Chair, as I said, I was conscious of having very good and important witnesses in front of us on Bill C-58. This is the mechanism that we have. As I said at the beginning, I don't wish to belabour this.
The frustration and question for many Canadians whom we hear from is what exactly the rules are and how the interpretation of the rules manifests in real life for us as public office holders.
We have a case in front of us that I think helps illustrate some of the problems with the act. We put a motion before Parliament. I'm not sure whether any colleagues here spoke to it, but when colleagues of mine spoke to it, all we got from the benches opposite was a speech about everything except ethics, everything except the ethical guidelines and the code.
We tried in Parliament in debate. We tried in question period to ask simple and straightforward questions about disclosure, about ownership, about conflicts of interest. I think it's a fair assessment to say that we haven't received answers. I watched the finance minister last night in front of the media on CBC. He was asked very straightforward questions—nothing scatological, nothing like “Have you sold your shares”, for example. Again, there was no answer.
If committees aren't the place to charge that, if Parliament is not the place to charge it, if speaking to the media is not the place to discharge this, then where is? At some point the government can't say in their mandate letters that ministers must “bear the fullest public scrutiny”—I think that is the call, the commitment for each of the ministers of the crown. The opposite has been true: we don't have full public disclosure; we can't know what ethical rules have been broken. We also can't know that simply saying “the Ethics Commissioner gave me this advice”, when we don't actually hear from the Ethics Commissioner as to what the process is when an MP goes before her and says, “This is my financial arrangement”....
I have pertinent questions, and I think all members likely have pertinent questions for her asking how she manages conflicts of interest. How does she manage, for example, when the conflict of interest shield is your own chief of staff, whom you hired? Is there not a dynamic and a tension there, that a person whom you hired is now responsible for telling you “no, no, and no” and not explaining it?
These things, for which we think there are legitimate places within the ethics act to guide us, and in the members' code, I would argue, which can be exploited simply by doing something quite common—well, not common for most middle-class people, but simply common in business, to set up a numbered account.... Then suddenly our ethics code no longer speaks to it. Well, that's no good.
I think that if the finance minister wants, and I think he is sincere in this, to focus on his job, which is to run and administer and regulate the financial sector—in which he has holdings, by the way, but regardless—the best way to do so, in my experience, is to clear the air, to come forward, to tell us everything. If he says there's no conflict of interest, then there should be no problem in clearing the air, in being transparent, which is also in his mandate letter.
We have found the opposite to be true, in debates in the House, in question period, and in his dealings with the media. We turn then to committee, because committee is a deliberative place, where we put people here in front of us and ask them questions.
I hear Nathaniel's concern about politicization, but to vote against this, to say that we're not interested in hearing from the Ethics Commissioner, that we're not interested in hearing from the finance minister, is in fact an act of politics. It's to say these things aren't important, when clearly they are for everybody watching.
If there is some amendment they seek to move on this, if there's some other way to crack this nut, we're very interested in the conversation. To simply reject efforts to fix the loopholes in the act, however.... It's hard to draw any other conclusion than that the government is not sincerely interested in getting to the bottom of this.