Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about reform. We are talking about reform in many ways today.
I want to thank the mover of this bill again for providing the information he provided and I want to thank everyone involved in this particular debate.
Liberals believe all members of both Houses must uphold the law and that those who violate it cannot be allowed to profit from their misdeeds. In this particular situation, when we started to talk about this bill, we wanted to talk about a public example, as it were. There was a lot of consternation as to whether we were going to look at this and accept in principle what it says about pensions, what people earn, whether people who violate the law should lose their pensions, whether a lot more people will suffer as a result of that individual being caught, so on and so forth.
When the conversation came around to this particular bill, the discussion was about how the situation in the House is different from the real world situation. It is different in the sense that we are parliamentarians, different in the sense that we are representatives, and different in the sense that we have to set an example for the population.
I want to thank many for their opinions on this issue. We have gone back and forth, and it has been spirited debate, for the most part.
We know that the bill would add a clause to the Member of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act to take into account a situation of a senator or a member of Parliament being convicted of an offence that arose out of conduct that occurred while that individual was in office. It would do this by using the same mechanism that is already in place for politicians who become disqualified for their offices. If MPs or senators are kicked out of their chamber, they currently lose their pensions, of course, but if members resign beforehand, they get to keep their pensions. We saw that happen some time ago, in the case of a member of the Senate.
The purpose of the bill is to close this particular loophole. The bill would cancel the pension of any MP or senator convicted of any indictable offence committed in whole or in part while in office. Now amendments have been put forward as well.
Throughout the committee process, we looked at many amendments. There were some deep conversations, certainly, not only with the mover of the bill but with all sides of the House and all parties represented here, or certainly the three in committee.
It was suggested that the bill be amended by limiting the scope of the bill to a conviction of an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of no less than five years. In addition, it would have to be one of the following: bribery of officers, defrauding the government, contractors subscribing to election fraud, breach of trust by a public officer, perjury, contrary evidence with intent to mislead, fabricating evidence, obstructing justice with dissuasion, theft of over $5,000, drawing up documents without authority, obtaining, et cetera, based on forged documents, falsification of books and documents, a false return by public officer, and secret commissions.
What was absent at the time were changes related to Canada Elections Act violations. We talked about that as well, and it was contested around that time regarding a particular member. That is all I will say about that right now, because I do not want to talk about that particular situation and that member, who is no longer here. I knew that person quite well. Despite the offences being talked about, I have a deep respect for that individual and for the work that he has done. He was a hard worker, despite what happened. I will leave it at that.
It would apply future convictions on politicians, including for past malfeasance. The bill includes a section clarifying that the changes contained in the bill would apply with respect to any person who is or was a member of the Senate or the House of Commons who is convicted after the date the bill was introduced, which takes us to June 3, 2013.
The bill would strip the pensions of many people that people watching this broadcast right now would know all too well. Senators or former senators were involved in a lot of this. I am assuming that the genesis of this particular bill dated back to that time when we talked about malfeasance, and so on and so forth. That situation continues, so I will not comment on that at this point.
We are not dealing with the particulars of that situation regarding the senators or former members of Parliament. We have to look at the parameters by which we look at the behaviour of members of Parliament and senators and how in the future punishment must be laid in light of these offences.
Therefore, my understanding of this is that all contributions, plus interest, are to be returned to the particular member and in this situation that means they no longer are vested within our pension system. As I said before, many people made comparisons with the private sector, but the comparison is not one that is just, despite the narrative.
I understand many would like to have a level playing field, but this is the House of Commons. I do not think the level playing field applies here. We set the best example we can put forward as representatives in the House, representatives of each and every riding, currently 308 and after the next election 338. By doing so, we have to be exemplary in all manners of our behaviour and especially for many of the offences cited within the bill.
In the details of some of the offences of what members were indicted on, whether it was the maximum offence out there, there were deep conversations about that. The amendments have the maximum for the offence.
It is not just in the House of Commons, but there are many jurisdictions across the country that are doing much the same. In 2013, the Nova Scotia legislature passed Bill 80, which strips the pensions of any lawmaker convicted of a crime for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for not less than five years. It is running in the same vein as this legislation. The start date was May 6, 2013, which was when the bill was tabled at the provincial legislature, which is similar again. The result in June 2013 was an independent MLA lost his pension after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. The member had collected tax dollars after filing 10 false expense claims in 2008-09. Today he is not eligible to receive that pension. This is very similar. I am sure there are certain differences, but minute I am sure.
Statutes in both Alberta and New Brunswick provide that the government may withhold certain sums payable as retiring allowances to a member of the legislature in cases of indebtedness. These statutes do not however make explicit reference to garnishment or termination of a pension due to a criminal conviction, although the way things are going and if the bill passes, as well as what is happening in Nova Scotia, I am sure other legislatures across the country may follow suit. Maybe the mover of the bill could shed some light on that. It would be interesting.
However, this has been a lively discussion. Some people have said that maybe this is too onerous, but personally, and even as a critic, I do not think it is. As sitting members of the House, we have that responsibility to act in the best interests of the public. If the public wants us to behave as such, then we have to be punished if the offence that is so egregious for the public to accept.
I thank the member for this. After this stage of the bill, I hope further discussion will be had it. However, I will be supporting the bill.