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 process.

Topics

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from across the way referred often to how the Liberal Party had brought about measures throughout the last 13 years regarding accountability, almost as if there were no need for any new measures on accountability. Was the sponsorship scandal perhaps a good reason for bringing about some new measures on accountability?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, when anyone says that accountability comes to an end when the context is not there, it is not fair. Basically nothing ends; it is an evolving process.

We put in many measures, and we will work with the government on those measures that will extend, for example, the lobbying law, which would ensure lobbyists including members who have been staffers of Conservative MPs are no longer in the lobbying business. It has to be equitable and it has to be egalitarian. In cases of third party advertising, we would like to know why the Prime Minister has not put that in the accountability legislation.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in the question that was put forward to my distinguished colleague from Don Valley East concerning the sponsorship scandal and the questions as to whether this legislation would be enough to cover lobbyists. I know the minister who was proposing the bill was himself a lobbyist in Ottawa, so I suspect he has a bit of experience in this.

However, without going further, it is interesting that while the sponsorship issue was brought forth for an inquiry, which the then prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, had the intestinal fortitude to bring forward, the same is not true of the performance of the minister who is now proposing this legislation, Bill C-2, when he was minister of social services.

We all remember the Accenture scandal in which a quarter billion dollars of taxpayer money went missing. It went down basically a funnel into some company that came out of Bermuda. Here we have an example from the parliamentary secretary and others suggesting that scandal only goes one way.

It is important for us to recognize that when it comes to transparency and openness, the minister who is proposing this legislation is in no position to do so. I would like to get a comment from the hon. member on this. Knowing the reputation of the member of Parliament, the Treasury Board minister, does she not find it ironic that the individual, who himself was cited several times by the auditor general of the province of Ontario, is now going to teach this Parliament, this House of Commons, a lesson on ethics?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was quite concerned about the fact that the President of the Treasury Board would be so sanctimonious in his presentation of the bill. The provincial auditor has constantly cited him for being negligent and responsible for scandals that took place, under his watch, in the ministry of community and social services. Instead of taking the blame for it, he was moved away.

However, we were very strong about our accountability and we brought in the Gomery inquiry despite the fact that it would not be politically wise. It is important to know that hypocrisy exists on the other side and the government members should not be so sanctimonious.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member for Don Valley East is this. I am a bit confused. If the measures the Liberal government took over the last 13 years were so strong, why was there a need for change? Why was there a verdict by Canadians that accountability was something lacking in the past government? Does the member really believe that the measures in this accountability act will not foster a new spirit in Ottawa? The question that has been asked numerous times throughout the day to Liberal members is, will they support the accountability act?

Will she support the accountability act, one of the toughest pieces of ethical legislation that the House has ever seen?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, my comments are that the bill comes from a minister who himself was responsible for $500 million of boondoggle. He brings in an accountability act, which is very selective and does not have enough teeth. If it goes to committee and comes forth with definite changes in terms of third party advertising, without the hypocrisy of do as I say and not do as I do, we will be there to work with it.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

I do not know if one can continue to give maiden speeches every time one gets elected to the House of Commons. If that is possible, then this would be my maiden speech for this Parliament.

At the outset, I am pleased and proud to have the opportunity to once again be in the House of Commons. This is the fourth time that I have had the privilege of representing the people of Niagara Falls. I am very grateful to that community, which is also my home town. It includes the towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Together they comprise the riding that I have the honour to represent.

On this debate, which is about the democratic process and how we conduct ourselves, what a privilege it is for me to have grown up in that community and to now represent it in the House of Commons. As all members of Parliament know, because of our great democratic process in Canada, this is something we cannot take for granted and we must continue to earn the trust of the voters, the individuals who have sent us here.

I want to take this opportunity as well to reiterate something that the Prime Minister has said, and that is to congratulate Her Majesty The Queen on her 80th birthday. I was thinking about that recently. I have been able to count very easily the number of years that the Queen has been on the throne, since I was born a couple of weeks after she acceded to the throne in 1952. It was very clear to me whenever it was her silver anniversary, or the 40th anniversary and recently her 50th anniversary, because they mark milestones in my own life. As a public servant, as a lawyer and as a parliamentarian, I have always been very proud to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen, as our head of state, and I have been very proud and pleased all my life to count myself as one of her loyal subjects. I join with I believe all members of the House in congratulating her on her 80th birthday.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the bill, the federal accountability act. It is a major part of the Conservative government's platform. The new Government of Canada has indicated that it is something we believe this Parliament needs and deserves and it is what Canadians want. It will fundamentally change the way government operates by strengthening ethical rules and political institutions to ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians.

The objective of the bill is very clear. It will put in place the means to allow Canadians to once again place their trust in the Government of Canada.

Canada is a strong democracy. I point out to students who visit that this is one of the oldest democracies in the world. We think of Canada as such a young country and we sometimes forget that we are one of the oldest democracies. We could go right through that list. I think the United Nations has about 161 different countries and it is very difficult to come up with any country that has had a democracy longer than ours. Indeed, in constitutional discussions that took place in Parliament in the early 1990s, I used to say that perhaps we should have invited people from around the world to come and study the Canadian Constitution, or the British North America Act, now known as the Constitution Act. When people said to me that we should study other people's constitutions, I said it should be just the opposite. People should try to come to Canada to understand how we have governed ourselves so successfully.

However, there were serious problems that were unveiled by the Auditor General. I am always glad to get into the details of these things, but suffice it to say quite a mess was uncovered by the Auditor General and the subsequent Gomery commission. The federal accountability act is an important and essential component of restoring the trust that Canadians must have in their democratic institutions.

These democratic institutions cannot be taken for granted. We must continue to examine them to ensure we maintain the trust that Canadians place in us. We must start by reforming the process by which we are sitting in the House today, and that is the election process. The bill proposes a number of political financing reforms that would restore public confidence in the integrity of our system. These elements are very important. I have already had expressions of interest from outside this country after they heard what we were proposing to do.

What we are proposing is that only individuals can make political contributions; that those contributions be limited to $1,000; that cash donations over $20 be banned to dispel the negative images of brown envelopes being filled with cash and being passed around; require the disclosure of all large gifts to ensure the contributions, whether in money or in kind, are captured and accounted for; ban the receipt of gifts or trust funds that are meant to influence candidates or MPs so that no one has hidden or privileged access to power; and ban trust funds used for political purposes to keep soft money and secret donations out of politics.

Taken together, those reforms would help restore public trust in the electoral financing system in a number of ways. First, they would eliminate the undo influence of big institutional and secret contributors; second, they would bring the focus of the electoral system back on ordinary Canadians who are at the heart of our democracy; and third, they would provide an open and transparent political financing system through the elimination of loopholes and the setting of straightforward rules that are easy to follow and clear to enforce.

On the subject of eliminating undue influence, the bill would ensure that all candidates and indeed the parties are on a level playing field. It is fact that 99% of Canadians make donations to the political process of $1,000 or less. We are not eliminating people. We are keeping the large number of people who want to contribute in a meaningful way to the political system. By limiting those contributions to $1,000, ordinary Canadians would not be left to compete with wealthy donors to make their contributions count.

No longer will we allow corporations, unions and organizations to contribute to the political process in terms of donations. I think this is a step in the right direction. Elections are about individuals. They are not about corporations, unions or other organizations trying to influence the political system. The bill would eliminate the opportunities for undue influence and it would ensure that Canadians are be able to play on a level playing field.

Second, the bill promotes the democratic process. We have to keep in mind that it is our constituents who vote to bring us to Ottawa to represent them. The electoral system should reflect this primary democratic principle. Individuals and not corporations should be directly supporting the political process through their contributions and by tailoring limits to reflect the contribution patterns of the vast majority of Canadians it will require candidates and parties to strengthen their connection to the constituents whose trust they must earn and whose interest they intend to serve. Candidates, parties and MPs will need to reach out to the people who they want to represent and engage them in the political process rather than catering to a few.

Public trust and participation in the system will be difficult to maintain unless the system is open and transparent. Given some of the negative perceptions of our political institutions, it is important that Canadians are able to see that the political financing regime is comprised of a set of rules that are clear and easy to enforce, and that means closing the real and potential loopholes in the system, which, of course, is the third function of the federal accountability act.

I think this bill is a step in the right direction. As I said, there are even people outside the country who are looking with interest at what we are doing because they realize this is the way to go, this is the way to restore confidence in our political system. I am proud and pleased to be a part of that system and I am always pleased to be part of a process that will help to improve people's respect for our political institutions in Canada.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, on the larger issue of accountability, I want to ask the government House leader a question about the appointment of committee chairs.

This, as the government House leader is aware, is an institution of accountability. Our job here as members of the House of Commons is to hold the executive to account and we operate through 26 separate committees. The chair is supposedly appointed by the members of the committee to preside over the meetings and to provide direction but also to be the spokesman for every member of the committee as the government House leader is a representative of every constituent in Niagara Falls, including those who did not vote for him.

I will point out that this party was wrong. We allowed the executive, in our past, to appoint the committee chairs. However that was changed back in 2003 or 2002. One of the most active spokesmen who spoke very clearly on the issue was the Prime Minister who was totally against that and voted against it, like other people, including myself, and that was changed to the benefit of this House, and the chairman was the spokesman for the committee.

I am disappointed, as I believe are most people in this House, that the Prime Minister is now, despite what he said in the past, going to appoint the chairs. The chairs now are not the nominees of the committee members but the nominees of the Prime Minister.

Does this action by the Prime Minister comply with his vision of accountability in this institution?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the committee members themselves will be appointing the chair and the vice-chairs. There is no question about that.

One of the fascinating remarks made by the hon. member was when he referred to the fact that his government, or “our executive”, made a mistake in the way it went about appointing a committee chair. That is quite an admission. I guess I have seen some fascinating things over the years. Certainly the Liberal Party has a history of very heavy-handed tactics in committees. It has always surprised me and I believe it was unnecessary and, quite frankly, counterproductive.

I was a member when the first Canadian environmental protection act was introduced into this Parliament back in the eighties. I always remember how amazed a member of the New Democratic Party was when he suggested amendments to those of us who were on the Conservative side, when we were the government, and if they made sense we allowed them. He said that he had been here for a long time but had never had any amendments accepted because the former Liberal government had a policy that if amendments came from opposition members it would not accept them. He was quite taken, and it is part of the public record, and said that he had never in all his years as a member of Parliament had so many amendments. Why not? If members of Parliament, from whatever party, make amendments that make sense, I applaud and I welcome that.

When I was the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, I was a part of all the justice legislation from 1984 through 1993 and we accepted amendments from the Liberal Party. If they made sense they made the bill. I think that is the way committees should work. They should work on a consensus and they should work on democratic principles.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, accountability is the key word in this discussion but, unfortunately, when the Conservatives became government they threw that subject right out the window by appointing a person to the Senate, by taking a floor crosser and by putting some of their friends in prominent positions in various agencies throughout the country.

They also talked about accountability and fiscal responsibility. The Prime Minister is going to New Brunswick this weekend for a big fundraiser for the PC Party. He had said that the fundraiser was only for the PC Party of New Brunswick and not for the federal Conservatives. I just want to ask him, quite clearly, who will be paying for the Prime Minister's trip to New Brunswick, the taxpayers of Canada or the PC Party of New Brunswick?

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think one of the things the hon. member should know and should remember is that this Prime Minister is absolutely committed to bringing back accountability, fairness and transparency in government. He has done more already than has been done in decades in this chamber in the pursuance of that goal.

I was very proud and pleased to see legislation like this being introduced that would bring back accountability, transparency and fairness. The rules that are set out in this are very clear and they will be followed by all members of this government. That sort of thing should be applauded in this chamber because that is what is fair and right.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

April 25th, 2006 / 5:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion to refer a number of statutory reviews to committee. I move:

That the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee for the purposes of section 145 of the Anti-terrorism Act (2001) and that, pursuant to subsection 145(2) of that Act, the committee report no later than June 23, 2006;

that the Standing Committee on Finance be the committee for the purposes of section 89 of the Canada Revenue Agency Act;

that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be the committee for the purposes of section 5.1 of the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Act;

that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee for the purposes of section 46.1 of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and law enforcement);

that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be the committee for the purposes of section 343 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; and

that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology be the committee for the purposes of section 29 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent for the parliamentary secretary to move the motion?

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

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