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

Question No. 99
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

With regard to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) spending: (a) how much was spent on low income housing for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2006; (b) what is the projected spending on low income housing for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007; and (c) what is the detailed breakdown of CMHC spending for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2006 and the projected fiscal year ending March 31, 2007?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

During petitions the Chair failed to recognize the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park, who was rising. I would ask, therefore, to go back to presenting petitions to allow the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park to present her petition.

Child Care
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, on National Child Day I am pleased to present on behalf of my constituents three petitions that urge the government to commit to multi-year funding for child care across this country and to enshrine this in legislation with a national child care act, which should be a cornerstone of our commitment to the next generation.

Finance
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

November 20th, 2006 / 3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Finance in relation to the supplementary estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, of the amendment and the amendment to the amendment.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share with the House my reaction to the amendments proposed by the Liberals.

There are four principal amendments put forward by the Liberals that I would like to address. I would like to discuss what they would actually mean for the accountability act.

To start with, the Liberals in this House have put forward an amendment that would exempt their friends in the Senate from a new ethics watchdog created by the accountability act. The accountability act seeks to put in place a tough watchdog who can keep tabs on the ethical behaviour of members of Parliament and senators. We propose in the interests of fairness that this watchdog be responsible for all members of Parliament, including those in the upper chamber.

The Liberals for some reason believe that their senators should have a free escape hatch, that they should not be covered by this watchdog. They therefore have put forward an amendment denying this new ethics watchdog the right to watch over the behaviour of Liberal senators.

We on this side of the House believe that senators should have nothing to hide, that all senators should be prepared to live up to the same standards as their democratically elected counterparts here in this House. As such, we will not support amendments to protect Liberal senators from accountability. We believe accountability should apply in both chambers and as such, we will seek to give this new watchdog the power to oversee the ethical conduct of members in the upper chamber as well as here.

Second, the Liberals seek to take away the right of farmers to have access to information at the Canadian Wheat Board. Liberals believe that farmers should not know what is going on with the Canadian Wheat Board, that they should not have the ability to access critical information, such as the budgetary decisions of the Wheat Board, the hospitality expenses, the decisions that affect the bottom line of everyday farmers. All of that should be kept secret from farmers according to the Liberal amendment.

We on this side believe that the Wheat Board should have nothing to hide. If the Wheat Board is conducting its affairs above board and with the utmost of integrity, the Wheat Board should not have any concern whatsoever with giving farmers the right to access to information. This is the same exact right that we have extended as a government to crown corporations that are competitive, to government departments, to a whole assortment of organizations that operate in a competitive environment. All of them must live up to the demands of the Access to Information Act. That is a method of accountability, because everyday people ought to have the right to know what their government institutions do. In this instance, farmers ought to have the right to have access to information over the Canadian Wheat Board which controls and monopolizes all the distribution of Canadian wheat in the Prairies.

Third, the Liberals have put forward an amendment called the public interest override related to access to information. The member for Winnipeg Centre has already demonstrated with great clarity that this amendment would actually decrease access to information and would inhibit the ability of Canadian taxpayers to access information that would otherwise be secret. It puts the executive branch of government, that is, the bureaucratic and political leaders of this country, in charge of determining the public interest. Those political and bureaucratic leaders under the Liberal amendment would have the ability to reject access to information requests in order to keep secret documents and information that they want held back from the public.

Finally, Liberals in this House want to force Canadian taxpayers to pick up the tab for their convention. Liberals believe that convention delegates who pay a fee to be part of a grand political event, a convention, should be allowed to do so on the backs of taxpayers by using the political tax credit. We on this side of the House of Commons believe that taxpayers should not be forced to unduly subsidize political conventions. As such, we have not reported as political donations the delegate fees that go to finance those conventions.

If the Liberals had their way, they would retroactively apply a new rule forcing Canadian taxpayers to pay the cost of political conventions. Let us ask ourselves what this means for the Conservative convention that was held in April 2005. If they were able to change the interpretation of the law to force delegate fees to be considered as political donations, the Canada Revenue Agency would be forced to go back two years and issue hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax rebates to Conservative convention goers. That might be in the interests of the Conservative Party, but we do not believe that taxpayer funded conventions are in the interests of Canadian working families. As such, we do not support the Liberals' interpretation.

We note that in every instance the Liberal Party seeks to structure the rules in a way that is most financially beneficial to the Liberal Party itself. We on this side of the House would like to structure the laws in a way that is most financially beneficial to the Canadian taxpayer. As such, we did not ask taxpayers to subsidize our last convention. It is the Liberal Party that has done so in its coming convention. In order to cover their tracks and justify their behaviour, the Liberals are now asking the Conservative Party to go back retroactively and do the same. We disagree and as such, we will vote against this amendment.

I would like to return to a point I mentioned earlier concerning the Canadian Wheat Board.

I would now like to thank the former hon. member for Repentigny, Benoît Sauvageau, who worked so hard to increase government accountability. This member worked with members from all parties in order to improve our system of government. He and his party supported an amendment to include the Canadian Wheat Board in the Access to Information Act. It is a matter of principle. I would therefore like to thank this hard-working member. He is no longer with us and will be sadly missed. We were all together for his funeral and I would like this House to recognize his contribution.

Today, the Bloc Québécois proposed an amendment to make the Canadian Wheat Board subject to the Access to Information Act. On behalf of western farmers, I would like to thank the Bloc members who proposed this amendment, because it is a good principle. Although the Bloc does not represent western Canada, I believe it made an excellent decision in supporting the rights of farmers to access information. I am very proud to work with the Bloc and with all members who support transparency in order to ensure this right for our farmers in western Canada.

I would like to say in English as well that I thank the members of the Bloc who put forward an amendment to include the Canadian Wheat Board in access to information so that western Canadian farmers have the right to know how the Wheat Board functions and the ability to know what is going on with the organization that monopolizes the distribution of their wheat.

Perhaps there are Liberal members across the way who have something to hide, who do not want certain information to be available to farmers, who have conducted themselves in a way that they perhaps do not want the public to know about and they are working feverishly behind the scenes and publicly to prevent farmers from having the right to have access to information. I regret that a great deal, but we only ask what it is they are hiding that they do not want farmers to have the right to access to information.

Some in the Liberal Party have said that this has something to do with supply management. Anybody who knows anything about agriculture knows that the Canadian Wheat Board is not a body of supply management. It does not carry out supply management. It is a marketing board. It has nothing whatsoever to do with supply management. They are engaging in specious arguments to distract from the fact that they are hiding critical information from farmers that they do not want to be made public.

I think that when members stand in the House to defend their decision to deny farmers the ability to have access to information, they should tell farmers what it is they are personally hiding, what it is they might have personally been involved in that they do not want farmers to know about. Certainly, farmers want to have that right. They want to know what is going on in their organization.

The Liberals have said that access to information at the Canadian Wheat Board would cause some sort of competitive disadvantage. We are putting crown corporations that compete in the open market under access to information. For example, we are putting Export Development Canada under access to information. That is a group that actually competes internationally. We are putting the Business Development Bank under access to information. A whole assortment of organizations that compete internationally and that compete here at home in Canada are all going to be covered under the access to information law.

The argument by some who want to cover up information at the Wheat Board that it cannot happen due to commercial confidences is a specious one. They ought to explain why they want farmers to be denied the right to have access to all that information.

Regardless of what some people think of the Wheat Board, there are various opinions and I respect them all, one thing about which farmers are unanimous is the view that they ought to have access to information related to the function of the Wheat Board because that wheat board has total control over the marketing of their grain as a monopoly. That organization, which was sanctioned and put in place by the federal government, ought therefore to be open to the farmers that it is meant to serve. I would defy any member of the House to oppose farmers' rights to access to information.

I would reiterate the importance of the act. The accountability act bans political patronage in an amendment put forward by the NDP. It brings ironclad whistleblower protection to public servants who are conscientious enough to speak out against wrongdoing. It expands access to information to roughly 30 new organizations, some of which the Liberals are trying to take back out, but that is what the original act intended to do. It bans big money and corporate cash from political campaigns. It expands the powers of the Auditor General to shine her light in every dark corner in her hunt for waste and corruption. It moves in all directions toward more transparency and more openness.

The critical objective of the House must now be to pass the accountability act into law. There have been thousands of hours of study. It went through record hearings in the Senate. The Senate saw the bill for twice as long as it was studied in the House of Commons. There has been plenty of time, plenty of debate. In fact, many of the measures in this bill have been discussed now for roughly a decade.

The time for talk is behind us; the time for action is now. If the Liberal Senate and the Liberal Party continues to delay the passage of the bill, then they very well might get their way and delay it until the election comes at which time, by convention of Parliament, it would die. They would, as a party, be forced to explain that conduct to the Canadian electorate.

Canadians voted for the accountability act in the last election. We, as the Conservative government, followed through on our promise to them by introducing the bill as the first piece of legislation before the House and introduced by the President of the Treasury Board. It is the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history. It expands accountability in every single way. It fulfills the hopes of thousands of Canadians and hundreds of members of Parliament in the House to have a cleaner more accountable government.

We have worked as a government to bring forward this legislation because the Canadian people voted for it. They demanded it. We have now delivered on it.

We would ask that members of Parliament and members of the Senate stop their delays, and allow the bill to become law, allow the Canadian people to have their aspirations for more accountable government fulfilled.

It is interesting that not one single solitary member of the House has proclaimed him or herself against the accountability act, not one. All members say they support it. Not one member of Parliament voted against it when it came before the House, not a single solitary one. Not a single member of the committee on the accountability act voted against the bill. Every single member of the House has voted for it.

Therefore, if members are true to their word when they say they support the bill, then they ought to allow it swift passage into law. The time has come and the place is here. I ask the members of all parties to join and lock arms with all of us to put this historic law, the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history, into the statutory books of this country. I now anticipate the queries of my distinguished colleagues.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I heard a lot of rambling from the parliamentary secretary but nothing of substance, especially as it relates to the Canadian Wheat Board.

I would ask him to answer this question, if he could, directly. Did I hear the member correctly when he said that it was absolutely unanimous among western farmers that access to information should apply to the Canadian Wheat Board?

If he did not, I ask him to be very careful in his answer, because I know that not to be true. The Canadian Wheat Board is probably the most transparent organization in the country. He may have never been there. He may never have visited its offices. He is obviously listening to the propaganda from the international grain trade which wants access to information to the Canadian Wheat Board, not necessarily on the commerciality of the operation but clearly to be a nuisance factor.

The fact of the matter is that the Canadian Wheat Board has an annual report audited. The Canadian Wheat Board is not a crown corporation and the government knows that. It says that specifically in the act. The Canadian Wheat Board holds district meetings in every one of its districts with officials of the Canadian Wheat Board there to answer any questions, financial or otherwise. It is very transparent. It has a department within the operation which answers calls 24 hours a day, so it is very transparent.

The parliamentary secretary said that farmers unanimously wanted access to information to apply. Most farmers do not. I wonder what concrete evidence does the member have to make that statement in the House of Commons or is he just trying to mislead the Canadian people.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member lists all of the great mechanisms of transparency that are embedded in the current operation of the Canadian Wheat Board. It answers the phone. It has a department that responds to questions. It has annual meetings. It has audited books.

That is true of every department in the government, so by his logic, we would eliminate access to information for every department in the Government of Canada because they have audited books, they answer their phones, and they have annual financial statements.

If he really believes that all of those things disqualify an organization from coverage under the Access to Information Act, then he ought also to believe that there is no organization in Canada in the government that should be covered by access to information.

That is exactly what he is suggesting. If he believes that an organization of the government, which spends public money, should not be covered by access to information just because it answers the phone, just because it holds an annual meeting, and just because it has audited books, again he would literally eliminate the very existence of the Access to Information Act.

He says that the Canadian Wheat Board is already open. Fair enough, I will take his word for it, but what is the problem with having a belt and suspenders? If the organization is already 100% transparent then it should have no problem responding to access to information requests. In fact, I would be surprised if anyone would even file an access to information request. If the organization is already 100% open, there would not be any need for it, but there is nothing wrong with having a belt at the same time as suspenders, just to make sure.

I just go back to the same question. What is the member afraid of? What are the people who are opposed to access to information hiding?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have to pay attention to the words being used when we talk about obstruction. In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois has never been obstructionist. I have never seen a committee sit for so many hours in so short a time to try to get a bill passed. This is the first time that has happened here in the House of Commons.

We have cooperated and we have made gains that we consider to be important in relation to the bill. Serious work has got to be done. We have received 158 amendments from the Senate. I think that we have to take a serious look at them. We cannot say in this House that everything is fine and we will pass it all right away. That is why there is an amendment by the Liberals and a subamendment by the Bloc Québécois, to study the question and meet each of our requests as best as can be done.

I would like to know whether the government is at all open to trying again to improve this very important bill, which we support and which, in our opinion, is in need of a few changes. We know that the bill will go back to the Senate and we would like the government to say whether it is open to these changes at all.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank this member specifically for her work in committee. She has worked extremely hard for her constituents and for Quebecers on the question of the Accountability Act.

She has clearly asked me whether we are prepared to accept further amendments to make more improvements to this bill. My answer is yes. We are prepared to listen to her comments and her amendments.

I have said that I will support a number of amendments that her party proposed earlier today in this House. One of her colleagues has already submitted amendments to this House. I think that some of those amendments are excellent and I will support them, as will my party in general. This is a team effort. We are very grateful for the work done by the hon. member and the work done by the NDP members to improve this bill. Everyone has been working on it for months and now that work has to be put into action. We cannot allow any more delay because Canadians are demanding that this bill be passed.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I see a disconnect between what the act states and the actions of the government, particularly in the area of appointments. I have been following it since February, and every appointment has a common denominator and that is a member of the Conservative Party.

Another thing that puzzles me is that the first act of the Prime Minister did not seem to accord with the fundamentals of the act. The first thing he did was to appoint his co-chair to the Senate. The second thing he did was to appoint his co-chair/Senator as a member of cabinet. We have the spectacle right now of a man walking around Ottawa, and I have no idea what he looks like, who is spending $40 million or $50 million a day of government money. We have no way to hold him to account and we cannot ask him questions.

My question is, does the act live up to any semblance of accountability that is expected in this institution?