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

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question because it speaks both to the complexity of this place and to the time limitations placed not only on this place but upon all of us.

I would simply point out that Westminster has embarked upon what I think is a most interesting pilot project. It is a little more than a pilot project, because it now has a second chamber, a second House of Commons, which operates at defined hours and in which a certain type of business is debated at certain hours. This gives members a greater opportunity to speak. It is interesting to note that this second House of Commons receives equal scrutiny, both by the public and by the press, in terms of its operation.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I would seek unanimous consent of the House to proceed to petitions now and to resume debate on this important issue afterwards.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Sherbrooke have the unanimous consent of the House to proceed to petitions now and to resume this debate afterwards?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees of the House
The Royal Assent

April 29th, 2004 / 10:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

April 29, 2004

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 29th day of April, 2004 at 9:50 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Uteck

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Tariff; and Bill C-250, an act to amend the Criminal Code (hate propaganda).

Committees of the House
The Royal Assent

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe the hon. member from the Bloc is simply asking us to move to petitions so he can present one, for whatever reason. I think it would be greatly courteous of us to do that. I would, on his behalf, ask again for unanimous consent to move to petitions.

Committees of the House
The Royal Assent

10:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Committees of the House
The Royal Assent

10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues in the House for allowing me to table this petition and thus act as the spokesperson for the 12,558 people who signed this petition asking for the establishment of a regional passport office in Sherbrooke. This initiative is also supported by 59 municipalities from the Sherbrooke region.

The need for such an office in Sherbrooke is easy to justify. For example, the number of passport applications from the Sherbrooke region is twice that of the Saguenay region, which already has a passport office.

Many people must travel to Montreal and thus spend time and money to obtain a passport. The population of Sherbrooke has a real need for a passport office. Such an office would be financially sustainable.

This is why I am tabling this petition signed by 12,558 people.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to this motion this morning.

A number of people in my riding admit to watching CPAC regularly. I ask them, through you, Mr. Speaker, if that is the end of the excitement in their life, what do they do in the evenings? I also ask them if they have any other medical problems. Those who are watching CPAC and listening to the debate on the motion to concur in the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must be saying to themselves that this is another report that will sit on someone's shelf and then be archived so that a 100 years from now people will be able to study it, if they are so inclined to look at the history of the country.

I submit that the motion today is one of great significance because we have an increasing loss of trust and confidence in our political process and in our Parliament. Consequently, having such a code, I believe is first and foremost rather helpful in rebuilding that trust and confidence, just as the purpose of the code says. I would like to remind members why we are here.

It was just a little under two years ago, I believe in June, that the initiative was introduced by then Prime Minister Chrétien. It was a big point plan on increasing ethics in government. We must not forget what it was that triggered that response.

Members will recall that the Auditor General presented her first report at that time on what has now become the ad scam scandal. We will recall that in January of that year, the former minister of public works and government services, Mr. Gagliano, was summarily dismissed from cabinet, dismissed from Parliament and dismissed from the country. He was sent way off to Denmark to do his penance at maybe $200,000 a year. No wonder people are outraged at this place, when they see that this is the way their taxpayer money is being abused and misused. Consequently, the government responded in what I call damage control mode by trying to do whatever it could to put a better spin on this.

Notwithstanding that this was the motivation, I am in concurrence with the report and with the code. I have worked on this. I had the privilege of working way back, about seven or eight years ago, on the Milliken-Oliver report which was an extended study. It was a great exercise. As members know, the first individual mentioned is the present Speaker of the House. The second one is the hon. Senator Oliver who I got to know and really respect and appreciate. When we on this side of the House sometimes cry for the election of senators, I know people like Mr. Oliver would certainly be re-elected because he is a very good, hard-working and a respectable person.

In that committee we dealt with the necessity for a code of conduct for parliamentarians. Now, some seven or eight years later we finally have one. I would like to take this occasion to thank all those people, including the member for Peterborough, who so ably chaired the procedure and House affairs committee as we worked through this, and all staffers who worked so hard as well in doing the research and helping us with this work. In that sense, I am pleased with this.

However, I would also like to point out that this is taking a tremendously large action to solve a problem that does not exist. The committee is recommending that we adopt the code of conduct for parliamentarians. If we adopt it, we adopt its recommendations. The first recommendation is that the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons be included in our Standing Orders, and after that become a guide for how we behave as parliamentarians.

However, this is a redundant exercise in a sense. In the years I have been in the House there has not been a single scandal, to my knowledge, involving an ordinary backbench member of Parliament on either the government side or in opposition. I think some have had a few difficulties. I think one or two have had charges of drunken driving, which is a criminal offence, and we need to encourage members of Parliament to not only set laws, but to obey them. That is my own personal code.

I am probably the only person in Ottawa, even walking home at midnight, who stops at walk lights. Everybody walks past me and probably thinks what a stupid man I am. I stop because of two reasons. One, I need the rest and relaxation. It is mandatory. Let us stop and look around a bit instead of always running. The second reason is that it is the law and I believe in obeying the law. That is why I do it. I have a couplet that I use as one of my personal mottos, “You can't be a lawmaker if you are going to be a lawbreaker”. I try to the best of my ability to obey all the laws of the land, even some with which I perhaps do not agree 100%. I do it and members of Parliament should do it.

However, the real issue in the country is not with ordinary members of Parliament. Therefore, I believe the results of this code will be almost non-consequential in the sense that I believe most parliamentarians right now basically are living up to this code already. All it will be is a disclosure and a declaration that indeed they are.

What really disturbs me is the fact that when it comes to ministers of the Crown, the government as they are called, this code only applies to them when they are working as members of Parliament. As we know, all the executive branch is chosen from the rank of elected members of Parliament. Yes, they were elected as members, as all of us are. When they act in a the role of cabinet minister, they become the government and, lo and behold, the bill, which gave essence to this code of conduct, is specific in excluding cabinet ministers when they act in that role.

It says in the bill that when acting as a minister of the Crown, for greater clarify the code shall not apply. I am speaking from memory, but I think the wording is that for greater clarity, the prime minister's code shall apply. There are some who will contend that the prime minister's code is more stringent, and in some areas it is. However, there are other areas in which it is not as stringent. One of those is the whole issue of the public reporting of wrongdoing.

Under the code, we are being asked to adopt, and under the legislation which governs it, if there is misconduct by a backbencher, then the result of that investigation by the ethics commissioner will be made public. It is not clear to me at all in the legislation that if a minister of the Crown does something that is untoward, that will be made public. There is an argument going on because Bill C-4 provides that the ethics commissioner will provide confidential advice to the prime minister on matters of ministers of the Crown.

We have a two tier system here. The first is for MPs who have very little say on government contracts. In fact, let us be honest, they have no say at all. They are being held to a higher standard of ethical conduct than the ministers of the Crown who control, as the public works minister does, budgets of billions of dollars. Right now we are finding that the accountability is just absent.

I would like to digress for a few seconds about the ethics commissioner himself. We heard him in committee the other day. Very frankly, Dr. Shapiro presents a good resumé. When the issue came up earlier today on whether or not the House should concur in his appointment, we did not object strenuously. We objected only on the basis of the method of choice.

I object to the fact that he was invited by the Prime Minister's Office to serve in this role. His name was put forward and then we had a debate in a Liberal dominated committee and a vote in a Liberal dominated House.

In this particular instance, as I said, I have no reason to have any lack of trust in the new person who is going to be appointed. However, it is very near sighted of us in this place to set up a process that only fits the here and now. There will come a time in the future where the choice of the person by the government will not meet the approval of all of the members on this side.

There is no mechanism which would require meaningful input from opposition parties. The government, especially if it is a majority government, can in effect choose whom it will, whether that person has the approval of members over here or not.

I trust that Dr. Shapiro will do a good and honourable job. In fact, I have told him personally that it is my expectation. We shall await eagerly to see how he does his work. Personally, I think we should give him our utmost cooperation.

As a little aside, I think that the attitude of the Liberal government in doing this, unfortunately, is exactly the antithesis of what we are trying to accomplish with this particular motion today.

I would like to point out that by jamming through, with the government's majority, its method of choice over the protestations of all of the members in opposition has actually helped to increase the distrust of Canadians. If Canadians see that they ask, “Why do they not trust all the members of Parliament? Why do they only trust themselves with their whipped votes?” That is also a very serious issue with respect to the trust that people have.

I would like to make a few comments about some of the issues in the motion. I took note of one of the things that it says in the definitions. In the definition for a common law partner in relation to the code, it states:

--with respect to a Member, means a person who is cohabiting with the Member in a conjugal relationship--

About 20 to 25 years ago then Prime Minister Trudeau said “The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”. I think most of us agree with that. That is very intrusive of the government. Here we are saying that if members are living at the same address with persons and not cohabiting in that sense, they are excluded. That is a fat joke.

Interestingly, this morning I got word in my office here in Ottawa that there are people who are separated, and sometimes even divorced, but because of financial necessity they must still live in the same house. Therefore, he lives in the basement and she lives upstairs. They have totally separate lives, but the income tax department is now saying that they are still spouses because they have the same address. It does not allow them to separate their income tax forms.

That came to my attention just this morning. It has nothing to do with this motion, but it shows how silly it is for us to define members who are cohabiting by including that term “conjugal relationship”. Who is ever going to tell whether they are conjugating? Members know what I mean.

The member's family is also wrapped into this and I mentioned this in a question to the parliamentary secretary earlier. It says that this includes all of the people. We really debated this in committee and we have come up with a reasonably good solution.

If members of Parliament receive personal gain through their spouse or through their underage children, that is offensive. But at the same time, many of us have children who are adults in their own right and they ought to and properly are excluded. It involves only members or common-law partners and dependent children in essence.

I would like to point out the fact that there are some useful exclusions of activities that are acceptable. One, for example, is that members of Parliament are not considered in a conflict of interest if they continue to carry on a business. We know that many members do and that would be an intrusion in their lives to require them, if they run for public office, to sell their little family business or whatever they have going.

Here is one. It states that a member shall not participate in debate on or vote on a question in which he or she has a private interest. I do not know whether the members present here recall, but not very long ago we had a motion when we had a conflict going between who was the real prime minister in this place. We had the previous prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, sitting there as the nominal prime minister and the prime minister in waiting at that time who had been or was about to be chosen by his party. They were both in control of certain aspects of government. We had a motion on when this transition should take place. I took note of the fact that in that vote the former prime minister and the former finance minister, the present Prime Minister, both voted on that.

According to this code, that would not be possible. What distresses me is that this was not permitted then, but they did it anyway, with impunity in my opinion. We need to be careful about this.

There is a whole issue on gifts; receiving, disclosure of them and travel. Those are all really good things because of the fact that this can influence members of Parliament and cabinet ministers.

I hope that on the adoption of this code and on the appointment of a new ethics commissioner that things improve around this place. I hope that we do not degenerate into partisan attacks using the commissioner now for partisan attacks, instead of as has been done in the past, using him as part of the damage control team. I can see this potential. We need to be warned about it.

One of the issues in this code is that when there is a complaint against a member, it will ultimately come to a vote right in this House. If we have a majority government, of say Conservative members over there next time, I hope that we will withhold our partisanship when voting on the outcome of such a debate. Let us be sure that as true parliamentarians we obey the rules of fairness.

In conclusion, to me personally, the whole code of conduct can be wrapped up in two short sentences. First, do not lie. Second, do not steal.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech of the Conservative member. He pointed out the case of a person who is present for a vote, when that person may be in a conflict of interest situation. He gave the example of the current Prime Minister.

If my memory serves me well, in the case of Bill C-28—which granted shipping companies a tax refund retroactive to 1995—the Prime Minister did vote. That legislation was passed in 1998. The Prime Minister's shipping companies were directly exempt from paying millions of dollars in taxes. Yet, the Prime Minister was present during that vote and he was in full contradiction with our intent with regard to having such a code for parliamentarians.

On another occasion, a tax credit of $250 million was granted to oil companies. The current Prime Minister, who has interests in oil companies from Alberta, also voted on that measure.

Should we not ensure that the code does not allow such situations to occur?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, when standing in the House on a vote, I believe that cabinet ministers are also standing and voting in equality with other members of Parliament. At that stage, they are acting as members of Parliament in the vote. Notwithstanding that, of course, they have an awful lot of clout, as cabinet ministers, in driving forward the agenda that they want.

The real issue here was the fact that the present Prime Minister, then the finance minister, was originally the sponsor of this bill. I think later it was moved to another minister because the government was embarrassed by it. The fact that it was embarrassed by him sponsoring the bill should have indicated the necessity to abstain from voting on it.

This particular code of conduct provides that all members of Parliament shall not vote on an issue in which they have a direct and a personal advantage. I think that is good. I believe that it is now going to be up to members of Parliament to ensure that this part of the code is upheld. When that happens, then we go to the ethics commissioner and we will see whether or not he can make these corrections.

I would like to see the Speaker intervene so that he would disallow the vote as it was taking place.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to what my friend opposite had to say. I must say that I passed him on Queen Street on my way up here this morning and he is correct, he stops at all the stop-walk lights.

My friend opposite has made a number of observations on the nature of democracy when one does not agree with the majority, and we understand that. I want to draw his attention to the 1997 report of the special joint committee which was struck in 1996. In that proposed code it said that:

“family” when used with reference to a person, means (a) the Parliamentarian's spouse;

I heard him, and I am not totally unsympathetic when we start these terms that are somewhat vague, such as, “in a conjugal relationship, or someone who happens to be a spouse”. What does this all mean in this day and age?

I would ask him, would he acknowledge that the report of that joint committee, which defined family as being a spouse, was agreed to by his colleague, from his party and his caucus, that being Senator Oliver?