Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-27 because as the House is aware I have been a long proponent of increasing transparency and accountability in the financial administration of government and crown corporations. Indeed, it is a principle that I would apply to any kind of institution that is charged with looking after the public trust, whether it is a private corporation, a crown corporation or a government.
This business of transparency and accountability has come to be rather accepted in this day and age, particularly after the public collapses in the United States of large corporations like Enron. The idea that institutions should be foremostly transparent and accountable is somewhat novel in comparison to the situation of just 10 years ago.
When I first came to this House in 1993 and started this crusade to bring transparency and accountability to everything the government touched, part of that crusade was to reform the Access to Information Act and to amend the Canada Business Corporations Act, and do a number of things including bringing transparency and accountability to charitable institutions.
I guess I was a voice in the wilderness originally but as time went on the government, I am happy to say, has bought more and more into the principle that there must be legislated transparency and accountability wherever taxpayers' money is being spent or wherever the public trust is being looked after in a way that involves finances.
In 1994, the first year of the government's mandate, the government took over a program that had been initiated by the former Tory government. It was the implementation of the national airport policy. That involved taking federal airports and transferring them through specific agreements to local authorities who in turn often hired or came into agreements with private operators to run these airports. This legislation deals with these entities. In the grand sense the entity that runs, for example, Pearson airport is an airport authority in this legislation. There is also a smaller category of airport operator which by and large applies to John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport in my riding in Hamilton.
When those agreements were struck across the country that basically semi-privatized the federal airports, the principle of ensuring that there was a single standard of corporate governance, a single standard of financial reporting, and a single standard of disclosure to the public was not implemented at that time. These airport authorities and airport operators were set up with different types of standards. Over the nine years since these airport authorities and airport operators have been operating, it has become apparent that the level of disclosure and the level of transparency has been uneven across the country. There have been some concerns expressed about the management of some of these airport authorities and airport operators.
In 1996 the government embarked upon a similar program to transfer the federal marine assets over to port authorities. In my riding the Hamilton Harbour Commission was replaced by the Hamilton Port Authority. The difference between 1994 and 1996 was that the government inserted into the legislation, creating the port authorities, excellent standards of corporate governance, transparency and accountability. I was very proud at that time because I would like to think I had some role in that because I was pestering the minister of the day about the necessity of bringing that type of standard in with the port authorities.
We now have Bill C-27 which, nine years later, is the logical step to take after bringing the regimes of corporate governance to port authorities and bringing them to airport authorities and airport operators. It is a good thing to do.
I have been following the debate in the House and I cannot fail but note that even on my own side there have been colleagues who have criticized Bill C-27 and have spoken against it. I must cite the member for Hamilton West who is a colleague of mine. On an earlier day of debate he gave a speech on the bill in which he castigated the government for this legislation. I must note that nowhere in his speech did he actually cite a single criticism of the legislation. He decried it in general but not in specifics.
It is important for people watching to know that even on this side of the House there is great freedom of opinion and we are able to debate openly. I do not begrudge my colleague's opinion about the legislation, but it was his remarks that prompted me more than anything else to set the record straight in my view, and remember, Madam Speaker, it is my view.
I would like to take members of the House through a bit of the legislation to give them an impression of what the legislation actually does and why I think everyone in the House should support it. There may be areas that could use some technical amendments, but by and large, I think it is excellent legislation.
I draw the House's attention to part 5 of the bill under the heading “Disclosure and Accountability”. Clause 120 would require all airport operators to prepare financial statements annually. In those financial statements there must be a statement of revenues and expenditures, a summary of capital expenditures, and a statement of revenues from passenger fees. This is important information because we must remember that these airports, even though they are operated locally, are institutions of the public trust. In other words, every airport is derived ultimately from the Crown, so the public would expect to have access to that kind of information.
Clause 123 would require every airport operator to submit a business plan for the upcoming five years. I am probably a bit fanatical about the need for financial disclosure with the public and institutions, including private corporations. The legislation would require that the airport authority or airport operator provide annual financial statements. The legislation goes into great detail about what is required in these financial statements. It says, for example, that financial statements must disclose the revenues derived from landing fees, terminal fees, other aeronautical fees, passenger fees, and from car parking concessions and general rental.
This is a very important part of understanding the success of an institution, a business enterprise in this case being operated in the public interest. It is very important because ultimately these airport properties are a resource of the nation. It is very important for the public to be able to see for themselves through audited financial statements how effectively the airport operator is carrying out its task. I submit that this detailed requirement is an excellent provision to put in the legislation.
This is not to say that many airport operators are not providing this kind of information already. The important thing is that it is a standard that goes across all airport operators including the one in Hamilton and many others. Therefore, it is a very positive thing.
A little further in the bill we would expect to see and indeed we do find that there has to be an auditor's report of the financial statements. That of course should be a given. I am sure it is in most airport agreements, if not all, but it is very important to put it in legislation.
There is also a provision for regular annual meetings. A very good idea, that was derived from the port authority legislation which incidentally was Bill C-44 in its day, is this idea that every so often the airport authority must submit itself to a performance review. That performance review of its operations and everything that it is doing and the way it is carrying out business is to be done by an independent agent. That again is a very positive thing to do. I think the public must be satisfied that there is transparency and accountability.
However, realizing that not everyone is going to be scrutinizing the financial statements of the airport operator every time they come out, we must assure ourselves that there is something built into the system to ensure that there is an annual independent assessment of how well management is performing its task.
It is something that the government is very used to. We certainly have a system in the government where the performance of various departments are subject to annual review and indeed we apply it to many pieces of legislation. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is a good case in point because it was just in the House this week. This is legislation that comes up for review every five years. The Lobbyists Registration Act is another example. In the operation of government itself various departments have mechanisms in place to review performance from time to time. Therefore, I think this is very positive.
There is also material here regarding the mechanism for setting airport fees. Again, that is very important because we do not want a situation where an airport operator can arbitrarily set fees that may help generate revenue but may have a negative impact on passenger travel or access to the airport or whatever else. Airports like ports are not simply business enterprises. They are enterprises that have great national significance and they cannot be administered totally in isolation of national policy. This is why Bill C-27 has come forward.
Obviously I quite support the bill and I would like to put it also in the context of another piece of legislation that is coming before the House; it is in committee. That is Bill C-7, which is a bill that will bring financial transparency and accountability to the administration of Indian reserves. Some 600 bands and reserves are going to be covered by this legislation. What it basically does is put standards where none existed before, national standards pertaining to the election of officers of bands, their requirement to disclose their proceedings to their band membership, the need for audited financial statements and so forth.
The reason why I mention it is that this is part of where the government has been going in the last few years and I am extremely pleased that it is going in this direction. More and more, we see the government moving toward patching up areas of the national fabric that have existed for many years without adequate oversight. Because when we talk about transparency and accountability, what we are really talking about is public oversight of enterprises that are in the national interest.
Bill C-7, Bill C-27 and the bill on the port authorities represent very important progress on the part of the government in this direction. That gives me an opportunity to encourage the government to carry on in this direction, because there is much more to be done. I remind the House that I have been campaigning very hard over many years to persuade the government to reform the Access to Information Act. That would bring greater transparency, accountability and scrutiny, shall we say, to the administration of government. This was pioneering legislation in its day. It needs overhaul very desperately and I hope the government will move in that direction very shortly. I would rather it did it immediately because time is running out on this particular government's mandate.
There is another area that I really wish the government would move forward on. It has been very slow and I find it very unfortunate. It is the whole idea of bringing in standards of accountability, transparency and corporate governance to charities. It is just like port authorities, just like airport authorities. Charities are large enterprises that spend billions of taxpayers' dollars.
I believe the charity sector in this country, which we can rightly call an industry, has revenues and expenditures in the order of about $100 billion a year. This is a huge amount. These charitable institutions, be they large hospitals or the small charity that gets on the telephone to us, or usually to our aged parents who cannot think very clearly for themselves, and solicit money and spend that money, these organizations are still not under meaningful, legislated standards of corporate governance and transparence. I know that sounds incredible. Canadians listening probably think it is absolutely amazing that a $100 billion a year industry should be without the basic standards of corporate governance that exist in this legislation.
Finally I would say in conclusion that the government is moving in the right direction. This is what Canadians want. This is what society wants. I think it is very clear from the catastrophes in the financial market, particularly in the United States, that we cannot rely on trust alone to ensure that enterprises that are acting in the public interest are living up to their commitments. So we must bring in legislation that defines standards of corporate governance and deals with transparency and accountability. I think Bill C-27 is a good step in that direction, but there is much, much more to be done.