Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue today. I want to talk about a principle more than the details of Bill C-55, a principle that is very important to all of us; that is the power that the bill takes away from parliamentarians.
In the last few days we have seen the impact of the auditor general's report on a very specific issue that has became public. All Canadians now know about it. The reason it has become public is because the auditor general reports to parliament. If the auditor general reported only to the government and only to the Prime Minister, as does the ethics counsellor for example, we would never know about these accusations and grave concerns.
I believe the auditor general said that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. She has called in the RCMP for an investigation. I am absolutely sure that if the auditor general only answered to the government and not to parliament, we would not have the same situation. It would be swept under the table. It would be downplayed and downgraded. The government would say, just like the ethics counsellor always has said, “Everything is just hunky-dory. There is no question, everything is great”, because the ethics counsellor answers to the Prime Minister.
The ethics counsellor has a huge job with huge benefits and all kinds of aspects of the job are very beneficial to the him. He can only keep that job at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, so if the he comes out with a report that criticizes the government or the Prime Minister in any way at all, he knows he is out of a job. It is a crazy thing, but the ethics counsellor has the biggest conflict of interest than anybody.
This is the problem with Bill C-55. It transfers more powers from parliament to the government. This has been a trend of the government from the time it was elected in 1993 until now. If there ever was a clear message, it is the comparison of the auditor general this week and how effective she is in bringing questions to the public and creating public awareness about concerns and wrongdoing by either officials or the government, and I hope the investigation will shed some light on that, as opposed to the ethics counsellor who does not report to parliament.
When issues come to parliament, we do not always get our way. In fact we in opposition very seldom get our way. However we do raise public awareness on issues and bring attention to them. We bring circumstances to light. because of parliament. Canadians start to learn about these things and they send messages to government. So even though we may not win every motion in every vote in the House, which we very seldom do, the impact is profound in that it goes across the country through the media, that message comes back to government and things change. This is a really good example.
Bill C-42 was brought before the House and parliament objected to it strongly on many issues. The government retracted Bill C-42 and brought in Bill C-55. That is another really important example of how the importance of parliament. Again, we did not defeat Bill C-42, but by putting public pressure on the government and by creating public awareness of the issues, it stirred up Canadians and they spoke loudly and clearly. It was not just us, or the privacy commissioner or other officials. Canadians spoke to the government because it was raised in parliament. If had not been raised in parliament, it would have slipped through and would have missed all the checks and balances, which are a fundamental pillar of our democracy.
Anything that takes power away from parliament is a mistake. When we are in opposition, we do not have a lot of power. We cannot defeat the government on issues but we have the power to create public awareness. If that power is taken away from us as parliamentarians, then our democratic rights and our ability to hold the government accountable has definitely been weakened, taking away one of the very fundamental pillars of our democracy.
I will compare the ethics counsellor with the auditor general. The only difference is that the ethics counsellor reports to the Prime Minister, owes his job to the Prime Minister, serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister and will probably be fired if he does not come up with reports that the Prime Minister likes, as opposed to the auditor general who reports to parliament. She is not under any conflict of interest. She has no axes to grind. She looks at the facts and makes an appropriate report.
Again, I hone in on how important parliament is in that case. If it were not for parliament and the fact that the auditor general reports to parliament, we would not have that report which is so critical. It may just be the tip of the iceberg. I understand that the investigation by the auditor general may go on for a year.
Bill C-55 deals with transportation issues involving security. I come back to the same story. It will not go to the transport committee, the committee that knows transportation issues even though many aspects of Bill C-55 deal directly with transportation issues. The government has refused to let it go to the transport committee because people there know about transport issues and they will know that some aspects of the bill will not work and will raise questions and public awareness. This could again create fundamental changes which could improve it.
On a bill that would impact transport so much, why will the government not let it go to the transport committee? It is simply a contempt for parliament and its committees. There is no other reason. What could possibly be the excuse for not letting a bill like this go to the transport committee?
I point out that Bill C-42 was withdrawn. That was the previous bill that was supposed to do the same thing. It was adjusted and changed because of public pressure that was raised in parliament. Parliament is the source of public awareness for many of these issues. The committees are small parliaments. They bring out the issues. They call in witnesses to identify the problems. We do not win many votes in committees but we raise public awareness which is important so that Canadians affected can call their members of parliament, whether the member is a Liberal or whatever.
It is a very important step in our democracy that these bills, motions and issues be dealt with by committees and parliament. Even the privacy commissioner has grave concerns about this. It is amazing, he even wrote a public letter which said that the bill transferred too much power to the Minister of Transport and a significant amount power transferred to police. However will it go to the transport committee? There is not a chance because we might learn something. We might find something about it and raise public awareness on an issue which the government does not want raised. That is why it is not going to committee. It puts the power in the minister's hands.
It is incredible that interim orders can be made by the minister and he does not even have to get cabinet approval for 45 days. Why would there be 45 days to get cabinet approval when cabinet can meet within 24 hours notice any time? Why not four days or two days for cabinet approval? It can be in place for a year after that.
The pillar of democracy is checks and balances. We are the checks and balances. Parliamentarians are parliament and parliamentary committees are the checks and balances for the Canadian public. We are in a place where information is made available to Canadians. It is in parliament and the committees where the people testify, whether they support something or are against it. We take both sides and try to arrive at a logical decision. However, if we deny the right of parliament to discuss these issues and deny committees the right to examine the issues, then the public is denied the information it needs to know.
Members of the public need to know whether to support the issues, or call their members of parliament to say that they do not like an certain aspect of an issue, or to comment on something somebody said at committee or whatever. If we shut down the committees and parliament, we will have lost a very fundamental pillar of our democracy.