moved that Bill C-30, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to move second reading of Bill C-30, the Senate ethics act.
Bill C-30 proposes to make a single officer responsible for administering all the ethical standards for parliamentarians.
Many Canadians are surprised to learn that despite the overlap in ethics standards for ministers, members of Parliament and senators, senators have their own ethics officer while ministers and members of Parliament have another.
From the perspective of the House of Commons, there has been long-standing support to establish a single ethics officer for all parliamentarians. Several attempts have been made to correct this inconsistency.
In 1997, a special joint committee chaired by our current Speaker and Senator Oliver recommended that a single ethics officer should administer a common code of conduct.
In 2002, the federal government introduced a draft bill on appointing a single ethics officer in the wake of the recommendations made by the special joint committee in its 1997 report.
However, the upper house ultimately opposed the initiative, insisting that it should have its own ethics officer. As a result, the government introduced a bill that created two separate ethics officers: an ethics commissioner for the House of Commons and public office holders, and a Senate ethics officer.
In 2006, the House of Commons passed the Federal Accountability Act, which provided for the appointment of a single ethics officer.
However, the upper house again opposed this political accountability measure and deleted the relevant clauses from the bill. In the interest of passing the many other important accountability measures in our government's flagship legislation, the House of Commons agreed, with a promise to return to the issue.
Today, we are doing just that.
I hope that the House of Commons will again pass the measure it supported previously. I also hope that the other place will recognize the democratic will of the people of Canada as expressed in this House.
The upper house has blocked our efforts in the past on this issue. Let us pass the bill as a signal to Canadians that their voice cannot be stifled by unelected members in the other place.
The main provision in the Senate ethics act would eliminate the office of the Senate ethics officer and transfer all of its responsibilities to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
There are many advantages to bringing the administration of the ethics standards for members of Parliament, ministers, parliamentary secretaries and other public office holders under a single officer. For one, it reflects the expectation of Canadians that ethics standards should be applied consistently for all public officials, rather than having a special process for a special class of people.
In 2004, the Parliament of Canada Act was amended to create two positions: the office of the ethics officer and the office of the ethics commissioner. While the Senate ethics officer's mandate was to oversee the ethics code for senators, the ethics commissioner was given a broader mandate that included members of Parliament and public office holders: ministers and parliamentary secretaries, ministerial staff and governor-in-council appointees, for example.
This mandate was continued in 2006 in the Federal Accountability Act. When it was established, it included the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to replace the aforementioned ethics commissioner. The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has considerable expertise in the administration of ethical standards.
The commissioner oversees ethical standards not only for the 308 members of Parliament, but also for Governor in Council appointees.
Moreover, the commissioner currently administers two codes: the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, and the ethical rules for public office holders in the Conflict of Interest Act.
While there are some differences between the rules for a member of Parliament and for public office holders, where the rules do overlap, there is a stronger accountability through a common approach applied by a single officer. Indeed, it makes little sense for two ethics codes to prescribe the same conduct and yet be administered differently.
The Conflict of Interest Code for Senators is similar in many respects to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, yet there is no way to promote a consistent approach to administering similar rules under our current system.
The Senate ethics act would correct this by enabling the commissioner to administer the ethics standards for all parliamentarians. To maintain the expertise of the commissioner and allow for his or her office to access the necessary funds to pursue a new mandate, the resources and staff of the ethics officer will be transferred to the office of the commissioner to assist in these new responsibilities.
On several occasions senators have expressed their own concerns that this change would undermine their independence as a chamber of sober second thought. They fear that a single ethics officers would undermine their independent status in Parliament.
Some also feel that a single ethics officer would undermine their privileges as a chamber to regulate their internal affairs, including the power to discipline its members.
In response, I would like to point out that the Senate ethics act has been designed to respect every aspect of the upper house's independence. Currently, the Senate ethics officer is appointed by the governor-in-council after the approval of the appointment by the upper house.
The Senate ethics act preserves the upper house's role in approving the appointment of the officer responsible for its ethics code. The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner will have to be approved by both the House of Commons and the upper house before being appointed by the governor-in-council.
Our colleagues in the other place would have no less of a say in approving the officer responsible for administering their ethics code under the Senate ethics act than they do currently. Moreover, the Senate ethics officer currently carries out his duties and functions under the general direction of the conflict of interest committee.
The Senate ethics act maintains the committee's role in providing general direction, but simply specifies that the direction would be provided to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.
The act also allows for the House of Commons and the upper house to establish a joint committee to provide general direction to the commissioner, but in no way obliges either chamber to do so.
In this way the other place will have no less of a say in the direction of the officer responsible for administering its ethics code under the Senate ethics act than it currently does--