House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, at that time Senator Oliver and I did not enjoy the fact that we were in the same party. Therefore I do not think I should be held accountable for what he said and did at that time. However, be that as it may, I do not believe an error was made then.

We have to look back in history where there have been cases of cabinet ministers who were perceived to have received benefits through their spouse. It is a huge loophole to say that the member cannot benefit from his position as a parliamentarian but then not to include the fact that usually spouses have a close relationship with each other. My wife and I have been married for 42 years. We have a policy in our house that what is mine is hers and what is hers is hers, and it works very well. For me to give a benefit to my spouse because I am a parliamentarian is just as wrong as if I were to take it for myself. It should be included, it is included and I am quite content with it except for that little aberration.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, before I pose my question to my colleague, I just wondered if you would allow me to pass congratulations on to one Chad Kilger for his outstanding play with the Toronto Maple Leafs? I do not know if he gets any breaks from the referees in that league but maybe he should.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Let me be very straightforward with the member for Lethbridge. I do not know if he gets any breaks but I know the member for Lethbridge does not expect to get any breaks here today.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it never hurts to try to butter up the referee, whether in a hockey game or in the House of Commons.

I agree with the fact that there is a difference. Members of the cabinet, who do have control of the larger chequebook, need to be watched. They do need to have different regulations from the ones under which we operate, particularly those of us in the opposition. The budgets we control are only our members' operating budgets.

I agree with all the rules, regulations and decisions on what a member of Parliament should make public. We should all have guidelines under which we operate and we should have no problem with that. However I do believe that the real concern is in cabinet and that those recommendations and those comments should come to the House in a public manner and not directly to the Prime Minister.

I wonder if the member would comment a bit further on that aspect.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree a lot with what the member has just posed as a question. However we must remember that this code will only come into effect at the beginning of the 38th Parliament. The little fact that is hidden in here is that we will be under the Liberal regime until the next election.

Under the present regime, the ethics counsellor provides personal and confidential advice to cabinet ministers and to the Prime Minister. Any public pronouncements that he has made and that have been posted on his website, unfortunately, have, in some instances, been very carefully sanitized so that they, in essence, become part of the damage control team to which I spoke.

I believe that in this code and with the regime of the new ethics commissioner and the rules under which he will operate, there will be more openness. However I think there is still a real danger of sanitization of things. For example, when the Prime Minister was originally suspected of arranging for a loan in his own riding, of which he became an indirect beneficiary, we got no real facts out of that at all.

I will wait eagerly to see whether this new regime will be better but, frankly, I have serious doubts about it.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion presented by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

First, I would like to point out that the motion presented earlier by the hon. member for Peterborough concerning the appointment of Mr. Bernard Shapiro as ethics commissioner was agreed to on division. To clarify things, I will add that it was not the Bloc Quebecois members who dissented; the Bloc Quebecois was and is in favour of the choice of Bernard Shapiro as ethics commissioner.

He is a very competent person, whose integrity cannot be questioned, and who is very much involved in the Montreal community. I will not go over his resume again here, but we know his involvement as a professor emeritus and rector of McGill University. I just wanted to clarify that.

Second, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the introduction of this conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, but I would like to add some nuances, some shading; I shall explain.

In the first place, and it is certainly not my intention to reread the code, I would simply like to look at the first paragraph in this code, section 1.a.

The purposes of this Code are to

(a) maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution;

That is what I wanted to read, and you will see that my comments are relevant.

I would also refer the House to section 4, which reads as follows:

Application to Members

  1. The provisions of this Code apply to conflicts of interest of all Members of the House of Commons when carrying out the duties and functions of their office as Members of the House, including Members who are ministers of the Crown or parliamentary secretaries.

That is where the problem lies. As we see it, we could look at what has happened since 1993, a period with which I am familiar because I was elected in 1993, but it could be an in-depth examination and look back farther than 1993. So, I would like someone to point out to me how many unethical acts have been committed by members of this House since 1993.

Today, we are discussing a code of ethics for members of Parliament. No member has been suspected of behaving unethically. However, there have been cases of ministers suspected of behaving unethically. I will give a few examples of this.

I feel I must set the record straight because the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member, attempted, particularly the opposition parties, to ensure that the code of ethics for ministers would also be subject to review by the ethics commissioner so he could identify instances where ministers fail to behave ethically. Currently, section 4, which I read, refers only to the behaviour of ministers in carrying out their duties as members of Parliament. But what about all these instances of ministers failing to behave ethically while in office?

I wonder if there have been any such cases in the past ten years. The answer is yes, and some ministers had to resign. For example, there were a number of salmon fishing trips to the Irving family lodge in New Brunswick, paid for by Irving.

Where in this code of ethics does it say that a minister will not be able to engage in such activities? Where is it written? No members of Parliament—at least, if there have been, their names have not been made public—have been invited to the Irving lodge.

I will spare the House the list, but members can simply refer to the debates initiated by the Bloc Quebecois and the other opposition parties. If memory serves me, six or seven ministers spent time at the Irving fishing lodge.

Ministers also used the Irving private jet to travel between Ottawa and their riding. I believe that the Minister of Labour, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, was one of them. I do not think she went fishing but she admitted to flying on the Irving plane once.

I would remind you that this was clear for a former minister, now ambassador to the UN, I believe. I refer to Allan Rock, whom we can name because his seat is vacant; he resigned. This is one person who admitted that he had acted unwisely as Minister of Industry by accepting this trip. Irving is a major forestry company, and thus a major figure in the forestry industry, as well as a refiner, distributor and retailer of petroleum products. The Minister of Industry was forced to admit that this was a flagrant lack of judgment, but what it is is a lack of ethics. Where in the code is this covered as punishable or forbidden? Nowhere.

Then there is the former government House leader, who for a while was a kind of pinch-hitter in Public Works. I refer to the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. He sheepishly admitted it had been unwise for him to accept an invitation to a family ski weekend at a Bromont chalet. Hon. members will recall this matter, how he produced cheques, how a priest was involved. It was nearly impossible to make any sense of the thing. The endorsement on the back of the cheque could be produced, but not the front. They have gone so far as to start using priests to justify their actions. I had thought that there was a clear line between religion and politics here in Canada and Quebec. In this case involving the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, where would this code of ethics have contained anything by which he could have been chastized as a minister?

Then there is the member for York Centre, who still sits as an MP. He was forced to resign for having awarded a contract to a woman friend with whom he had a relationship. People have a right to relationships, but because privilege entered into it the member for York Centre had to resign as minister, although he still sits in this House. Where in this code of ethics is there anything that would have applied to this situation?

I could also refer to the case of the member for Don Valley East. In his capacity as a minister, as well as an MP, he wrote to an immigration board member requesting preferential treatment for someone in his riding. He was obliged to resign as the Minister of National Defence. Where is there anything in the code of ethics that would govern this behaviour on the part of a minister? Nowhere.

Let us talk about the current Prime Minister and his friends, who accumulated a war chest of some $12 million for his Liberal Party leadership campaign against the member for Hamilton East. He accumulated $12 million and we have the list of most of the donors.

The morning after the election, will this code of ethics ensure the independence of the Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who accumulated $12 million in contributions from his friends? Does he owe something to the companies that, in some cases, contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Let us talk about the contributions he received from Mr. Schwartz at Onex, or the contributions from Earnscliffe, the company to which he awarded contracts when he was the finance minister. We could also talk about Jean Lapierre, the Quebec lieutenant for the Liberal Party of Canada, the party of scandals—but there is not enough time. In addition to his broadcasting career, Jean Lapierre did some lobbying.

When I was the Bloc Quebecois transport critic, Jean Lapierre invited me to meet with Gerald Schwartz from Onex to talk about the acquisition of Air Canada. As a lobbyist, he invited me to come and talk about developing the Bikerdike Basin in Montreal. The Olympia and York Developments group, linked to the Reichmann family, wanted to develop a Disney-style amusement park in the Bikerdike Basin and Jean Lapierre lobbied for this. The morning after the election, will Jean Lapierre, who is the member for Outremont and in opposition with us, be completely independent? No, he will not.

We could talk about Dennis Dawson, the Beauport candidate for the Liberal Party, the party of scandals. He is a former president of Hill and Knowlton, a lobbying firm. When he is elected, if he is elected, will he be independent?

That is what I wanted to say in conclusion on this code of ethics. Indeed, we cannot oppose virtue and there are interesting provisions. However, all the scandals of the past 11 years involved ministers, not members.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always listen with interest to the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. I want to thank him and the member for Elk Island for their fine work over many years, as the member for Elk Island indicated, on this legislation.

With regard to my colleague from the Bloc, it seems to me one can always list particular examples of problems that occurred in the past or hypothetical problems which might occur in the future. I know my colleagues have worked on this in good faith, but if one tries to draw up a code, as we have tried to do here, it is absolutely impossible to list every possible contingency, circumstance or whatever. Human nature being what it is, things change. The code could be faced with problems, which we do not anticipate at the present time, so we should make it as strong as we can for the present time.

The member for Elk Island put it very nicely, but one thing that came out during our hearings, with respect to members of Parliament, was that this was not to address a particular problem. Members of Parliament, as far as we can tell, are honest, straightforward and all those things.

When we heard from commissioners in different provinces, they constantly made a point. We asked them what serious problems they had to deal with and what fires they had to put out. They very often said none. However, their role as commissioners and, therefore, the role of their codes were preventive.

The existence of the commissioner and the existence of the code, first, prevented people from doing things wrong because they knew there was a chance of being caught. Second, it gave the members of these different legislatures term of references and some rules at which they could look. Then it gave them a person to whom they could go and ask advice. Perhaps they and their families were engaged in a particular business and before a situation arose, they would seek advice on how they should behave in the House of Commons, or in their legislatures, or in the national assembly in Quebec, under those circumstances.

Would my colleague comment on the value of this code and the value of the commissioner as a preventive measure?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague from Peterborough who, by the way, chairs the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs brilliantly, that I find him unbiased, and responsive to members. He does a great job.

Of course, the ethics commissioner can play a preventive role. Contrary to what we had in the past, the ethics commissioner will be accountable to Parliament. Right from the start, the Bloc Quebecois has held that Harold Wilson was actually a political adviser to Prime Minister Chrétien. He was not accountable to anyone, and he was a political advisor to Jean Chrétien.

This institution has more credibility now, and that is why we agree with the appointment of Mr. Shapiro, because the ethics commissioner will be accountable to the institution of Parliament. I think he will indeed have an important preventive role. We will be able to ask for his advice on whether or not we should accept a gift we have been given, whether a certain thing is appropriate or prudent, whether something should be put on paper. I have no qualms about this.

But the problem remains intact. Members do not have ethics problems. These problems tend to occur at the ministerial level, and this code does not say anything about this.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a pleasure to rise and take part in this debate today, which is on a code of conduct for members of Parliament.

Let me begin by dealing with recommendation 1. It states:

The Committee recommends that the following Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons be appended to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and that the Code come into force at the beginning of the 38th Parliament.

I think it is fair to ask why we are debating this at this point in time, and I believe the answer is pretty straightforward. The government is almost certainly heading toward calling an election within the next short while. There is concern because the Prime Minister, in his lengthy run up to becoming the prime minister, talked about the democratic deficit in the country and in Parliament, and made suggestions for ways to overcome that deficit prior to the election.

By any objective account or standard, this has not been a roaring success for the new Prime Minister. I would submit that House of Commons standing committees have not been liberated and freed up to any great degree. The whistleblowing legislation that has been introduced is largely seen as farcical and will not work. However, this legislation is something that can be rushed through in the dying days of the 37th Parliament to say that, yes, the government is serious about the democratic deficit and that it is doing something about it.

When I meet with constituents in the riding of Palliser to discuss their concerns and issues in the campaign or with the House of Commons or the government, the concern that keeps coming back to me time and time again is respect for taxpayer dollars. By and large, people do not object to paying their fair share of taxes if that money is being spent wisely and properly. When they see things like the so-called ad scam, also known as the sponsorship scandal, they shake their heads, particularly at this time of year when the tax filing date is coming up very quickly. I would submit that those are of concerns to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

That takes me to the entire argument about the code of conduct applying to the backbenchers. Yes, it should apply, but the real force and effect of the legislation should be at the ministerial level at the cabinet table. That is where influence can really be brought to bear to impact how contracts are awarded or not awarded and how business is done. I agree with the member for Elk Island and the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. The crux of the matter is really with the cabinet. The vast majority, I think the parliamentary secretary said 99.9%, of House of Commons MP backbenchers from whatever side of the House are straightforward, honest and reliable.

That, unfortunately, as we all know is not how the public perceives it. I tend to agree with the parliamentary secretary on that, from my almost seven years in this place. Members will have read articles that have been written probably by people who do not believe in government, who believe that all politicians are dishonest and crooked because of the vast numbers of them that have been arrested for drunk driving or bank robbery. I agree fully with the Elk Island MP when he says yes, there have been one or two.

I believe there is one in Parliament right now who was convicted following the 2000 election campaign. I believe he has sat as an independent ever since that event and conviction came to light.

Many of us have been in groups and have heard people say that all politicians are crooks. Then they realize there is a politician in their midst and they say, “We did not mean you. We just mean all the others”. It is important for us as a group to stand and defend one another and say that politicians are not all dishonest and they are not all crooks, because the vast majority of us are not. However, as we all know from reading public opinion polls, that is not what the public thinks.

The purpose as it is outlined is to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution. That is important. It certainly is supportable by our party and I suspect by all members of the House.

One of the purposes is to demonstrate to the public that members are held to standards that place the public interest ahead of their private interests, and to provide a transparent system by which the public may judge this to be the case, and that is fairly self-explanatory, and to provide for greater certainty and guidance for members on how to reconcile their private interests with their public duties and functions.

As was described recently, when somebody believed that he or she may be in a conflict of interest because of spousal holdings or business arrangements, he or she would have an opportunity to meet with the ethics commissioner before he or she had to vote on the legislation. This would be a useful step. Obviously it is one which we would support.

Another stated purpose is:

2 (d) foster consensus among parliamentarians by establishing common standards and by providing the means by which questions relating to proper conduct may be answered by an independent, non-partisan adviser.

On one of the principles of the legislation, to serve the public interest and represent constituents to the best of our abilities, I think back to the early days of the 37th Parliament when a contretemps arose. The member for Scarborough Southwest was accused of not representing a constituent because she had declined to vote for him in the previous election. There was a real furor over that. One would hope that item 2(a) under principles, to serve the public interest and to represent constituents to the best of our abilities, would be something we would all fully respect, regardless of how people voted or how we think that they voted.

Once we are elected here, we represent, as has been said many times, all of the people who reside in the constituency, even those who did not vote for us and would have no intention of ever so doing. It is our duty and responsibility to represent them and their views to the very best of our abilities.

The code further states:

(b) to fulfill their public duties with honesty and uphold the highest standards so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interests, and maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each Member and in the House of Commons;

(c) to perform their official duties and functions and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully discharged by simply acting within the law;

(d) to arrange their private affairs so that foreseeable real or apparent conflicts of interest may be prevented from arising, but if such a conflict does arise, to resolve it in a way that protects the public interest--

The protection of the public interest is always very important. It goes on:

(e) not to accept any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity--

There are a lot of useful things in the bill on ethics. Certainly the New Democratic Party supports the adoption of the code of ethics. We would have preferred to have seen it for all parliamentarians, including senators. There are some difficulties in the other chamber apparently with regard to this, so the bill affects only members of Parliament.

The parliamentary secretary said that we are not in the vanguard on this. That is obvious since all of the provinces have ethics legislation that impacts on MLAs, MPPs and MNAs from coast to coast to coast.

As I and others have said before, the conflict of interest scandals which we have witnessed in recent years have almost exclusively focused on cabinet ministers. Even though there was an ethics bill, it was clearly not being followed by a number of cabinet ministers. Howard Wilson, the ethics commissioner, reported only to the prime minister. In effect he became a laughingstock in Canada because he was seen to be under the thumb of the prime minister at the time, Mr. Chrétien.

The ethics legislation must at the very least create an independent ethics commissioner who would be an officer of Parliament. As I understand it, that is what the bill would do.

Dr. Shapiro will be a worthy appointee. It will be an important step forward as we finish off the 37th Parliament and go into the 38th Parliament

It is important that Canadians be able to file complaints directly with the ethics commissioner and not solely through a federal member of Parliament. This is an important provision. It shows the public that it is able to contribute to the process directly. It goes without saying that frivolous accusations must not be grounds for complaints. The process must be handled with the respect that it deserves.

I want to acknowledge the member for Halifax who introduced a private member's bill proposing a code of conduct for all parliamentarians like the one we see here today. The former member for Halifax West, Gordon Earle, presented a bill in the 36th Parliament dealing with a code of ethics to assist us to become more transparent and for Canadians to have greater confidence in us as individuals and collectively as members of the House of Commons.

It would have been preferable if the House of Commons had voted by a two-thirds majority on the appointment of Dr. Shapiro rather than accepting his appointment earlier today on division. It would have given greater comfort to all of us if that had been the case. Having said that, our caucus has confidence that Dr. Shapiro will be a strong ethics commissioner. He certainly has a very good background for the post.

In summary, I will merely reiterate that the New Democratic Party will be supporting the legislation.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

April 29th, 2004 / 11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want the hon. member to know that I also think Mr. Shapiro will be an excellent ethics commissioner, but I also feel very strongly that he has to have independence.

The ethics commissioner appointed by the government and reporting to the Prime Minister knows that if he does not do what is right in the eyes of the Prime Minister, he will not be the ethics commissioner. That is why we feel very strongly that there has to be an independent ethics commissioner who does not report to the Prime Minister but reports to the House of Commons and is able to tell each and every one of us what proper ethics he feels are right.

I wonder how the hon. member of the NDP feels about that. Does he not feel that the ethics commissioner should be independent? Does he not feel that the ethics commissioner should be able to tell the hon. member of the NDP as well as each and every one of us what we should be doing? Does he believe that the ethics commissioner will have that freedom of choice by reporting to the Prime Minister and not to the House of Commons?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I stand to be corrected, and it would not be the first time, but it is my understanding that the ethics commissioner would be reporting to the House of Commons.

I tried to indicate in my remarks that one of the problems we had with Mr. Wilson was that he was reporting to the prime minister and the prime minister alone, and that this was totally unsatisfactory. People saw through it. Canadians saw through it. Certainly members on all sides of the House saw through it.

What we have just agreed to on division before this debate began was to accept Dr. Bernard Shapiro to be the ethics commissioner. He indeed would be reporting to the House of Commons and not strictly to the Prime Minister. I take some comfort in that. It is a step in the right direction and I support it.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a comment and an observation and I would ask my friend to respond.

First, I want to thank him for his support of this initiative. It is consistent with the private members' bill, as he noted, brought forward by the member for Halifax in the past. It is interesting that it is consistent with the motion brought forward under private members' business by the then leader of the progressive conservative party, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.

I would point out that in the member's comments he has referred to a bill that is legislation. I would point out to him that this is not legislation, that this is indeed a motion that is a proposed amendment to the Standing Orders, which is profoundly different from a piece of legislation. I make that observation. If he cares to respond, I would welcome that.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, obviously the parliamentary secretary is correct. I appreciate his pointing that out to me.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would reiterate again the concern that was expressed by the member for Saint John. She said that the ethics commissioner, in dealing with public officer holders, has a different role. It is very explicit in section 72.07 of Bill C-4:

The mandate of the Ethics Commissioner in relation to public office holders is

(a) to administer any ethical principles, rules or obligations established by the Prime Minister--

In other words, the Prime Minister establishes them. The bill provides that the Prime Minister must table that in the House so that it is accessible to everyone.

In the previous 10 years, remember that the then prime minister kept saying, “I have this code, I have this code,” but we could not get a copy of it. It took six years of cajoling until finally the thing was made public. Now the legislation requires that it be made public, but the Prime Minister is still the author of it according to the bill.

Also, it says explicitly:

(b) to provide confidential advice to the Prime Minister with respect to those ethical principles, rules or obligations and ethical issues in general; and

(c) to provide confidential advice to a public office holder with respect to the application--

There is all this private and confidential advice referred to. On the one hand I can see where it has some merit. Everything cannot be done out in the public, but how does the public know that the thing is being administered properly if there is all this confidential advice being given to the ministers and the Prime Minister? I would appreciate the member's comments on that.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult in terms of the confidentiality on material like this. I think there does have to be some sensitivity. However, the larger concern the member for Elk Island raises in supporting the member for Saint John is that somehow this code of conduct is to be exclusively in the hands of the Prime Minister. I do not think that will occur.

Perhaps I am being too generous in saying that and I will be proven wrong at a later date, but I think there has been such a hue and cry about what has happened that changes have to be made. There has been such a hue and cry about what has been allowed to happen with Howard Wilson as the former ethics counsellor, who was, as I said in my remarks, completely under the thumb of and dominated by Jean Chrétien when he was the prime minister. I think there is a recognition that changes have to be made. There is a recognition on all sides of the House and in the standing committee that has been dealing with this matter.

I also have some hope that in the next Parliament the government of the day will not have the same kind of majority to ram things through in the way it has been able to in the last 10 years and that there will be more interaction from all political parties to make some significant changes. If indeed the member for Elk Island and the member for Saint John are right on this and I am wrong, we will have some opportunities, as a Parliament that is working much more directly together to get legislation through, to make sure that those problems, if they exist, will be corrected.