House of Commons Hansard #170 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was military.

Topics

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in the last number of minutes the House has witnessed some rather extraordinary behaviour.

I am pleased the hon. member for St. Albert talked about behaviour that is proper, legal and judicious because earlier this evening we saw behaviour that was exactly the opposite. In an affront to the dignity of the House and an assault on its order and decorum a member of parliament from the opposition attempted to seize and remove the mace from the table. There could be no more serious affront to the dignity, decorum and order of the House than that.

I wish to put on record my strongest possible objection and indicate to the Chair that at the earliest opportunity at the next sitting of the House I will seek the opportunity to elaborate on this point from a legal point of view. I will put the argument before the House that this is a question of privilege that deserves to be dealt with, and I wanted to give notice at the earliest opportunity.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Notice has been given, and I am sure given the seriousness of the situation the Speaker himself will look into the matter and report to the House.

Is the hon. member for Ottawa West--Nepean rising on the same question of privilege? The hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca has been patiently waiting to speak.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also rise on the question of privilege.

A question of privilege has been raised with regard to the most serious violation of decorum in the House that can occur, and I would ask that until the question of privilege is resolved the member responsible, the hon. member against whom the question of privilege has been raised, not be allowed to speak in the House.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

No at this point in time I do not agree with the government whip. The Speaker will have to pass judgment on the severity of what the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca has done in the House and he will bring in a ruling.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I apologize to you and the House for touching the mace, a symbol of democracy in the House. The government House leader mentioned the issue of proper, legal and judicious affronts to the House. There is only one greater affront: the violation of democracy that took place today with the government's motion.

However I apologize to the House for touching the mace. I did so in the heat of the moment and to try to make the point that democracy was violated, four years of work was destroyed and people's lives were at stake. I did it to make a point. I should not have done it and I apologize to the House.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The member's apology is accepted, except for the fact that I do not know if the Speaker will pursue the matter. However the apology is quite well taken.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I wanted to reply to the government House leader and the whip. I wanted make the Chair aware, as I am sure he is, that I had approached the table and made arrangements for the hon. member to speak some time prior to this intervention. The Chair is aware of that and I made the table aware of it as well.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 6.55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

April 17th, 2002 / 6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

moved that Bill C-388, an act to regulate conflict of interest situations for ministers and to provide for a code of ethics for ministers, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked to have started by saying that I am happy to speak to this debate on Bill C-388, the result of just over two years of work. However, I can only conclude, after the sad spectacle the government treated us to, that the amount of work and the number of years we spend working on a bill do not count for much here in the House. This is a grievous affront to private members' business and to the rights of parliamentarians to raise in the House issues of concern to their constituents.

That said, I will go through the motions of my presentation because I believe this bill contains provisions that deserve to be heard, even though, unfortunately, we will not have the opportunity to vote on it.

The summary of the bill states that:

The purpose of the bill is to regulate the conduct of ministers with respect to conflicts of interest and post-employment. It is primarily based on the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders and the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The purpose of this bill is to regulate the conduct of ministers with respect to conflicts of interest during the exercise of their duties and post-employment.

To that end, it provides for the introduction of a code of ethics, primarily based on the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders and the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom, which would henceforth be part of Canadian legislation. Any breach could then be the subject of penalties.

The bill begins with a detailed description of how ministers' assets are to be managed. A clear definition is provided of the difference between exempt assets, which are the assets for private use of the minister and his or her family, and assets which must be divested, such as companies and publicly traded securities, which must be disposed of or administered by a third party, such as a trust. Over and above the question of assets and regulatory statements relating thereto, the bill also defines the pertinent family relationships in order to avoid any confusion.

Part of the information on ministers' assets disclosed under the provisions of this bill would be made public, thus guaranteeing the transparency of the system, a sine qua non which ought to allow the public to regain a degree of trust in our political institutions and the integrity of its key figures, that is the ministers.

The public's cynicism about public institutions, which is already very much evident from the polls, is translated in election after election by a growing disaffection and a more and more anemic voter turnout. A government can hardly pat itself on the back if it is elected by close to 40% of the 60% of people who bothered to turn out to vote.

A phenomenon such as this is evidence of a sick system, one that must not be accepted with complacency because it suits us, but rather must be a cause of considerable concern.

Major changes concerning ethics and conflict of interest are therefore more indicated than ever, particularly since the muddled affair of Auberge Grand-Mère and the precipitous departure of Alfonso Gagliano for Denmark, after allegations of nepotism and favouritism. These incidents have only further eroded the already shaky confidence our fellow citizens have in politicians.

Incidentally, clause 3 of Bill C-388 clearly describes the purpose of this initiative, and I quote:

The purpose of this Act is to enhance public confidence in the integrity of ministers and in the decision-making process in the federal government:

It is obvious that such a measure can only increase public confidence in the government and change the very negative impression that our fellow citizens have of politicians.

Indeed, the weekly La voix de L'Est , reported on February 25 that a survey conducted by Léger Marketing shows that public confidence in politicians has never been so low. The article referred to:

—a historic low of 18%—

The pollster noted that people “trust a car salesman more than a politician”. Indeed, politicians come last in the 20 professions mentioned—

As we can see and feel, public confidence in us is at an all time low. Personally, I think this situation is extremely serious and we should be concerned as parliamentarians, because it is probably the worst threat that our institutions have faced in a long time. This threat is all the more insidious, because it may seem trivial, temporary or cyclical.

As I already mentioned in the House, democracy is a blessing that must never be taken for granted and that must always be cherished.

Therefore, measures that require a bit more transparency on the part of cabinet members, as provides the bill before us this evening, should not only be concerns, but should also be part of the government's legislative agenda, this as quickly as possible. We all know that this government truly needs to improve its image with the public, in terms of integrity and credibility.

By adopting a code of ethics regulating the conduct of ministers while they hold office and post-employment, the House of Commons would acquire a useful tool with respect to public integrity, which could only earn the respect of our fellow citizens. This would always be a good start in winning back their trust.

As members of society, we must take responsibility for our actions, as well as assume the obligations resulting from our choices. As responsible citizens, members of government must act in the public interest, and not with their own personal interests in mind. In order to ensure that ministers always act in the public interest and with integrity, their responsibilities and obligations should logically be part of Canadian legislation.

In addition to the oath of office which they must swear before taking up their duties, ministers would be formally called upon, under this bill, to file a confidential statement and a statement of divestment.

Finally, Bill C-388 would create the position of commissioner of ethics, a real one. This individual would be appointed by the House and accountable to it. He would be appointed for a term of seven years, renewable once only, and his duties would essentially be, and I quote:

(a) to receive ministers' statements and reports;

(b) to give directives and provide advice to ministers on the actions that must be taken to ensure fulfillment of the ministers' obligations under this Act;

(c) to maintain a public register in which the ministers' public statements are kept;

(d) to make studies and hold inquiries; and

(e) to monitor the operation of this Act.

The commissioner would therefore have a real power of investigation and could launch an investigation on his own initiative or at the suggestion of parliamentarians or even ordinary members of the public, if he felt that the facts uncovered warranted it.

In addition to the annual statutory meeting provided for in this bill, the commissioner of ethics could at any time request a meeting with a minister, and vice versa. At such a meeting, the commissioner would provide advice and issue directives to the minister, who would be required to comply with them or face a penalty.

It is important to point out, for the benefit of those following this debate, that bills and motions introduced in the House of Commons by members are examined by a sub-committee of parliamentarians, the Sub-committee on Private Members' Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It is mandated to decide which items will be votable.

We have had numerous debates on this matter, that is on whether it would be appropriate to have all private members' business votable, but unfortunately the recent mini-renovation, or modernization, of the standing orders will not allow us to go any further in that direction.

For a member to have his or her bill or motion declared a votable item, it must comply with a series of six mandatory criteria, from which I will spare you except for the one that reads:

Bills should concern issues not part of the current legislative agenda of the government or that have not been voted on or otherwise addressed in the current session of parliament.

It would appear that the bill we are debating here has been deemed not to be votable by the Sub-committee on Private Members Business, because it did not meet the above criterion.

The Canadian Alliance, we are told, moved a motion on the same subject as that raised in Bill C-388. Could I have forgotten, when I was working on the bill, work that took more than two years, incidentally, to check if my bill met all six of the criteria used to determine if it would be deemed votable?

I think not. After numerous inquiries and lengthy research, all that I concluded was that there was no other motion moved by the Canadian Alliance or any other party that proposed establishing a bill to regulate the conduct of ministers, with respect to conflict of interest and post employment.

There was, however, a motion moved by the Alliance, which may have produced this error. This motion, which was moved by the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla on February 8, 2001, and voted down on February 13 by the Liberal majority in the House, read as follows:

That this House adopt the following policy from Liberal Redbook 1 and call for its implementation by the government: “A Liberal Government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor to advise both public officials and lobbyists in the day-to-day application of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The Ethics Counsellor will be appointed after consultation with the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons and will report directly to Parliament”.

It is understandable that, to some people, the terms used in that motion may be confusing, since it includes similar terms such as “code”, “counsellor” and “conduct”.

The purpose of this Canadian Alliance motion was simply to ask the Liberals to keep one of their own promises and to make good on it. Incidentally, the government amended that motion, to avoid having to vote against its own election promise. Our credibility with the public can only suffer whenever the government resorts to partisan schemes and tries to avoid keeping its promises.

It would be very deceitful to try to convince anyone that Bill C-388 and the Canadian Alliance motion are similar, and to argue that the House has already dealt with this issue in this session. This evening, we had a unique opportunity to meet the expectations of the public, which would love to put its trust in our political institutions, if only we would show some will to ensure greater transparency and integrity in the decision-making process.

Unfortunately, this is a missed opportunity, because once again, the Liberals will have manoeuvered to skirt the issue.

In 1993, the Liberals had made the commitment, before being elected, to increase the level of confidence in our institutions by making integrity and public accountability the cornerstone of their election campaign. In fact, in the spring of 1993, the Prime Minister said, and I quote, “Giving a job to my barber, his wife, the person who took care of the kids when we were not home or my favourite innkeeper, that will not happen again”.

This type of behaviour, which favours friends of the government at the expense of other people, can tarnish the reputation of the government itself, that of ministers and that of MPs as a group but, above all, these actions undermine the very foundations of our democracy.

To meet public expectations that were created by these previous comments by the Prime Minister and certain ministers, we must put in place without delay one or several mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of this same Prime Minister and his ministers. That is exactly what Bill C-388 proposed to do.

We must prevent embarrassing situations such as the Auberge Grand-Mère scandal, the allegations of patronage still hanging over the former Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Alphonso Gagliano, and having taxpayers pay three times for the same report, as was the case with the Groupaction report, from happening again and again.

It is high time the government acted to save the reputation of ministers and that of their political party for the benefit of all members of this House, the public and our democratic institutions. It must impose a strict and clear code of conduct to legitimize its actions in the eyes of the public.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the bill introduced by the member for Verchères--Les Patriotes on a code of ethics for ministers. I would first like to congratulate him for having raised this important and serious matter of values and ethics in the House.

This is an important matter for all members of the House. We all have a responsibility to this House and to Canadians for maintaining the highest standards of conduct. The government has made values and ethics a top priority since its 1993 election. In my view the bill before us would have the effect of undermining the progress we have made in restoring values and ethics in the last decade. The summary of the bill states:

It is primarily based on the Conflict of Interest and Post-Employment Code for Public Office Holders and the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom.

On the one hand the bill is based on something we already have in place for ministers in Canada, a code the Prime Minister revised and strengthened in 1994. These revisions clarified existing obligations and added new guidelines for government decision making. Preferential treatment to persons or groups based on the individuals hired to represent them was prohibited. Public office holders now must provide reports on the assets and outside activities of their spouses and dependants. The Prime Minister tabled this code in parliament. We do not need a law to bring this code into effect, it is already part of the way government works.

On the other hand the bill says it is based on the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom. In fact the bill only deals with ministers and not all members of parliament. The U.K. code is just that, a code, not an act of parliament. There is nothing in it that is legally enforceable. It derives its authority from resolutions of the house, not statute or common law.

Bill C-388 would override the Prime Minister's responsibilities for ministerial ethics. All members of this House should be proud of our traditions as a parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy means the Prime Minister and ministers are accountable to parliament, as we see every day during question period. This includes the ethical behaviour of ministers.

In our system of responsible government the Prime Minister is accountable for the conduct of ministers. He sets the standards of conduct and makes sure they are met. As the Prime Minister has said, the buck stops with him. Bill C-388 would take that responsibility away and make the House responsible for the conduct of the ministry, which is not the practice in the U.K. and other countries.

The U.K. parliament has a guide to the rules relating to the conduct of members to accompany its code. This guide states explicitly that additional guidelines and requirements for ministers are given by the prime minister and are not enforced by the British house of commons. That is because in the U.K., as in Canada, the prime minister not the house of commons is responsible for the conduct of his or her ministers as the case may be.

Clause 3 refers to the fact that the purpose of this bill is to bolster public confidence. I congratulate the hon. member who, like the government, wants to enhance public trust in elected representatives.

In 1994, the Prime Minister declared before this House that, since the 1993 election, “no goal has been more important to this government, or to me personally as Prime Minister, than restoring the trust of Canadians in their institutions”.

The government is accountable to parliament on integrity in government and has taken action. The Prime Minister tabled a revised and strengthened conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders, and appointed an independent ethics counsellor to administer the code following consultation with the opposition on the selection of that ethics counsellor.

The role of the ethics counsellor on ministerial conduct is clear. He acts independently and he is the Prime Minister's adviser on matters related to conflict of interest and the ethical conduct of government officials including ministers.

The government brought forward amendments to increase transparency and strengthen the Lobbyists Registration Act. We moved the lobby industry out of the shadows and into the light. We gave the job of ethics counsellor real teeth and strong investigative powers and made sure that his reports under the act were tabled in parliament. The ethics counsellor can also be asked to appear before parliamentary committees and has done so.

Under the leadership and direction of the Prime Minister the government has an excellent record of promoting openness and integrity in government. In fact one of the amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act when it was before the House was made by an opposition member, the member for Elk Island.

We made it possible for there to be more opportunity for policy debates in the House and have innovated with pre-budget consultations. The auditor general used to report only once a year, as we all know. The government made it possible for there to be four reports in a year. We saw one of those four reports yesterday.

In 1995 we created a special joint committee to establish a code of conduct for members of parliament and senators. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the support of opposition parties to make the code a reality. The government took measures to reform the pension plan for members of parliament and senators and stop double dipping.

In 1999, the government established guidelines on donations made by crown corporations to political parties. We improved the Canada Elections Act so that the influence of third parties would not be disproportionately greater than other stakeholders in the electoral process. The guidelines on ministers' dealings with quasi-judicial bodies were strengthened.

Ensuring public confidence in government remains a guiding concern for us today. Now in 2002 the government is developing new guidelines with respect to ministers' dealings with crown corporations. The government has also taken steps to strengthen integrity at all levels of government.

Under the leadership of this government, the public service has taken a number of tangible measures, including the following: in 1996, there was a study and a report on public service values and ethics; an Office of Values and Ethics was created in the Treasury Board Secretariat; the deputy ministers, co-champions of values and ethics, undertook a sustained dialogue in order to enlist the co-operation of all public servants; employee training and information modules were developed.

Today consultations are under way on a draft statement of principles for the public service to help set out and enshrine its values and ethics.

The government is committed to restoring integrity and public confidence in government. I am confident that our comprehensive program of initiatives has served and continues to serve Canadians.

We have not forgotten the depth to which public confidence in government sank during the government of the Conservatives.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

You have taken it to a new low.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

I hear the House leader for the Conservatives commenting on my comments. We have not forgotten, nor has the public, the depths to which the confidence in government fell when his party was in government some years ago.

Under this government the Prime Minister and his ministers have been and remain accountable to parliament for their policies and their ethical behaviour. However beyond undermining the Prime Minister's personal responsibility for his ministers, the bill would also undermine accountability and our system of responsible government in general.

As I mentioned earlier, we must congratulate the member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes on raising the issue of the integrity of public office holders in the House. As everyone knows, public office is a matter of trust. In 1994, the Prime Minister told the House that “the trust in institutions... is as vital to a democracy as the air we breathe”.

The standards the government has kept since 1993 have raised the bar for ethical conduct and Canadians have placed their continued trust in the government by re-electing it in 1997 and 2000. The bill would work against the progress we have made since 1993 and would undermine the principles of democratic government.

The bill is also contrary to the United Kingdom's approach to ministerial ethics, which is what the bill claims to be based on.

For these reasons I cannot support the bill. I urge all hon. members to do likewise.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to fulfill the wish of the hon. member who spoke previously that I rise and speak to the issue.

I have had a compelling interest in the matter of ethics and trying to restore the belief of Canadians in the integrity of their government. I have had that interest since before I ran for parliament. When I was elected I came here and had an opportunity to serve on, among other things, a joint House of Commons Senate committee on a code of ethics for parliamentarians. We went through a very interesting process.

I must ask the question: What is it that builds trust? I have encountered a number of people in my lifetime whom I trusted implicitly. There have been a number of others whom I did not trust. What is the difference? The difference lies in judging the record.

If I were to think of the individuals I trust, and there are a number of them whom I will not bother to name, I would probably start with my own dear father. He is now 90 years old and I have trusted him implicitly all my life. I have never once observed him treating someone unkindly. Nor have I ever observed him trying to take advantage of or cheat someone. It has been just the opposite. He has always bent over backwards to give people a good deal. I learned from him that to be trustworthy one must simply be trusted. That is what we need in government.

With all due respect to the hon. member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes, having a code is important because it restrains and controls those who are not trustworthy. That is the only reason we need it. For people who are already trustworthy we do not need a code because they will do what is right. It is only for those who are untrustworthy.

When Canadians look at parliament why should they trust it? Why should they trust its members? Unfortunately we wear the coat that is placed on all of us. I heard a very bad joke some time ago. A friend of mine said “Do you know what is wrong with politicians?” People are always poking fun at politicians, but like a total idiot I said “No, what?” I should have passed. He said “The thing that is wrong with politicians is that 95% of them give the other 5% a bad name.”

That is just inaccurate. It is not my observation. When I look around at the members I work with, not only in my party but in all the other parties, I believe in the integrity and trustworthiness of by far the majority of the people here. Unfortunately members of the public keep in their minds breaches of trust and attribute them to all of us and the institution itself.

A number of breaches of trust come to light. For example, I consider it a breach of trust when the auditor general gives a report of the kind that was given here yesterday. It is a breach of trust to Canadian taxpayers who work hard, skimp and save to make ends meet and pay all the bills to find the government has totally mismanaged and wasted their money.

We need to address the issue of financial management in government in a big and real way. It is a huge task. There is no doubt about it. We have heard the minister of HRDC proclaim that the problems in her department are being looked at and say she is trying to improve them. I want to trust in that. I really do.

I do not see the results of it. The auditor general, whose job it is to report, has come up with all these examples of mismanagement, improper accounting, unauthorized payments and foolish things being purchased. We have heard that in some cases the government paid twice for a phantom report. That builds distrust. We need to stop that at all costs.

It also depends on openness. I am appalled when the auditor general, who I do not think has any vested interest in giving a statement or an evaluation to the House and to Canadian people of the mismanagement of the financial affairs, reports that money was misspent or mismanaged. The Minister of Finance answered a question in this regard. Instead of answering yes, that the auditor general had pointed out the problem and that they were going to do what they could to fix it, he flustered and blustered and said that the opposition party was always looking at negative things. No, we just want to get it fixed.

The main thing I would like to say is that we need an independent ethics counsellor. The parliamentary secretary who just spoke talked about the fact that the government brought in an independent ethics counsellor. It has not. I have met Mr. Wilson. He is a fine man and I really want to trust him. However the government and the Prime Minister have shackled him by not giving him the freedom to report independently like the auditor general does.

He also made a statement which I do not think is accurate. He said that the ethics counsellor tabled reports regularly in the House. I have never seen one. I have been here for eight years and the government has been in power for eight years. In its platform it said there would be an independent ethics counsellor. We have looked for those things. We had a supply day motion that was along the line of the motion today and the government voted it down. It said it would not have an ethics counsellor who would report directly to parliament.

I ask why not? In the event that the Prime Minister and his dealings in Shawinigan are on the up and up and fair and square, I would welcome an independent ethics counsellor who is totally free of any implied control by the Prime Minister. Instead the hands of the ethics counsellor are tied. He can only report to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister puts his spin on it, and we still do not know whether things in that area are right or wrong. When we call for an independent investigation, the Prime Minister has the ultimate call on it. He is the one who calls on his members to vote. They vote against an independent investigation, so it is never done.

If I am innocent, I want an investigation because I will be declared innocent and set free. If I am guilty, then I do not want it because then I will be exposed. When the government in its lack of wisdom, decides that there will not be an independent ethics counsellor, it is actually doing just the opposite of what it wants to achieve, and that is to build the trust of Canadians in our institution and in us as individuals.

I cannot state strongly enough that we need to have an independent ethics counsellor. I urge all members to be the kind of honourable people that our title gives. When we call each other hon. members, let us actually be honourable. Let us have a code that looks after those who unfortunately do not have the built-in level of morality.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes for all the work he has done on this bill.

I could not help but think, as I was preparing some notes on the bill, that there should be some criteria for any conflict of interest and a code of conduct. On my own I made up those that I thought should be in the bill, and the hon. member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes had covered all of them and a number more.

When I thought about how I would address these issues, one has to put the proposed bill in a historical context. The history of some of the abuses that went on in the government that was in power from 1984 to 1993 to a great extent resulted in the election of the current administration in 1993. Those abuses led to a great feeling of distrust of politicians generally and certainly of a number of cabinet ministers more specifically. That distrust has not waned in the country as a result of the promises that were made by this administration when it was outside of government and which showed up quite forcefully in its first red book. One of those promises has not been met.

The red book was very clear about what the Liberals would do to deal with some of the ethical considerations that had arisen in the prior administration, the one from 1984 to 1993. They breached that trust and broke the promises they made to the Canadian electorate. One can stand in the House, as we have heard tonight from the speaker for the government, and say that they got re-elected. That is not a satisfactory answer.

Did the level of trust in our politicians go up since 1993? It is obvious from the size of the votes we now get, the decreasing number of people who vote and the general cynicism. As the member for Elk Island said in his joke, that level of cynicism has not gone down. If anything, under this administration, it has increased.

When we look at what is contained in the proposed bill, it cries out for support from both sides of the House. It is obvious we will not get it from the government side. It speaks in a number of ways to the point about rehabilitating our reputations as politicians in this country. It goes very directly to that in a number of ways. I want to address some of those specifically.

It sets out very clear guidelines of the conduct that we expect from our ministers, our members of cabinet. It addresses very specifically what they have to do about divesting themselves of certain assets that will put them in a conflict position. It sets out very clearly other members of their family, their family relations and how they have to deal with those. It sets out a code of conduct, and government members in particular should be looking at this part of it, as to what is permissible and what is prohibited conduct vis-à-vis constituents, other members of this country or anybody else and what the minister is allowed to do and what the minister is prohibited from doing. If that conduct had been in legislation, perhaps we would never have had the Grand-Mère affair.

The bill sets out very clearly what has to be disclosed by the minister. It establishes an ethics counsellor who will be appointed independently and it makes it very clear that the ethics counsellor will be independent and will report to parliament not to cabinet nor the Prime Minister.

This was some very good work on the part of the member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes. His bill sets out very clearly the role that the counsellor should play. The counsellor would have the right to consult with individual cabinet ministers and direct them in their course of conduct. It would allow the counsellor to investigate and conduct enquiries. All these points are covered in detail so there is no question as to the role of the ethics counsellor and how extensive it is.

Bill C-388 would allow the counsellor to make rulings to a cabinet minister on what is prohibited conduct and what is permissible conduct. For example, if a cabinet minister has some question as to whether he or she can sit on a board or be on a committee of a non-profit nature, a charitable group of some kind, the counsellor can make a ruling as to whether it is prohibited or permissible.

The bill provides some guidelines but also provides in a very concrete fashion some ability for the counsellor to be a support for the cabinet member who is uncertain as to what is inappropriate course of conduct.

The bill also deals with the question of gifts and the provision of hospitality for cabinet ministers, such what is permitted and what is prohibited, and it allows the counsellor to rule on them.

A major point that has always bothered me is the role that a cabinet minister can play once he or she leaves cabinet. This bothers me perhaps because I live in Windsor and I have been influenced in many ways by the American experience in politics. Over the years I have seen a number of abuses in this specific area. Cabinet ministers, both at the state and federal level in the U.S., move, in my opinion, at least historically although it has tightened up somewhat, much too easily between their former cabinet positions to the private sector where they are very clearly in conflict. This does not leave a good appearance for the general electorate.

If the bill were ever to become law there must be meaningful and effective penalties for offences. Bill C-388, after all the work the member has done, does address that issue.

I want to praise the member for Verchères--Les Patriotes for the work he has done on the bill. It seems to me that his bill is comprehensive and it covers all the points we have dealt with in terms of abuse over the last two administrations and it does it in a very effective way.

Code of Ethics for Ministers Act
Private Members' Business

7:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am also very pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. I want to congratulate my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. I think that he has worked very hard on this bill. It is a most important issue for parliament and for the country.

I also want to acknowledge the comments of other members, particularly the previous speaker from Windsor who consistently brings a very thoughtful and insightful approach to the debate at all levels in this place. This is without a doubt subject matter that is very troubling for many, given what has transpired in recent years and what has transpired very recently with respect to the record of the government.

I have to take great umbrage and great offence to the parliamentary secretary who continues to add to the hints, hyperbole, veiled illusions and broad strokes with which he likes to paint the former administration. This is consistent with the pathological pursuit of a former prime minister with respect to something that has never been proved. In fact we have seen probably enough paper used to cause another softwood lumber crisis to try and substantiate something that simply is not true, which is that the former prime minister was involved in some kind of illegal activity. Yet both the government and unfortunately the Alliance Party like to contribute to this common myth. Stevie Cameron has written much fiction about this as well.

I caution the parliamentary secretary because he is really on thin ice. I take some personal offence to the perpetrating of this myth because my father was part of that administration. Again I take great exception to the broad tarred brush that he and others in his administration would like to use.

I would like to bring it back to some facts when we delve into the issue of ethics. Some of those facts include things like Pierre Corbeil, a Liberal fundraiser in the province of Quebec who was out tollgating. Armed with HRDC lists of grants and contributions he went to potential contributors who were on that list and said “Pony up a little money for the Liberal Party of Canada and we will see that those projects are approved”. That is a fact. It is a fact because he was convicted of influence peddling. That is a fact.

There are other facts to which I could allude. I could allude to the admission by the Prime Minister that he went to the president of the Business Development Bank to lobby for money for a friend, colleague and fundraiser in his riding of Shawinigan, an owner of a golf course that he used to own to get money for that project. Is that ethical? Is that legal? That is for Canadians to judge.

The cancellation of the EH-101 helicopter project, on which the hon. member for Saint John has spoken in the House many times, with the stroke of a pen cost $800 million and thousands of jobs in western Canada. Then the government turned around and on the last day of budget allocation spent $101 million to buy luxury jets to fly the Prime Minister and the cabinet around. Is that ethical? Those facts are on the record.

There was the cancellation of the Pearson airport deal at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. There was the bold-faced promise to cancel and repeal the GST. We all remember that one. Was that ethical? Was that honest?

The issue with respect to free trade was another dandy. That was a very forthright promise made by the Prime Minister, a promise of course which was reduced to writing in that famous, fabled, fairy book, the red book. It contained one of the very subjects of the private member's bill with respect to the promise to have an ethics counsellor reporting directly to parliament as opposed to the person who could be the subject of unethical behaviour, the Prime Minister himself. It is completely perverse and completely perverts the member's wish that we have ethical behaviour.

There is a legion of other issues. There is the appointment of Mr. Gagliano out of cabinet and sending him off to Denmark to avoid accountability for his actions here in this country. Is that ethical? Was his behaviour in this country prior to his departure ethical? It all remains to be seen.

It is all done in the hopes that if they deny, ignore and delay, it eventually will go away and they will get re-elected. That is the ultimate purpose. We have heard the Machiavellian intent and the parliamentary secretary has echoed it here again, “Let us just get re-elected”. That reaffirms. That cancels everything out. That says “Everything is fine because Canadians have embraced us yet again”.

We in opposition have to take some responsibility for that if we are not prepared to give Canadians an alternative, a group, a party, a movement that they can trust. Surely these things should be examined and Canadians should be reminded of the behaviour. That has been the mantra of the Liberal Party forever: repeat it; it does not matter whether it is true or not, just keep repeating it over and over and eventually it will take hold.

Should we have an independent ethics counsellor that could preside over parliament, could examine issues, numerous issues that have arisen under this administration? By all means. I wholly endorse the spirit and the intent of the member's effort in bringing forward Bill C-388 which provides for a code of conduct for ministers.

That would certainly help enhance public opinion and public impression of ministers of the crown, particularly when we now see ministers in the government vying for party leadership and having campaign cheques sent to the wrong office. We would not have to worry about the potential conflicts of interest if we had an independent ethics counsellor that would bring the issue back here, having delved into it in some detail.

What is frightening is the litany of things I have listed is only the tip of the iceberg. Those are only the things we know about. It seems that it is only when somebody slips up and sends a cheque to the wrong office that it comes to light, or when some talented investigative journalist brings it out, or perhaps it is something that the auditor general points out, like the public works minister and his warm welcome to his new administration. It was not his fault. He inherited that problem. The government had paid twice for the same report. It is absolutely shocking and an absolute treacherous waste of money. There was $7 billion we heard about in the last auditor general's report that does not appear to be too clearly accounted for.

Ministers have been accused of stepping outside the bounds of democracy by illegally voting in byelections. We all remember the occasion where a minister of the crown voted twice.

All of these occasions that I have referenced did not result in ministers resigning. They did not result in the Prime Minister taking any action to have the ministers removed from office. No. Delay is the deadliest form of denial.

What the Prime Minister does is he waits it out. He hunkers down and waits for the blaring headlines to go away. He hopes that those headlines will not occur at all. He simply ushers them off the stage quietly or dispatches them to Denmark. What did the Danes do to deserve that?

Our party's position has been clear on this. We would require that the ethics counsellor report directly to parliament instead of to the Prime Minister as is currently the case. We have advocated that for some time.

There have to be guidelines. We know the guidelines are very much needed to ensure that conflicts of interest between a minister's job and a leadership race do not occur. Guidelines are needed to ensure that friends of the government do not receive special access to public funds. Guidelines are needed to ensure that ministers will be held accountable to the House before they are sent away to represent Canada abroad, or that ministers who give false information to the House might be held accountable.

When these promises are made pre-election, when these fiction writers and producers decide to put these promises in print, I hope Canadians will look to members such as the sponsor of the bill to look for ideas and ways that we can bring back some form of democracy and accountability to this place.

We saw another blatant example today. We have seen the massive overuse of closure. Today was another new low where the government basically pulled a private member's bill off the table.

It is no wonder that the level of frustration goes up and the level of cynicism bordering on apathy continues to rise. The government has done very little to promote ethics or accountability during its almost 10 years in office.