House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was services.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to make my closing comments on the legislation.

My private member's bill is about saving lives. The bill was designed and drafted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Louise Knox, the president of this organization, lives in my constituency. We have talked many times about the devastation caused by drunk driving. Her son was killed by a drunk driver. She knows the loss a family can feel as a result of this completely unnecessary death.

The bill tries, in a very reasonable way, to eliminate two of the most commonly used technical defences for those who are guilty of drunk driving but get off on technicalities. They hire a good lawyer, go to court, get a soft judge and get off on technicalities. The purpose of this legislation is to protect against that to save lives.

I cannot imagine why anyone in the House would not support the legislation. In fact the parliamentary secretary, in the last hour of debate, gave his reasons why the government, or members of the Liberal Party, might not support the legislation, and they were absurd. I am will read them so members can see just how ridiculous this argument is. Normally, I would not use that type of strong language, but I think it is being factual. He said:

Bill C-452 would impose a new and highly unusual requirement upon an accused person. In order to challenge the result of a breath or blood test, an accused would have to prove one of four things: first, the analysis was faulty; second, the equipment was faulty; third, the procedure was faulty; or, fourth, the accused drank alcohol after driving but before the testing.

The parliamentary secretary was arguing that requiring the accused to prove one of these things was unreasonable. He even went so far as to say that it somehow went against charter protection.

However, let us just examine whether that is the case. What I am talking about are the two most commonly used defences to get drunk drivers off the hook. My colleagues have presented the information effectively on these two defences, but I am going to present them once more and then quickly show how absurd the parliamentary secretary's arguments are.

The courts until now really have interpreted the Criminal Code in a manner that results in the evidentiary breath or blood test results being thrown out solely based upon the accused's unsubstantiated and self-serving testimony.

People go to court, accused of drunk driving, and say one of two things. In the case of the Carter defence, they say that they only consumed a small amount of alcohol. Even though the tests showed they were clearly drunk, based on the evidence they presented, that they had only consumed a small amount, they could not be guilty because their blood alcohol concentration simply could not have been that high.

In the other case, that of the last drink defence, they say that when they were tested their blood alcohol level was above the legal limit, that they were driving drunk according to the test, but what they did was guzzle back a bunch of booze just before the police stopped them. Therefore, while they were drunk according to the test, they were not drunk while driving. Believe it or not, some courts, with the right judge and the right lawyer, allow these defences to stand.

The parliamentary secretary says that it is unreasonable for the accused to require evidence that the test was wrong. The legislation says that if the tests are done appropriately, then that individual should be found guilty. The parliamentary secretary argues that it is an unreasonable thing to require. But is it? When the roadside test is consistent with the tests done a couple of hours later and is consistent with what the police officer saw, should that not be enough to convict the drunk driver, unless the accused can prove that the machine was faulty or that the proper procedure was not followed or specifically that something else was done wrong?

I would argue, for the sake of saving lives, the bill should be passed so the strong evidence that the machines provide will stand up in court and these technicalities will no longer get drunk drivers off the hook and lead to these needless deaths across the country every year.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 12 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Criminal Code
Adjournment Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the President of the Treasury Board is in the House for this point. In an earlier incarnation, he chaired a standing committee of the House of Commons that looked at the issue, which was a subject of exchange between myself and the Deputy Prime Minister the other day in the House.

The issue fundamentally is the degree to which the so-called arm's length foundations, which were established for good purposes to which I will come, should operate free from the normal instruments of accountability to the House of Commons.

I should say at the outset that I certainly do not question the value of these foundations. I do not question the idea that there needs to be some separation between the normal influences on governments and parliaments, partisan and short term influences, and the long term goals with which these foundations are seized. There is no doubt that it had to be done, and that something out of the ordinary had to be done in the establishment of these foundations. Therefore, the purposes are not at issue.

However, it ill-behooves the Deputy Prime Minister to respond as she did in the House in terms of the defence of the purposes of these foundations, when what is at issue is not their purposes but their accountability to the House of Commons.

The foundations, which include Genome Canada, Canada Health Infoway and a range of others, were set up, as I say, with a good purpose; to maintain a distance on issues that were too sensitive to be left to simple partisan consideration.

In setting them up in this way, the result has been that there is absolutely no accountability to the House of Commons. They are not subject to the audit by the Auditor General. It is true that they can choose to have an audit, but they are not subject as most agencies of government are to an audit without choice by the Auditor General of Canada. They are not subject to access to information regulations. They are not in most cases subject to the provisions of the Official Languages Act. They are not subject to any kind of intervention by a member of Parliament, or indeed by a minister, if something goes wrong.

I understand the reasons why they were set up in that way. I am not suggesting any malign intent. I am however suggesting that there is a fundamental principle at the base of this Parliament. The purpose of Parliament is to control all spending that occurs in the name of the Government of Canada.

Whether it was by design or by accident, we have established here a system amounting to billions of dollars a year in which major decisions regarding the public policy of Canada in issues of particular importance to our future are taken in flagrant disregard of the principle that Parliament has the right to hold government agencies accountable for public spending.

This issue can be resolved today if the President of the Treasury Board will rise in response to this point and give an undertaking to the House that his review of accountability of government will include a serious examination of ways by which we, on the one hand, retain the independence of these foundations and, on the other hand, respect the fundamental principle of their accountability to Parliament. I do not pretend that it is easy, but I am absolutely certain that it can be done. All it requires is a will.

Before I take my seat, I should raise a defence of this practice that was made to the committee by the president of one of these outstanding foundations. The president said that even though they were not required to, they tried to respect the rules of accountability. That is not good enough. Trying is not good enough. What one chair of a foundation might do one day does not impose an obligation upon subsequent chairs in subsequent years. There needs to be a rule.

I hope the President of the Treasury Board will indicate that there will be a rule henceforth.

Criminal Code
Adjournment Proceedings

6 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I thank the right hon. member for his question earlier and his continuing interest in this subject. As he pointed out at the beginning of his remarks, I too have an interest in this subject. He and I served together on a committee that examined some of these questions.

While I take his last point that these relationships should not be voluntary, when we undertook to have this examination and invited the foundations to come before us, they all did so quite willingly. There was never any resistance.

However, the concern that I think underlies his question is certainly one that the auditor has raised. In the 2003 budget the then finance minister tried to introduce conditions and some requirements for the foundations that clarified some of the reporting relationships, the requirement that they produce audited financial statements, that there are reports laid before the House before the relevant ministers and the like.

Also, I think it is very important to point out because of some of the questions that have been raised, not by the right hon. member, but by others in the House that these foundations do in fact have audited statements. They are not done by the Auditor General of Canada, but they do produce audited statements. In fact, many of them are very transparent in that they post on the Internet all of their transactions for people to see and, as I said earlier, they are willing to entertain questions.

I would like, though, to offer my right hon. friend the assurance that he seeks. We are doing reviews of the functions of government and governance both of the big crowns as a specific piece of work but also governance internally. The choice of governing instrument is a big question. I would argue, and have argued in this place before, that we have tended, in response to various pressures over time, to create a bunch of different organizational delivery mechanisms and we have taken the position that it is time to have a look at all of that.

I think by and large it would be the position of the government that we are quite satisfied--and I think the right hon. member has said this--that the purpose for which these foundations were established and the work that they are doing is of quite high value. That is really not at question here. What is at question is the direct accountability relationships.

I also think it is important to point out that the legislation that established these foundations was vetted and passed by the House. The money that is transferred to them either in the first instance of their establishing grant or subsequently is mentioned in the budget, presented in estimates and duly voted on in the House. It is not as though there is no House oversight.

In this and in a great many other things the member has shown a keen interest in how government functions and what its relationship is with this chamber. That is an extremely important question. It is one that I take very seriously, the government takes very seriously and one on which we will be coming forward with more discussion. We are working quite diligently with a number of folks to try to organize discussion for this chamber, when it is ready to entertain such a discussion, on exactly these questions.

Who knows what the future holds, but it is theoretically possible that this will be the last time I will speak in this chamber in direct response to a question from the member. I want to say to him and to anyone else who cares to listen that I have enormous respect for the work he has done here. I took great pleasure in the fact that he sat as a member of my committee. He worked very diligently on these issues. He has added great value to this place and I shall miss him.

Criminal Code
Adjournment Proceedings

May 11th, 2004 / 6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for those concluding remarks. I will be gone, I assure people of that.

The purposes here are not at issue. The minister said that the purposes of the foundations were vetted by Parliament when they were established. He knows that these are matters of such enormous complexity and that they were whipped, which is to mean that there was not the kind of scrutiny that would normally justify a $7.5 billion annual departure from the rules of parliamentary accountability.

What I am interested in hearing is that there will in fact be a deliberate review of this arrangement with an eye to finding some procedure that is consistent both with the independent actions of the foundations and the fundamental principle of accountability to Parliament. I would like to receive that now.

I would like to receive from the minister some indication that there will be regular reports to the House as to the nature of the consideration that he and his colleagues are undertaking. It seems to me that a simple place to start would be to make these foundations accountable not by choice but by requirement to the audit of the Office of the Auditor General.

Criminal Code
Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not wish to appear the least bit evasive on the question itself. It is just that I have a process in place. In the terms of reference of that process and the instructions I have given to the people who are working on this, it is to look at all of these arrangements.

Government is huge. We have a great many of these things, including these foundations. They have to be evaluated not just in terms of how useful they are or in terms of the public good, but in terms of their relationship with Parliament and as an instrument of the government. Having done that and having made that assessment, we will be putting that stuff before the House. The intention is to come back in the fall with a report to the House on our findings, with a series of questions to engage the House in exactly this discussion. Hopefully, it will lead to changes in legislation.

It is difficult for me to presume on the outcome but on the member's question as to whether there will be the opportunity to have debate on those things, I give him my assurance that there will be.

Criminal Code
Adjournment Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6:07 p.m.)