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.