House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, that member will note as well that we have appointed a judge who is the head of the Laurier Club, which is the fundraising arm of the Liberal Party. That was a non-partisan decision of the government because we believed that particular individual was capable of sitting on the bench and doing the job.

We, on this side, make decisions regardless of partisan label. We have appointed people of all different partisan backgrounds and some who have no partisan affiliation whatsoever. We are cleaning up by behaviour that which the law will eventually clean up in statutory acts.

I would encourage the member to support us in swiftly passing the accountability act, which includes a new ban on political patronage, put in by the NDP, granted, but it is a new public appointments commission put forward by the member for Winnipeg Centre. It is now in the act, but it will only come into effect when we have passed the accountability act, so I encourage that member to join with us to do that as swiftly as possible.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to take part in this debate.

The hon. members of this House and our fellow citizens who have followed the work of the legislative committee of the House of Commons dealing with BillC-2 know well that I was on this committee together with other members of the Liberal caucus. I would also like to underscore the work done by the hon. member for—

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Rivière-du-Nord.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

I would like to underscore the work done by the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord, who is also the Bloc’s deputy leader in the House of Commons, and her former colleague, the late Benoît Sauvageau, who was a friend, a professional colleague, and a man who made a real contribution to the work of this legislative committee.

Despite the genuine effort that the members of the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party put into Bill C-2, the Conservatives called it in French the Loi fédérale sur l'imputabilité. This is prime example, I think, of a government in such a hurry to prove that it is doing something that it has made an elementary mistake. In English it is possible to say the Federal Accountability Act, but anyone with the least knowledge of French should know that in this language it would be the Loi fédérale sur la responsabilité.

I should add that it was Mr. Sauvageau, the hon. member for Repentigny at the time, who moved an amendment to the bill to correct the French title. Although I thanked him at the time, I would like to thank him again posthumously.

This is an ideal example, I think, which shows, first, that the Conservative government has no understanding at all of accountability when it comes to being responsible, and second, that this government’s discourse is basically dishonest.

For example, the parliamentary secretary to the President of Treasury Board just delivered a speech in which he repeated ad nauseam that the Liberals want to get illegal donations and that by amending the Canada Elections Act, the Conservatives are ensuring that registration fees for political conventions will not be included in the definition of a contribution. He claimed as well that only the Liberals interpret the existing law in this way. So they are being dishonest in this regard.

People who are listening to the work of the House on television but cannot easily get the Canada Elections Act will think it really is illegal to claim registration fees for a party convention as a political donation for which a receipt should be issued for a possible tax credit.

What the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board failed to mention is that, since being appointed the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada over 10 years ago if I am not mistaken, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley has interpreted section 404.1 of the Canada Elections Act to include registration fees for political conventions.

Consequently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board is trying to mislead Canadians by claiming that it was the Liberals who misinterpreted the law in an attempt to have taxpayers foot the bill, which is not true.

The Chief Electoral Officer interprets the statute. He decides whether or not the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the former Progressive Conservative Party, the former Reform Party and the former Canadian Alliance acted appropriately and within the law with regard to reporting convention fees.

The parliamentary secretary is trying to distort the debate. The Conservative government knew that the Canada Elections Act requires a political party to disclose the registration fees for its conventions to the Chief Electoral Officer. Then why did it not do so and why did it hide these registration fees? Today we learned that these fees totalled $2 million. This party hid the $2 million from the Chief Electoral Officer and it is now under investigation. If he really wanted to speak honestly, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board should have mentioned it in this House

When we, Liberals and Bloquistes, put questions on the interpretation of section 404.1 to the chief electoral officer and to political party officials, everyone unanimously agreed that the interpretation of the chief electoral officer was the correct one. Convention fees should be considered political contributions and, therefore, they should be declared by the party to the chief electoral officer. The government is omitting to mention this in the House in order to create a false impression in the minds of Canadians.

When the Senate, because of the dishonest behaviour of that party, makes the law very clear on this issue, what does the government do? It wants to reject the Senate's amendment, while claiming that the Senate has dragged its feet, has engaged in filibustering, etc. This same government does not want to tell Canadians that the quality work accomplished by the Senate has made the government realize that some fifty amendments were necessary to correct the legislation, otherwise its own bill would not make sense in a number of areas.

Here is a little reminder of the facts. The Senate heard over 140 witnesses during 98 hours of hearings. It came to the conclusion that the accountability bill was seriously flawed, and that amendments to this legislation were required to live up to the commitment made by the minority Conservative government. Of course, a number of amendments were made. Some are accepted by the government today, but others are not, which explains why the Conservatives are attempting to make their gimmickry retroactively legal. Hiding political donations of $2 million from the chief electoral officer is indeed engaging in gimmickry.

If this government were honest and thePresident of the Treasury Board were an honest man, he would admit it in this House.

The Speaker of the House has already ruled, saying that if the person were honest, he would do something. So it is parliamentary. I said it, if the President of the Treasury Board were an honest man, an honest person, he would say that it is not true that this government wants to shed light on the federal government’s work. It is not true. If it were true, certain amendments that the Bloc and the Liberals tried to make as part of the House legislative committee—for example, to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act—would not have been blocked by the Conservative members, with the support of the NDP. Still the Senate was able to adopt them.

So I return to my subject. Concerning political financing, the Senate suggest setting the limit on political party donations at $2,000 a year. This decision was made because the government was not able to demonstrate that the current limits undermined electoral procedure at the federal or provincial level, where the limits, when there are any, are much higher than those proposed in Bill C-2.

Second, donations made to political parties play an important role in our democratic system. Limiting them too strictly might affect the participation of small parties in political life. Furthermore, limiting the amount of these donations too strictly reduces the resources which political parties must have to fulfil their legitimate role in debates in Canada, and this leaves more room for third parties that wish to influence the debates. This is interesting. The Prime Minister, who was formerly, I think, the CEO or president of some federation, of an NGO, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for third parties to be allowed to advertise and spend during a federal election campaign, claiming that the limits the former government had put in the Canada Elections Act on spending by third parties during an election campaign were unconstitutional.

It is interesting because this Prime Minister has still not disclosed who the donors to his own party leadership race were. He still has not disclosed who the donors were to the federation which he led before returning to politics. It is interesting for a Prime Minister and a party that pride themselves on wanting to ensure accountability and transparency. But they are hiding things.

With regard to access to information and privacy, the Senate and the senators are proposing to remove the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of the Access to Information Act so that the board can stand up to international competition better when representing Canadian farmers. Here again, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board is claiming that the Liberals are supporting an amendment that will remove the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this act because they have something to hide. He knows that this is completely untrue.

The Canadian Wheat Board represents Canadian farmers on the international stage against competitors from other countries. Obviously, these competitors would love to have commercial, scientific and other information that helps the Canadian Wheat Board represent Canadian farmers effectively.

Wanting to remove the board does not mean hiding something from Canadian farmers. It means protecting Canadian farmers who want the board to sell their products on the international market.

I would also like to address the issue of better protection for personal information on donors to the National Arts Centre. The members of the House of Commons legislative committee in charge of reviewing Bill C-2 had understood—at least the Bloc and Liberal members had understood—that some donors to the National Arts Centre wanted their identities to remain confidential. That is their choice.

Artists may also donate their time and talent or charge much less than the regular market rate. But they do not want potential clients to know that they donated their time or gave a concert for no charge or for half price for charitable reasons or because they want to promote a certain type of music or activity. They do not want this information made public. A potential client could say the artists billed only so much and that it will therefore pay them only a given amount.

The Senate brought into place many excellent amendments. It pains me to see the government continually talk about how the senators have attempted to block the legislation, that the senators do not want to see transparency, that the senators do not want to see accountability and that Liberals, the official opposition, also do not want to see it. Nothing is further from the truth.

Let us look at it. It was a Liberal government that adopted whistleblower protection legislation, Bill C-11. It was never brought into effect by the current government. There were witnesses who came before us who said they would like to see that legislation enacted immediately. I remember Mr. Sauvageau and the member for Rivière-du-Nord asked that the government proclaim it and bring it into force immediately while we had the opportunity to study and work properly on Bill C-2. The government refused.

We then attempted to bring amendments here. Here are some of the amendments the Liberal members tried to bring forward and the government, with the aid of the NDP, blocked: one, to provide a reverse onus so that any administrative or disciplinary measure taken within a year of a disclosure would be deemed to be a reprisal unless the employer showed otherwise; two, extend the time limit to file a reprisal complaint to one year instead of the 60 days that the Conservative government proposed and is now trying to bring back; and three, remove the $10,000 limit on awards for pain and suffering and increase the amount for legal advice from $1,500 to $25,000.

Those are reinforcements that we attempted to bring forward and the Conservatives and the NDP blocked them, yet they say they are for protecting public servants who divulge wrongdoing on the part of government.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the interventions from the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. I know she cares deeply about integrity in politics in the governmental process. She mentioned a number of issues.

One of the things I dislike about this Parliament is if there is any difference of opinion on facts, the accusation of liar, liar goes back and forth. In fairness, it probably exists on both sides of the House. No party in the House, least of which me, can claim innocence on that. However, people can have different opinions. No presentation of the facts are indisputable. Two different people might reasonably come to two different solutions.

The member opposite has said that many of the Senate amendments are excellent. I take no fault with the Senate wanting to take a reasonable period of time. There was some suggestion it should pass this immediately in July. In fact, we said that if it wanted to take three months to review the bill, in addition to the 72 days the House took in addition to the 58 day election campaign, by all means take it.

I was scheduled to be the last witness with the Attorney General at the end of September, but then things changed. They thought they had an agreement and that fell apart, and that is unfortunate.

I do not take issue with wanting to sit 120 hours. What I did take issue with was the amount of time it cumulatively took. The Senate took one week in the end of June. It took off for seven seeks. Then it came back for a week. Then it took off. We expected it would have looked at the amount of time all members of Parliament in the House took to deal with the bill. The bill is not perfect. It was not perfect coming out of the House and it is not perfect coming out of the Senate, but it is important.

Another issue the member raised was Bill C-11. The Liberal government was the first to bring in a whistleblower bill. I will concede that Bill C-11 was better than nothing. There are those of us who represent ridings in the national capital.

Like many of my colleagues, including the members for Gatineau, Ottawa Centre, Nepean—Carleton and Ottawa—Orléans, as well as official opposition members, I know that a lot of public servants say they are still afraid to blow the whistle.

Many public servants still remain concerned and worried that if they stand up and speak out, they will be hurt. We wanted a system that was tougher and stronger. I think all parties contributed to that and this is what is before us today.

I noticed, though, when the Liberal senators on the committee put forward a press release talking about the amendments they were presenting, they left off a lot of them. They left off the fact that they were doubling the amount of money people could donate to political parties. They left off the fact that they were going to allow political staffers to go into the non-partisan public service. They left off many of the amendments which would be considered as gutting the bill.

Could the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine enlighten us as as to why they would not have been proud of those amendments?

Federal Accountability Act
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4 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was quite interesting listening to the President of the Treasury Board talk about the number of hours the House of Commons legislative committee sat on Bill C-2 and the number of hours members of the Senate sat. Then he said he did not want to reproach them, but in effect he kind of did.

I have been a member of the House of Commons since June 1997. I have had the opportunity of sitting on at least one, if not more, legislative committees prior to this one. The experience I had under this legislative committee for Bill C-2 was literally horrendous.

I sat on a legislative committee that dealt with an amendment to the Constitution of Canada. The committee was allowed the time to fully hear witnesses. The committee was given the time to hear witnesses when they brought forth briefs. Sometimes those briefs literally contained hundreds of pages. They were very dense and dealt with very complex matters. We had the time to sit, to read and to study them and to go to committee prepared. It also allowed the parliamentary staff, our researchers and our clerks, to properly do their job. It meant that the quality of the work, which was done at the end of the day, made up for the time that was taken because the legislation was not flawed.

The legislative committee on Bill C-2 was literally forced by the majority held by the government, with the cooperation of the NDP. When votes were tied, the chair, who is a Conservative member, broke the tie and sided with the government. We were calling witnesses a maximum of 24 hours before the date of the committee hearing, asking them to provide a brief on a grave issue that required serious research and reflection. In some cases they were told they did not even have five minutes to explain their position. Witnesses were leaving the Bill C-2 legislative committee, some of them almost in tears, saying that they did not have an opportunity to express themselves and that they wanted to come back. Guess who refused it? It was the Conservatives members with the help of the NDP.

I gained no pride whatsoever from the work of that legislative committee of the House of Commons. We were denied the possibility of doing quality work. We were denied the possibility of ensuring that the legislation did in fact do what the Conservative minority government had promised, which was it would provide transparency, it would provide real protections for whistleblowers in the public service and it would ensure that Canadians could have access to information and that their personal information would be protected. That bill did none of this.

The Senate attempted to correct as much as it could. Even the Senate was limited. Certain rules and regulations did not allow the Senate to do everything. The Senate was not given the scope to do everything.

What is the government trying to do now? It is trying to reinstate virtually the identical bill that went out of the House and into the Senate, knowing full well it was a flawed bill.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a minute to remember my former colleague, Benoît Sauvageau. He worked on this bill with me, bringing much wisdom and many improvements to it. I would like us to take a moment to remember him because he devoted a lot of time and energy to this bill.

He and I worked together for an unprecedented number of hours during that time. I have never seen such a thing here in Parliament. In 13 years, I have never seen a legislative committee sit for so many hours over such a short period of time because the government insisted on passing this bill.

The reason it was so adamant is clear: it s well aware that the Liberal convention is looming and that this bill contains detrimental provisions—provisions that affect, among other things, the $1,500 convention registration fee. Jean-Pierre Kingsley made it clear that such fees are considered donations. The bill puts a $1,000 cap on donations. It was clear to us that this would apply to the Liberal Party convention and that this was why the government wanted to ram the bill through.

Nevertheless, the important thing for the Bloc Québécois is to improve it as much as possible because we need an accountability act. As my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said, we fought incredibly hard for the word “responsabilité”. We had to go to the Office québécois de la langue française. We had to make use of every tool at our disposal to make the government understand that the word “imputabilité” was clearly an anglicism, not a French word at all. Eventually we won. We made the government understand that the appropriate French term was “responsabilité”. Unfortunately, a lot of time was wasted just on that, even though there were other extremely important issues in the bill.

My hon. colleague referred to this earlier, and I think it is worth mentioning because it is true: many witnesses wanted to appear before our committee. Many had things to tell us, many wanted to improve the bill and noticed flaws in it, but did not get a chance to appear because they only had 24 hours notice. They did not appear because 24 hours was not enough time for them to draft a brief, in both official languages, to satisfy the requirements of our legislative committee. These people were left empty-handed, and we can imagine that, today still, they are extremely unhappy about not having been heard. While ours is supposedly the greatest democracy, these people did not get to be heard by the committee. It is extremely important to point this out again.

I have been told that the Senate heard more than 140 witnesses and that a number of amendments will have to be taken into account because they were made in a structured fashion and make some sense.

As we have been saying since the beginning, we have never filibustered at committee and we have no plans to do so here, but we have things to say about this bill.

The merit-based appointment of returning officers is a fantastic gain. It is well known that the process for appointing returning officers was a partisan one. I know this for a fact because it happened in my region. When the Liberals were in government, a good Liberal would be appointed, a guy in charge of overseeing our campaigns. Very often, in several ridings, this caused partisanship problems to such an extent that the system did not work. In addition, being a good Liberal and a decision having been made to make partisan appointments, efforts were made to thwart the candidates from the Bloc Québécois or other parties. But no more; from now on, returning officers will be selected based on their merits, not on their political allegiance, which is an excellent thing.

We were even consulted. They actually consulted members of Parliament, asking us if we were happy with our returning officers. This is a step in the right direction to ensure the legitimacy of the selection process for someone who is, after all, appointed for a ten-year term.

This is someone who is in office for a long time. He or she must be appointed on a non-partisan basis and in light of his or her ability to play that role for the next 10 years, especially since, with a minority government like the one we currently have, we have repeated elections. We had elections in 2004 and 2006, and we could have another one next year or even this year. These people become extremely important. They have non-partisan training and have to provide services for all the candidates in their riding.

There is also the whole issue of the political party financing legislation. The Bloc could not disagree with that, because we already comply with the legislation in Quebec.

Personally, I do not have many donors who give me $2,000 during the course of the year. I receive far more $5 and $10 donations than $2,000 donations during an election campaign or a fundraising campaign. There are people involved, party members, people who do not write cheques for thousands of dollars. There are no such people in my riding, and I would be very surprised to receive such an amount. In Quebec, we already comply with this requirement, and we will continue to do so.

I feel it is time to make major changes at the federal level, because the parties could receive donations of thousands of dollars from companies. This is not conducive to non-partisan work by members or ministers.

If someone gives me a $25,000 donation, I will feel indebted. But if I receive relatively equal amounts from my various constituents or party members, I feel much more at ease. I am indebted to everyone because I am elected, but I do not feel particularly indebted to someone who gave me $25,000 or $30,000.

There was also the whole issue of whistle-blower compensation, which was discussed at length. Several witnesses testified that it was not a good idea to pay a whistle-blower $1,000, $2,000 or $5,000. That could lead to informing, something that must not be encouraged.

In any event, public servants are duty-bound to report any wrongdoing, any mismanagement in the department where they work or anyone who is not doing his or her job properly.

It does not make sense to begin rewarding whistle-blowers. It should be part of the duties of a public servant who learns about an instance of wrongdoing, work not being done properly or mistreatment to report it. How that person learns about it is not important. That person should report it without a reward. In our opinion, it did not make sense to offer a reward. The government realized this, so this is a good point.

As I mentioned earlier, the Senate heard from 140 witnesses, calling certain witnesses back to clarify certain clauses of the bill.

Some clauses are good and others are not as good. I cannot list all of them here, but one in particular is very important and the Bloc Québécois condemns the fact that the government rejected this amendment because it was an important one. The Senate proposed increasing the ceiling on fees for legal counsel from $1,500 to $25,000, or removing the ceiling altogether, at the commissioner's discretion. I would like to explain why the Bloc supported that.

We saw in committee the number of hours legal counsel spent working, yet could not keep up. The maximum of legal counsel were hired, but they could not keep up despite crazy hours.

These people deserved additional remuneration. That was part of it. The government does not agree with this. I do not know how this is going to play out, but I thought it was a good measure.

The Senate also proposed removing the $10,000 limit on awards for pain and suffering. Depending on the situation, I think the Senate was right to propose this measure. We cannot put a limit on a sum of money for pain and suffering. Each case must be examined to determine how much the individual was affected and to then decide the amount of the award. But the government rejected this amendment.

I must explain what happened during the committee's hearings. This is very important. Things were going so fast that, at one point, all committee members, from all parties, received a notice from Mr. Walsh, telling us to stop. Mr. Walsh is not just anybody. He is a very important official in the House of Commons. He is the guardian of the rights of members of Parliament and senators, in other words our rights as parliamentarians. At one point, Mr. Walsh alerted us. He told us that this bill would restrict the rights of members of Parliament and senators, that we were mixing legislative and parliamentary issues. We wanted him to appear before the committee, but some Conservative members had a fit and asked who that person was. As we can see, there are people who do not really know how things work around here. Everyone knows who Mr. Walsh is.

We said that we absolutely wanted him to appear before the committee, because what he had to tell us was very important. We were playing with our rights as parliamentarians. We were mixing judicial and parliamentary responsibilities. The work that we do here, in Parliament or in the Senate, could have been challenged. That did not make any sense. So, he brought important amendments to the committee to protect our rights as parliamentarians and elected representatives. Most of these amendments were accepted.

This proves one thing: when we try to go over something too quickly, when we try to run faster than we can, this compels the primary guardian of our rights, here in the House of Commons, to react very strongly. Indeed, the way the bill was drafted did not make sense.

Obviously there were some extremely serious problems. We solved a few of them, but there are still some left. This is not a small bill. What I find reassuring is that we demanded, and the government accepted, that the bill be reviewed in five years. At first they wanted a review in 15 or 20 years. Imagine what it would be like to work with a piece of legislation that is not reviewed regularly because it was decided that the act would be implemented for an unlimited number of years.

We agreed to support the bill on accountability. We understood that the government wanted this to go quickly, but this legislation needed to be reviewed in the next five years. This is new legislation and it is extremely complex. When it is implemented it will need to be reviewed as soon as possible in order to correct any mistakes in it. I am certain that when it is implemented we will realize there are some aspects that cannot be put into effect. We will have to go back to the drawing board and do it over.

As far as access to information is concerned, the Conservatives refused to budge. The Access to Information Act was passed in 1983. Since then, despite a number of requests for its revision, it has stayed essentially the same. The Conservative government chose not to include reform of the Access to Information Act in its Bill C-2. We would have nonetheless appreciated the government agreeing to this. If we are going to have legislation on accountability, why not include the Access to Information Act? It is complementary and we could have had a truly complete piece of legislation.

However, this did not happen because we were told there was not enough time, we were told that 100 recommendations were needed to revise the act, we were told that the accountability bill had to be adopted before the year-end, we were given 100,000 reasons save one—the real reason why we were unable to confirm all of this.

There is still a lot of confusion in this bill. We will have to see how the senators' amendments that are accepted fit in with the bill as it stands. Our legislators will be able to tell us.

This is extremely important and it cannot be done in five minutes. I know that the Conservatives want this to move along very quickly. However, so long as the two bills—the one here in Parliament and the one in the Senate—are not similar, there will be no law and we will not be able to promulgate this law. We will play ping pong for who knows how long because we will send the bill back to the Senate, the Senate will again make its recommendations that will come back to the House, we will then make our recommendations that will go to the Senate, and so forth.

It is important that we find a way to not delay unduly the implementation of Bill C-2 and we will not be the ones to do so. We have said it from the very beginning. My colleague for Repentigny at the time and I were accused of filibustering and delaying adoption of the bill. That was not our intention. We wanted the bill to be a good one. For it to be good, such an important piece of legislation on accountability must be well written and properly implemented.

I will say it again. Mr. Walsh made some very important recommendations. If Mr. Walsh had not sounded the alarm, all of us in this House would have lost fundamental rights that we cherish, our rights as parliamentarians here in the House of Commons. Mr. Walsh finally got his message across to the other side of the House. Mr. Walsh is a non-partisan individual and he is there to protect the rights of all members. If Mr. Walsh had not been there, we can just imagine what might have happened to us.

This is a very significant, important and broad bill. In my opinion, some people also raised the alarm in the Senate, and we should look at this carefully. It goes without saying that we should not engage in filibustering for no reason, but we can definitely not pass this legislation at full throttle. We must be absolutely sure, and so must our researchers and the legislators. All those who worked on this bill find it complex. They know that once it is enacted, it will become the law. We must not create conflicts of interest with already existing laws, because this bill amends a large number of them. So, things must be clear and we must do serious work. This is what we have done in the past, and this is what we will do in the future. We will support this bill, while taking into consideration the points that I made.

If some people, some experts feel that major changes should be made to the bill, because it impacts on another act, or because it completely destroys it—and this could well be the case—these people should have the time to thoroughly examine this bill in order to propose the necessary changes to improve it, change it and amend it, so that in the end it will really work and we will have a true accountability act, a true piece of legislation that will compel us to be responsible as parliamentarians, ministers and elected representatives.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the hon. member's remarks and I noticed she did not mention the Canadian Wheat Board and the amendment the Bloc has put forward relative to that.

However, I want to raise a question with her because it is her party, the Bloc Québécois, that has put forward an amendment to bring the Canadian Wheat Board under access to information at, no doubt, the behest of the Prime Minister. I am absolutely amazed that the Bloc Québécois would follow the endeavours of the Prime Minister to put the Canadian Wheat Board under access to information.

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4:25 p.m.

Leon Benoit

What are you hiding?

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

The member opposite wants to know what I am hiding. The one thing he knows about the Wheat Board is that it is transparent. It is out there and it provides the information. The member wants access to information to apply to the Canadian Wheat Board because he wants the nuisance requests coming in from its competition, the big grain trade, so it can undermine the Wheat Board and not allow it to do its job in terms of representing primary producers and maximizing returns to primary producers. That is what that party is all about.

What I am absolutely surprised at is that the Bloc would fall for that endeavour of the government because within the province of Quebec there are other agencies similar to this. Does the same principle hold true?

The act itself states that the Canadian Wheat Board is not an agency of the Crown. It is not a government institution. It is a marketing institution of farmers. Does the Bloc not fear that by allowing access to information to apply to a farmer marketing institution it is running the risk of the same thing happening to some other agencies within Canada that operate in the interests of Quebec farmers?

I sincerely believe that the Bloc is making a tragic error as it relates to the farm community and I would ask the Bloc to reconsider its position on this amendment.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, in Quebec we have the UPA, which does extraordinary work in the agricultural markets. Our fear was that with this access to information, Quebec's toes would be stepped on yet again. Quebec is very well served by the UPA. In that regard, hon. members will simply have to accept our position. We have a different way of doing things in Quebec and we find this is an encroachment into our existing jurisdictions.

Nonetheless, as my colleague who loses his cool quite easily—I guess that is his nature—can see, we will never have unanimity here. There will always be someone complaining that something does not work in Bill C-2, that something—an article or a comma—should not be included in it. We did this work in committee and this was done in the Senate. Nonetheless, I believe that we can still discuss this and see whether there are still some things that can be settled. Through working on this bill we know it well and have assimilated it. We made some recommendations, as did the Liberal Party and the NDP. Even the Conservatives made recommendations because they themselves realized that some things did not make any sense in this bill. But we worked very quickly.

Members know my concern about passing this bill too quickly. There are still 158 Senate amendments. We are trying to pass it very quickly here in the House of Commons. In my opinion, we need to take the time to go over this thoroughly. Maybe the senators proposed other amendments because they met other witnesses who raised red flags like Mr. Walsh did for us. We have to take the time to consider this and make all the necessary improvements.

That being said, it is clear that the accountability act will never get the full support of the House. There will always be something someone does not like or some small problem. If it includes most of the Bloc Québécois' amendments, most of what we asked for, as it does now, we will vote in favour of the bill. However, we cannot ask for the moon. I think that everyone has found something in this bill that is worth supporting. I know that we will vote in favour. The NDP will probably vote in favour, but in the end, the important thing is to have a good law. We have never had a good accountability law, and it is high time we did.

Once again, we must proceed with wisdom and knowledge. We must ensure that it is well-written and that we do not end up with legislation that will cause chaos in the departments or clash with other bills. That is extremely important. So let us take our work seriously, as we have done from the beginning. Obviously, when things are different for Quebec, we will act accordingly. That is why we do not support this amendment.

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4:30 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord unfortunately did not answer the question posed by the hon. member for Malpeque. He asked a very important question about the future of the Canadian Wheat Board.

I rarely agree with the Liberals, but today, the member is right to ask the Bloc members why they decided to nearly destroy an organization that is so important to wheat farmers across Canada. Even though that organization is not very active in the province of Quebec and, as the member indicated, the UPA functions very well without Canada, this does not explain why the Bloc decided to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board, which is very important to the rest of Canada. Why do the Bloc members completely refuse to grasp the importance of cooperation within our agricultural sector?

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I answered the question.

The member is talking about destroying the Canadian Wheat Board. But wait a minute. The Canadian Wheat Board still exists and will continue to exist. The only thing we reject is simply that it is included in this bill. That is all. The members on the other side of the House should calm down.

We decided that the Canadian Wheat Board had no place in this bill, but it will continue to exist and operate, nonetheless. In addition, we have the UPA. We will vote based on what works for us.

If the Canadian Wheat Board is not working, we will not vote in favour of including it in Bill C-2, especially if Ottawa starts encroaching on jurisdictions that are very important to Quebec.

My job and that of other members of the Bloc Québécois is to defend the interests of Quebeckers. I repeat, the Canadian Wheat Board will never disappear. It will continue to exist, except it will not be included in Bill C-2. That is all there is to it.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know it would be a big mistake for the government to pass this law.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with accountability. In fact, the definition of accountability is not even in the bill.

Does the member not think that Bill C-2 has nothing to do with accountability? Will her party say no to supporting the bill as it is going to cause gridlock in the public service?

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I must warn the hon. member that she has 20 seconds for her response.