is the law now, to examine those appointments? What is wrong with that? I do not see anything wrong with that aspect of it.

We must not miss the point. Parliamentary reform has to be parliamentary reform and an amendment to the standing orders has to be a real amendment. As I said, while we will vote for the motion as it is, certainly the amendment by itself does not meet the objective. In introducing that amendment to the House, I hope my colleague did not mean what it has meant.

A lot has taken place. I recall when we were in opposition back in 1988. Things were a lot more difficult. We have come a long way. Since the government came to power, it has allowed more votes on private members' bills than any other government in the history of the country. More private members' bills have been adopted by the House than ever before. Our colleagues are entitled to stand up and vote freely on private members' bills.

I would suggest the same is not happening on the other side. When the official opposition party was first elected, its members continually said that its members of Parliament were here to vote according to what their constituents asked of them.

As time passed, we observed how often members of the official opposition voted independently. As the days and months moved along, those times started to shrink and shrink and eventually they moved to a block vote. Why? Because they know full well that the system as it is works, although it needs a lot of reform. We live in a democracy which is based on the British system. The official opposition has a role, as does the government.

We cannot be at the mercy of special interests where a group of individuals in a constituency gang up and send a petition with 2,000 to 3,000 names on it because they want to take a stand that fits their specific needs. The member of Parliament finds himself at the mercy of 1,500 to 2,000 constituents who want one thing when probably the vast majority of people in the rest of the constituencies do not want it. The member in this situation votes accordingly because the member believes that is what his constituents want.

In the parliamentary system we have, we follow the party line. We vote according to the party line. It works. It has proven over and over again to be a superior system to the American system where each senator has his own right to stand up and vote. A result of that is that senators and members of congress are at the mercy of special interests.

Take the softwood lumber issue for example, just to point out the difference between the two systems. We cannot Americanize our system. We have to improve and fine tune what we have because it is good.

In the United States, members of congress or members of the senate who come from areas where there are a lot of producers of wood are more likely to be on the side of those who produce the wood rather than those who consume the wood who might be in urban settings but might be in rural settings for that matter. Simply put, those members are bound to follow special interests a lot more than we do here.

I am exceptionally honoured to be a member of the House of Commons and a member of a government that has a wonderful record on all fronts, the economic front, the social front, and the reform front. It has done more for the country than any other government has done in the past. I am honoured to be serving with a Prime Minister who is the finest the country has ever seen. He has brought dignity back to Parliament. He has brought justice to the people of Canada. He has reformed government. He has made government more transparent. He has responded to the needs of Canadians over and over again.

That is the kind of government the country deserves. That is the kind of government Canadians will elect over and over again. We will continue to provide responsible government and a fiscally balanced approach to governing. We are a conscientious government that is always looking out for the best interests of Canadians, not the interests of those who can take care of themselves, but we defend the interests of those who cannot take care of themselves. That is the kind of government the Prime Minister has provided us with.

While the main motion of the Bloc is not perfect, we can live with it. With regard to the amendment however, it is my hope that the hon. member who proposed it will withdraw the amendment so we can move on with the business of the House.

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3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, what a plea for the status quo we just heard. What a plea for the concentration of all powers in the hands of the Prime Minister. This is not at all in line with the speech made by the member for LaSalle—Émard at Osgoode Hall last week.

His colleague from LaSalle—Émard, who will probably be the next Prime Minister of this country in February 2004, made a harsh assessment of the way the House of Commons and this government work.

I am asking him a very simple and straightforward question: does he agree, yes or no, with the assessment made by the member for LaSalle—Émard? Does he agree, yes or no, with the proposals for reform suggested by the member for LaSalle—Émard? If the answer is yes, he should say so and withdraw his passionate plea. If the answer is no, he should indicate on which issues he disagrees with his future leader.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I clearly indicated earlier, the chairs of House committees have already had consultations with the leaders of the opposition parties in the House. There is already a climate of cooperation, a cordial atmosphere. They are looking at ways to modernize the House. They are discussing the adoption of effective Standing Orders.

As regards the issue of votes in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister himself has said on several occasions that we should have electronic voting. We have been discussing this issue for over seven years. Why are we not getting positive results? Can the hon. member tell me? Is it because the Leader of the Government in the House is opposed, or is it because someone from the opposition is stalling?

We have already improved the situation, as I said earlier. We already have proposals on the table. Discussions are continuing.

Finally, I encourage opposition members. If we are truly serious in our desire for democratic reforms in the House, let us work in a non partisan way with the Leader of the Government in the House, and I can guarantee that, at the end of the day, we will have positive results.

It is not a matter of commenting on someone else's remarks. This is a much more fundamental issue. The idea is to discuss what members of Parliament and leaders in the House of Commons can do to have a true reform that will produce tangible results which, in turn, will finally benefit the public.

How can the hon. member say that we can improve things when an amendment such as this one is proposed, and I quote:

That the motion be amended by adding after the word “referred” the following:

“before confirmation of the said appointments”.

What are they trying to accomplish by saying that, whenever the government proposes someone's name, it must submit it to a committee, before the appointment is confirmed? How is this efficient? That is what we are discussing today. That is what is of interest to me.

I do not understand why opposition members do not see things in a non partisan way. We must look at things in a non partisan fashion. If we are really serious about reforms in this House, we must absolutely cooperate.

Now, we are seeing some cooperation, but not enough. We must begin to go forward, not backward.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

This was a nice try on the part of the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, but he should have gone a little further in his reflection when he said that we should leave partisanship aside. Today, the purpose of the motion by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier is precisely to ensure that we will have a true debate free from any partisanship. In fact, it is following the plea made by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard that the Bloc Quebecois brought forward this motion today, so that Liberal members might also have the opportunity to take part in this most important debate. We want to talk about transparency, effectiveness, improved management and also fairness in the appointment process. We also want to ensure that these appointments are not made on the basis of friendship with a party, whether it is the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Canadian Alliance or whichever party may be in office. Today, it is the Liberal Party, and it has a long track record regarding appointments.

This evening, when the time comes to vote, we will see if this is turned into a partisanship issue. The members who should take an interest in this debate are the ones who will support the next Prime Minister of Canada, probably the former Minister of Finance, who also raised the issue of how things are done in the House of Commons regarding appointments, and the lack of democracy in Parliament.

What do members have to do when they sit on committees and government members are asked to block amendments to a bill or to gag a committee? This way of doing things does not bring much to the debate and does not often do justice to the thinking that is done in the various committees, because there is a degree of partisanship. Quite often, the members who show up to vote did not hear witnesses, they did not hear what was said and they did not bring any contribution to the work of the various committees. These same members sit on other committees or they pursue other interests and they only come to block the vote of opposition parties.

We now have before the House a motion brought forward by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier. By the way, I want to congratulate him for putting this motion forward.

This morning, the government House leader, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, was rather mean when he said that the Bloc Quebecois has nothing to propose, that we should be debating other issues like health and provincial transfers and that we were wasting our time today.

I do not believe that we are wasting time here. We are only considering, like everyone elected to this House should do, the way to make a fair contribution to parliamentary debate and to question the way things are done here. I thought the member was rather mean, especially since he had to be replaced as public works minister after violating the ethics guidelines. We all remember how sad he was at the time, how close to tears he was. The Prime Minister had to find him a new portfolio to save him from any further embarrassment. But this morning, he joked that the Bloc Quebecois was not taking part in any debate.

I remind the House that, yesterday afternoon, we had a take note debate on a government motion concerning health care. Where was the health minister? If she had wanted to take part in the debate, she would have shown up in the House.

I only raise this issue because the government House leader talked about it at length this morning when he attacked the opposition and said that we were not being serious.

Let me come back to the issue now before the House. We all know that the Prime Minister is responsible for appointing 3,500 senior officials of Crown corporations and other officials.

Of these 3,500 positions, there are 1,000 federal judges, 100 heads of missions abroad, ambassadors, 1,500 people who work part time as directors, for Crown corporations and so on, and another 500 people who work full time.

So, that makes for a lot of people to appoint. Who does the Prime Minister think of? Friends of the party, people who helped him out. We have a pretty extensive list of people who were named directors at the CBC, for example.

While I am on this subject, given that I sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I would like to mention a few people, like Guylaine Saucier, who is Chair of the board of directors; she is a member of the Council for Canadian Unity.

Roy L Heenan, chairman and senior partner of Heenan Blaikie, has been on the board of the CBC a number of times since 1974. He has received millions of dollars from the CBC to represent it in its conflicts related to human resources. Heenan Blaikie continues to represent the CBC. Mr. Heenan is also a member of the corporation's labour relations committee. So, we know the sponsorship controversy quite well. We have seen how the friends of the party are rewarded handsomely.

James S. Palmer, lawyer and chairman of Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer, who is also a member of the Council for Canadian Unity.

Mr. Campion, who is also a member of the committee, organized a golf tournament to raise money for the Liberal Party of Canada; the entry fees for the tournament were between $500 and $5,000.

Mr. Thomas R. Wilson, president and CEO of Oceanic Adventures Inc, was the president of the Liberal association for the federal riding of Rosedale.

L. Richard O'Hagan, who worked with Lester B. Pearson as special adviser to the Leader of the Opposition, from 1961 to 1963, and then as press secretary to the Prime Minister after the federal election of 1963. He was named special adviser to the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau in communications. He is also a member of the Council for Canadian Unity.

Jane Heffelfinger, who also has ties to the Liberal Party.

Robert Rabinovich and Claridge Inc. and Claridge Investments are two associates fully owned by the Charles Bronfman trust.

This is the way it is with a number of Crown corporations, and we can see that friends of the Liberal Party are generously rewarded for their years of service.

So, on the issue of effectiveness, when people have ties with a party, do they all have the knowledge and the qualifications to sit on the certain boards of directors or certain Crown corporations?

It is the taxpayers who pay for the operation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Why is it that parliamentarians here in this House, who have been elected by the people, could not take part in the election of some senior officials in the whole of government operations?

It is sad to see how some Liberal Party members and ministers, because their hands are tied, are dealing with this opposition day and the Bloc Quebecois. If it were not for the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier today, the government would certainly not have had the courage to deal with a very important issue for democracy.

There have been several scandals and we know very well how in committee one can impede the serious work that has to be carried out to find out what damage has been done. We only have to think about the case of Ambassador Gagliano, who was shipped off to Denmark, and whom the government no longer talks about, as well as all the scandals that happened with respect to sponsorships.

There must be transparency and equity toward the people who have some qualifications. We could also have pointed out many appointments that were made to this immigration committee. Many people sit on it. They have absolutely no qualifications to sit on this committee. There are other people from the civil society, who are perhaps not close to the Liberal Party, but who would also have more qualifications to sit on it. So it is basically the fundamental issue that is raised in this motion: are we in favour of more equity, of more transparency—

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3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

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3:45 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by the comments and the speeches made by Bloc members.

I have had the privilege of sitting in two legislative assemblies: the National Assembly and this House. In the National Assembly, there are parliamentary committees. Appointees can be invited to appear before the municipal commission or any other parapublic commission at any time. However, only the presidents of public corporations are invited to appear before a parliamentary committee, contrary to what we have here in the House of Commons committees.

Even Bloc members used Standing Orders 110 and 111 on two occasions to invite people in order to find out about their qualifications and so on.

Virtually all those who are appointed to a position outside the country are invited to appear before the foreign affairs committee. They are questioned.

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3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

This is not true.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a fact. I fail to understand how these people can question a system—

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3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Like Mr. Gagliano. Talk to us about Mr. Gagliano.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Shut up, I am talking. How can they use a system every day and then say that it is not valid? Earlier, the member talked about the Immigration and Refugee Board. All those who want to be appointed to the board must go through a process. There is a written exam as well as an oral exam.

These appointments are not made casually. Committees can invite practically any government appointee to question them.

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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that my colleague from the Liberal Party is dealing with this issue. We know very well what happens in committee, for example, how opposition members can be muzzled when the time comes to ask embarrassing questions.

We know very well how the Liberals can shorten some sittings. I know this because I also sit on a committee. The chair, who is a Liberal, is quite friendly, but when I ask questions that are somewhat embarrassing for the friends of the party, we are told that it is not the time to ask certain questions.

We know very well that the sitting was shortened when Mr. Gagliano came before a committee. The Liberals used the Standing Orders and we know that they can use the Standing Orders. Finally, we know very well how opposition parties can be muzzled in committee. We do not have the opportunity to ask all the questions and we are often called to order.

When a motion to muzzle the committee members is moved, the Liberal members come out of their office—we had never seen them before—come to vote and that is that. The witness leaves, and we have not been able to ask the questions that we wanted to ask. The Liberals are fiddling with the truth here. They only say what they really want to understand.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, one after the other, the Liberal members mentioned Standing Order 110 and 111 concerning the operation of the House.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the other members all repeated this little pitch; they said that the people appointed automatically appear before the committee.

However, how can the member for Québec, whom I congratulate for her speech, explain to the people opposite that there is an inconsistency between saying, on the one hand, that this is automatic and, on the other hand, that Standing Orders 111(1) and 111(2) use the conditional tense, which makes it non automatic?

How does she explain that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has used these Standing Orders, if not to give us smoke and mirrors and to distort the true meaning of the Standing Orders of the House?

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are all well aware that the use of the conditional makes things other than self-evident.

Standing Order 111 reads as follows:

The committee specified pursuant to Standing Orders 32(6) and 110, ... shall if it deems it appropriate, call—

To a careful reader, this is not self-evident. We are very well aware how it can in fact be deemed that something is inappropriate. We know very well that the Liberal majority controls committees as far as voting goes. We know very well that, even if there are two Liberal members on a committee, they bring on five or six more to vote. They are summoned, told “There's a vote and you need to come on over and vote, so that we can block the opposition motion. We do not want to see dear old party friend or colleague in a tight spot”. That is that.

The second paragraph reads:

The committee, if it should call an appointee or nominee to appear—

We know just how undemocratic the committees are.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to again congratulate my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier on the appropriateness of the motion he is putting forward today, given the way this government is evolving.

For the benefit of those listening to us, I will read the motion, which states:

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.

I will point out that there are 3,500 such appointments, virtually arbitrary appointments, by the Prime Minister and his apparatchiks, in this fine democracy that is Canadian democracy. I would, however, like to focus my speech particularly on a number of heads of Crown corporations and agencies that are of great importance, both the agency and the individual. I am thinking particularly of Jean Pelletier.

Jean Pelletier is a former mayor of Quebec City, a man of strong personality and a former executive assistant to the Prime Minister. He certainly has the right high profile to head up VIA Rail; we have no doubts about his competence, but no one has ever had to prove it, even though it is obvious. Without challenging the individual himself, we do want to focus on the appointment process.

The same goes for André Ouellet, a nice young man. I spoke with him again last month, on a very sensitive issue, because it is not always very clear with Canada Post. However, he is very skilled with people, this is part of his abilities. He is a former Liberal minister. Apart from the fact that he was a Liberal minister, nothing proves his expertise. Once again, the PMO decided that, from now on, André Ouellet would act as president of Canada Post.

It is possible to make several dozen appointments like this. In my opinion, on many aspects, and we will try to demonstrate this in the few minutes that we have here, Canada is a fine, modern and sophisticated banana republic that knows how to present things, how to do things on a large scale so they do not show too much. However, they end up showing.

It is a little bit like Mexico. The PRI, that is, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has been in power for 73 years, probably because it appointed a good number of friends. Over the years, the number of friends adds up, especially with friends of friends. As long as the people do not protest, the PRI remains there. However, when citizens get upset, they kick it out as was the case recently. The PRI had been in power for 73 consecutive years.

In the case of the Liberal Party of Canada, it is 69 years—that is close to the PRI—69 years during the last century. That means that a lot of friends were appointed. That means that, between 1900 and 2000, particularly the latter part from the 1960s on with Trudeau, Turner and the present member for Saint-Maurice, many friends of the Liberals were appointed. We saw it in Shawinigan, and we see it everywhere, from coast to coast. Often times, it is for political reasons. Their skills are not taken into account; they are irrelevant. It is the whole appointment process that comes into question.

What I find irritating is the appointment of directors of Crown corporations, as well as of returning officers. This concerns us all, from coast to coast.

The chief electoral officer of Canada has been denouncing this situation publicly for a long time, saying that he should the one who appoints these people as part of an appointment process that would be as unarbitrary as possible. We need not look far; we have only to follow Quebec's example. The member for Beauharnois—Quebec spoke a little while ago about Quebec. We can talk about Quebec.

Where the appointment of returning officers is concerned, Quebec is a model. Of course, let us face it, nothing is perfect in this world of ours, but we should set benchmarks to ensure some kind of neutrality, if we want a non-partisan and objective appointment process. As things now stand, if you are not a Liberal, you do not stand a chance of being appointed as a returning officer, which means that the democratic process has been tainted.

Personal acquaintances can sometimes be blamed when mistakes are made. How many friends does a returning officer have in the Liberal Party who have some influence over the election process? To whom would they naturally turn to?

Let us say that funds were misappropriated or there was an attitude problem and a complaint was filed. At present, the chief electoral officer cannot fire a returning officer, because he did not hire him. It has happened. The chief electoral officer cannot fire someone he did not hire.

The chief electoral officer plays a key role in making this great big country a democratic country. He has a key role that is being tarnished because of the lack of an objective, unbiased and professional process for appointing returning officers.

Therefore, we do not have a democracy. I talk about a banana republic, and that comparison can take us very far. A banana republic is a country that hates referendums and that will have nothing to do with the kind of democracy we have in Quebec democracy, where we are constantly wondering if a referendum should not be held.

No referendum was held on the Confederation, in 1867; no referendum was held on the patriation of the Constitution, in 1982; no referendum was held on the social union agreement, in 1999.

There was never any referendum to deny the existence of the Quebec people. Aboriginals are recognized in this great big country, but not the Quebec people, which is not even recognized as a distinct society. Everyone knows that it is an empty shell. There never was a referendum. The public was not consulted, except on a few occasions.

We did it and were rebuffed every time. It sure does not make us enthusiastic. We were rebuffed at the time of the Constitution and we were rebuffed again in 1992, when English Canada said no and Quebeckers said no, but for fundamentally different reasons. However, everyone said no to the policy designed here in Ottawa. So, this is a strange model of democracy.

I personally saw, from another angle, just how serious it is when people talk about banana republics. You will recall, Mr. Speaker—you were no doubt here—the debate on family trusts, when Mr. Desautels, the Auditor General at the time, had the courage to criticize this government's attitude in siding with a big Canadian family at the expense of the poor, which cost the Canadian tax system some $400 million to $700 million. What happened?

At the time, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. Bay Street came to Parliament Hill. The great manipulators, the great taxation strategists were denounced by the Auditor General. The folks from Bay Street, the professional accountants came to Ottawa to reproach the Auditor General for having discovered their secret; they told him that he had violated one of the great principles of Canadian taxation, the secret, since it was possible to identify a person or family with the information that he had made public.

Instead of congratulating the Auditor General, we in this sophisticated banana republic of ours, shunned him, starting with the chair at the time, who is still a member today, who attacked him as chair, refusing to let any of his Liberal colleagues ask questions, using his background in finance as an excuse. He asked excessively detailed questions to the Auditor General, from his most recent positions on the taxation system to make him look bad, in an attempt to discredit the Auditor General.

I remember this as though it were yesterday, because that is how it was, and this exemplifies this nice, modern banana republic we live in. Those were very dark days, in my opinion, for the pretentious image of democracy that this country reflects, particularly abroad, in using Quebec, in trying to pass Canada off as a bilingual and binational country, when in fact we know quite well, as I said earlier, that in reality, the Quebec people is not recognized within Canada.