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 c-2.

Topics

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, in that propitious 15 minute spot between 3 p.m and 3:15 p.m., do I take it from the House leader of the government that we would be able to take up in that small window the usual Thursday question and he would be in a position to outline for us the government's agenda for Monday, September 18?

Business of the House
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will make a real good stab at it, if the hon. member likes and we will deal with that.

[For continuation of proceedings, see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, be read the third time and passed.

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6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

I think the member for Repentigny still has seven minutes left.

The hon. member for Repentigny.

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6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, before that brief interruption, I was talking about the Bloc Québécois' victories with respect to Bill C-2. For the edification and pleasure of all members of the House, I will continue to list the Bloc's victories following the referral of Bill C-2 to committee.

Earlier, I highlighted the work of my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, but I left out my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. Her presence reminded me. I would like to thank my colleague for her great contribution to making this bill even better. I would like to thank her for her ideas and her support during discussions on Bill C-2.

I mentioned some of the Bloc's victories before being interrupted to make way for private members' bills. I would like to list some more. We did not want to create a tattletale culture, so we succeeded in eliminating rewards for whistle-blowers.

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6:45 p.m.

An hon. member

That is good.

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6:45 p.m.

Benoit Sauvageau

The Conservatives wanted to give every whistleblower a little $1,000 treat. It reminded me of when I was young, when I used to read Lucky Luke. There were head shots, and on them it said “Wanted”. There were professional bounty hunters who were really trying to find the bad guys, to get themselves a nice chunk of change.

That is like telling whistleblowers that they can cash in on their conscience and their honesty. Very fortunately, all parties in this House recognized that this idea of the Conservative government’s, this campaign promise, was a poor signal to be sending public servants and everyone who is protected by the whistleblowing act. So that part was eliminated.

We got a provision that the ethics commissioner, rather than a minister, would have the power to exempt political staff from the law.

Originally, the bill allowed a minister to decide whether such-and-such a person could be exempted from the ethics act. Now it is the commissioner, as an independent person, who will have that role.

There is one victory that may seem futile to some, but that is very important. That is the original title of the bill. That title was: “Loi fédérale sur l'imputabilité”. With the assistance of some colleagues in this House, the goodwill of others and the irrefutable proof presented in committee, we succeeded in changing the title of the bill so that it would mean what it was supposed to mean in French: “Loi fédérale sur la responsabilité”. This is another victory by the Bloc.

We also succeeded in having a provision incorporated in Bill C-2 that the conflict of interest act will be reviewed every five years. To us, this is important. It has been said before. Everyone in this House recognizes that there are no perfect laws, particularly an act like this one, which will be the first one to be brought into force. We want to be able to rectify this act after five years and ensure that any possible mistakes and errors that remained despite the serious consideration we tried to give it can be rectified.

These are a number of victories in which the Bloc Québécois can take pride after considering and passing Bill C-2.

However, one important part of a promise made by the Conservatives was not kept in Bill C-2, and that is the one that involves reforming the Access to Information Act.

Everything that was said in the same chapter of the “Stand up for Canada” platform, about lobbyists and the commissioner, can be found in Bill C-2, and we recognize that. But what we do not find is the part about reforming the Access to Information Act. The passage that I quote is found at page 13 of “Stand up for Canada”.

A Conservative government:

will implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.

That seems clear to me. When it came time to talk about the Access to Information Act during consideration of Bill C-2, oddly, there was less urgency, less enthusiasm.

When my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert proposed the idea of reforming the Access to Information Act in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, the urgency described in the Conservative platform had strangely and suddenly evaporated into thin air.

When it came to supporting a motion by my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert to review the Access to Information Act with the same speed, there was less urgency.

We were given arguments for passing Bill C-2 quickly, that enough had been said about it, that there had been enough studies on the matter and that Canadians wanted something concrete. It is odd, because these arguments all apply to the Access to Information Act. There have been enough studies.

In committee, there was even a unanimous vote to tell the Liberals—who were in power at the time—that we did not want any more studies. The Conservatives shared that opinion: they truly wanted to amend the Access to Information Act immediately. Now that they are in power, they are budging a little on C-2—it is an honourable gesture, but on the Access to Information Act they are not willing to make any concessions.

This seems underhanded to us. During the sponsorship scandal, some documents could not be obtained under the Access to Information Act. If a similar situation comes up, and the Access to Information Act is not improved, we will probably end up with the same problem.

In closing, passing Bill C-2 is a step in the right direction. However, it falls short when it comes to the Access to Information Act. We hope that in the fall, the relevant committee will have the same good will to consider reforming the Access to Information Act.

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6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today toward the end of the debate on the accountability bill.

It is very important to point out that this is a key stage in a difficult and troubled period in the history of Canadian governments. The behaviour of the previous Liberal government deserved to be punished and it was in the last election. We need a bill that helps ultimately to correct the situation as much as possible. As my colleague from Repentigny said, it is also very important to realize that no rule or law will ever replace individual accountability and governmental accountability.

As the Auditor General remarked in this respect, we will have to remain on guard to ensure that the rules that are adopted are actually followed. If they are not, we will have a deep-seated problem that will persist and will not be resolved by even the most draconian of rules.

I want to thank my colleague from Repentigny for all the work he did on the fashioning of this bill. The initial bill that was introduced so hurriedly after the election had many faults and things that needed to be corrected. My colleague has already spoken about them. Some of these faults will be corrected so that we end up with an acceptable bill.

Nevertheless, I would like to ask my colleague a question about one of the aspects he mentioned in the first part of his speech. My question has to do with the appointment of returning officers after a competition. We know that we have been living in the Middle Ages in this regard, with system that failed to meet our needs because the returning officers were appointed by the government. Some did their job very properly, but others gave themselves more leeway and a bit of partisanship crept in. Regardless of the reality, justice was not seen to be done. Thanks to the new process, justice should now appear to be done.

I would like my colleague to tell me whether he thinks that this part of the bill can come into force quickly enough that the next election can be held under the new rules, the returning officer can hold suitable competitions, and people can be finally appointed, and quite soon, to prepare for the next election. It will be sad during the next election process—whether in one, two or three years—if the rules we decided to follow have not yet been implemented. I would like to ask my colleague whether he thinks that this can be done.

I believe that, after this vote, the Senate will have to study the question. Let us hope that this can be done before the next election.

I would like my hon. colleague to tell us what he thinks in this regard. I thank him once again for the fine work he did on improving this bill so that it now goes a long way toward meeting the concerns that arose as a result of all the scandals, especially those involving the former government.

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6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

The answer, Mr. Speaker, is yes.

More seriously, I thank my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Actually, I did not talk much about the returning officers in my speech because I talked about the Bloc’s victories and we had many. Still I should have mentioned that we in the Bloc submitted to the appropriate committee an amendment to the Elections Act on the appointment of returning officers. It was to have returning officers appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer.

At the time, we told the Liberals we were sure that some Liberals would be competent enough to stay if returning officers were appointed according to their competence rather than their allegiance. So we did not understand why they so stubbornly refused. For us, competence should take precedence over political allegiance. I think this is the message that the Conservatives understood.

As for the prompt enforcement of this amendment in an upcoming election, I will reassure my colleague. The Chief Electoral Officer has been awaiting this possibility for so long that he has put in place all the structures with a view to proceeding very quickly—he has confirmed this to us—with the appointment of returning officers by means of competitions. Probably many returning officers in place today will be able to continue their work. I cannot guess the percentages, but there will surely be a good number.

There are some competent people among them who did a good job in the last election or in earlier ones. They will be able to apply for the position and take part in the competition, and they will be able to keep their positions by showing their competence. As for the incompetents appointed only because they had been members of a party, not ours, for a long time, they will keep themselves busy with a pastime other than working in the service of our democracy.

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6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

First, Mr. Speaker, I must acknowledge the energetic and colossal work that my colleague from Repentigny has done in committee, the rigour he has shown in all of his work, and the fine intelligence he has invested in it. For that he must most certainly be thanked.

I must also thank our colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, who has done her work under extremely difficult conditions, given that there was a lot of pressure to make the process go fast, indeed too fast. Having participated in this committee, I can confirm that the relentless pace did not leave time to receive the witnesses with the seriousness that they deserved.

They provided us with some very thorough documents and made presentations to us that were extremely refined and intelligent, and we did not have time to ask them all of the questions we should have, questions that would have enabled us to formulate a good bill.

The proof that this bill was deserving of improvement is that a lot of amendments were made, to the point that I wonder if we did not set some records.

Most fortunately, some of those amendments represented an improvement, such as the abolition of the $1,000 reward for whistleblowers. Otherwise we would have transformed whistleblowers into informers, and that was unacceptable.

Without question, the amendment with which I am most pleased is the one recommending the five-year review. For indeed, we performed this work so quickly and under such difficult conditions that the bill is going to be imperfect. We will truly need to have it reviewed in a few years. With use, all of its inconsistencies will become clear.

I would therefore like to ask my colleague from Repentigny whether he thinks that this committee worked too fast or at the proper pace.

I know that the committee sometimes sat for 45 hours a week, which is totally abnormal. In any case, I had never seen such a thing in nine years of work here on Parliament Hill.

Can my colleague confirm that the work was carried out in a serious manner? Is that work going to produce a proper bill? Furthermore, will it not be desirable to make certain amendments in a few months?

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June 21st, 2006 / 7 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question, which will perhaps give me an opportunity to correct some perceptions that are very soon going to be expressed in this House. When it came time to work on Bill C-2, every political party exhibited the best will in the world and wanted to make a positive contribution.

Strangely, and this is the first time in 13 years that I have seen a committee like that one, all parties agreed with Bill C-2 in principle, and it was the most litigious committee I have ever had to work on. Why? Because from the outset, the sword of Damocles was hung over our heads, when we were told that we had to pass this bill post haste. We could have passed Bill C-11 to create a safety net for whistleblowers and taken the time we needed. Taking the time we need does not mean using stalling tactics.

When we began consideration of the bill, the government got into bed with another political party to ensure that rather than sitting for normal committee times, or even double time, which we wanted to do at the outset, the committee would have to increase its time significantly. The situation was such that we could not get any research documents, or documents prepared by the library, to enable us to do our job conscientiously. Then we were told that if we did not finish by June 21, we were going to sit after that; if we did not finish after that, we were going to sit through the night. It was threat after threat, because, it seems, they had heard enough about it. I am eager to see how speedily they will be wanting to consider the access to information bill.

Nonetheless, working under extremely difficult circumstances, we tried to do it carefully and seriously. Today, as a result, we have a bill that is acceptable, if imperfect. Very fortunately, we were able to pass an amendment about reviewing the act after five years. If there are parts that have been forgotten or that might not be consistent with the objectives of the act, because of the speed with which we had to consider this bill, we will be able to rectify them then.

The working conditions and the circumstances of that consideration, however, were not normal. We should have had the time to consider this bill conscientiously.

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7 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a final opportunity to address Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, on behalf of the NDP caucus.

First, I would ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

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7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Is there unanimous consent for the member to split his time with the member for Ottawa Centre?