House of Commons Hansard #191 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was lobbyists.


11 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Ontario is not present to move the order as announced in today's Notice Paper. Accordingly, the motion will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence for Private Members' Business, pursuant to Standing Order 42(2).

11 a.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think you would find consent to suspend until noon, at which time the House could resume its business with Government Orders.

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

11 a.m.

Some hon. members


11 a.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, is there unanimous consent for members present to stay and debate MP pensions for the hour normally otherwise set aside?

11 a.m.

Some hon. members


(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.06 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Windsor West Ontario


Herb Gray LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada


That a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to develop a Code of Conduct to guide Senators and Members of the House of Commons in reconciling their official responsibilities with their personal interests, including their dealings with lobbyists;

That seven Members of the Senate and fourteen Members of the House of Commons be the Members of the Committee, and the Members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be appointed to act on behalf of the House as Members of the said Committee;

That changes in the membership, on the part of the House of Commons of the Committee be effective immediately after a notification signed by the member acting as the chief Whip of any recognized party has been filed with the clerk of the Committee;

That the Committee be directed to consult broadly and to review the approaches taken with respect to these issues in Canada and in other jurisdictions with comparable systems of government;

That the Committee have the power to sit during sittings and adjournments of the House;

That the Committee have the power to report from time to time to send for persons, papers and records, and to print such papers and evidence as may be ordered by the Committee;

That the Committee have the power to retain the services of expert, professional, technical and clerical staff;

That a quorum of the Committee be 11 Members whenever a vote, resolution or other decision is taken, so long, as both Houses are represented and that the Joint Chairpersons be authorized to hold meetings, to receive evidence and authorize the printing thereof, whenever six Members are present, so long as both Houses are represented;

That the Committee be empowered to appoint, from among its Members, such sub-committees as may be deemed advisable, and to delegate to such sub-committees, all or any of its power except the power to report to the Senate and House of Commons;

That the Committee be empowered to authorize television and radio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings;

That the Committee make its final report no later than October 31, 1995;

That, notwithstanding usual practices, if the Senate is not sitting when the final report of the Committee is completed, the report may be deposited with the Clerk of the Senate and it shall thereupon be deemed to have been presented to that House; and

That a Message be sent to the Senate requesting that House to unite with this House for the above purpose, and to select, if the Senate deem advisable, Members to act on the proposed Special Joint Committee.

Mr. Speaker, in presenting this motion the government is continuing to fulfil its commitment to strengthen public confidence in the institutions of government.

Earlier in this Parliament we revised and strengthened the conflict of interest code for public office holders and buttressed that new code through the appointment of an ethics counsellor for cabinet ministers and order in council appointees. We also proposed amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act de-

signed to move the lobby industry out of the shadows and backrooms and into the light of public scrutiny.

Having done this, we will now concentrate on adopting a code of ethics for members of the House of Commons and senators. We hope that the process triggered by this motion will be based on consensus and co-operation, because this issue affects all parliamentarians in both the House of Commons and the Senate, whatever their political allegiance. That is why this government proposes that this important task be assigned to senators and members of the House of Commons rather than to the government itself. This is further evidence that the government really cares about strengthening the role and effectiveness of Parliament.


We look forward to the deliberations of the committee and we hope that in these deliberations all parties will work together toward preserving the integrity of Parliament. We all have a role to play, a responsibility for ensuring that Parliament, this most fundamental instrument of our democracy, remains an expression of the collective values of all Canadians and one in which they can justly take pride.

What Canadians have made clear is that they want parliamentarians to institute clear rules consistently applied governing their standards of behaviour.

The public's political expectations and values have undergone enormous changes over the years.

For example, in the 1950s there was little concern about conflicts between private business and public responsibilities of elected officials. I understand that at that time many ministers directly owned securities and shares of all kinds, without concern about things like blind trusts and so forth, and even held corporate directorships without causing any public concern. Today that would be out of the question.

Over the years the public has developed much higher expectations. As the art of governance has become more and more complex and intermediaries, advocates, and lobbyists of varying stripes have become increasingly present, successive federal, provincial, and even municipal governments have enacted increasingly rigorous measures to meet evolving public expectations about integrity.

Depending on their province of residence, Canadians have witnessed the development of everything from informal guidelines to formal codes of conduct for elected officials and other public office holders. They have seen the appointment of myriad ethics committees or commissioners with varying degrees of impartiality, independence, and powers of investigation. They have seen politicians subjected to new requirements for disclosure and divestiture. They have seen enacted numerous access to information regimes designed to provide the transparency required for citizens to better examine the activities of public officials.

While the emphasis of these measures has tended to focus primarily on rules of acceptable conduct for the executive, recent trends suggest a growing interest in extending the application of such measures to all public office holders, including those parliamentarians who are not ministers.

At our national level, here in the House of Commons alone, over the past eight years no fewer than four conflict of interest bills for members and senators were introduced and died on the Order Paper. That they met such a fate is instructive. It underlines just how difficult the task is of effectively reconciling the right of individual parliamentarians and their families to privacy and to private life with the public's right to expect the highest standards of conduct from those they elect. The balance will not be an easy one to achieve.

Today we are proposing that there be a special joint committee on a code of conduct for parliamentarians structured along the same lines as the highly successful special joint committees that reviewed Canada's foreign and defence policies. That is, we are proposing that fourteen members of the House of Commons and seven members of the Senate form this committee. In addition, we are proposing that the present members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be appointed to act on behalf of the House as members of the new special joint committee.

The special joint committee's task will be a challenging one: to propose a code of conduct to guide senators and members of the House of Commons in reconciling their official responsibilities with their personal interests, including their dealings with lobbyists. The special joint committee will be directed to consult broadly and to review the approaches taken with respect to these issues in Canada and in other jurisdictions with comparable systems of government.

I alluded earlier to the fate of the past four attempts to develop a code of conduct of this sort. Those bills did not die on the Order Paper because there was serious doubt of the need for such measures; they died because there were fundamental disagreements on the specific measures being proposed.

As parliamentarians, we all know how difficult public life can be. Ministers in particular already undergo a daily scrutiny that most Canadians would find unacceptable if it were applied to them. It is important that the new special joint committee be sensitive to this fact throughout its deliberations. I say this because if our democracy is to flourish we must all be concerned

about attracting the best people to public life. I believe that an effective code of conduct can and must take this into account.

For example, as public office holders all members of this House are potentially exposed to allegations that in carrying out their public responsibilities they could be improperly furthering their private interests. Not just ministers, but all parliamentarians must confront this in light of recent changes we have put forward to reinforce the role of both standing committees and private members.

As long as parliamentarians have private interests and have responsibilities to consider, review, or propose legislation that may eventually further those interests, this is a reality we have to face. That is why the challenges facing the new special joint committee promise to be daunting.

Consider the principle of transparency. Few could dispute that accountability without transparency is of dubious value. It is therefore scarcely surprising that disclosure has been one of the common threads running through each of the four previous attempts to define a code of conduct and that the disagreement over the scope of disclosure that would be required contributed to their foundering.

Are the disclosure provisions in the conflict of interest code for ministers, which the present government updated in June 1994, a good model for all members and senators, including those who are not ministers? There is a difference in responsibilities.

What differences should there be, as a result, in the rules? Just how rigorous should disclosure requirements be for members and senators who are not ministers? Should they apply to them alone? To their spouses as well? To their immediate family members? To whom should disclosures be made and when? At what point does disclosure become intrusive? In short, where should the balance be placed?

Similarly, a revised conflict of interest code for ministers specifies what ministers can and cannot hold by way of assets. It provides clear rules concerning divestiture, either through arm's length sales or by setting up blind trusts. There are also rules in place in cases where assets are not tradable, such as ownership of a private company.

Should some or all of these rules also apply to members and senators who are not ministers? Should these rules apply retroactively or should they be grandfathered? Again, where does the right balance lie?

All members would doubtless agree that principles, no matter how resounding or how inspiring, must be grounded in concrete requirements and must apply clearly to day to day activities if they are to be meaningful and effective.

If the committee eventually recommends a set of principles for parliamentarians regarding potential conflicts of interest that are similar to those in the conflict of interest code for ministers, then several questions would arise. Should the system be based on a self-assessment peer review or scrutinized by an independent third party? How far can or should power to investigate be extended? Should there be an ethics counsellor similar to the one established for ministers? How should this regime mesh with the Criminal Code and the Parliament of Canada Act? Should sanctions be included in a new code for parliamentarians? If so, who should be responsible for their enforcement? Indeed, what legal standing should those sanctions have, if any?

Ultimately, public accountability of elected officials is achieved through the electoral process, through elections. What happens to those who abuse the system or inflict damage to its credibility between elections? What of senators who are not subject to the discipline of the ballot box? How are they to be held accountable on an ongoing basis?

Yet again, the issue comes down to one of balance.

At the end of the day, the committee will have to assess the degree to which the public has the right to be informed about the private business of elected officials and appointed senators. These issues will not be easy to settle.

I say to all Canadians that by adopting this motion, members of the House of Commons will be signalling their determination to establish standards for ethical conduct for parliamentarians that are second to none, standards in which all Canadians can take pride.

Therefore, I ask the House to give early and full approval to this motion.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Richard Bélisle Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion presented by the government House leader with respect to a code of conduct for Canadian parliamentarians is not something new in the history of parliamentary government, let alone democracy in the West. This government's proposal to appoint a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons to develop a code of conduct is in keeping with the Liberals' habit of acting as if they had a clear conscience in front of the people while at the same time continuing to scheme behind their backs.

Before looking at what this Liberal code of conduct is really about, I would like to draw the attention of the House to specific points of the government motion presented by the government

House leader. This motion provides for a committee made up of eight members of the Senate and fourteen members of the House of Commons, as well as the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is absurd, in my opinion.

We, Bloc members, suggest that the membership of this committee be reduced to three members of the Bloc Quebecois, two members of the Reform Party and seven Liberal members of Parliament. Twelve elected representatives should be plenty to examine the professional ethics of the members of this House.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

What about the senators?

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Richard Bélisle Bloc La Prairie, QC

I was getting to them, if the hon. member will let me continue. As for the senators, they are living proof of the fact that, historically, the Liberal and Conservative commitment to developing a code of conduct that would truly be enforced is really lip service. We suggest that senators not sit on this committee but set up a Senate committee to develop their own code of conduct.

Another concern is quorum. We object to a quorum which, as the notice of motion stands, does not ensure participation from the official opposition. This principle is not reflected in the wording of the government motion, which states that a quorum of the committee be 12 members. In our view, this wording needs to be changed.

Time and time again over the past 30 years, through all kinds of committee reports and bills that died on the Order Paper, one government after another tried to regulate the conduct of parliamentarians to prevent conflict between private interests and democratic duties. The conflict of interests issue is the most important aspect of parliamentary ethics. I will therefore focus on this aspect and show that there is no real political will behind this government motion.

In theory, the purpose of a code of conduct for elected representatives is of paramount importance. The public expects these people to be able, to the extent that it is possible, do as they please as concerns their economic interests. However, it also expects that, in the performance of their duties, public office holders will not become involved in business in which they have a personal economic interest. It goes without saying that conflict of interest rules must be based on the principles of impartiality and integrity.

Decision makers cannot be deemed impartial and honest if they personally profit, or can profit, from decisions. Most conflict of interest rules governing parliamentarians are incorporated in three acts of Parliament, namely: the Criminal Code, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Canada Elections Act. For example, the Parliament of Canada Act prohibits a parliamentarian from receiving any outside payment for services performed regarding any issue reviewed by the House, the Senate, or the committees of the House or of the Senate.

The same act also provides that a person cannot be elected to the House of Commons if this person has, directly or indirectly, a contract with the government which involves public money. The case of a parliamentarian who does not receive public money but is entitled to other benefits under a contract, is probably not covered by that provision, but this issue is far from being clear.

Moreover, if a parliamentarian is a shareholder of a corporation which was awarded a government contract, the ban only applies if the contract concerns the performance of public works. Consequently, a parliamentarian could invest in a corporation and thus avoid the ban. This, you will agree, is quite a loophole.

There is of course no obligation to divulge one's financial interests. However, Standing Order 21 of the House of Commons provides that no member is entitled to vote on any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and the vote of any member so interested will be disallowed.

I am only reminding the House of these rules of conduct for Canadian parliamentarians because the events of the past few years, and in particular this government's conduct, have made people rather sceptical about the Liberal government's political will to set a code of ethics to make public affairs fully transparent.

The two parties which have been in power over the past 30 years have pussyfooted around this crucial issue and have lacked the political will to introduce a serious law strictly governing their own conduct as parliamentarians.

In 1973, the federal government published a green paper called "Members of Parliament and Conflict of Interest". A brief summary of what has transpired over the last 30 years is that the two parties which have held power, the Liberals and the Conservatives, have never really had the political will to set a code of ethics for the elected.

The document I just mentioned proposed consolidating and widening the scope out the rules already in effect. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections and a Senate committee reviewed the green paper and made many recommendations. On June 10, 1975, the standing committee introduced its report on the green paper, which, in general, approved its contents and recommended a few changes.

Two years later, on June 26, 1978, Bill C-62, the Independence of Parliament Act, along with new Rules for the House and the Senate, was introduced in the House of Commons. This bill died on the Order Paper when the session ended on October 10, 1978.

However, on October 16, 1978, a slightly modified version of the same act was introduced as Bill C-6. The accompanying Rules for the House and the Senate were tabled in the House on October 30, 1978. The bill was referred to committee on March 8, 1979, but there was no ensuing action and the bill died on the Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved on March 26, 1979.

At the end of the Liberal's term of office, on July 7, 1983, a federal study group was set up to examine the principles and rules governing conflict of interest and their evolution and to decide whether the issue should be dealt with differently. The report did not appear until May 1984. It was entitled "Ethical Conduct in the Public Sector" and was known as the Starr-Sharp report.

With a new government, there were new political practices. On November 15, 1985, the Conservative government asked the Standing Committee on Management and Members' Services to consider the appropriateness of setting up a register of members' interests. As part of its work, the committee was to decide whether it was appropriate to disclose the remuneration members received for sitting on the boards of directors of public or private firms or for performing other duties or occupying other positions in various organizations.

After consulting the members of all parties, the committee concluded that there was no need to set up such a register and that existing legislation on members' conflicts of interest was sufficient. And the saga continues. In February 1988, Bill C-114, Members of the Senate and House of Commons Conflict of Interest Act, was given first reading.

In September 1988, the legislative committee on Bill C-114 met three times, but was unable to finish considering the bill before Parliament was dissolved, on October 1, 1988.

In November 1989, the scenario was repeated with the first reading of Bill C-46, Members of the Senate and House of Commons Conflict of Interest Act. This bill was essentially the same as Bill C-114, with a few minor changes.

This bill died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued on May 12, 1991. November 1991 marked the first reading of Bill C-43, Members of the Senate and House of Commons Conflict of Interest Act. This bill was almost identical to the bills I have already mentioned: Bill C-114 and Bill C-46.

Incidentally, the bill was immediately referred to a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons.

In March 1993, first reading of Bill C-116, the Conflict of Interests of Public Office Holders Act, which included amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act. Finally, in June 1993, a report from the Special Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate recommended that Bill C-116 be set aside. The same day, a similar report was tabled in the Senate. Bills C-43 and C-116 died on the Order Paper, upon dissolution of the 34th Parliament on September 8, 1993.

This whole process, illustrating how the issue of a code of ethics for Canadian parliamentarians has been dealt with, is a political masquerade. All to make the Liberals feel good about themselves and rationalize the federal view of democracy in Canada.

Throughout the election campaign in the fall of 1993, the Liberal Party of Canada maintained that ethics would be an important aspect of its mandate. In the Speech from the Throne in January 1994, the government said that integrity and public trust in the institutions of government were essential. It would therefore appoint an ethics counsellor who, it was hoped, would be a symbol of government integrity and a guarantee of public trust.

However, as far as the most important aspect of the code of ethics-conflict of interest-is concerned, the ethics counsellor appointed by the federal government continues to report to the Privy Council and has no independent powers of investigation. He continues to report to the Prime Minister himself.

The Liberal Party's red book pointed out, and I quote; "The integrity of government is put into question when there is a perception that the public agenda is set by lobbyists exercising undue influence away from public view".

Recent events have shown that the whole Liberal strategy of a code of ethics for parliamentarians, as confirmed in the government motion before the House today, is just another way to deceive the public.

For instance, the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, which is the responsibility of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, do not mean much when faced by the powerful lobby of Power DirecTv, headed by André Desmarais, the Prime Minister's son-in-law. The Liberal government has even stooped to defend concepts dear to the hearts of Mulroney Conservatives and is now singing the praises of competition on a North American scale.

Reading the orders from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, we get the impression that Power Corporation is calling the shots and we can kiss democracy goodbye, in a federal system where capital is still king. We should be concerned about the narrow view taken by our institutions and our political representatives in this case. The government not only ignored its own legislation and the CRTC, which is responsible for implementing that legislation, it also introduced retroactive measures that will prevent Expressvu from launching its service next September. And all this in the name of competition. Meanwhile, the red book's ethics counsellor is camping in the Prime Minister's waiting room.

And what about a recent trip to Los Angeles by this same minister of Canadian Heritage, to meet the leaders of the US film industry, at the very moment that the Seagram consortium was acquiring MCA. At issue is the fact that MCA had a Canadian subsidiary, Cineplex Odeon. Investment Canada, which reports to the Minister of Industry, will have to determine the nationality of Seagram. If this company turned out not to be Canadian, the Department of Canadian Heritage would then have to issue a notice of validity for the takeover. Obviously, the real reason the Minister of Canadian Heritage travelled to Los Angeles was to assure the Liberals' friends at Seagram that Ottawa would give favourable consideration to the deal.

While the Government House Leader is tabling a motion calling for the establishment of a special committee responsible for developing a code of conduct for parliamentarians, behind the scenes this very government is flouting the most basic rules of democracy by favouring the friends of the Liberal Party and governing on behalf of the financial establishment and those with big money in Canada.

Before closing, I would like to go over in this House some elements of the Bloc Quebecois's dissenting report on Bill C-43 to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.

As I said, conflicts of interest and lobbyists' activities are the main issues to be addressed in developing a code of ethics governing the activities of parliamentarians in modern democracies.

Western democratic institutions are currently facing a public credibility gap, as you will agree. A good example is the percentage of people who voted in the last presidential election in the U.S. Clearly, it has now become necessary to restore the public's confidence in government. If this goal is to be achieved, public policies must be discussed, debated, amended and, above all, set openly and publicly. This concern is at the heart of the society we plan to build in Quebec. Among other things, we want to leave the federal political scene because it has been dominated for too long by the Liberals' political scheming.

As we have seen, once in office, this government considerably watered down the commitments it had made in its red book during the fall 1993 election campaign. This about-face has raised in the people's minds legitimate questions regarding the Liberal government's real desire to develop a code of ethics for parliamentarians. Given the gap between election promises and concrete legislative measures, we can only conclude that the final version of Bill C-43 was probably dictated by lobbyists.

The Bloc Quebecois feels that, to restore the integrity of our democratic institutions, we must first do away with the futile commitments of the last 30 years, which mislead voters. We must also ensure that the administration of government business is as open as possible, in order to eliminate grey areas and assure the people that policy decisions are consistent with the general interests of the population and not those of powerful lobby groups.

After only 17 months in office, this government already has a long record attesting to its lack of openness. In addition to the examples mentioned earlier and to the damning legislative record with respect to a parliamentary code of conduct, we will recall that, on September 26, 1994, Canadian Press reported that, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, lobbyists had met repeatedly with government members in the months leading to the tabling of the current Bill C-43 and others had threatened to take their case to court if the legislation required them to disclose their political ties. That takes some doing, Mr. Speaker.

In that case, as in many others, lack of transparency made it impossible for the public to know the nature and extent of lobbyists' efforts regarding Bill C-43. Ironically, lobbyists have managed to influence the development of legislation designed to limit their influence. Let us face it, as it stands, Bill C-43 is of no use to prevent the kind of troubling events surrounding the privatization of Pearson Airport or the matter involving the heritage minister himself.

What is worse, according to Mitchell Sharp himself, the Prime Minister's senior counsellor on matters of ethics, even if Bill C-43 had been in force at the time the discussions concerning the privatization of terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson Airport took place, the public would not have been better informed. The majority report on Bill C-43 tabled by the government members on the committee is a timid attempt to regulate the activities of lobbyists and ensure transparency in the management of government.

Again, the government's attitude in this matter shows that what the Liberals say about ethics has no foundation. They are only trying to soothe their consciences and look good in front of the electorate.

The business of the letter in support of an application for a licence that the Minister of Canadian Heritage wrote to the CRTC, a supposedly independent agency under his authority, brought to light the flaws of Bill C-43 with respect to the role of the ethics counsellor himself. We will recall that the Prime Minister delayed seeking the counsellor's advice on this thorny matter for more than three weeks.

By waiting so long and consulting the ethics counsellor only at the last minute, after he had made his decision, the Prime

Minister showed his lack of consideration for the ethics counsellor. The head of the Liberal government simply wanted to add another adviser to his staff. The appointment of an ethics counsellor, following a commitment made by the Liberals during the election campaign, was only a ploy designed to give to the public the impression that the government was taking concrete measures to ensure the integrity of Canadian institutions. The Bloc Quebecois believes that the issues of ethics, transparency and public confidence in democratic institutions and management of government business are not the prerogative of a political party, a government or a Prime Minister but, rather, of democratic institutions as a whole.

This is why, in its dissenting report, the Bloc recommended that the ethics counsellor be appointed by Parliament for a period of seven years, during good behaviour.

The Pearson airport scandal, in Toronto, provided a clear example of the laxness of the current disclosure rules concerning the activities and dealings of lobbyists. In its report, the Bloc insisted that lobbyists must disclose the representations they make to federal officials regarding legislative proposals. The Bloc essentially recommended that all lobbyists be forced to disclose the contracts for which they try to influence the federal administration.

We tabled over 20 amendments in committee regarding Bill C-43. All were rejected by government members who, in several cases, were not present when testimonies were given, and who did not take part in the discussions in recent months. We were hoping that the new rules, or at least the direction and commitments of the Liberal Party of Canada, would ensure full dress debate of such a vital issue for a democracy. The motion tabled by the Liberal government to appoint a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons to develop a code of conduct is just another measure following many others which never helped change political habits in this country.

The Liberals' intentions regarding the development of a code of conduct, which reflect those of the Seagram family and Power Corporation, are only intended to fool the public and give the government good political conscience.

In conclusion, I would like to table an amendment to the government's motion. I propose, seconded by the hon. member for Bellechasse:

That the motion be amended:

(a) by deleting, in the first paragraph, the words "Special Joint", "of the Senate" and "Senators and";

(b) by deleting, in the second paragraph, the words "seven Members of the Senate and";

(c) by replacing, in the eight paragraph,

(i) the figure "11" with the following: "8";

(ii) the words "Houses" with the following: "opposition parties";

(iii) the words "Joint Chairpersons" with the following: "Chairperson";

(d) by deleting, in the ninth paragraph, the words "Senate and";

(e) by deleting the twelfth paragraph;

(f) by deleting the thirteenth paragraph.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair will take this amendment under advisement and rule accordingly later today. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Elk Island.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a delight to be here this morning to address the motion before us. The question of ethics and conduct of members of Parliament and the Senate is a very important issue to Canadians.

I regret that almost immediately after I became a member of Parliament people began attributing to me characteristics I did not possess. Immediately they said because I was now in politics I must be such and such. They made all sorts of allegations and accusations which are not true. I like to think that having become a member of Parliament has not immediately blighted my character. The question of how we deal with perception of Canadians on ethical matters is of great importance.

I applaud the government for at least having the courage to begin the debate. I also have a fear that in this debate as in others we may have more smoke and mirrors, more symbolism than substance. We must have a mechanism which will satisfy the anxieties of Canadians when they feel their politicians are not behaving correctly.

The Order Paper indicated the committee producing this code of conduct is comprised of eight members of the Senate and fourteen members of the House of Commons. The solicitor general indicated there were to be seven members of the Senate. I presume seven is the correct number since that is what he said and the Order Paper must have been changed. Perhaps we could get clarification on that in the future. Whether there are seven or eight is irrelevant to my debate, and so I do not need that answer immediately. We will want to get that clarified.

In my previous profession I was a mathematics teacher in high school for four years and then at a technical institute for 27 years. Very early in my teaching career at high school some 30 years ago I had a debate with my students. The question was why should they respect me.

I still remember the essence of that debate. It helped me then to solidify a principle which I have kept all my life up to this point. I appealed to my students. I said let us start off with the premise that because of my position I am worthy of respect, instead of the one that I am not worthy of respect.

Then I said: "Let us not leave it there. As you get to know me better as I work as your teacher I hope I will be able to earn your respect. You will find I know my subject well, am able to communicate it and that I am fair in my marking". In all these different aspects of a teacher's life there would be a development of a respect which was earned.

With all due respect to the government's intention of having a joint committee to form a code of conduct the bottom line is, has been and will continue to be that those of us elected to public office will have to earn that respect. To a large degree that is an individual effort.

Some people, whether there is a code of conduct and/or a code of ethics which is greatly detailed, will not live up to it. They will lose the respect of the voters in their constituencies and probably throughout the country. Others, whether there is a code of conduct or a code of ethics or not, will generally behave in an honourable way. I like to think that will be the majority of us.

Allegations of dishonesty and others against politicians are the attribution I believe of the characteristics of very few to the greater number. In a way that is most regrettable, but it is an opportunity for us to take some action to correct the misperceptions and incorrect behaviour.

The purpose of the committee is to produce a code of conduct to guide senators and members of the House of Commons in reconciling their official responsibilities with their personal interests, including their dealings with lobbyists. The motion has come out of Bill C-43 to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act. These items are tied together.

I have a substantial question. How did it ever happen that we need to address this question? Most lobbyists do not waste too much time with members of Parliament; they go to the the loop of power. They will go to deputy ministers and cabinet ministers. They will try to influence the Prime Minister. They will probably try to influence anybody who has the power or the authority to make decisions.

We now have need for a code of conduct that will address the question of what kind of activity or what kind of dialogue is morally acceptable between a lobbyist and a person in a position of power.

Our democracy has gone awry. If these matters were working correctly we would have each member of Parliament faithfully and dutifully representing the wishes of his or her constituents. There would be open debate in this place and in committees. There would be freedom from coercion from the party. As a member of Parliament I would have freedom to express in both the debate and in the vote the wishes and aspirations of my constituents.

We have lobbyists who try to influence public policy, which is an aberration of the democratic process. I applaud the process. It is necessary given the way things work around here. It should be unnecessary because we would not even contemplate permitting special interest groups and lobby groups to be the sole determiners of public policy.

We also have the question of procurement, which is probably the larger one. The government is the largest doer of business in the country. To be successful in an enterprise often means being successful in gaining government contracts. In some instances individuals basically get set up for life because they were successful in that regard. To be able to get a government contract we have the scenario of lobbyists affecting the decision maker.

It seems there are two levels of lobbying. I may be wrong. I am relatively new here but I have done some study of it and I have kept my eyes and ears open. There are two levels on a continuum. At one end end of the spectrum we have totally legitimate representation of what a firm or company can do. We have its track record in producing what it contracted to produce and the quality of the product or the service. It is straight information gathering. If procurement in government were handled correctly, they would be part of the conditions of contracts when bids are let, and I believe they are. That information goes on the public record as part of the decision making in letting a contract.

Another kind of lobbying is the one we need to address. It has people, and rightly so, greatly upset. I am referring to the mechanism whereby the subtle pressure or influence is probably not deep enough to warrant a judicial investigation: "You are my friend" or a friend of a friend "and we would like to be given special consideration because of that".

I do not think it happens a great deal, but there are certainly a lot of suspicions about it happening too often when we consider the reaction of Canadians and talk about the issues with them. I cannot help but think of some specific instances in the area for which I am critic. It is very negative that allegations are even made.

We always get the message that the situation has been misunderstood, that we do not have the facts and that the allegations are false. We have not had it in the past and I regret that with the changes in Bill C-43 and with the motion we are not likely to have a mechanism with the authenticity to satisfy the questions Canadians have.

As I said in my speech on Bill C-43, we have two kinds of problems. One is where there are allegations of wrongdoing and the allegations are accurate. We need to have a mechanism to identify the allegations and bring the responsible people to accountability. I do not believe Bill C-43, the present Lobbyists

Registration Act or the motion and the possible outcome of the committee's work will actually answer that question. It should but I do not think it will. I ask the House to pardon my scepticism.

Then we have the other problem which is just as important. It has to do with the basic principles of law. I have had a lot of opportunity to discuss matters of government and related issues with students, especially with respect to the Young Offenders Act. We often get quite distinct overreactions to how harsh the law should be.

I had a discussion with some students not long ago. We came to the conclusion that the law had two functions in which it must be very accurate. It must accurately declare innocent the people who are truly innocent. It is not acceptable in our legal system to declare people guilty who are truly innocent. We must declare them innocent if they are. That is mostly done and is an aspect of the motion that I think is being missed. If an allegation is made that has no basis in fact, we do not have the mechanism to declare in a persuasive way that things are well. That is the missing element.

I have already mentioned the other part: if an allegation is made and there is guilt, the process of law, if it is court or this process here, should accurately declare guilty the guilty people. I am more concerned about allegations toward innocent people.

There have been cries from the government in the last several weeks on the issues we have brought forward. Allegations are being made and the government keeps saying there is nothing wrong and that nothing has gone bad. Can we believe that? We do not have an independent person, an independent ethics counsellor who can be trusted because he is at a reasonable distance from the government.

I would like to say something peripherally. Last weekend I was talking to some constituents back home. Their concerns have to do with much broader issues than even the points I have been making so far. The Solicitor General mentioned one of the concerns in his intervention. He wants to remove from people's perception that public office holders are able to use their offices for their own advantage.

With great concern several people in my constituency raised the issue of the MP pension plan. That is probably the greatest private interest exercised by members of the government. It is an instance where every one of them benefits from his or her position. They are in positions as members of Parliament to vote themselves an outrageously excessive pension plan compared to private industry. It is outrageously excessive compared to what is allowed in the Income Tax Act for private citizens. If that is not conflict of interest I do not know what is, but we have no mechanism to deal with it. That is a little aside from the main thrust of what I am speaking about today.

I have another concern with regard to the committee. It has a fair number of members. It is directed to consult broadly and review the approaches taken with respect to the issues in Canada and in other jurisdictions with comparable systems of government.

I am to be asked by my party to be one of the representatives on the committee. Frankly I have a bit of fear that for some 20 members plus staff this spells travel all over the world. The committee will probably want to go to Australia to see how it is done there. Maybe it will want to go to Singapore to see how it is done there. Maybe it will want to go to Thailand, England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. It will go on and on; it will have to travel to a number of the states of the United States to investigate fully and consult broadly.

I am prejudging but it has happened so often that when a committee is struck its travel and expenses escalate right out of sight. I do not think Canadian taxpayers have the stomach to foot $20 million or $30 million for the study of something so self-evident that it should not be necessary. Here we are doing it and giving broad ranging rights or commitments to the committee that it have all these powers.

I urge the government at some stage before we are asked to vote to say that it will limit the expenditures of the committee to a stated figure. Why do committees not have a budget they have to live within? That is a missing element.

Other clerical points are stated. I would comment on them but I am running out of time. I want to state one more issue with respect to whom we will hear from. I am afraid the committee will listen primarily to us, that is we shall listen to ourselves. Once again we will have the fox proclaiming he did not eat the chicken. We need to ensure the witnesses at the committee present broad points of view and not just listen to MPs and senators who are primarily affected by the rules and the code to be produced.

We need to listen to Canadians. We need to listen to the taxpayers and wage earners. For example, this past weekend I talked to one young couple who are on UI. They have no reasonable hopes for a job. They are paying the bills. Those are the people we should be listening to on this matter, to see what expectations they have of public office holders.

It is mandatory that we have input from ordinary Canadians on issues such as this. They are continually left out of having influence on these decisions. They are not asked. They are given

no choice. They are told to pay the bills and are coerced to do it through taxation.

I strongly recommend that if the committee does its work and does it well and there could be an independent ethics counsellor to enforce it, then there would be some gains. This committee should do its work very thoroughly. Because of the lack of an independent ethics counsellor, the work of this committee is ever so much more important.

It is pivotal that this committee do good work to come up with a very clear, well defined code of conduct. I would like to see it get into some of the ethical matters as well. It helps to deteriorate the respect of government when members of Parliament and senators break laws which are part of the Criminal Code with increasing frequency. That issue is not being addressed. We need to address it in a very emphatic and strong way.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I too have a few words to say in support of the motion put forward by my friend and colleague, the government House leader and solicitor general. It is a very good government initiative. I want to respond ever so briefly to my two colleagues who just preceded me, the gentleman from Elk Island and the gentleman from La Prairie.

I heard my good friend the former high school teacher, as I am, talk about stereotyping politicians. I could not agree with him more. As an educator, like him I am sure, I had some standing in education before coming into politics. I found that the morning after, all the people who had previously sought my opinion on education matters had no interest at all in my opinion even on education matters.

There was a stereotyping, as he said. There was the suggestion that he had acquired some new characteristics simply because he had been labelled as an elected politician. I identify very much with what he said on that issue.

I say to him kindly that he should not fall into his own trap. He should not do what he, in the previous mouthful, condemned others of doing. I identify with him that the stereotyping is unfortunate. In his very next sentence he proceeded to say: "I hope this government does not do what all the other governments have done".

I ask him to allow the same suspension of judgment on this issue that he asked people to accord him as a newly elected politician. This is a newly elected government. It was elected the same day he was elected. I think he understands exactly what I am saying.

I identify also with the comment he made about no code. A code cannot be written tightly enough or properly enough to address the situation in its fullness. Finally one comes back to the respect that people must earn. I would like to elaborate on that a little later.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for La Prairie expressed some concerns about the quorum of the special joint committee. I am sure the hon. member knows perfectly well that what he is suggesting does not even exist in the case of the House, and for good reason.

My friend from La Prairie suggested that the proposed committee ought to have the provision that the opposition would have to be present for a quorum to be in effect. He should think about that for a moment. I am sure he means well, but he should really think about it. He is asking that the committee have an authority that no other committee of the House has, nor does the Chamber, and for very good reason. Just think about it for a moment.

Let us apply it to the Chamber. If the Chamber had the requirement that we could do not do business unless there was a member of the opposition present, we would then give to the opposition, the minority in normal times, the right to boycott business. Therefore, it could prevent business from taking place.

The framers of the provisions that make this place function, and in Westminister and elsewhere, wisely saw the trap of that kind of proposal. That is why in the Chamber technically we can do business with only the government party present, provided there is a sufficient number of people in the House, that a quorum is present. That is the way it ought to be. Technically that is the way it can happen, but it very rarely happens that way.

As my friend from Elk Island is anticipating by his comment a moment ago, committees are the masters of their own rules. There is nothing in this resolution before us now to prevent the committee from setting out certain ground rules as to how it operates, who shall be present for taking of evidence, what members should be present for making decisions and so on. In that context, the committee itself can address the issue my friend from La Prairie has raised.

Let me appeal to members of the House to first demolish the very prevalent myth that what is seen on the television news every evening and what is heard on the radio news every day is typical of what happens in this House. That is a very big myth.

I will put it into terms for the people who do not sit here. Imagine for a moment that you had a camera on you for every hour of your eight or ten hour working day in your own life as a housewife, carpenter or teacher. Suppose you had a camera on you for every moment of the day. Would you be deadly serious for all of those eight hours? Would there be times when you would be less committed to your immediate objectives than at

other times during the day? Would there not be times when you might show a little fatigue or a little annoyance if you had a camera on you every minute of your working day? That is the way it is in the Chamber.

Couple that fact with another. Members of the news media are not paid to report the mundane. Something they see here may be quite effective and quite productive, but if in their characterization it is mundane or run of the mill and ordinary, they are not going to report it.

What makes the evening news is the atypical, the stuff that does not represent the cross section of what goes on here. What goes on here to the outsider is by and large fairly boring, I have to admit. It is fairly mundane. If they were to report that as a matter of course, the news media may well lose their positions in the ratings. I understand why certain things are reported on the evening news. I understand that well and I do not debate it. Do not be hoodwinked by the myth that what is seen on the evening news is representative of what goes on here. Anyone who sits here knows it is not representative.

Let us deal with the myth that histrionics and theatrics are somehow evil tools in the conduct of public business. Mr. Speaker, you and I in our family situations, in our social situations, in our church situations use theatrics and histrionics. It is part of our stock and trade. How mundane would life be if we felt the need to speak in unmodulated monotones all the time?

The idea that somehow to make a point here we should not get the fellow's attention first is an idea that runs contrary to the way we operate when we go into the salesroom to buy a car, to make a purchase or to deal with our neighbour about where his fence should not be. It is part of our nature to use histrionics. Do not ask me to shake off my basic nature when I come in here.

The 90,000 people in Burin-St. George's who elected me elected me for a number of reasons. I say me. We can extrapolate that and say any member in the Chamber. I assume they elected me because of what I am and who I am, warts and all. Maybe they saw some assets in some of the warts in terms of their capacity to be represented, for me to be their voice here. They did not tell me to become a robot, a voting machine. They told me: "Go up and show them some of your guts. Tell them what you feel about rural Newfoundland". That is called theatrics. That is called expressing it from the gut. Take that out of Parliament and we can write all the codes of conduct we want but we will not have a very effective Parliament.

Accountability is central to the functioning of this place. Accountability to the people of Canada. I will fill in the blanks for the member for Elk Island if he is not sure of what I am saying.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB


Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

I say in fairness to my good friend from Elk Island that we can do this one of two ways: question and answer, or the way I did with him which was to listen to what he had to say. If he has some questions, there is a 10-minute period after and he can ask me all the questions he wants to ask. I do not mind the other way because I like the thrust of spontaneous debate. I have a certain train of thought going and I would like to keep it going for at least one minute. My attention span is not very long. It gets even shorter when I get intelligent fellows like the member for Elk for Island picking on me.

Accountability to the people of Canada is central to the functioning of Parliament. If the histrionics and theatrics are removed, we lessen the chance of accountability. Any prime minister or minister, of whatever party stripe, can craft a good neat answer that will cover his or her rear end if there is time to do it. But use the element of surprise, use some theatrics and histrionics during question period and we will get the unvarnished truth sometimes. That is why we have question period, so we can have some of that unvarnished, unrehearsed accountability.

Members may ask what this has to do with the motion that there be a committee to look at a code of conduct. It has everything to do with it. I have a particular fear about this committee. I support the motion wholeheartedly. It is a good idea, but I fear that when the committee sits down to do its work, it might get over-anxious about its mandate or misinterpret its mandate or go beyond its mandate altogether.

The committee should keep in mind it is not dealing with a bunch of angels here, nor should it be. It is dealing with people who represent a cross section of Canada. Canadians for all their goodness by and large are not angels. Do not try to write a code of conduct that would do credit to the angels.

As my friend from Elk Island said, using other words a little earlier, the ultimate functioning of this place is predicated, as it ought to be, on the integrity of those elected to serve here. Those who abuse the trust given to them by the electorate will be dealt with not by any committee, not by any code of conduct. They will be dealt with by the electorate as they ought to be.

At the same time the proposed code of conduct is needed and must have teeth. I do not want a lot of flowery expressions, however laudable, from this committee about what I ought to be doing here. I have a fairly good idea of what I ought to be doing here. I would rather have some provisions that would help me to ensure that I do the right things and if I stray from the narrow path, will discipline me for doing so.

The practice of parliamentary immunity is one that we need. We want to allow freedom of expression in the Chamber. I want to be able to say everything I need to say on behalf of the people who sent me here without fear of being dragged into a court of law. That is why we have parliamentary immunity. The flip side

of the coin is that the irresponsible person can use parliamentary immunity as a shield for irresponsible behaviour. It has been done.

In the context of this proposed code of conduct here is what I suggest. This is just by way of example. I suggest that the code include a provision that if a member stands in his or her place and makes an allegation which is subsequently established to be unfounded, that the member be disciplined, with the caveat that if the person did it unwittingly and it could be demonstrated that he or she did it unwittingly, then it is a different issue.

There are many examples. I have seen in the Chamber, and in the other chamber in which I had the privilege of sitting in Newfoundland, members rise to espouse positions, to make allegations and to enter into character assassinations and smear jobs using information which they knew to be blatantly false. They had it both ways. They said it in the chamber and, therefore, they could not be taken into a court of law to prove the allegation. It would be reported by a press person in the gallery what was alleged and the damage was done.

Therefore, I appeal to the committee to ensure that whatever code of conduct it crafts it be one that has some teeth in its enforcement.

I have had much pleasure in supporting the motion, not as my hon. friend from Elk Island implied because I have been told to, but because I have great faith and a great belief that it is the way to go.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really enjoyed the intervention of the hon. member for Burin-St. George's, as I always do. He speaks with eloquence and with humour, which is a very good mixture.

He talked about how often allegations are made which are unfounded. That is the point we are failing to address. When someone in the government is accused of something, rightly or wrongly, it is the mechanism of government that comes to his or her defence. We must have the independence of the auditor general in the body of the ethics counsellor so that he or she is seen to be totally independent of any influence and can put the right spin on the investigation. That is the missing link. I believe that is the Achilles' heel of Bill C-43 and this motion.

I ask the hon. member to expand on his remarks on accountability to the Canadian people. I know what he will say, so I will anticipate that and ask the second question.

He will probably say that every time there is an election the people of his constituency and every constituency across the country have the right to turf out their MP in favour of another MP, another party or whatever. That is the usual stock answer we receive. How does the Canadian voter ever get to vote on issues which were not a part of the election campaign? They have no input.

I observe there is a great deal of party discipline. People vote not the way their constituents tell them to vote but the way they are told to vote. It is obvious to me and I wonder whether it is not also obvious to the hon. member.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from Elk Island.

Without instructing the committee on what it should do, I am hoping that it will look very hard at the idea of an independent ethics counsellor. It should be an ethics counsellor separate from the one that advises the government. In my view they are two distinct entities. A person trying to do both would be in a conflict of interest. I would like to see an independent ethics counsellor under the aegis of the mandate of this committee.

The member is in danger of getting into circular arguments about consulting the electorate. I consulted the electorate in October 1993 when I was elected. It just so happened we did not have in front of us the 1,017 items we are going to deal with. Therefore I could not ask them to vote 1,017 times for this and against this. I am glad we did not because that is not the way Parliament operates.

They did not elect me to come to Ottawa to vote for or against gun control or anything else. They elected me on the basis of my being able to use my best judgment and being accessible to them to ensure that my judgment is influenced by what they think on particular issues. That means I have to be accessible.

I was in my riding in Newfoundland this past weekend, the weekend before and I will be there four days from now. I cannot do any more unless I spend all my time there and no time here. I have to speak for me only. I am very accessible to the people I represent. I know their points of view and I believe I relay them faithfully.

If we carry this idea to the extreme we will not need members, we will just need 27 million buttons where everybody pushes a button next to where they operate the electric can opener or microwave. It will be a parliamentary button saying how they will vote. Today they will vote on taxes, tomorrow on paved

roads and the next day on something else. It might be a workable system in some ways but the system we have is also workable. I advocate continuing with the one we have rather than the push button next to the microwave.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with a great deal of interest to what the hon. member for Burin-St. George's had to say. Nevertheless, I want him to know that when I decided to go into politics at the federal level, I faced even more resistance from members of my immediate family, especially my eldest son, when he came home with a copy of the Journal de Montréal that contained certain polling results.

People were asked to rate various professions according to the degree of confidence they had in these professions. Unfortunately for me and for all here present, we ranked 27 out of 28, just ahead of used-car dealers. So my son told me: "Dad, if you go into politics, if you are ever elected, I am afraid you will become a-", and I will let you fill in the word my 22-year old son used.

If I am not mistaken, the hon. member for Burin-St. George's voted against the motion moved by the hon. member for Richelieu-if I am wrong, I am sure he will say so-since the major problem for politicians is money. Remember what happened to Pearson airport in Toronto. The Bloc Quebecois forced a major debate on the issue in this House, and it is not over yet. The matter is still before the Senate.

So wherever money is concerned, people often tend to cheat. The Bloc Quebecois, through the hon. member for Richelieu, presented a motion in the House proposing that, like the system in the Quebec legislature, party fundraising would be a very democratic process, in which only individual voters would be able to donate funds to political parties. So "Power steering" Seagram and the banks would not be able to donate a single penny to political parties. And making fun of this very common sense approach suggested by the hon. member for Richelieu, a Liberal backbencher moved that no voter be allowed to donate more than one dollar, and government members voted in favour of that.

When the hon. member for Burin-St. George's said parliamentary immunity should be maintained and that his constituents voted for him because of his qualifications-he had some faults but they were negligible-he never mentioned the need for above-board fundraising. I think it is nice to visit our constituents and ask them for financial support so that we can continue our work. And then when they put a hand on our shoulder and say: "Chrétien, you are doing a good job, keep up the good work and here is $25", that is encouraging. I would rather get $25 from one of my constituents than $25,000 from the Royal Bank of Canada, which would make me totally dependent on the bank.

In this House I am a free man, and when I feel like criticizing, I go right ahead and do it.

So I would ask the hon. member for Burin-St. George's what he would suggest in the way of no strings attached fundraising to his colleagues in caucus. You know, when a party is in power, it may develop some very good ideas, as the Parti Quebecois did, but often they are put on the backburner.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Roger Simmons Liberal Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I can identify with the comments of my colleague for Frontenac about the survey on the level of people's trust in politicians. At the same time, however, I believe that the impressions were created by the politicians themselves. This morning, in the House, for example, we heard comments and allegations about politicians' reputations.

If we as politicians spend all our time telling the public what a terrible bunch of people we are, we should not be surprised if they begin believing us. We can only change that by example.

In my last election campaign the largest contribution I received from anybody was $1,000. I have refused large amounts of money over the years for leadership campaigns. I refused a $15,000 contribution on one occasion for a leadership campaign, and that refusal I have documented if members would like to see it.

I believe, as the member does, that if persons and companies give you large sums of money it is not because they like you, it is because they would like to rent you. I do not think we should be in that business.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before we go on, I must inform the House that the motion of the hon. member for La Prairie is admissible.

We will therefore now continue the debate on the amendment to the motion with the hon. member for Chicoutimi.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for having allowed the motion of my colleague for La Prairie. The Bloc Quebecois will support the motion.

For as long as the members opposite have been in power, Canadians and Quebecers alike have helplessly watched as political scandals teeming with conflicts of interest have unfolded with every passing week and month right before our eyes, without the government, currently sitting on its majority, revealing any pangs of conscience.

By stating on the weekend in Trois-Rivières that he had succeeded in restoring honesty and integrity in Ottawa, after only 18 months in power, the Prime Minister simply added fuel to the fire. Did he not have to defend his own actions last week? Did he not come to the defence of his Minister of Canadian Heritage, who, for the second time in recent months, found himself in a conflict of interest situation by attending a dinner given by an American film giant? Integrity and honesty here border on scandal.

I would like, if I may, to refer to the red book, which the Liberals were forever brandishing about during the last election campaign. I note in passing, however, that we hear less and less about it, since the government is unable to deliver the goods, that is, jobs. This government deserves its title of government of unemployment and poverty. The red book refers to integrity in chapter 6, on page 90, in the following terms:

The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable. If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored-

A little further on, at page 91, we have the following:

If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored.

Once again, this is wishful thinking, but it is no longer enough these days.

Let us be realistic about these things. Conflicts of interest are not new, they have always been with us. However, in recent years, such conflicts involving those in public office have caused a lot of concern in the public. Not surprising, then, that the public gives politicians the lowest approval rating.

Clearly, even the slightest hint of a conflict of interest causes the public to lose confidence in the integrity of public office holders. Need I even mention the cavalier and scandalous behaviour of certain ministers and of those working closest with them, most often relatives, which has made the need for this code of conduct greater now than ever before.

The code of conduct we are demanding would distinguish between MPs, Cabinet members and their staffs. The Bloc Quebecois is against creating a joint committee of senators and MPs. In our opinion, only the elected should be able to deliberate on this issue. Members of the other place do not represent the population and, hence, cannot take part in decisions which are the sole responsibility of those who must answer to the electorate. Furthermore, their reputation has been more than tainted recently, by their own actions, behaviour, words and the high-budget foreign trips which some members of the other place have taken. I will not name any names. And, in reality, the issue that interests us is ethics in Parliament, so, let us directly address it.

According to Mr. Justice Parker, who presided over the inquiry into the alleged conflict of interest in the case of the hon. Sinclair Stevens a few years ago, there are several kinds of conflicts of interest. For example, a real conflict of interest occurs when a minister is aware that a personal financial interest is great enough to influence the exercise of his or her official functions and responsibilities. This definition should be noted.

In addition, according to Mr. Justice Parker, a potential conflict of interest always exists when a minister ends up in a situation in which a personal financial interest could influence the exercise of official functions and responsibilities which were not yet exercised. A potential conflict of interest becomes a real conflict when the minister does not dispose of the holdings in question or does not resign from public office. These are the issues which the committee should be examining.

Mr. Justice Parker also stated that an apparent conflict of interest occurs when a reasonably well informed person has a reasonable doubt that a conflict of interest exists. This happens almost daily in this House.

Impartiality and integrity underlie any conflict of interest rules. Decision-makers cannot be regarded as impartial and upright if they benefit or might benefit personally from their decisions. The members opposite have learned this the hard way.

Government's actions over the past 18 months have seriously shaken public confidence in government institutions. We need a code of conduct to restore public confidence and improve the government's image, especially as certain types of conflict of interest are unavoidable. This is the case of inherent conflicts of interest, which are due to the fact that parliamentarians are also members of society, and as such are either landlords, parents or consumers.

Also, there are unavoidable sources of conflict because parliamentarians represent constituents with whom they share common private interests, be it farming, fishing or natural resources development.

Family business raise a particular issue as this category generally covers a whole array of assets, debts and financial interests. It is usually at such interests that the conflict of interest legislation is aimed as they may have a significant impact on the independence of lawmakers.

The most common interests that may put lawmakers in a conflict of interest situation are the following. First of all, investments; then, debts which can be a source of conflict; also,

as managers, they must act in the best interests of their companies, whereas, as members of Parliament, they have an obligation to the public; offices held in companies may be a source of conflict.

Another potential source of conflict is other positions or professional activities. Let me give you a definition. To what extent should parliamentarians be allowed to practise law, act as consultants or hold any other kind of position? A lawmaker might attract more clients if they believed the lawmaker could increase their influence on the federal government.

There is also lobbying. It is absolutely normal for legislators to deal with government officials on behalf of their constituents, but what about MPs who take advantage of their positions to promote their own interests, or one who is paid to act for a third party? Conflicts of interest can also arise, in the case of government contracts. To what extent should members of Parliament have the right to own shares in companies that get government contracts?

Gifts and fees are another element. Should a member of Parliament be authorized to accept free trips, vacations and other gifts from acquaintances or foreign governments? Can fees be considered as gifts in disguise?

Information obtained in the performance of one's official duties can also cause conflicts of interest. Must we implement control measures to prevent legislators from using such information for personal purposes?

Finally, what about spouses and children? To what extent should the interests mentioned earlier be controlled if they belong to relatives of a member of Parliament? This is no small issue. MPs could be influenced just as much by interests owned by their families as by their own. Out of politeness, I will not insist on that point; it would simply be too easy to do so.

As you know, all of us here are governed by statutory and parliamentary rules. However, there are some contradictions in the legislation. It prevents some public office holders from being candidates but does not prevent members of Parliament from accepting those same offices once they have been elected.

Another example comes from the fact that the Parliament of Canada Act states that a person cannot be elected to the House of Commons if he or she holds a government contract providing for the expenditure of public moneys. However if a member of Parliament does not receive public money, but benefits otherwise from such a contract, he probably will not fall under this provision, but that is far from being clear, and this is the part that hurts the most. That is far from being clear.

Finally, a parliamentarian who is a shareholder in any company having a contract with the government is covered by this provision only when the contract is for the building of public works, which seems to allow the parliamentarian to invest in a company and thus avoid this requirement, which, you will agree, constitutes a huge loophole.

In 1973, the federal government released a green book entitled: "Members of Parliament and conflict of interest". In 1978, once again, the government moved the bill on the independence of Parliament, which would have expanded the measures proposed in the green book. In 1979, after its second reading, the bill died on the Order Paper. In November 1985, the House Standing Committee on Management and Members' Services was to examine the appropriateness of establishing a register of members' interests. Four bills aimed at governing federal legislator conflicts of interest were tabled during the 33th and 34th Parliaments.

In 1991, it went on. The government tabled its third bill on conflicts of interest, Bill C-43. In 1992, the Special Joint Committee on Conflict of Interest tabled its report. The committee members' views differed in many respects from the policies reflected in Bill C-43. In March 1993, the government tabled its fourth bill on the same subject, Bill C-116, and again, in June 1993, the Speaker of the House of Commons reported to the House, recommending that Bill C-116 be put aside. And in 1993, once again, the Liberal government stated that ethics was a significant part of its mandate. It still has not done anything.

This is of great importance since we know that in the last 20 years, millions of dollars were spent on consideration of these bills, on the establishment of parliamentary commissions or joint committees on conflicts of interest, or on the development of ethics codes for members of Parliament. Yes, millions and millions of dollars were taken from the pockets of taxpayers from Canada and Quebec. This has to stop. I want action on this, once and for all. We must stop fooling the people and act on the problem.

Government leaders must do everything they can to change the public's perception of parliamentarians. They must stop all this protecting each other, stop trying to dazzle us with all this fancy footwork to cover things up, and simply be ready to admit that some government member is in conflict of interest. It is often said, and rightly so, that it is up to leaders to set a good example. That is why I support the amendment of my colleague for La Prairie.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found the remarks we just heard from the hon. member opposite very disappointing. He has made assertions without giving any proof, and he has stated things that, to remain within the bounds of courtesy and parliamentary language, I would describe as rather far removed from the truth.

An hon. member said that bills introduced in the House have cost millions of dollars in tax money. Taking a bill and printing it in a subsequent session under a new number-one does not need to be a great expert in parliamentary procedure to realize that it is easy to renumber a bill and reintroduce it-may be an indication of some weakness on the part of the previous

government. I would not deny that, because we all know the former government was not convinced of the need for such a bill.

Some members opposite have been Conservative members and supporters of a former prime minister. Some of them even sat on the executive of a former prime minister's riding association. They must be offended by those remarks about their former boss and mentor, Brian Mulroney.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Terrebonne, QC

He was not a liar.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I did not say that.

We have before us today a very good bill introduced by the present government to fulfil another promise in the red book. It will be one of the many achievements flowing from the red book. Last Friday, the House discussed Bill C-43 on lobbyists registration. Unfortunately, that debate was not completed. That is another commitment of the Liberal government, among many others. Today, we keep another promise. This time, it is about setting up a parliamentary committee to prepare a code of conduct for members of the House and members in the other place.

I want to take a moment to talk about the issue of why we need a code of conduct for both Houses, as opposed to just one.

For the life of me, I have some difficulty understanding the amendment that is now before the House, the amendment by which senators will not be subject to a conflict of interest code that will apply to MPs. Why not? Why do some members across the way not want senators to have to live with the conflict of interest rules like we do? What is the objective of that?

The reasoning put forward by the mover of the amendment is more or less the following: since only members of Parliament are elected, they should be the only ones subjected to these rules. There is something wrong with that logic. Electors put pressure on their members of Parliament to remain honest; all of us feel this pressure and need it; this is what democracy is all about. If even with such democratic pressure, we still need a conflict of interest code, I think that a chamber not under this kind of pressure needs such a code at least as much as us and maybe even more. Yet, the Bloc members want to see to it that senators are not subject to conflict of interest legislation.

Code Of ConductGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

They are honest.