Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in favour of Motion No. 200, tabled by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, which reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should introduce legislation establishing a code of conduct for Members of Parliament and Senators, based on the March 1997 final report of the Special Joint Committee on a Code of Conduct of the Senate and the House of Commons.
The House of Commons, this exquisite Chamber of vaulted ceilings, carved wood and coloured glass, is the heart of our democratic system. Yet, when Canadians watch us in question period on TV they see us caterwauling and jeering. They see our junior high antics and some very low grade behaviour. We all know that does not serve us well.
If they see this place as a sideshow, as a zoo, by extension they see us, their representatives and their members of parliament, as objects of scorn and derision. That is something we have to clean up. We have to clean up our act, real or perceived. We have to make sure that this place does not suffer from the shame of bad behaviour.
That brings us back to the motion and the idea of a code of conduct. It is not the first time that the House has grappled with the issue over the years. On December 16, 1999, the House debated Bill C-226, an act to establish a parliamentarian's code of conduct, brought in by Gordon Earle, the former NDP member for Halifax West. That bill would have gone a long way to move this item along on the agenda.
In that debate Gordon Earle stated that the bill would in fact be realistic and would reflect in the provincial legislatures and in other nations' assemblies. This code of conduct would raise the level of integrity of our parliament. The bill was rooted in very practical and legitimate concerns that Canadians hold about their parliament.
His bill was based on the following principles. Parliamentarians should have the highest ethical standards so as to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of parliamentarians and parliament. Parliamentarians should perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that would bear the closest public scrutiny. Parliamentarians should avoid placing themselves under any financial or other obligation that may influence them in the performance of their official duties. Parliamentarians upon entering office should arrange their private affairs to prevent real or apparent conflict of interest. If such do arise, it should be resolved in a way that protects the public interest.
As well, under that bill all parliamentarians would have to disclose all official travel when the cost exceeded $250 in cases where the trip was not completely paid for by parliament or by one of the few officially recognized sponsors.
No parliamentarians would be permitted to be a party to a contract with the Government of Canada under which the parliamentarian received a benefit. Parliamentarians would be required to make a disclosure of all assets once every calendar year and would be required to make public disclosure of the nature although not the value of all assets each year. Finally, to ensure that the public interest and the highest standards were upheld, there would be an ethics counsellor to advise parliamentarians on any question relating to conduct.
I am pleased to say that Gordon Earle's private member's bill was reintroduced yesterday by our leader, the member for Halifax. She reintroduced legislation to establish a code of conduct for MPs and an ethics counsellor who would report on an annual basis directly to parliament, not to the Prime Minister's Office.
If such a code already existed, Canadians might have been spared the unseemly spectacle of the Shawinigan situation and the whole controversy surrounding the opposition leader's defamation suit and how it was handled financially.
In closing I would say that it is time we re-addressed the erosion of public confidence in parliament and in parliamentarians. It is time to help MPs deal with complicated ethical issues, to restore their faith in the institution of parliament and to provide them with a clear rule book on issues of ethics and conflict of interest.
I thank the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for moving the motion and providing me with the opportunity to speak this evening on this important issue.