House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

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Business of the House

December 8th, 2006 / 10 a.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions with all parties and if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, in relation to the motion regarding Senate amendments made to Bill C-2, an act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, the length of speeches be 10 minutes maximum and the speeches not subject to a question and comment period; and after no more than one speaker from each of the recognized parties have spoken, the motion be deemed concurred in on division.

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10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

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Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have a slight concern. I believe that when I call for orders of the day, the request is going to be made that the motion for concurrence in the amendments to Bill C-2 be called for debate today.

That motion was put on notice last night. Our rules require 48 hours' notice of such a motion. The motion that has been moved and carried in the House dispensing with certain things in relation to the debate does not deal with the question of notice of the motion having been given.

Proper notice, in my view, has not been given and therefore we will need consent to call the motion now and then subject it to the rules of the debate that are included in this order.

Is that the intention of the House?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it agreed that we dispense with the 48 hours' notice and call the motion now?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird President of the Treasury Board

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability.

Mr. Speaker, we should all note that we are joined in the House today by the Parliamentarian of the Year, the member for Wascana. Mr. Speaker, you can see the Christmas spirit is infecting all of us.

I am very pleased to rise today on the return of the federal accountability act to the House of Commons from the Senate.

Canadians told all of us during the last election that they wanted government to be cleaned up. I believe that the Prime Minister has shown immense leadership and statesmanship in making this issue, integrity and ethics in government, his number one priority. Nine weeks after taking office, we tabled comprehensive legislation. Nine months later, I believe we are on the cusp of history.

I want to thank all members of the House for all of their work on the bill. Specifically, I want to thank the member for Vancouver Quadra. While we have not always agreed, he has always been an honourable member and a fair member to work with, and I appreciate that.

I also want to single out the former Bloc Québécois member for Repentigny, Benoît Sauvageau, and other members of the Bloc, including the member for Rivière-du-Nord and the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. Benoît Sauvageau showed great leadership throughout the committee hearings in dealing with this bill.

The NDP member for Winnipeg Centre has shown a great commitment to accountability. I think it is safe to say that we would not have gotten to this stage without his leadership, and I want to single that out.

I also want to thank the member for Nepean—Carleton, my parliamentary secretary, for all of his work, and indeed all members of the House and a few members of the Senate.

We are on the cusp of a historic piece of legislation that I strongly believe will change the culture of Ottawa from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability.

There are 13 themes in this bill: reforming financing of political parties; banning secret donations; strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner; toughening the Lobbyists Registration Act; ensuring truth in budgeting with a parliamentary budget office; making qualified government appointments; cleaning up procurement of government contracts; cleaning up government polling and advertising; providing real protection for whistleblowers within the public service, which is something that is very important to my constituents in Ottawa West—Nepean, as I know it is to the constituents of Kingston and the Islands; strengthening the access to information law; strengthening the power of the Auditor General; strengthening auditing and accountability within departments; and creating a director of public prosecutions. All of these will contribute to the building that culture of accountability.

The public's trust was egregiously violated in recent years and I do not agree with the amount of time the Senate took, but at the end of the day, it has passed this bill. We have worked cooperatively.

I want to single out the leadership of Senator Don Oliver, who chaired the Senate committee and a huge amount of effort went into that. I wish to acknowledge as well the member for Dufferin—Caledon in this House, but Senator Oliver has shown great leadership, and I have enjoyed getting to know and working with Senator Day as well.

This bill is now ready for royal assent following this debate. Much work will lie ahead in the implementation of this bill. We will do our best to work hard and to expeditiously see some of these reforms brought in, in short order, and others just following that. We will work night and day to ensure that the implementation is done right and that we continue to build on the culture of accountability.

Today is not the end. Today is the beginning. We all must share in ensuring that accountability is in place and we must remain eternally vigilant. As parliamentarians, all members of the House, our number one job will be accountability and oversight, and we can never forget that.

I do also want to speak about the public service briefly. The Public Service of Canada rose to the challenge to assist us with this piece of legislation, almost to show the new government and the new Prime Minister what they could do.

My deputy, Wayne Wouters, the secretary of the Treasury Board, worked very hard. He made one brilliant decision to put Susan Cartwright, one of our senior associate deputy ministers, in charge of this. Joe Wild, our legal counsel, worked night and day, as well as my own office, led by my chief of staff, Chris Froggatt, and my director of parliamentary affairs, Garry Keller. I want to thank the public service across the nine departments who worked very hard to get this done. Bruce Carson in the Prime Minister's Office was also a huge help.

I genuinely believe that Parliament will be able to look back at this piece of legislation and say that we did the right thing. All parties worked hard together as Canadians expect of us. Canadians should be very proud of that and of the accomplishment of the federal accountability act.

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10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the President of the Treasury Board for his hard work and all of those who have worked with him to bring this legislation to this point.

I just want to deal with a few issues. First, I want to add my congratulations and thanks and that of the official opposition to all of those people who worked so hard behind the lines to make this work and, of course, Susan Cartwright and Rob Walsh, the legislative parliamentary counsels, and Joe Wild from the Department of Justice, who were instrumental in dealing with this highly complex legislation.

I will not repeat but only agree with the hon. President of the Treasury Board with respect to the various members of Parliament, both in the other place as well as the House of Commons, who worked so hard in their respective committees to bring back to the respective Houses improved legislation after extensive consideration, analysis, the hearing of witnesses and the thoughtful creation of amendments.

I have always been a little nervous with the word “cusp”, and I am not sure what we are on the cusp of here, but I hope it does not mean that we are looking over from a high point into a dark and dangerous deep hole. However, I think we should all feel confident that this legislation is taking us forward and it is taking us forward from, not a dark time, although mistakes were clearly made and they concerned us that all of our accountability mechanisms would be tightened up, but a continuation of something that happened through previous Liberal governments over a 10 year period on issues such as political financing.

The former Liberal government's Bill C-24, which the House passed about three years ago, was probably the most dramatic change and constraint on political financing in any democratic country in the world and this accountability act takes it even further. I think that is to the credit of both sets of legislation.

The creation of an independent ethics commissioner by the former Liberal government was also another step on the way to greater accountability. Many people on this side of the House and all sides of the House worked hard to ensure that an independent office was created. Again, this legislation takes us a step further in improving, we hope, the effectiveness of that office.

Thirdly, I would just mention, very briefly, the Gomery inquiry itself, which was probably the most extensive inquiry into the workings of government, the nature of accountability and the nature of responsibility in responsible government in the modern history of Canada. The multiple volumes of that report will remain instructive to all members of the House and all subsequent governments as we go forward to increasingly improve this.

I will quote briefly from the first report of Justice Gomery. This is an important quote for all of us to remember and, more important, it speaks to all Canadians and for Canadians to understand. At the beginning of his first report, Mr. Gomery said that all Canadians must understand that the vast majority of public servants and politicians in Canada are honest, diligent in their work and effective, and emerge from this inquiry without blame.

It is immensely important for us to appreciate that while we vigorously identify and deal with that, through changes to mechanisms of government and accountability or to hold people directly to account and actually have people punished for severe wrongdoings, we remember that our democracy depends on the public's faith in the honest workings of our public service and our Parliament, which is an immensely important thing.

While we accept, if not the rhetoric, at least the direction in which this is further taking us, I think issues, such as calling this the strongest piece of anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history, may have gone over that cusp and transcends the reality. However, these are important problems on which we have all come together. I have been proud to work with members of all parties in the House and with members in the other place to see us come to this day.

I would like to say something about the other place. It has had dozens of days of hearings and has heard numerous expert witnesses on every aspect of this very complex legislation. The senators did their work diligently and thoroughly and have come forward with further amendments to those that were put forward in the House. There are dozens of substantive amendments, as well as some that are more technical, but they all make this a better bill. The amendments allow us, as the President of the Treasury Board said, to diligently and more effectively implement all aspects of this legislation. We owe a great deal of respect and gratitude to the members of the other place for their hard work in bringing this back to us.

As with any piece of legislation, especially one so vast and so complex as this, which affects so many other pieces of legislation, implementation is not always simple. It may be that in the course of implementing this legislation, either through the experience of implementation itself or the change of context of various aspects, we will need to amend this as we go along.

While we in the official opposition did not receive support for all of the amendments we suggested, we do think there are vitally important aspects of the legislation that must be corrected in the future. We look forward to forming government in the very near future to expedite those improvements.

I will just mention three of them very briefly, one being in the access to information aspects of this bill. I regret to add another quote from the previous information commissioner, John Reid, that aspects of the access to information portions of this bill were “retrograde and dangerous”. While that may seem like quite an extreme statement, it certainly puts us on notice that we need to do further work in this area. In fact, the privacy and ethics House committee is working to do that very thing and we will be taking part very vigorously in that further improvement to the access to information legislation.

The next area is conflict of interest. We think some tightening needs to take place around the definition of conflict of interest. We need to add the concepts of potential and apparent conflict of interest and not simply real conflict of interest. Over the last some 15 years in Canada, in the provinces as well as through the federal government jurisprudence in the application of conflict of interest rules, it has become apparent that apparent, as well as potential, conflicts of interest need serious attention.

We also need to tighten up the issue around gifts to public office holders where friends of public office holders, not just close personal friends, which is a much narrower field, as I think we all appreciate, should be caught for the reporting provisions of conflict of interest, gifts that might affect a conflict of interest.

Finally, the whistleblower section needs continual improvement but we will learn more about how this mechanism works through the experience of implementation. The Auditor General has made mention, quite appropriately, that we need good protection for whistleblowers so the public can be properly informed about the types of wrongdoings that might happen or might otherwise go unnoticed through the public administration. However, we also need to ensure that the systems of government work honestly in the first instance so those cases are kept to an absolute minimum.

In particular, when we get to a situation, which we all recognize happens from time to time, where wrongdoing is not discovered, but, through the actions of a so-called whistleblower, which I would put in the category of a dedicated public servant seeing something wrong and wanting to fix it, that person, in his or her brave actions, is not subject to any reprisal from government. The bill does contain a reverse onus provision but, as we go forward, I think we will want to consider whether it is fair to put the burden on the public servant, who blew the whistle, of proving that some action by government was a reprisal.

In conclusion, I will again congratulate all members of the House and the other place who contributed to this further evolution of accountability in government. It is work well done and it has been done at great speed, although I think the government would have wished it had gone more quickly. However, I offer the observation that the amendments are positive, constructive and will make the bill greater and the implementation of it smoother to the benefit of all Canadians.

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10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging my colleague, Benoît Sauvageau. I worked with him on Bill C-2 and assisted him throughout the process. I want to make sure everyone knows what extraordinary work he did. We must all recognize that.

All parties in this House worked very hard on this. Never before has a committee sat for so many hours and so many days in so few weeks to produce a bill of great importance about accountability.

We all gained something; some of us lost something. Some of the things we wanted to see in the bill are not there, but I want to emphasize that we did gain some ground.

Among other things, we, the members of the Bloc Québécois, succeeded in getting an independent appointment process for Elections Canada returning officers. This is very important. Such a process has already been in place in Quebec for a number of years, and now we have it at the federal level.

In fact, consultation has already been undertaken to find out if returning officers in each riding were competent, if their work was well done, if there was any partisanship, and if they had the necessary qualifications to do the job. All parliamentarians were consulted and a report was tabled. That was a huge step forward. I would like to congratulate the committee on its support for this part of the bill.

We also succeeded in eliminating rewards for whistleblowers. We found that proposal completely unacceptable. It might even have prompted some people to make false accusations in order to receive the reward. That provision was removed from the bill. I would like to thank the secretary of the Treasury Board because we discussed this and he agreed to make the change.

The parties worked together on this, in a fairly respectful manner. We also obtained the assurance that this legislation will be reviewed in five years. Typically, legislation is reviewed every 10 years. We asked that this be reviewed after five years, because the legislation is so complex that we are not entirely sure how it will be implemented. It affects so many other acts that our concern regarding the implementation of Bill C-2 has to do with the time frame and costs of its implementation.

As we know, this bill amends several other acts, but we do not know how long this will all take. Over time, we will see how this bill moves forward.

We needed an accountability act. Given the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery Commission, this House needed legislation to ensure the probity of parliamentarians. We are all honest people. We all want to represent our constituents well. There can be temptations, however, through bad influences, to act dishonestly. We saw this with the sponsorship scandal. Bill C-2 corrects part of the problem.

However, we deplore the Conservative government's decision to give in to the ultimatum given by the Senate, in order to stop the constant back and forth between the House of Commons and the Senate, and to ensure that Bill C-2 is passed quickly.

We rejected the idea of a separate Senate ethics officer, because such an officer would not be as effective as Bill C-2 could have allowed. However, as I mentioned, there has been some give and take.

The Bloc Québécois made concessions and compromises; the Liberal Party made compromises; the NDP did so as well, and the government made many compromises, to our great surprise. We always said that we would not delay the committee's work unduly, and we kept our promise by making solid proposals. But we regret that many people who would have liked to testify and submit briefs to the committee were unable to do so because of impossible time constraints. They were given barely 24 hours to write a brief and come to testify. It is very unfortunate that witnesses often had just two minutes to speak. This is unreasonable, and the work suffered as a result. When seven or eight witnesses take the time to travel together and only one or two have the chance to testify before the committee for two minutes, and when the question period is also limited to two or three minutes, this does not promote very good relations. In that sense, it was very difficult.

Many Quebeckers would have liked to testify before the committee, but were unable to do so. However, some people later testified before the Senate committee, which was a good thing. But it was also difficult in the Senate, because the hearing process moved along very quickly there as well. A bill was needed and, in my opinion, it will be passed on division. We will monitor the application of the legislation very closely, because it affects many other existing laws and makes significant changes.

We do not know whether it will be possible to make improvements to certain laws. It may be that a bill to amend each law will have to be introduced in the House of Commons. But we do not know how much time, energy and money that will involve. We hope that there will be as much collegiality among the parties and that the work will be as well done as when Bill C-2 was drafted. As I said at the start, we never held up the process. We will therefore support the bill, but we hope that this bill will truly make a difference and not just be a bogus bill.

Do hon. members recall Bill C-11, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act? From the outset, we called for Bill C-11 to be implemented immediately since it was ready, having gone through the Senate and received royal assent. Still, approval was denied supposedly because Bill C-2 was about to be introduced. Nine months were wasted with that. Because they had no protection, whistleblowers were not able to make the disclosures they wanted to make or should have made. Moreover, Bill C-11 was not in conflict with Bill C-2, not at all. In fact, once Bill C-2 was in effect, Bill C-11 would have been complementary.

We in the Bloc Québécois cannot understand why the government would not implement Bill C-11. It would not have cost the government anything, yet protection would have been afforded to whistleblowers, allowing them to start immediately doing their jobs. Of course, that is unfortunate, but now we are at the stage of implementing Bill C-2. This will ensure that we can count on our civil servants being able to do their jobs. If disclosures have to be made, they will be made honestly. That is actually a job requirement. They will not get paid for making disclosures. That would be unthinkable. It is the duty of civil servants to report on what is not working in their departments and on any wrongdoers who are up to no good. This marks an important victory for us.

I thank all my colleagues on the legislative committee on Bill C-2, both from the government side and the opposition. I think we did good work together, and my wish is that the legislation will be effective and will come into force as soon as possible.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House to address a few brief points on Bill C-2.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge the cooperative work that has been done by all parties. This bill is a complex bill with a very broad scope. It very clearly is a significant step forward. I believe the bill will have some significant impact on improving accountability across the whole of the federal government.

It is important to recognize that in a minority government situation all political parties have an added responsibility to be cooperative. We saw that cooperation to a significant degree as this bill worked its way through the House. I cannot say the same for the other place, but I will come back to that in a minute.

I particularly want to acknowledge the work that our member for Winnipeg Centre, his staff and several of his colleagues within our caucus have done on this legislation. Their contribution was quite significant. I also want to mention in this regard, in some of the underpinnings of this bill, some of the actual sections of this bill, Mr. Ed Broadbent, the member for Ottawa Centre in the last Parliament, who I believe contributed a great deal of thought to the issues of accountability. He made some very significant proposals that found their way into the bill.

I do not want to take up a lot of time, but I do want to speak negatively about the role of the other place. There was an extensive amount of delay by the Senate in getting this bill into its final form. At one point, the Senate sent back 150 amendments. In spite of its claim that these amendments were substantial, the vast majority of them were technical or of no particular meaning. The House sent back 50 amendments to the legislation, which the Senate accepted, and we are now down to this one amendment, which really is a mechanism on the part of the other place to protect itself.

I have serious doubts that this process is democratic, especially when an unelected body is forcing this kind of an ethics office. This is going to be very expensive as opposed to the alternative of sharing an ethics office. There is no real sense of the type of mandate the Senate's ethics commissioner will have. I have serious doubts as to whether its ethics office will be as effective or as efficient as it could be had we shared an ethics commissioner. This proposal, which the House is being forced to accept, is not to the Senate's credit at all.

As I think the House has heard from several of the other members who have spoken, this is not the end of what we have to do. This bill, as I said earlier, is certainly a significant step forward. It covers off a lot of issues that should have been addressed in the past. As the President of the Treasury Board mentioned in his speech, we have to remain vigilant. This is not the end.

My party has raised serious concerns, unsuccessfully so far, with regard to political financing. What we see is a travesty, a major loophole in political financing in this country that will allow individual leadership candidates to borrow large amounts of money with no particular assurances that the money will ever be repaid. They will be allowed to take on a debt, fully expecting it will probably be forgiven, being somehow of the opinion that it is not a political contribution. This stands out.

We believe there are some serious faults with this legislation around access to information. We also feel there should have been stronger whistleblower protection. We will continue to watch these areas. Other parties have expressed concerns that the bill does not encompass enough points. We will all be watching that.

There is an automatic five year review in the bill, but I do not think we should be limited by that. If we see apparent faults in the legislation, this House should move rapidly to plug those holes.

Let me finish by thanking the other parties for their cooperation on this legislation but also recognizing that the law can only do so much. As individual members of Parliament, our personal integrity and ethics are ultimately what will guarantee that Canadians have representatives and a federal government that are truly accountable and do not breach the law or ethical standards that we are expected to meet. That falls on each member of Parliament. I urge all of us to take that into account.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to the order adopted earlier this day, the motion before the House is now deemed concurred in on division.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)