House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, this bill we are talking about is about changing the culture of politics. I want to begin by acknowledging that with the introduction of the federal accountability act both this House and the people of Canada are seeing at first hand the real and tangible steps that the Conservative Party of Canada is taking to clean up government in Ottawa and to return confidence both to Parliament and to the bureaucracy that runs government.

Such a bill is long overdue in view of the scandals, the corruption and the culture of entitlement that has permeated the Liberal Party and those well connected to it during the past 13 years. The federal accountability act represents our government's response to the Gomery inquiry, to years of wanton and unregulated excesses, to years of patronage appointments, to dealing with highly paid lobbyists who worked their trade in and around the halls and offices of Parliament Hill, and to the culture of political fundraising, which offers those with money access to government. The act now prohibits contributions from corporations and unions altogether and limits personal obligations and contributions to $1,000 so that big money no longer has the sole voice in Ottawa.

The federal accountability act is all about accountability for everyone, starting with the Prime Minister and extending to all parliamentarians and public sector employees, to those who receive government funding and to those who seek access to government officials and decision makers.

The act itself is lengthy and multi-faceted and affects some 28 other pieces of legislation. It is broader in scope than the recommendations of the Gomery inquiry, and while the act may amend scores of existing laws, its primary aim is to address the moral decay that has permeated every level of government.

Our government is unquestionably intent upon changing the culture of politics on Parliament Hill and ending the culture of entitlement that has existed under successive Liberal governments. This act will make this government work better for Canadians. It provides oversight, rules, restrictions and measures to ensure that public interest is preserved and individual opportunism curtailed, and that there is an administration that carries out the affairs of government in a way that is both transparent and accountable.

In the end, of course, only people of integrity and character can change the image the public has of politicians and those connected to them. The bottom line is that Canadians deserve to know that their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent and used wisely by those in government.

Part 1 of the bill deals with the conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders. Canadians rightfully expect their representatives and public office holders to make decisions in the public interest and without any consideration of personal gain and without taking advantage of information not available to the public. Public office holders must perform their duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest. The bill specifies in clause 4 that:

--a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.

It restricts the office holder from making those kinds of decisions.

The act deals with recusal from voting or debating on matters that would place an office holder in conflict. Other provisions of the act deal with the issues of preferential treatment, insider information, influence peddling, fundraising, cash donations and the acceptance of gifts and advantages. This is clear and unambiguous language. It is language that demands a much higher standard for public office holders than has been the experience and the custom in Ottawa to this point.

These conflict of interest rules are not merely guidelines or recommendations, as compliance with part 1 of the act itself will be deemed a term and condition of a public officer holder's appointment for employment.

Most important, the legislation provides the rules of the road for those office holders who have assets, are competent and do want to contribute to our country and our society, but who want to do it in a way that preserves their integrity and honour. It prescribes the means that may be used to resolve conflicts, which in some cases may even require the disposal or divestment of the offending assets.

The federal accountability act would combine the position of ethics commissioner and Senate ethics officer and create a new conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. This newly appointed commissioner shall be an individual with judicial experience, either a former judge or an individual with federal or provincial board, commission or tribunal experience.

The commissioner will have the same power to enforce the attendance of witnesses, to compel them to give evidence under oath or affirmation and to produce documents as would a court of record in civil cases. All decisions of the commissioner must be made on the balance of probabilities, the same test utilized by judges in all civil cases. This is coupled with a reasonable opportunity for the public office holder to present his or her case.

These are very real powers and responsibilities entrusted with the commissioner. It is further evidence of the government's commitment to provide the new commissioner with the power and authority to get the job done.

The federal accountability act will expressly make government accountable to the people by affording the opportunity to a member of the general public the ability to bring forward, through a member of Parliament, information to the commissioner of an alleged contravention of the act by a public office holder.

The act also provides for the appointment of a parliamentary budget officer, with a mandate to provide objective analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation's finances and trends in the national economy.

Additionally, the government will also provide quarterly updates to its fiscal forecasts. There is now to be an independent analysis on economic and fiscal issues. Gone are the days of unanticipated surpluses used to buy votes with reckless spending. It is time to ensure that we have truth in budgeting.

Another area of change is in the creation of a director of public prosecutions. Part 3 of the act creates the office of the director of public prosecutions and allows this office to initiate and conduct wholly independent investigations and prosecutions, including the decision to lay charges unless the federal Attorney General publicly directs otherwise. The proposed office of director of public prosecutions reflects the best features of those offices that currently exist in British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia as well as those found in several countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland.

The federal accountability act also includes a number of real and sincere protections for whistleblowers, something that is long overdue.

People who see problems within the government need to have the confidence and the knowledge that they can speak up without intimidation or fear of recrimination. Too often we have learned that whistleblowers have been punished by their superiors for speaking the truth and taking courageous stands against instances of corruption and abuse.

The public service of Canada is a multi-faceted institution staffed by professional, dedicated and highly skilled individuals. Its employees play a crucial role in support of the government's agenda and they are essential in delivering programs and services to our citizens. This government will foster and champion an environment in which its employees may honestly and openly raise the alarm and express concerns without fear or threat of reprisal.

The bill would give real protection for whistleblowers by creating the position of public sector integrity commissioner and by making this individual an agent of Parliament. It will also give the commissioner the authority to deal with complaints from whistleblowers who feel they have suffered reprisals for identifying potential wrongdoing.

We shall see the creation of an independent tribunal, composed of judges or former judges, with the power to order remedies and to discipline wrongdoers. The remedies available to the commissioner include: the right to permit the complainant to return to his or her duties; the right to pay compensation in lieu of reinstatement; to rescind any measure or action; to cover expenses and other financial losses as a direct result of the reprisal; to provide up to $10,000 for any pain and suffering; and to order disciplinary action against a perpetrator.

It is fair to suggest that the actions of a handful of public servants involved in the ad scam scandal have tainted the image of the public service for many Canadians. This element of the act will reinforce the non-partisan and professional excellence of the federal public service and return it to the place of honour and dignity it has historically enjoyed.

I am reminded of the recent words of the President of the Treasury Board when he stated, “Today is about putting the legacy of political scandal behind us and restoring Canadians' trust in government”.

The federal accountability act will change the culture of politics and it will move Ottawa from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability and responsibility, one that is accountable and responsible to all Canadians equally.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. member's comments and was reminded again about what I had asked the previous speaker with respect to the author of this particular legislation, admittedly drafted quite quickly. I understand the hon. member's comments with respect to finding problems with this Parliament in terms of the conduct of certain individuals but I believe the hon. member has an obligation to look at all aspects of previous wrongdoings and indeed the ones that were acted upon by the very minister who is proposing the legislation.

We heard from the auditor general for the Province of Ontario on three occasions, 1998, 1999 and again in 2000, where the auditor general of the province cited that there were irregularities with allowing a company to in fact go after welfare recipients and charge taxpayers up to $258 million, for which that minister was never held accountable.

The hon. member talked about balance of probabilities and the civil test. I am very interested in that because his party opposed this very thing in the Competition Act. It is easier to apprehend people using a civil model than a criminal model. If the member is looking to get people quickly is it possible that in this circumstance he could create injury where injury is of course not found?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the process we have is one that has been used in the judicial system on a regular basis. It is one where all sides on a particular issue are given an opportunity to present all the evidence that they choose to present and to be represented at the same time. I do not think there is anything wrong with a balance of probabilities. This is a different burden of proof than what we have under the Criminal Code or in criminal matters but, nonetheless, it is a standard that is fairly high and is not easy to be met. The burden is on the proposer to meet that standard. It is not an uncommon standard. It is a standard that is used time and again in all civil matters.

When reviewing the issue of complaints of wrongdoing raised by employees, when there is substance, not a frivolous claim or a vexatious one, we find that people are expected to go through this process, which is a fair process and allows each and every party to the process to make a full and ample defence and to present their views. There is nothing wrong with that. It is something that is recognized in our provinces and around the world.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member agrees with me that accountability is about telling the truth, something for which the member for Pickering—Scarborough East is not particularly renowned.

To start off with, he has--

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hopefully will receive an apology from that member of Parliament before he says what he is going to say, if what he has to say is indeed correct. I will accept his apology before that because what he has just said now diminishes, not only the reputation of this member of Parliament but every member of Parliament sitting in the House today.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary wish to respond to the point of order?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I said that the hon. member was not renowned for telling the truth and I stand by those remarks.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

That is insinuating that a member of this House is not honest and I have to ask the parliamentary secretary to stick to parliamentary language and perhaps consider withdrawing any kind of insinuation that the member would not be honest.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

I will consider that, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to point out the factual mistakes that the member has made.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the wisdom of the Chair, who asked the member to withdraw his remarks. You have made it abundantly clear in your statement that he ought to withdraw them. This will be the third occasion. By the rules of the House, if the member refuses to respect the authority of the Chair he should be booted out of the House.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am going to ask the hon. parliamentary secretary to withdraw any insinuation that the member for Pickering—Scarborough East is not honest. He has that opportunity to do so right now.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw the remarks here and just reserve them for outside the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that first of all, the member accused the President of the Treasury Board of having been involved in some sort of nefarious lobbying activity when in fact what he is referring to is in 1994 as a 24-year-old, the President of the Treasury Board advocated on behalf of a university health and sciences centre in favour of a grant for students and for research. He then went on to say that the president had been cited negatively by the provincial auditor general. In fact the only time the minister was ever cited by the provincial auditor general was in praise of the actions that he took to clean up waste and corruption.

I would like the member's comments, particularly on what the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said about the member for Pickering—Scarborough East when he attacked the Auditor General's reputation for exposing Liberal waste and corruption at Groupaction. They said about the member that he should stop his political mudslinging.

I wonder if the hon. member agrees that the member should stop his political mudslinging and start telling the truth?