House of Commons Hansard #3 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was beef.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for St. John's West. We will hear him now.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to draw your attention and the attention of the House, which is difficult, as you know, to a letter I received from the leader of the government in the House, dated January 28, 2004, a copy of which was also sent to you and all the other House leaders.

This letter concerns the answer given by the government to Question No. 37 in the previous session on February 14, 2003. After providing its initial response, the Chrétien government later admitted that the answer provided was deficient. Since then, the new government has become involved and has accepted responsibility for providing an accurate answer to Question No. 37. This is the subject of the letter I received from the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

The leader of the new government has also written to the member for Edmonton Southwest and has provided certain information. However, I am not dealing with the accuracy of that information at this time. My objection is that the information provided has not been placed before the House of Commons by government. The government, having accepted responsibility for the accuracy of the answer to Question No. 37, has an obligation to make a full statement in the House of Commons and has an obligation to correct what it knows to be a false answer.

The government also has an obligation to the House to make known what steps it has taken to ensure that the information provided to Parliament has been accurate, is accurate and will be accurate in the future. This is a primary duty for any government.

Mr. Speaker, you will be familiar with the precedents that require the House to be informed when it has been given inaccurate information. You will also be aware that in the past the House has treated the deliberate giving of false information as contempt.

Several things are clear here. The House was given inaccurate information. The new government has accepted responsibility for that false answer. It has issued public statements giving new information, but it has failed to bring that new information to the House of Commons in order to make it part of the parliamentary record. It has also failed to give that information to every member of the House of Commons by presenting it to the House. I should also note that it has failed to assure the House of the measures taken to guarantee the integrity of the answers posed to the government by opposition members.

I maintain that this constitutes contempt of the entire House by writing only to House leaders and to the member for Edmonton Southwest. The government House leader has withheld this information from other members of the House, particularly those who are not affiliated with any political party. Indeed, he may have withheld it from the entire Liberal backbench.

The government House leader wants Parliament--and I dare say Canadians--to believe that he has corrected this wrong by posting the information on a website. I would remind the government House leader that the House of Commons is by no means a website and should not be treated as such.

There is also reason to believe that the government withheld this information from the member for Edmonton Southwest until a time when it could bury this bad news among other media activity on the day it was released.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that at his news conference on that day the Prime Minister stated that it was a “good news day”. Clearly, news management was on the Prime Minister's mind.

I believe that a committee examination could well find that the detailed information contained in the letter by the government House leader was available in early January but withheld from the member for Edmonton Southwest until January 28.

The procedures used by the government House leader in this case are contemptuous to individual members of Parliament and indeed to the collective House. Should you rule in my favour, Mr. Speaker, I would be prepared to move that this matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to determine if contempt of the House has occurred.

I have that motion ready, Mr. Speaker, should you require it.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. John's West for raising this question of privilege because privilege is an important matter to the House and is one that needs to be discussed more often here.

However, sadly I cannot agree with anything he said here today. He has used a number of words that were very provocative and without foundation. For example, he has referred to the deliberate giving of false information. He has opened a new front with respect to Question No. 37 where he is now attributing motive. He is saying that there was some intention that was deliberate to mislead the House.

Second, he talked about contempt of the House. Let us go back and examine what occurred. This was a question that was put on the Order Paper pursuant to the Standing Orders. An answer was given which all agree was insufficient and incorrect.

A further answer was given on January 28. That answer was given to the member for Edmonton Southwest who had put the question on the Order Paper.

I would refer the hon. House leader, the member for St. John's West, to the Parliamentary Returns Guide which lays out the operational procedures. It refers to the Standing Orders and is very clear that an answer to a question on the Order Paper has in fact for years been answered by direct letter to the member. If an answer cannot be provided within 45 days as a rule, as provided by the Standing Orders, the member can wave that time and ask that the answer be forwarded to him or her when it is available. This is an old, longstanding procedure and convention of the House.

The fact is the government House leader forwarded the letter to the member for Edmonton Southwest on January 28. There is nothing new in any of that. It is a longstanding practice of the House.

What is being said now is that this was contempt of the House. I find this a very interesting conclusion. On the one hand an answer was given on February 14, 2003 by the former government House leader who undertook to look into it and on the other hand an absolutely complete answer was fulfilled on January 28. Now that all the information has been given, too much information is contempt of the House. They are complaining because they have too much information.

Once again I would refer to a book called Marleau and Montpetit, at page 443. I refer to footnote 204. I point out that there are no provisions in the rules, Mr. Speaker, for you to review government responses to questions on the Order Paper.

I would also point out that on many occasions in the past 10 years members opposite have raised this question of privilege. This is not a new phenomenon. In all cases, and I refer to footnote 204 on page 443, your predecessors have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that in no way are these prima facie cases of privilege and that in fact the Speaker has no right or authority to determine or assess the accuracy of the contents of documents tabled in the House or provided to a member in response to a question on the Order Paper. Therefore, in every case, of which there were four or five, it was held it was not a question of privilege.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, just briefly on one aspect of this point. It may be that it is expected that there is an implication that when a letter is delivered to a House leader of a political party in the House, it is delivered to every member of that political party. That may be the case.

Clearly, when a document is delivered only to House leaders, there is no delivery, either direct or implied, to members who sit in the House without affiliation to recognized political parties. In other words, independent members of Parliament, members of Parliament who are classified as independent in the House, do not receive the same right of access to a statement issued by the government as do other members of Parliament. The effect of this is to have party status intrude upon the rights of a private member of Parliament.

It was my understanding that the assault so-called upon the democratic deficit was designed precisely to put all members of Parliament on an equal footing and to deny this intrusion of party status upon the rights of individual members of Parliament.

I draw to your attention, Sir, that the question raised by the member for St. John's West, which includes Mr. Hill, has to do with the rights of individual members of Parliament who are not affiliated with parties in the House and who sit as independent members.

I hope whether or not there is a question of a breach of the rules here, there will at least in the future be a change in the practice to treat all members of the House equally.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, since it was my question that was submitted, I would like to add a few comments to this question of privilege raised by my colleague from St. John's West.

The government has basically taken the position that it can offer the information to the public at any time it wants provided there is no requirement to table the information in the House. In this case the information flows from an Order Paper question that I tabled in October 2002.

Notwithstanding the fact that the question died on the Order Paper as a result of Parliament being prorogued, I consider the act of releasing the answer outside the House by the government an affront to the House and to me personally.

I have two essential points to make.

First, the government refers to this information as information resulting from Question No. 37, making the public and members aware that the information provided was as a result of a proceeding in Parliament. In addition, there was the expectation from members that the answer would be tabled in the House. That would have been the proper and expected course for the government to take. This point is about the dismissive view and disrespect the government has for the House and its members.

Second, and most important, is the fact that the government ignored the practice that when it was discovered that inaccurate information had been provided to the House with respect to the first question in February 2003, the corrected information must then be provided to the House and it must be provided to the House first.

If the House is wronged, which it was, then it is to the House that the government must make its redress. Instead, it participated in a publicity tactic crafted from the communications office of the Prime Minister. That is a clear affront to me personally and to the House collectively.

The authorities on parliamentary procedure are clear. It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. The earliest opportunity in a parliamentary sense would have been yesterday during routine proceedings, not last week when the House was not sitting.

Parliamentary privilege can be bridged from session to session and from Parliament to Parliament. If a breach occurs in one Parliament, it can be raised in another. Applying that same logic to the obligation on the part of the government to provide accurate and truthful information to Parliament, then the obligation to correct an error in one session or another Parliament must be done in Parliament, and its failure to do so is contempt.

The fact that the question died on the Order Paper in the last session is immaterial. What is of concern is the inaccurate information provided to the House in February 2003. What is of greater concern is that the supposedly corrected information was not provided to the House first but to the public. No formal apology to the House was offered yet it was the House that was offended by the government's obvious incompetence with the first answer.

The government cannot even argue that time was an issue. The first answer was provided in February 2003. Our research showed that the answer was faulty. We raised the issue in the fall of 2003. The government provided the answer on January 28, 2004. The House was scheduled to come back on February 2, a date that the government itself set.

My second point will address the government's dismissive view of the House and its members. I will argue that this alone is sufficient enough to be considered contempt, particularly when it involves the integrity and dignity of the House.

These sorts of issues have been raised in the past. One of note was from October 10, 1989. Speaker Fraser ruled on a matter regarding an advertisement put out by the government which made it appear that the GST was approved by Parliament before Parliament actually approved it. The Speaker quoted a member saying:

When this advertisement--says in effect there will be a new tax on January 1, 1991--the advertisement is intended to convey the idea that Parliament has acted on it because that is, I am sure, the ordinary understanding of Canadians about how a tax like this is finally adopted and comes into effect. That being the case, it is a clearly a contempt of Parliament because it amounts to a misrepresentation of the role of the House.

We can draw a parallel with Question No. 37. The government provided information directly linked to an Order Paper question. Canadians would expect that this information be tabled in the House. That would obviously be the proper course of action. The information was not presented in the House and that is an affront to the House.

The government can try and debate technicalities, but the result of providing that information outside the House offended the authority and dignity of the House because the act itself was politically motivated. It was not out of respect for the House of Commons or out of respect to me.

Let me get back to the GST case. While the Speaker in 1989 did not rule a prima facie question of privilege, he did say this:

--I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous.

I will provide the Speaker with another comment from former Speaker Parent on November 6, 1997 in which he stated:

--the Chair acknowledges that this is a matter of potential importance since it touches the role of members as legislators, a role which should not be trivialized. It is from this perspective that the actions of the Department of Finance are of some concern.

This dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.

I trust that today's decision at this early stage of the 36th Parliament will not be forgotten by the minister and his officials and that the departments and agencies will be guided by it.

When I asked my question in Parliament I expected an answer to be tabled in Parliament. By circumventing the expected course of action through a politically motivated, defiant move, the government made a mockery of me and a mockery of our parliamentary conventions.

This Prime Minister is continuing the previous prime minister's dismissive view of Parliament and he is revealing his ignorance of the government's proper role in relationship with members and Parliament.

For information of members of the House, the way this was released was that I got a phone call at home at 7 a.m. from the the government House leader's office telling me “The minister urgently has to talk to you within the next half hour. It is so urgent he has to talk to you. He is going to answer your question, Question No. 37, which was incorrectly answered”.

Why do we not wait until Parliament sits and answer it next week and do what we normally do, which is that it is laid upon the table and we will pick it up. That is how it always operates. Instead, it had to be released that morning. They were throwing it up on the website.

Then I turned on my TV station and there we are. We had the Arar inquiry called. We added a fourth question to the Supreme Court. Well, surprise, Mr. Speaker, this is what happened.

This dismissive view is something the Speaker promised the clamp down on. Mr. Speaker, that is what we are expecting from you today.

In conclusion, the government is in contempt for providing information outside of the House that was directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.

Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada on page 71 states:

Therefore, the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions, and notices of motions...are part of “proceedings of Parliament”.

Privilege of Parliament is founded on necessity, and is those rights that are “absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers.” Necessity then should be a basis for any claim that an event was part of a “proceeding in Parliament,” i.e., what is claimed to be a part of a “proceeding in Parliament” and thus protected should be necessarily incidental to a “proceeding in Parliament”.

There was also the expectation from members that the answer would to be tabled in the House, and that, Mr. Speaker, should have been respected.

Finally, when it was discovered that incorrect information was provided to the House in February 2003 by the government, the government should have provided the correct information to the House at the next opportunity where it was intended in the first place. That would have been the only acceptable course of action.

As our current Speaker said on February 1, 2002:

The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House. ...integrity of information is of paramount importance....

You clearly stated, Mr. Speaker, that it was the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House that was of concern. The integrity of the information involving Question No. 37 was inaccurate. The government should make the correction in this House first.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the government House leader at the time made a commitment to the hon. member opposite to provide him with the necessary information, whether or not there was a prorogation.

My obligation, in following up on this commitment made by my predecessor, was to send the answer to the hon. member who wanted it. I was under no obligation to send him anything else. I sent it to the House leaders of all parties as a simple courtesy, as I did for you as well, Mr. Speaker.

There was no breach of privilege at all. I think this argument has been going on a long time on a point I think is very clear. Question No. 37 had already been answered in the House under the former government.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

The question of privilege raised by the hon. member for St. John's West is one that on its face would appear to have some basis in argument.

The hon. member for Edmonton Southwest has indicated his dissatisfaction with the fact that the answer was given as it was.

The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the government House leader have argued the contrary position.

It seems to me that in this case the sequence of events was that there was a question placed on the Order Paper and it was answered. So technically the matter was finished. There was some discussion and argument as to whether the answer was accurate so an undertaking was given by the former House leader that he would get additional information to try to make the answer more accurate than it was in response to some suggestions from the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest.

Parliament was prorogued and the information came to light at some time after the prorogation and before the new session began this week.

For reasons best known to the government House leader, the information was released last week. The hon. member for Edmonton Southwest and the hon. member for St. John's West are suggesting that amounted to contempt of Parliament because somehow the undertaking that had been given in the previous session made it a parliamentary procedure rather than simply information that might otherwise be in the public. It seems to me that the argument is not well-founded on that basis .

It seems to me that proceedings in Parliament are not necessarily questions that have been answered or undertakings that are given when the minister is no longer there or the minister has been replaced. The undertaking, it seems to me, ended with the session. Many things do end when sessions are prorogued in this place.

We have new rules relating to private members' business but all other bills, motions and so on that were on the Order Paper died. Questions that were on the Order Paper are gone. Members may wish to reinstate them or re-pose the questions and put them on the Order Paper today, but the ones that were on the Order Paper at the end of the last session are no longer on the Order Paper. Everyone will have noticed that the Order Paper is clean as a whistle in that respect. Therefore it is up to members to start their question over again.

In this case, before the session began an answer was made public. The hon. government House leader said that he sent it to all the House leaders as a courtesy.

As pointed out by the hon. member for Calgary Centre, however, that courtesy did not then help him or any of the other members who are not members of a political party in this House. It seems to me reasonable to expect that perhaps the answer might be tabled in the House since it was made available to certain members but not to others. It seems to me, in fairness, that if it is going to be treated as something of importance to the House and sent to House leaders, it ought to be made available to all hon. members, which was clearly not the case, and the obvious way to solve that problem is to table the document in the House.

However I do not see that there has been a contempt of the House in the actions in answering the question between the time of the prorogation of the previous session and the commencement of this session.

In the circumstances, I think we can move on to the next item which of course is tabling of documents.

Health Canada
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a document entitled “Accountability at Health Canada”.

Action Plan for Democratic Reform
Routine Proceedings

February 4th, 2004 / 3:30 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a document entitled: Ethics, Responsibility, Accountability--An Action Plan for Democratic Reform .

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my maiden speech as minister, I want to express how very grateful I am to my constituents in Brossard—La Prairie and to the Prime Minister of Canada for their trust, which is extremely gratifying.

Over 2,300 years ago Artistotle said:

If liberty and equality as is sought by some are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.

That is precisely the objective we seek to attain, to ensure that all Canadians participate in our democratic process.

In modern terms, healthy democracy supposes a relationship of proximity—I was going to say of intimacy—between citizen and government. However, for the past 20 years, this proximity has faded both in Canada and other countries with a democratic tradition.

For example, voter turnout in Canada's federal elections continues to decline, going from 80% in 1963 to 61% in 2000. The public's message is clear: it is less and less concerned about political choice, and it feels that it makes no difference anyway.

Young people, in particular, regrettably feel as if they do not belong, as well as feeling occasional indifference and frequent cynicism. Voter turnout for those under the age of 25 was 25.4% in 2000.

So, would we not risk undermining the very foundation of democracy if, conscious of such indifference, we left it for others to deal with later and elsewhere. We have no right to do this.

Canadian democracy has a good track record. It is one of the most envied democracies in the world. There is no need to start from scratch, but rather a need to find a cure for the lack of confidence it suffers from. It is our duty to act, while realizing that we are embarking on a profound cultural reform that will take time, a lot of time, to bloom.

Some might say that our democracy is ailing because our voting system is inadequate; others might say that the way our Parliament is structured needs to be reviewed. However, if this lack of confidence also affects democracies with different voting systems and parliamentary structures than ours, then perhaps we need to be looking for a different solution.

Before changing our institutions, should we not determine whether they are being used to their full potential? Perhaps not. Young Canadians are those to whom the right to vote matters the least; perhaps this is because we are not on the same page.

In any event, despite numerous studies on this issue, it is going to take time to improve this democracy.

The action plan I am tabling today includes a number of measures that we will implement immediately. However, it remains the first step, an invitation to the collective, non-partisan effort to bring citizens back to their rightful place, at the very heart of the democratic process, because in the end that is exactly what the vitality of our democracy is all about; active, responsive and inclusive citizenship.

I am happy to note that a number of provincial governments have already taken steps to start this effort. Today, in fact, I am writing to my provincial counterparts so that we may share our respective experiences and insights regarding democratic renewal.

Our action plan rests on three pillars: ethics, responsibility and accountability. The appointment of an independent ethics commissioner reporting to the House of Commons is a clear demonstration of our commitment to strengthen the integrity of Parliament and government.

We have also taken steps to implement changes designed to enhance the powers and deepen the responsibilities of members of Parliament. This represents an unequivocal vote of confidence in our members of Parliament. Indeed, we will hold more free votes, provide more resources to parliamentary committees and involve Parliament in a review of nominations.

Moreover, we intend to seek the support of Parliament to create a national security committee of parliamentarians, to provide an annual report to Parliament on federal, provincial and territorial relations, as well as an annual report on democratic reform.

In short, members on all sides of the House will have the tools needed to hold the government to account and provide Canadians with good, responsible government.

This action plan is but the first step. We must be prepared to go further, much further, albeit carefully, step by step.

We have to reinvite Canadians, especially young Canadians, to take part in this reform if we want them also to contribute to the new definition of democracy that will result.

We especially have to make use of wonderful technologies such as the online consultation tools that these young people use on a day to day basis.

Let us not forget the sentence from de Tocqueville, “In democracies, each new generation is a new people”.

I know our youth want to partake in the political process. Just over three weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor Gunn and Lindsay Mazzuco. Together with a small group of young people, they organized Student Vote 2003, an election simulation that introduced over 330,000 high school students to the election process during Ontario's provincial election. I want to congratulate them on their initiative. I am eager to hear about other initiatives taken by teachers, parents and community leaders to introduce our youth to the democratic process.

The Prime Minister has entrusted me with the heavy responsibility of undertaking democratic reform and the unprecedented cultural change that it represents. It is a responsibility for which I am very thankful. While I know that I will make mistakes along the way, I intend to move ahead with determination and modesty.

I am working on this with idealism for the long term, but with both feet firmly on the ground. This reform will only be meaningful if it results in a truly inclusive and fair participation of Canadians in their democratic life.

Action Plan for Democratic Reform
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the House leader learned a valuable lesson today on democratic reform.

I, like the government House leader, am engaging in my speech as the House leader of the official opposition. With these words I too wish to express my deep gratitude to the people of my constituency, St. John's West, and to the leadership of the new Conservative Party for the confidence they have placed in me.

I also want to thank the government House leader for providing me with an advance copy of the government's action plan for democratic reform. Such gestures go a long way in building trust and cooperation among all members of this distinguished House. Unfortunately, that is about as gentle as I am going to be this afternoon because what we have seen is a document which, if analyzed carefully, does nothing but appease government backbenchers, especially those who could not be put in cabinet.

This action plan I received earlier today from the government is littered with platitudes on reforming Parliament. All of these on the surface appear to be fairly noble objectives; however, we have no guarantee as parliamentarians that this action plan will be put into practice prior to the next election. We do not know that the government is serious about dealing with the so-called democratic deficit, and the past actions of the Prime Minister certainly demonstrate otherwise.

It was only last week that the Prime Minister and his government punched Parliament right between the eyes. They talked all they wanted, however their actions proved them wrong. Question No. 37, which I addressed earlier, proved they have little regard for Parliament or parliamentarians. They released sensitive information that should have been released to the entire House of Commons and put on the parliamentary record, but instead they chose to do otherwise.

Mr. Speaker, as you are well aware, parliamentary debate does not just simply mean talking. It also means listening. One of the first things the new government could do to prove it is serious about democratic reform is to have the Prime Minister and members of his cabinet be present in the House during debates. If the Prime Minister and his fellow cabinet showed up for debates, it would give all members from all parties a reason to be present in the House. I challenge the new Prime Minister and his government to take me up on this suggestion.

It was former Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who once said, “Parliament is more than procedure; it is the custodian of the nation's freedom”. That is as true today as it was in 1949.

We have real responsibilities as parliamentarians and we must strive collectively to fulfill our tasks to the best of our ability. As important as democratic reform is, I must state for the record that it does not benefit the lives of my constituents in St. John's West or those of any other Canadians. I would argue that the democratic action plan announced today by the government is nothing more than a shell game, a camouflage to make it appear that Parliament is doing the work of Canadians in the run-up to an election.

Canadians cannot be fooled. Democratic reform does not decrease the waiting time for hospital patients in my constituency or anywhere else. It does not help the state of the fishing industry. It does not lower the tax burden faced by Canadian families. It does not help farmers affected by BSE in western Canada or anywhere else in this country, not by one inch. It does not help the cash strapped military, nor does it help financially burdened post-secondary students. It does not help seniors or the most vulnerable in Canadian society, and I am referring to the homeless.

My point is that although the new government has been preaching democratic reform with great fanfare, the reality is that it is irrelevant to a great majority of Canadians. Democratic reform has everything to do with process and nothing to do with helping ordinary Canadians. In fact, I would argue that the only reason this is moving ahead at all is that the Prime Minister sold his caucus on the idea when he was running for the leadership of the Liberal Party in order to give his lonely Liberal backbenchers some power.

I am a realist. Canadians are realists and they understand better than most that today's announcements do not concern them at all.

However, let us suppose that democratic reform actually was the number one priority of Canadians. Would the Prime Minister follow through? Let us examine his past record.

As minister of finance, he used time allocation 13 times on finance legislation. As minister of finance, he continually opposed reforms to political financing. The Prime Minister voted against establishing an independent ethics commissioner and he voted against giving committees the right to pre-review major appointments. The Prime Minister voted against tabling all the departmental audit reports here in the House. He voted against establishing a parliamentary committee to oversee government spending. He voted against establishing an independent public commission to investigate abuses at HRDC. He voted against tabling the prime minister's code of ethics in the House of Commons. He voted against strengthening democracy through parliamentary and electoral reform. This from a man who wants us to believe he is serious about addressing the democratic deficit in Parliament.

We understand the motives of the Prime Minister and his government. Canadians understand him too. It is an old, tired government attempting to sell us more of the same. It is trying to have us believe it can roll the dice and change the world and the House of Commons in the process. That will only happen when the government is replaced by a new forward looking and energetic government which will be found in the Conservative Party of Canada.

I challenge you, Mr. Speaker, any of the members or the press to go through the document tabled today. When they look at words such as “consult” and they look at electing committees, the majority of whom are members from the Liberal Party, they will wonder where is the real democratic reform.

Action Plan for Democratic Reform
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government House leader pointed out that today marked his first speech in the House as leader, and I congratulate him.

A moment ago, our colleague told us it was his first speech as leader of the official opposition, and I congratulate him as well.

I cannot claim equal freshness, because I am the senior House leader in this Parliament. I shall attempt to use that experience wisely to point out a number of flaws that strike me at first glance, in the bill tabled by the government House leader.

Regarding the basic elements of the reform, we must salute the government's desire, which was also the desire of the previous government, to move forward on the appointment of an ethics counsellor responsible to the House of Commons.

The Liberal Party has had this goal in its platform since 1993. We support it and we have demanded this change many times ourselves.

However, it is clear to everyone that, for 10 years, the government has been hiding behind the more or less informed advice of an ethics counsellor reporting directly to the Prime Minister's office.

If the government really wants this ethics commissioner project, with the commissioner answerable to Parliament, to have all the scope it ought to have, we feel that the government must also commit to a review of the decisions reached by Howard Wilson. On several occasions, he has supported the government, if not saved its skin, although lacking the necessary status and independence.

An ethics counsellor is all very well and good, but there needs to be a review of the decisions made by the previous one, who in a way simply assumed that title without having the necessary independence.

The government ought also to ensure that a public investigation is carried out, in order to cast light on the whole sponsorship issue, if it wants to start off with a clean slate.

As for the committees, the government wants to improve their situation, increase their budgets and enhance their authority. The Bloc Quebecois subscribes to these noble objectives, but the government still needs to realize that it is a matter of attitude.

When the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development made a unanimous recommendation to review the employment insurance program because it had seen all the suffering created across Canada by the government's cuts, the government brushed aside this unanimous recommendation.

What point would there be in increasing budgets, means, research capacity, resources and what have you for committees if the government's attitude is to reject a recommendation that does not suit it, reject it totally, regardless of the fact that it is unanimous, in other words even when government MPs are on side with members of the opposition?

The government wants to improve voting. It wants to create three categories, or lines, of votes. This strikes me at first glance as an attractive idea. There will be free votes, partially free votes, and others with no freedom whatsoever. So that may perhaps have some merit.

How, though, can such a reform have any value at all, as long as the government continues to persist with its negative attitude toward the House of Commons?

The best example of this is very recent. While the Prime Minister of Canada assumes ownership of a plan to enhance the role of members of Parliament, to reform our institutions and improve the system in general, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is telling us that there is no question of the government waiting on any studies, or a House debate and vote, on the missile defence shield because this is too important an issue to delay until the conclusions of such studies would be available.

What is the point of conducting studies and trying to empower Parliament? Everyone, the press, our fellow citizens, is told that we are going to improve things for members of Parliament, by increasing the accountability of these men and women who are elected to represent their fellow citizens, when in fact the government could care less and, at the first opportunity, tells us there is no point in expecting these things and that we must decide now.

My goodness, is this reform just so much grandstanding, or is it the result of a deep-rooted desire on the part of the government to improve the role of this House? If that is the case, the Prime Minister ought to immediately call his Minister of National Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs to order. They are going in exactly the opposite direction to the fine intentions expressed in the document before us today.

Committees will be allowed to examine appointments. Great. That is all very well; nominations of Supreme Court justices—we will look at those. But if a committee asks to see Alfonso Gagliano—who is up to his ears in a scandal—the government stubbornly refuses. That is what the committees want. They want to have before them those they have asked to appear. They want to be able to question the responsible public servants; they want to be able to question ministers guilty of mismanagement.

If there is no will to change the culture of the Liberal government in depth, it will be a waste of time. I hope that the leader of the government will take note of these recommendations and send them on to the Prime Minister's office.

We will know that he has done so if the Prime Minister calls his two ministers to order—the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Action Plan for Democratic Reform
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, for the NDP, democracy is more about 33 million Canadians than just 301 MPs. There is too much concentration today on some parliamentary reform. Much of current parliamentary reform is fluff. It will not be substantive in terms of helping ordinary people in this country and members in the House. Democracy is more about what happens to the people outside of here than people right here on Parliament Hill.

I want to go over what I think the minister should be looking at in terms of what I call democratic reform. He called his package the action plan for democratic reform, but it is really about parliamentary reform. In terms of reforming the House, I like the idea of fewer confidence votes, and I certainly applaud that.

I am concerned about the enhanced role of parliamentary secretaries on parliamentary committees. I want committees to be independent. A parliamentary secretary is going to those committees with an enhanced role, reporting back to the government, and this runs the risk of the PMO having yet more control of committees than it has today. That is something we will have to watch because the goal is going in the opposite direction to what members of Parliament want to have happen.

What I want to see are the following four points.

First, in terms of democratic reform, the minister should also start looking at electoral reform. The House of Commons does not reflect the way people vote. We should be looking at various changes in the voting system. I advocate a system of proportional representation such as the majority of countries in the world have implemented. This would reflect the great diversity of Canadians. We should strike an all party committee and start looking at that process. I remind the minister that there are now five provinces looking at voting reform in their particular jurisdictions. We should be leading the pack instead of being behind it.

Second, we should look at the idea of a fixed election day as exists now in British Columbia. This would put all parties on a level playing field.

Third, we should look at bringing back enumeration. We have had all kinds of problems with the enumeration process in terms of people being left off voting lists.

Finally, the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 should also be looked at.

Those four things with regard to electoral reform would give us a more democratic country in terms of greater participation in our process.

The second major area is parliamentary reform. I have already said that I believe there should be fewer confidence votes.

Our committees should be more powerful. More resources should be given to committees. Committees should have the power to elect their own chairs, and I am glad that was mentioned in the House leader's remarks. Committees should be more independent from the government. A committee should have the power to set its own timetable and to initiate legislation.

I do not see in this parliamentary reform anything about the abolition of the unelected Senate. I wonder where that is. There is now a senator sitting in the Conservative Party. The Alliance Party has a senator sitting in its caucus. Where do those members stand? They did not support the unelected Senate, the unaccountable Senate, the undemocratic Senate. Where is that in terms of this proposal on democratic reform? It is not there.

We should give committees the power to ratify and review important decisions including appointments to the bench.

We should have a fixed budget date to assist the provinces and municipalities to plan their fiscal programs.

The power to ratify international treaties should be taken away from cabinet and given to the Parliament of Canada, including things such as the star wars treaty that is coming up.

A parliamentary vote should be required before we send our troops into the theatre of war. This is not a requirement today.

A national referendum should be required for any major constitutional change that this country might contemplate.

I agree with the minister about a code of ethics for the House, but it should apply to members of the other place as well.

We must look at our civil society when we talk about democratic reform and the minister might contemplate this in the future.

I believe that we must strengthen our freedom of information legislation.

We must implement self-government for our first nations people to give them the opportunity to have equality with the rest of the country.

Anti-scab laws and whistleblower protection must be expanded to protect the rights of Canadian workers. We must protect the right of Canadian workers to organize and the right to strike. The right to organize should apply to all workers, including workers right here on Parliament Hill.

We also must have in this country a balanced and diverse exchange of information through the media, which means: limiting the concentration of ownership of the media and the convergence of the media; providing adequate funding for the CBC; maintaining foreign ownership restrictions; and strengthening the media's right to seek information and communicate it to the public. That is very important in terms of democratic reform.

I conclude by saying that we need economic democracy with reform of global institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the IMF. We have to get rid of Chapter 11 and the state investor clause of the NAFTA agreement. We must have stakeholder rights and participation in our pension plans. Finally, we have to strengthen corporate governance to require a greater amount of accountability by the boards of directors and the senior management of different corporations in the country.

That is an agenda for democratic reform. It is parliamentary reform. It is voting reform. These are reforms that affect our civil society and these are reforms that affect economic democracy in the country.

I urge the minister to get his mind off reforming just the House of Commons and to look at the other aspects of our democracy, to start talking about reforming them as well, and to show the courage to do something about the unelected Senate, the unelected house, that house of hacks, flacks and bagmen who have been friends of the prime ministers of our country. I see the parliamentary secretary blushing across the way. I do not think it is from sunburn. He is blushing because of the former crusade we used to go on about this particular issue.

Finally, I remind him once again, how about establishing a parliamentary committee to begin the process of voting reform with the end result of having a system of proportional representation in this country like the majority of democracies have? That is true democracy.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House in both official languages the report of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, OSCE, which represented Canada at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meetings held in Rome, Italy from October 9 to 11, 2003.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I see the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre rising on introduction of private members' bills. I would just like to make him aware that the bill that he has proposed is presently being given some reflection by the Speaker. It is my understanding it is because of financial implications. The Speaker will address that matter upon further consideration tomorrow when we get to private members' business.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to present about 1,000 signatures to a petition that asks Parliament to consider very carefully and, if necessary, to introduce legislation that will define marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.