House of Commons Hansard #4 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I am sorry, but the time for questions and comments was used up by that one exchange. I would ask members, in the future, to try to keep their questions and their answers shorter.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of Deputy Speaker. I thank my colleague for his speech, which was brilliant, as usual.

And I thank the citizens of La Pointe-de-l'Île for re-electing me for a fifth time. Their strong support meant a lot to me and is a positive indication that they support the positions that the Bloc Québécois will defend to ensure the progress of Quebec.

To begin my reply to the Speech from the Throne, I would like to refer to yesterday's question period. It was my turn after my party leader and I asked the Prime Minister about keeping an election promise regarding UNESCO. He replied, “I am sure that the members of the Bloc will not support such an agreement. We know that their objective is to do much more than give Quebec a voice on the world stage”.

First of all, I must say that the Prime Minister is right and wrong at the same time. Simply because we are Bloc members does not mean that we would be willing to accept a proposal on Quebec's position in the federal framework if that proposal were unsatisfactory. As we will see, there are many federated countries that have given their component parts the power, for instance, to sign treaties. In point of fact, we are sovereignists and we hope to achieve more than just a place for Quebec on the world stage. We want Quebec to play a role similar to small countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which all contribute significantly in terms of international aid and conflict resolution. We believe that we could play such a role. However, what we hope to achieve here is progress for Quebec.

I would like to point out that I was inspired by a book written by Stéphane Paquin, who studied models of federalism that have been reformed since the 1990s. Belgium is certainly a case in point. Following a debate that ended in 1993, Belgium permitted its federated entities--regions and communities--to play a role on the international scene. They have become the model to be admired and also to be copied. Rather than leading to the anarchy that some believed would ensue, this model on the contrary has also created mechanisms for cooperation enabling the regions and communities to further their respective development.

There are three types of treaties in Belgium, that is to say treaties signed by the federal government. It must by law consult them, but the treaties are concluded and ratified by the government. However, treaties that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of communities or regions and that are concluded and ratified by the authorities of these entities do exist, from the legal point of view, in the same manner as treaties concluded by the federal government. The parliaments of the federated states approve treaties.

In matters of shared responsibility, the treaty is concluded according to a special procedure, as agreed to by all the governments, and must also be approved by all the parliaments concerned.

If a parliament does not agree, the treaty cannot be approved. Of course this requires discussion and negotiation. However, this allows each entity to make known its point of view. The same principles apply to international representation. When an entity is not satisfied with the position taken, there is no position. For example, Belgium will not voice an opinion; it will abstain rather than voting or speaking. This does not mean that Belgium is powerless on the international scene. On the contrary, compromises are sought out. This is a situation that does not occur often here.

Spain is another country that is very interesting and that is not a federation. It is a unitary state made up of communities. The communities are consulted when treaties are made or for international representations. Catalonia is an exception, since it has signed an agreement with the Spanish government, and a bipartisan committee studies treaties and international representations. That enables Catalonia to express its particular points of view. It might also be recalled that Switzerland allows its entities to sign treaties, provided they are consistent with what exists on the federal level. The great respect Switzerland shows to each of its entities is well known. This does not occur with respect to sovereign countries; the entities are federal entities.

I am insisting on this subject, because we think that, when the Prime Minister made his statements during the election campaign, he made an appeal for Quebec, particularly in the current context, to finally see its jurisdictions respected. I will quote a few of these statements:

We will respect federal and provincial jurisdictions, as they are defined in the Canadian Constitution.

In a while, through you, Mr. Speaker, I will put some questions to him because Canadian jurisdictions, since the strong centralization movement of federation, have lost a lot of their shine and their essential oils. In Le Devoir of last December 20, one could read:

On the international level, Quebec, as well as the other provinces, though they see less need for it, “will have a say in matters affecting their own jurisdictions,” said the leader of the Conservative Party.

So this does not concern just their jurisdictions, but it does affect them. The Prime Minister also said:

—we are going to design mechanisms that will give the provinces a greater role in their own areas of jurisdiction on international issues.

In his much talked-about speech on December 20, he also said:

Clearly this issue is of greater concern to Quebec than the other provinces. I am ready to discuss mechanisms to enable the provinces to extend their jurisdictions on the international scene.

The extension of jurisdictions on the international scene is the doctrine favoured by Paul Guérin-Lajoie in 1965. On the basis of a decision by the Privy Council, a colonial court, he demanded the right for Quebec to negotiate, sign and ratify its own treaties, since globalization meant that Quebec needed to have a hold over its treaties and over international representation.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, federal-provincial jurisdiction and constitutional issues are always going to be long-standing debates in this place, particularly with the Bloc. The Bloc has championed many issues over the years, among them the EI fund, cheese, shipbuilding, and the fiscal imbalance. The member has spent a lot of time on international and foreign affairs. I appreciate her comments on some of the international perspective.

Perhaps the member could share some thoughts about this constitutional situation that we are in, where Quebec is not now a signatory to the Canadian Constitution but is prepared to operate within the principles of the Constitution to try to move forward. We have to move this file forward at some time. Does she believe that there is a possibility down the road of a constitutional amendment process which would provide the opportunity to better achieve the objectives of all Canadians, including Canadians in Quebec?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to tell my colleague that I too appreciate his sometimes surprising but always interesting questions.

I remember — others must have heard it as well — the current Prime Minister emphasizing during a debate that he would arrange to make it possible for Quebec to sign the Canadian constitution. Frankly, it is a strange situation, to say the least. As a result of the Supreme Court’s interpretation, we say of it in Quebec that it is like the tower in Pisa and always leans in the same direction. Quebec must abide by the rules of a constitution that it did not sign. This does not make any sense. We remember the last attempt. I would frankly be surprised if the Prime Minister were to try it again, but if he does, I would be astonished if he succeeded. It is sad, in a way.

I have before me texts from legal scholars saying to what extent­—since 1937 and 1949, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ceased deciding jurisdictional conflicts, among others, and was replaced by the Supreme Court—Canadian federalism has become centralized to the point of no longer really meeting the criteria for a federation and instead becoming a unitary state. In view of all the interpretive theories, the jurisdictions recognized in the Constitution can be circumvented, identified, used and enclosed in all sorts of ways, with the result that we are headed more toward a unitary state.

As we know, I am a sovereignist. I think that this deterioration, this centralization of the Canadian federation, can no longer be reversed.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I can appreciate that the hon. member would love to plunge the House back into a constitutional debate, I can assure everyone that the object of the government is to get things done for Canadians. We feel that will be very uniting for Canadians, including those in Quebec.

I would like to address what the hon. member indicated originally, a point that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday, which was that the Bloc would not likely be satisfied with whatever the outcome was regarding the negotiations on UNESCO. The point is quite simple. Because the Conservatives' end goal is diametrically opposed to that of the Bloc in that we want to unite Canada from coast to coast to coast and Bloc members do not, they quite simply will not be satisfied with any outcome.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat—and I am certain that I will do it often during this Parliament and will not be the only one—what our leader said yesterday, namely that we are here to achieve progress for Quebec which is to say to make its jurisdictions as broad again as they must be for the development of Quebec, which is a people and a nation. This is not a whim; we are a people and a nation. There are other countries in the world that consist of various peoples and nations and that find a way to recognize the place of all their peoples to ensure their development. That might have been possible in Canada, but it has not happened.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

April 6th, 2006 / 12:30 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the Minister of Transport, my colleague the member for Pontiac.

It is a great privilege for me to rise in this place for the first time. At the outset I would like to thank the electors of Ottawa West--Nepean for their support. I commit to them that I will work hard each and every day to serve their interests in this place. Their priorities which they sent me here to address are health care, crime, support for seniors, and to be an advocate for our public servants.

A great number of very distinguished people have preceded me in this place. I would like to pay tribute to Marlene Catterall who served as our member of Parliament in Ottawa West--Nepean for the past 16 or 17 years, to David Daubney, Beryl Gaffney, Bill Tupper who was a real mentor to me, former Speaker Lloyd Francis who was good enough to come to my swearing in, along with David Daubney, Walter Baker, Dick Bell, and my great-uncle who served as the member for my riding in the 1940s. I am very privileged to follow him.

Today I rise to speak about accountability. It is one of the most important responsibilities, in my judgment, facing any government. Canadians, all of us, were shocked at the sponsorship scandal and other examples of irresponsible government. It shook the confidence of Canadians to the core. As the Prime Minister has noted publicly, and I do not think we can do it enough, this Conservative government does not blame the members of the public service for what happened. They did not cross the line. It was their political masters who did.

I want to say very directly that rebuilding the public trust can be the most important legacy for the 39th Parliament. Our federal accountability act can change how government works. It will make it easier not just for the House but for all Canadians to hold their federal government to account. I hope we will use this first step to rebuild the public trust of Canadians in their government.

We are going to focus on five key reforms. We want political reform through changes to electoral and party financing so that there is real confidence that undue influence is not exerted on the political process, on the parliamentary process or indeed on government. We want parliamentary reform through enhanced support for parliamentary committees so that all members of Parliament can do their jobs, and through stronger roles and greater independence for the officers and agents of the House of Commons and Senate.

We want public sector reform through better and improved accountability structures.

We want procurement reform to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are getting value for their hard-earned tax dollars and that the processes are open.

We want to see additional reforms to help increase transparency in government.

The reforms we will present to the House and through the House to Canadians will be far reaching and comprehensive.

Accountability is the very foundation for Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Parliament and Canadians that public resources are used both efficiently and effectively. Accountability means leading by example. That is especially true for those who aspire to public office, for members of Parliament and the political parties that all but one of us represent.

As I mentioned earlier, the federal accountability act will reduce the opportunity to exert undue political influence through large and secret donations of money to political parties and candidates. This will ensure greater transparency and help Canadians feel more confident about the integrity of the democratic process.

Canadians expect their elected representatives and indeed all public office holders to make decisions that are in the public interest and not in their personal interest both now and in the years to come. Public office holders must perform their duties and arrange their private affairs to withstand the closest public scrutiny. They must uphold the highest ethical standards at all times.

The weaknesses in the current Lobbyists Registration Act have increased the perception of conflict of interest. We must be concerned about conflict of interest, but we must be equally concerned about the public perception of conflict of interest. Some people feel that there is a privileged access to government that is reserved only for a chosen few. That is something this government intends to deal with head on when we introduce the federal accountability act next week.

I am privileged to represent the riding of Ottawa West—Nepean. In the national capital region a huge number of men and women work in the public service and deliver important programs and services that touch the lives of all Canadians every single day. We recognize the professionalism and dedication of the men and women who work in the public service and the value that they bring to the table. As Conservatives we see a strong role for a vibrant, healthy and dynamic private sector as the instrument of economic growth, as the engine of opportunity in the country, but it does not demean the important role that the public sector plays in the Canadian economy and the important role that members of the public service play.

The federal accountability act will help clarify roles and responsibilities which first and foremost will strengthen accountability. Our objective through the federal accountability act which was cited in the Speech from the Throne will be to have an even stronger public service, one that will continue to be second to none internationally.

The government is one of the largest purchasers of goods and services in the country. I strongly believe that the bidding process for government contracts must be fair, open and transparent. The federal accountability act will include an overarching statement of principles to meet these objectives.

One of the most important roles of Parliament is to hold the Government of Canada to account for the use of taxpayers' dollars. To do this effectively, parliamentarians need objective and fact-based information on how the government spends funds. That will be an important part to the parliamentary budget authority that we will propose next week.

I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House to make this new federal accountability act reality. The measures that I highlighted today signal a dramatic change in the way this city works to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability that pervades Parliament Hill, that pervades the public service, that pervades Canadian society so that all taxpayers will have the confidence that their tax dollars are spent wisely and well.

I look forward to working with members on all sides of the House, with my own caucus colleagues, with members of the official opposition, with members from Quebec and the Bloc Québécois and colleagues from the New Democratic Party. Pat Martin, one of the NDP members of Parliament, was quoted in the Hill Times. He said that we could leave a better legacy--

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I am very delighted to hear the hon. member speaking but I think there is a time honoured tradition in the House that we do not refer to members by their names, as was the case by the hon. member. Perhaps the Speaker might want to be more attentive to these concerns.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will just remind the hon. President of the Treasury Board to refer to our colleagues either by their riding names or by their titles.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member said that we could perhaps have no greater victory in this first session of the 39th Parliament than that we could pass, enact into law, the federal accountability act, to leave a legacy of accountability and to show all Canadians that we can make this Parliament work and that we can clean up once and for all the cynicism that has grown over the past 13 years.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.

I congratulate the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean on his election and on his move from provincial to federal politics.

The hon. member talked about accountability. He spoke about the public servants, that they are not to blame. I believe that in all services, whether they be public or private, there is no perfection. There is always a problem somewhere. I would be very happy to give the minister a copy of the front page of a newspaper where the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, said at the first inquiry initiated from her report, “public servants broke just about every rule in the book”.

I am not here to stand up and blame all the public servants. I am saying that there was a fault. We went in and cleaned it up, which brings me to my question about the accountability act.

Today, there is an unelected appointed senator--another broken promise--who is going to be heading the biggest department in government. As a government accountable to the people supposedly under the accountability act, how can we ask him questions about procurement, for example? How are we going to ask questions to the new minister who does not sit in the House of Commons? The way I see it and the way most Canadians see it, we are elected by the people to be accountable here. Where is that minister going to be accountable?

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I expect that every day the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will be on his feet answering questions in question period in the other place. I think he was asked two questions yesterday. This is good for accountability. As well, another 25 ministers will be here in the House of Commons.

I respect the opinion and judgment of the member opposite. I would be dishonest if I did not put on the table my concern about the continued maligning of our public service. The Liberal Party has tried to blame our public service for the scandal and the member opposite has thrown fuel on that fire. No member of the public service woke up one day and said, “How do I funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec?” That is a fact. Public servants did not do that.

What we did see in Justice Gomery's report was the active involvement and collusion of senior members of the Liberal Party both on Parliament Hill and in the province of Quebec, who were involved in the disbursement of public funds. We heard stories of envelopes filled with $7,000 and even $50,000 in cash. No member of the public service woke up one day and wanted to funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec. I can assure the member opposite of that.

Someone will have to stand up for the public service. I can say that there will be two people who will be doing that. They will be the political minister responsible for Quebec, the member for Pontiac, and there will be myself, the member for Ottawa. We will be the first two to stand up for the public service.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on joining the House of Commons. I am sure he will bring us some of his wisdom from the Ontario legislature. It is great to have him here.

I followed his comments with great interest. I totally agree with the member that we have to have public trust in our institutions. To that end, the Liberal government undertook quite a few things.

Let me say to the member opposite, because he talked about the public service, Chuck Guité was inherited from the previous Conservative government.

The other issue I wish to raise in talking about public trust is I suggest that the member read On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years. This is important reading for members to understand how this works. Also the member really should take a look at the W5 program where Schreiber gave $300,000 to a former prime minister.

I am hoping that under this air of accountability and this quest that we all have as parliamentarians to clean up the ethics of government that an investigation will be launched. It really does go to the very heart of his presentation, which is private versus public interest.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his welcoming remarks on my election to this place. I look forward to working with him and others.

I think the last time the Liberal Party tried to investigate Brian Mulroney it ended up paying him hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars and having to issue a formal apology. Taxpayers' dollars went to pay for Liberal bungling. The member should be very cautious if he wants to reopen that issue. I remember the former justice minister having to issue a public apology and writing a very large cheque, perhaps a seven digit figure, over a million dollars in legal fees for that bungling. I hope we do not have to go back down that route.

With respect, I disagree profoundly with the member opposite. The member opposite said that Chuck Guité was inherited from the Conservative government. Our public servants do not work for a Conservative government or a Liberal government. Our public servants work for Canadians. We have a non-partisan public service. I want to underline that for the member opposite.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

12:45 p.m.

Pontiac
Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, in the few minutes granted to me as the member for Pontiac, the transport minister and the minister responsible for Quebec, I would like to speak briefly on how the program outlined the day before yesterday fits in with the desire for change expressed by Quebeckers.

Before I do so, I must first thank the citizens of the beautiful riding of Pontiac. I would not be here today without the trust and support of the majority of my constituents. Together, the residents of Pontiac and I have embarked upon a wonderful adventure--one that will bring change. I remember very well a campaign meeting held one cold December night, during which an elderly woman admitted that she had never voted for the Conservative Party in her life. Fortunately, I was able to reassure her as I told her, “Nor have I, Ma'am”.

The people of Pontiac are proud people. They are honest, hard-working and independent people. They believe in fundamental values, community spirit and regional solidarity. They believe that efforts should be rewarded and initiative should be encouraged. They are courageous and compassionate people.

Though its first limits start only a few kilometres from this historic precinct, the Pontiac region needs help to develop its full economic and social potential. I want to assure the people of my riding that I will do my utmost, both within and outside this chamber, to give new hope and better opportunities to the people of the Pontiac.

As a member from the Ottawa-Gatineau area, I would also like to tell the thousands of public servants who work in the area and throughout Canada that we understood the frustration many of them felt when an attempt was made to pin the rap of scandals on them. The truth is--and I am reminded of this every day since assuming my duties as a minister--Canada has one of the best, if not the very best, public services in the world.

I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa West--Nepean and President of the Treasury Board, shares these sentiments. I look forward to working with him to give our public service and servants the respect they deserve and the instruments they need to continue serving their fellow citizens with pride, integrity and independence.

The election on January 23 did not just bring a new government and a new political party to power. That has happened many times in our history. But seldom do voters decide to make a more profound, more radical change in the calibre of their elected representatives. That is what happened on January 23. Canadians renounced a philosophy of government, a concept of federalism, that led to the worst abuses in recent years, and embraced a new vision of our future.

For too long, the former government acted as though Quebec was its to plunder. Illegally, with tricks and lies, it took whatever it could. The former Prime Minister banned members and officials from the party for life because their actions were simply indefensible.

At first blush, the Federal Accountability Act, the first piece of legislation we plan to introduce, may seem complicated to many Canadians. Yet it can be summed up in just two words: never again.

The throne speech referred to our government's commitment to address any fiscal imbalance so that all governments have access to the resources they need to meet their responsibilities. This imbalance reached dangerous levels under the former government. Our commitment to deal with this problem is very ambitious. But as with all our priorities, we have not chosen the easy way. We will focus on what is important and urgent. We may be a minority government, but we do not intend to be a caretaker government. We want to be a decisive government that takes action.

Fiscal imbalance is not just a Quebec issue. It is a Canadian problem which affects nearly all provincial governments. It also affects our cities even more where 80% of Canadians live. This is why we have put it on the top of our agenda, not because we think it is easy to accomplish but because we believe it must be done.

During another time not so long ago, I had the privilege of serving in another parliament, at the Quebec National Assembly. I have already noticed some differences, but I see in my new colleagues around me today the same dedication to strengthening their nation and the same desire to serve their constituents. That is why I want to congratulate the hon. members from all the parties and the independent member from the riding of Portneuf on their recent election or reelection. They already have my admiration and they can count on my cooperation.

Upon entering this room as a member for the first time the day before yesterday, I must admit that some memories came back to me. For instance, I remember the sense of trust and solidarity that existed between then Premier Bourassa and Prime Minister Mulroney. This sense of cooperation between these two remarkable leaders, which was applied in the interest of all Canadians, served the interest of Quebec quite well.

No one can deny that there currently exists between the new Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec a community of similar ideas and ideals that can only result in great accomplishments.

When I was in the National Assembly there was no Conservative party, but there was a sovereignist party, a close relative of my new friends at the Bloc Québécois. That is another reason why I do not feel out of place here. There is common ground everywhere. It was no so long ago that sovereignists hoped that Robert Bourassa would support Quebec independence one day. In the end, he was a fine example of how the interests of Quebec and the integrity of Canada could both be served.

Today the sovereignists are saying they will support some of the promises the Prime Minister made about Quebec during the last election campaign, such as Quebec's involvement in UNESCO, because that could possibly serve the separatist cause. I would say to them, amicably but frankly, that the success of our commitments toward Quebeckers will not be to demonstrate that independence is possible. On the contrary, it will demonstrate that it is not necessary. We will prove that federalism works well when it is well thought out and well managed.