House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was accountability.

Topics

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has expressed it very well.

The opposition has limited tools with which to work, but with the little it had, it achieved a number of important amendments to the bill. However, there is more to do on Bill C-2 and related issues. The Liberal Party is very much supportive of openness, transparency and accountability in government, but we also have to make good laws and wise decisions.

This law is not as good as we could have had it, had the government cooperated more fully with the opposition to ensure that all the work was done properly. In this case, it was not.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

June 21st, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak for what I believe is the last time about Bill C-2. We have discussed Bill C-2 frequently, at length and in detail, and we have analyzed it from every angle. Today, we have before us the final version with the amendments made at third reading.

With the permission of this House, before I speak directly about Bill C-2, I will talk about its origins and what brought us to this point today, when we are discussing Bill C-2 at third reading. What prompted this bill?

We could talk at length—and we have—about the sponsorship scandal. A few years ago, thanks to the invaluable work of the Auditor General, people became aware that, unfortunately, some people had misappropriated taxpayers' money to try to buy the hearts and minds of Quebeckers. I am not talking about the majority of public servants, but certain people. Today, justice is taking its course.

At the time, the Liberal government made a token effort to correct these deficiencies, for which it was itself responsible, having created the culture of entitlement. At that point, three interesting and important tools were put in place. First, there was the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing). There was also Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

Earlier the hon. member for Mississauga South indicated how important Bill C-2 is. It is a step in the right direction. It reaffirms existing rules, but does not reinvent the wheel.

In its legislative framework, this bill includes previous important legislation such as Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. For roughly a year this bill was put on ice. It had gone through all the legislative steps and in short order could have protected public servants who witness wrongdoings. This was delayed strictly for political reasons and that is sad. We could have enacted Bill C-11 as soon as the Conservative government took office. This would have provided a safety net, perhaps imperfect, but a safety net nonetheless that public servants did not have until now. This was delayed and that is sad.

What were the Conservatives trying to achieve when they introduced Bill C-2? One of their objectives was to restore public trust in politicians and in Parliament. We believe this objective will be met.

However, when the Liberals introduced the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons—they may not have been the right ones to do so—their objective was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament. When the Liberals introduced Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), it was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament. When the Liberals introduced Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, it was to restore public trust in politicians and Parliament.

When other provincial legislatures introduced similar measures, it was to restore trust. When other countries introduced similar legislation, it was also to restore trust. When we look at whether this objective has been met where similar legislation has been introduced, we come to the unfortunate conclusion that no, it has not. In countries where legislative measures on ethics and transparency like this exist, there is still a large gap between the will of the politicians and public trust in them.

It is my hope that this bill will somewhat correct this perception. However, much more will have to be done to that end. In fact, the government also will have to do a great deal more to correct this perception.

When the sponsorship scandal broke out, the Auditor General stated that all the rules had been broken. That means that there were rules, that they were in place but that the Liberal government decided to circumvent them.

The Conservative government is proposing new rules. Will it respect them? Therein lies the problem. A plethora of rules can be put in place but without the tools or the political will to ensure compliance, the message that we wish to give to the public—the desire to address the problem and restore trust—will be lost. At the first infringement by the Conservative government of its own law, trust will be further undermined and it will become even more difficult to regain it.

Earlier I referred to a private members' bill tabled by the member for Simcoe North, if my memory serves me well. This bill called for government investment in an Ontario waterway in order to revitalize tourism and so forth.

The member who tabled this bill owns the main hotel located in this tourist area and he is asking for the government to invest in his tourist industry. It seems that he is not covered by Bill C-2. That is what we were told. In fact, it seems that he is complying with the bill because it refers to ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

We have often seen people bending the rules. The government must ask its members to respect the letter and the spirit of the law, which states that they must have no real or perceived conflicts of interest. It is important for ministers and parliamentary secretaries to respect this law. Moreover government members of Parliament must also abide by it and ensure that their conduct does not give rise to a real or perceived conflict of interest.

I opened the door for my colleague—I believe he is the new member for Simcoe North—by suggesting he check with the President of the Treasury Board to see if he was respecting the spirit of the law. If he did check with the ethics counsellor, and if his bill does not place him in a conflict of interest, then the Bloc Québécois is prepared to re-evaluate its position. We are not accusing the member of a conflict of interest. We are just saying that it bothers us to see this kind of bill introduced just as the Conservative government introduced its bill on transparency and accountability.

I think I have shown pretty clearly why the Conservative government introduced the first bill of the 39th Parliament, Bill C-2: for political reasons, among other things, and for honourable reasons too, I hope.

Bill C-2 was discussed in special committee, in legislative committee, actually. Thanks are in order with respect to the legislative committee. I would like to thank all of my colleagues from all parties who contributed to improving Bill C-2 in committee. At times, there was some political posturing from the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. Not all members were necessarily on the same wavelength. Some sharp remarks were made.

We all knew there was some jockeying for political position during committee meetings. Once the work was done though, I am sure that we all recognized our collaborators' efforts and qualities. I really wanted to emphasize that. Finally, I must highlight my colleague for Rivière-du-Nord's contribution. She was there during the committee's long working hours.

I would also like to mention the work done by two people in particular. It is sad, because I am going to forget other people, but I want to mention Annie Desnoyers and Dominic Labrie. They are thorough, hard-working Bloc Québécois staff, and they supported us—and put up with us—throughout the review of Bill C-2.

Now I would like to talk more specifically about Bill C-2. The Bloc is in favour of the bill, as you know from our presentations and our support for the amendments. It is important to remember that ethics were central to the most recent election campaign, when the Liberals were thrown out of power, especially in Quebec. We took part in the Gomery commission, which produced a number of recommendations that must now be implemented and are included in part in Bill C-2. Not all of the recommendations are reflected in the bill. Notably missing are the ones concerning the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

An hon. member

It had to be improved.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

We improved it during the 40 hours a week we sat in committee.

I would like to talk about what the Bloc Québécois gained. The Bloc is happy to see that some of its proposals were incorporated into Bill C-2. The bill was flawed. We worked to make it better, and we made some progress. All the parties can congratulate themselves on that. The Bloc's gains include the requirement that Elections Canada appoint returning officers on merit. My colleague from Québec, our whip, had already introduced a bill on merit appointments of returning officers, something we managed to obtain in this bill.

Initially, the bill said that the Chief Electoral Officer could appoint the returning officers in our ridings. We amended this proposal, stating that the Chief Electoral Officer could choose or appoint them, but only after a competition based on merit. We think that the worst situation was where the governor in council appointed his buddies as returning officers. This is rather strange in a modern democracy. But requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to appoint returning officers on merit, after a competition—something he had been requesting for a long time—will make for greater impartiality during elections, and this is one notable gain for the Bloc Québécois in Bill C-2.

Independence of the lobbyists registry is another gain. We will have a lobbyists registry with an independent commissioner. That way, they cannot divert the focus by appointing people who are in complicity with the government. Political party financing legislation is another major gain. The Conservatives told us, kindly and candidly, that they wanted to use as a model the Quebec political party financing legislation, which was introduced by the Parti Québécois in 1977, if my memory serves me correctly. Some 30 years later, the federal government says it wants to use it as a model. This is a fine victory for the Bloc and a fine victory for Quebec.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

An hon. member

And for democracy.

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

And for democracy, indeed.

The powers of the Auditor General have been strengthened. Since the sponsorship scandal, everyone is aware of the reputation and respect that the Auditor General enjoys. Bill C-2 strengthens her powers by giving her oversight over a greater number of crown corporations and agencies where the federal government invests money.

The Bloc Québécois is pleased to see that some of its proposals have been retained. I am referring to the secret ballot in particular. In Bill C-2, everyone would have been appointed by secret ballot. It is normal for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the House to be elected by secret ballot. It is a parliamentary tradition. However, appointing everyone by secret ballot would diminish the independence of every independent officer of the House, and the current process for appointing independent officers—

Federal Accountability Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member.

It is now 5:30 p.m. and we will proceed to the consideration of private members' business.

The hon. member for Repentigny will have seven minutes left in his speech when the House resumes debate on Bill C-2.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved that Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. government House leader is rising on a point of order.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

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 rise on a point of order concerning Bill C-253, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions) standing in the name of the member for Pickering—Ajax--Uxbridge. While the intent of the bill is to alleviate the tax burden for individuals who contribute to registered education savings plans, it is my submission that Bill C-253 contains specific provisions that would effectively increase the amount of tax payable by the taxpayer.

If I am correct, the bill should have been preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion and is therefore improperly before the House.

Two of the amendments proposed in the bill are amendments to section 146.1 of the Income Tax Act, which sets out RESP payments that are to be included in computing a taxpayer's income for a taxation year.

Subclause 2(5) of the bill would add a paragraph (c) to subsection 146.1(7.1) that would require refunds of payments made in respect of any contribution paid by a taxpayer to be included in computing a taxpayer income per taxation year. Subclause 2(6) of the bill would repeal subsection 146.1(7.2) of the Income Tax Act, which excludes certain amounts received under RESPs as income for a taxation year.

Taken together with paragraph 56(1)(q) of the Income Tax Act, which identifies amounts to be included as taxable income under section 3 of the act, these amendments would effectively increase the amount of tax payable by the taxpayer.

Citation 980 of the sixth edition of Beauchesne's states:

A Ways and Means motion is a necessary preliminary to the imposition of a new tax, the continuation of an expiring tax, an increase in the rate of an existing tax, or an extension of the incidence of a tax so as to include persons not already [tax] payers.

In other words, any measure that would have the effect of increasing the tax burden on an individual should be first preceded by a ways and means motion.

Although the general purpose of these bills is to reduce the tax burden on individuals, this legislation should not evade the requirements of a ways and means motion.

The 21st edition of Erskine May states at page 730:

To escape the rules of financial procedure, a scheme for the alleviation of taxation must not include any incidental increase of the burden upon any taxpayer, however indirect or relatively insignificant that increase may be.

I therefore submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that Bill C-253 is improperly before the House, and if you agree, I ask that the bill be stricken from the order paper.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for getting the name of my riding right and also for preceding the Chair in pre-empting his comments as to the receivability of the bill.

I have had perhaps as much experience as any member in the House on private members' business. When a bill is presented, it must satisfy two tests, such that your own legislative counsel has been involved with this, Mr. Speaker. Number one is the constitutionality of the bill, on which clearly the bill qualified, and number two, of course, is to ensure that the legislation itself does not require a royal recommendation.

Based on this and the ruling that you made in respect to May 31, 2006, I am going to read this into the record:

Where it seems likely that a bill may need a royal recommendation, the member who has requested to have it drafted will be informed of that fact by the legislative counsel responsible for drafting the bill. A table officer will also send a letter to advise the member that the bill may require a royal recommendation.

Should the member decide to proceed with the bill and select it for inclusion....

Members may then make submissions regarding the royal recommendation and, if necessary, the Chair will return with a definitive ruling later in the legislative process.

Mr. Speaker, you said:

There are a number of bills on the order of precedence which cause the Chair some concern. At first glance, certain provisions of these bills raise questions about the need for a royal recommendation.

I will not exhaust the list, but they are limited to Bill C-292, Bill C-257, Bill C-293, Bill C-286, Bill C-269, Bill C-284, Bill C-278, Bill C-295, Bill C-303 and Bill C-279.

Nowhere in that have the table officers or the legislative counsel been concerned about this bill inviting a question of royal recommendation. What the bill in fact does is provide ample opportunity to reduce for most people the burden of student loans. As a result of that, it is faithful to the existing Income Tax Act.

I point out that if there is any question with respect to taxation, it is already contained within the Income Tax Act as it relates to a withdrawal by a subscriber or a refund in payments; it is subject to a 20% penalty in addition to the regular tax payable. This proposed legislation does nothing to change that and therefore does not invite a question of a royal recommendation.

What is important is precedents, Mr. Speaker, not only by your ruling very recently, but if the hon. member wishes to go back to October 16, 1995, I would ask the hon. member to listen to this very carefully. When Bill S-9 came before the House it was ruled by you, Mr. Speaker, on that date that the bill did not appropriate tax revenue but rather exempted or reduced taxes otherwise payable. I will read this into the record:

The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader noted in his intervention that Bill S-9 is not a bill for appropriating any part of the public revenue or for any tax or impost and therefore does not require a royal recommendation. There will be no expenditure of public funds--

Which of course is contemplated in this bill.

--though money already collected from Canadian citizens pursuant to the tax laws of Canada may be refunded.

As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, the repayment of tax revenues already received is not an appropriation of public money.

Mr. Speaker, I turn your attention to Marleau and Montpetit, at page 711, under the financial procedures section:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. An amendment which either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown’s financial initiative. However, a royal recommendation is not required for an amendment whose effect is to reduce taxes otherwise payable.

Given that ruling by your Chair and your more recent ruling, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the bills that caused difficulty, and notwithstanding the opinion of the House leader of the Conservative Party, who has referred to this not only to myself but seems to have done it with the hon. member for Bourassa last week on his bill with respect to Kyoto, i seems to be a tried and true measure to try to avoid important legislation that can be derived from private members' business.

I would suspect that given previous rulings and the wisdom of your legislative counsel, Mr. Speaker, the bill is very much in order, and I do wish to proceed, with your help, in getting the bill on its way to help students in this country.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Friday we had a similar situation on Bill C-288, in which the government House leader rose and made argument with regard to the necessity for a royal recommendation. Today we have another intervention by the government House leader laying out some arguments on Bill C-253, which will be debated shortly.

In both cases, the Speaker, in his earlier statement, identified for the House and flagged 10 of the 30 bills on the order of precedence as likely requiring royal recommendation. That provides an opportunity for members who are in that situation to determine whether there is a way to remedy that requirement, whether it be at committee stage or at report stage, to ultimately get a royal recommendation, which is one of the reasons that the Speaker also indicated that he would not make a final determination until the point at which a vote on third reading will be called.

Under the circumstances, where the government House leader is dealing with bills that have not been flagged already, pursuant to the procedure that has been outlined by the Speaker's office, I would appreciate it if direction could be given and that there can be assurances that should the Speaker's office find that there was some error with regard to the flagging that should have been done but was not done, that the members would be appropriately notified of the basis for that, and that members of the House be given an opportunity to make further representations with regard to the argument that has been made by the government House leader once we can see the details of the arguments that have been made.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I apologize to the mover of the bill. The name of his riding is in fact Pickering--Scarborough East. I just want to correct the record on that.

I think I have made it very clear, and I am sure the blues will back me up on this, that this is not a question of royal recommendation. It is the need for a ways and means motion. It is on that basis that I intervened.

Most of the comments were directed with respect to royal recommendations but I made it very clear that the bill needed a ways and means motion to proceed and that therefore it should be struck on that basis.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear where the hon. member is going. If he had taken the time to read the bill, as the legislative counsel has done, I want to make it abundantly clear to him that the tax payable is negated by the initial tax credit.

Mr. Speaker, your legislative counsel looked at this and examined all of the concerns, whether it be a ways and means or whether it be a question of royal recommendation. I merely wanted to point out to the hon. member and to the Chair above all that I am governed by the wisdom of the Chair and I stand by the wisdom of the chair, which is why the bill is in fact receivable. I would like to proceed with debate.