Mr. Speaker, I rise today to talk about trust; the trust citizens place in their government, the trust politicians earn from the public, the trust in institutions that is as vital to a democracy as the air we breathe, a trust that once shattered, is difficult, almost impossible to rebuild.
Since our election in October no goal has been more important to this government, or to me personally as Prime Minister, than restoring the trust of Canadians in their institutions.
When we took office there was an unprecedented level of public cynicism about our national institutions and the people to whom they were entrusted by the voters. The political process had been thrown into disrepute. People saw a political system which served its own interests and not those of the public. When trust is gone the system cannot work.
That is why we have worked so hard to re-establish those bonds of trust. The most important thing we have done is to keep our word. We said we would cancel the helicopter contract and we did. We had to be satisfied that NAFTA would meet our concerns before it was finalized and we were.
We said we would create a $6 billion infrastructure program with all three orders of government and we have.
We brought in a budget that restores hope for Canadians while meeting our campaign commitment of reducing the deficit to3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and we did; and we have addressed the stabilization of Canada's fisheries-particularly the Atlantic fisheries-and foreign overfishing as we said we would.
Honouring the promises we made is a key part of restoring the trust of Canadians. We have also worked hard to restore trust by restoring relevance to the House of Commons. We have given MPs a larger role in drafting legislation and greater influence over government expenditures.
For the first time ever, MPs debated the budget before it was tabled. We have also had policy debates on issues like cruise missile testing. We have had two debates, here in this House, about what should be the government's position on Canada's presence in the former Yugoslavia. Everyone agrees that those discussions have produced positive results; and they took place before the government made a decision.
Finally, we have worked to restore trust by showing Canadians that as far as this government is concerned, integrity is more than just nice words or photo ops, it is a way of life.
There is no better example of this than our cancellation of the Pearson airport deal. We sent out a strong, clear message that the integrity of this country's institutions is not for sale, that this government and this Parliament would serve the interests of all Canadians, not the interests of the privileged few, no matter how well connected.
Keeping our promises, giving a meaningful voice to the elected representatives in this House and putting an end to the politics of cronyism and secret back door deals is how this government has been restoring faith and trust among Canadians.
I am pleased to announce today that we are continuing to re-establish trust by delivering on a number of key commitments we made to Canadians during the election and by taking unprecedented action to open up the process of government in Ottawa.
Today we are introducing amendments to strengthen the Lobbyists Registration Act. These improvements are in line with the unanimous June 1993 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Consumer and Corporate Affairs respecting the Lobbyists Registration Act.
These changes will force lobbying out from the shadows into the open and make it clear to everyone who is representing whom, on which issue, and what they are doing.
We have no disagreement with individuals or companies that choose to have someone represent them. That is their business and their right. But Canadians nonetheless have a right to know who is trying to influence elected and public officials.
Deals like the Pearson Airport deal must never be allowed to happen again. That is why, through our changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act, we will be able to force the disclosure of lobbying fees related to government contracts.
That is why we are building in tough penalties-up to and including prison sentences-for those who break these new rules. That is why we are prohibiting the inclusion of contingency fees in lobbyists' contracts. That is why we are appointing an official who will have the teeth to investigate and take action.
I am pleased to announce today the appointment of Canada's first ethics counsellor, the current assistant deputy registrar general, Mr. Howard Wilson. Mr. Wilson's experience and his well-earned reputation for probity and integrity make him an ideal choice for this important post.
The ethics counsellor will oversee and enforce both the strengthened Lobbyists Registration Act and a revised, more comprehensive conflict of interest code that will replace the old conflict of interest guidelines.
We have broadened the powers and responsibilities of the ethics counsellor from what we laid out in the red book. In the red book, the ethics counsellor was to deal with the activities of lobbyists, but as we started examining implementation, it became clear that this will only address half of the problem, basically from the outside in.
We wanted to be sure that our system would also be effective at withstanding lobbying pressure from the inside. That is why we have decided to expand the role of the ethics counsellor to include conflict of interest.
By merging the Ethics Counsellor's function with the Assistant Deputy Registrar General's existing role in enforcing guidelines on conflict of interest, we will have both a stronger and a more unified oversight role, one with real teeth and strong investigative powers. We will also avoid the wasteful overlap and duplication inherent in creating an entirely new office.
We also said in the red book that we wanted a Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and Senators. This Code would guide their dealings with lobbyists. We will ask a Committee of Parliament to take this matter on and have a Code of Conduct in place as soon as possible, because I feel that MPs themselves must take responsibility for those decisions, as I myself have taken responsibility for the activities of the government, lobbyists, parliamentary secretaries and others.
We also consulted with the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Reform Party on the choice of the Ethics Counsellor a few weeks ago, and I know that they look forward to this person's annual reports to Parliament as much as I do. They know, as we all do, that trust in the institutions of government is not a partisan issue, but something all of us elected to public office have an obligation to restore.
I know they will work as hard as we will on this side of the House to build on the renewed trust Canadians are showing in Parliament and in the political process.
The steps we have announced today are important. They will go a long way toward guarding against the excesses of the past and making the system more transparent and open.
There can be no substitute for responsibility at the top. The Prime Minister sets the moral tone for the government and must make the ultimate decisions when issues of trust or integrity are raised. That is what leadership is all about.
As Harry Truman put it, the buck stops here. I vow to you, to this House, to Canadians, that I will never abdicate that responsibility. I will never pass the buck.
Of all the lessons we learn in life, many of the most valuable are the ones we learn at a young age from our parents. My father taught me early on that nothing, not wealth, nor social status, nor fame, nor glory, is more important than your good name.
In the end, it is all that we really have. It cannot be bartered or traded. When it is gone, it can never come back. My father's teaching has also been the credo of my political life. For more than 30 years it has served me quite well.
What is true for an individual is also true for a government. We pledge to you and to all Canadians that we will guard our good name with all that we can and that we will not betray the hopes so many Canadians have vested in us.
At the end of the first part of the session, I would like to pay tribute to all members of Parliament.
After a long career in politics, and in spite of some pretty tough debates and some pretty exciting Question Periods, I think that is what observers are saying; I would like to thank the Leader of the Opposition and his party-
I would like to say thank you to the Reform Party and its leader. This Parliament has operated a a level that was not known before. It is my duty to thank all members of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Reform Party for having helped us to achieve that.
I think the finest compliment this Parliament has received since we opened this session in the middle of January was the poll taken by an American firm and reported in the newspapers here in Canada a few weeks ago.
A poll was taken in April in the world's nine largest democracies, including Mexico, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France and Germany. Canadians were the ones who said they had the most trust in their government.
That poll is a compliment to all of us and we should take credit for it. During the campaign when I was trying to get candidates sometimes people were very reluctant to run in politics because of the disrepute unfortunately into which the profession had slipped. Today we have managed to restore the prestige of this institution. It is a credit to all members of Parliament who were elected, whatever their political opinions and options.
Public service is a great calling. Public service is a very honourable profession. A public calling is the desire of all of us to try to make society better for all our citizens. I have been a professional politician and I am very proud of it. I could not have had a better career because perhaps in my riding or travelling in the nation I have been able to do something good, making some progress in the quality of life. Every member of Parliament will have this experience.
I am telling hon. members that when they are alone and they think about it they will feel good that perhaps some people are happier because we have offered our service.