Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor regarding the Reform
Party's motion condemning the government for its lack of transparency and its inability to keep its red book election promises regarding the accountability of MPs to the electorate.
Above all, I would like to thank my Reform Party colleagues for introducing this motion condemning the government and the least I can say is that it is timely.
I therefore would like to take advantage of my time to bring to the attention of this House what I think is the most important point in this motion: the Liberals' lack of transparency. Indeed, day in, day out, these first 18 months of the Liberal government's mandate are far from shining examples of transparency, both as regards political appointments-a point which my colleague from Berthier-Montcalm irrefutably demonstrated this morning-and contract awarding and management. It is obvious that the promise of transparency contained in the red book was a trick to fool the Canadian public. Just smoke and mirrors to get elected.
Regarding the Reform Party's motion on the Liberal government's lack of transparency, I would like to raise the following issues in the House: firstly, the status quo regarding access to information since the Liberals acceded to power and, secondly, the role of lobbyists in the management of this government's affairs.
The Access to Information Act was passed in 1982 and went into effect the following year. It gives people the right to obtain federal government documents. Under this act, government institutions must give people access to their documents. Logically, we would have expected the Liberal government to rigorously apply the Access to Information Act, given the promises of transparency contained in the red book which the Liberal Party of Canada trumpeted so loudly during the election campaign.
On the contrary, after 18 years of Liberal reign, government bodies such as the House of Commons, the Senate and certain positions reporting directly to Parliament, such as the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Auditor General of Canada are still not subject to the Access to Information Act. Another example, that of Atomic Energy of Canada, is particularly striking. Why has this body never come under access to information legislation? Does such a dangerous and polluting energy have to be developed in the utmost secrecy, far from public scrutiny? I ask the question.
What about the transparency described in the red book? Why not make Canada's Parliament subject to the Access to Information Act, since it is the ultimate symbol of democracy in the Canadian federal system? In this context, the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, in the name of democratic principles and through its desire for greater transparency in the present system, has no choice but to support the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General of March 1987, which recommended that the Access to Information Act be applied to all federal institutions, including administrative tribunals, the Senate and the House of Commons.
The Bloc Quebecois gives particular importance to increased transparency in the Senate, our dear Senate.
The public is entitled to be able to study in depth the wild imaginings of this body, which is nothing more than a place for political appointments. Given the political context in Canada since the reign of the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1970s, we stress the urgent need for such transparency throughout the entire administration of federal institutions.
The events of the last few years, especially those involving the conduct of government members, raise serious doubts as to the Liberal government's political will to establish a code of conduct ensuring total openness in public administration. The red book promises are pure fantasies needed to ease the Liberals' conscience and to make Canadian federalist democracy look good.
Throughout the fall 1993 election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada maintained that ethics would be an important part of its mandate. In the January 1994 throne speech, the government claimed that it attached the utmost importance to integrity and that it wanted to enjoy the people's confidence. It would therefore appoint an ethics counsellor to watch over government integrity and restore public confidence. So what happened? The ethics counsellor, who was appointed by the Liberal government, still reports to the Privy Council. He has no independent power of investigation and continues to report to the Prime Minister. The official opposition has often pointed out in the House that this hurts credibility.
According to the Liberal Party's red book, government integrity is in question every time people feel that lobbyists set public policy by wielding undue influence behind the scenes.
Recent events show that the whole Liberal strategy regarding a parliamentary code of ethics, confirmed by a government motion tabled in this House some 10 days ago, is just a smoke screen. The Broadcasting Act, which comes under the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is no match for the powerful lobby for PowerDirecTv, a company run by André Desmarais, the Prime Minister's son-in-law. The Liberal government even started defending ideas that Brian Mulroney's Conservative government held dear, turning into the advocate of competitiveness in North America.
Reading the ministerial orders from the Minister of Canadian Heritage, one can only bow before the powerful lobby for PowerDirecTv and kiss democracy goodbye at the federal level, where money and political friends rule.
The weakness of our political institutions and representatives is cause for concern. Not only does the government flout its own law and disown the CRTC, which is responsible for its application, but it takes retroactive measures preventing Expressvu, a competitor, from starting to provide service in September. All that in the name of competitiveness. In the meantime, the ethics counsellor promised in the red book is cooling his heels in the Prime Minister's outer office. And what about the recent visit of the Minister of Canadian Heritage to Los Angeles, where he was to meet with the majors of the American film industry.
The facts are as follows: three weeks ago, Edgar Bronfman Junior, an American citizen, and Seagram announced the takeover of the American giant MCA, a multi-million dollar deal. This announcement was made from a Los Angeles hotel, with the heritage minister in the next room. So far, no problem, or so it seemed. But it must be pointed out that MCA holds 20 per cent of the shares of Cineplex, a Canadian company controlled by another branch of the Bronfman empire.
MCA also wants to control Cineplex by merging with Cinemark USA Inc., whose head office is in Dallas. The trip made to Los Angeles by the Minister of Canadian Heritage makes me wonder, considering that Edgar Bronfman Junior seems to be trying to convince the federal government that MCA is a Canadian company, so as to avoid a review by Investment Canada. This is the kind of transparency displayed by the government.
Let us not forget that, according to the government's official policy, companies actively involved in the cultural sector must be controlled by Canadian interests. This explains why Mr. Bronfman is trying to give a Canadian identity to MCA. Under the circumstances, it becomes obvious that the real purpose of the minister's trip to Los Angeles was to reassure Liberal friends, namely Seagram, of the federal government's support.
While the government House leader is tabling a motion to establish a special committee to develop a code of conduct for parliamentarians, that same government violates the most basic rules of democracy by favouring friends of the Liberal Party and by governing on behalf of the Canadian financial establishment.
Another example which illustrates the political trickery of the red book, and which also shows the flaws of Bill C-43 regarding the ethics counsellor, is the letter sent by the heritage minister to the CRTC, supposedly an independent body under his authority, in support of a licence application.
It must be remembered that the Prime Minister waited more than three weeks before seeking the ethics counsellor's advice on this sensitive issue. How can we not come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister cares little about the ethics counsellor and, therefore, about ethics?
The Liberal leader simply wanted to save face. The appointment of an ethics counsellor and the Liberals' campaign promise to that effect were supposed to give the public the impression that the government is really doing something about restoring the integrity of our institutions.
In the West, democratic institutions are now facing a crisis in public confidence. It is clear that in the future, it will be necessary to restore the trust that should exist between governments and the public they serve. This means public policy must be discussed, debated, influenced, changed and identified in a process that is absolutely open and transparent.
This is one of the concerns that goes to the very heart of the kind of society we want for Quebec. The federal political scene has for too long been dominated by the political scheming of the Liberals and their friends. The acknowledged expert on scheming and adumbration in the political arena is unquestionably Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
As Professor Guy Laforest explained, this bourgeois aristocrat, this lackey of Canada's financial establishment and anti-Quebecer managed, during his many years in power, to establish close ties between the Canadian financial establishment and the Liberal Party. This political and financial network is the engine of Canadian Liberal ideology, a political perspective that makes every effort to isolate Quebec, to take away its distinct identity and make it a part of Anglo-Canadian culture.
It is easy to identify the members of this political and financial network. They are the ones who keep referring to "the most beautiful country in the world to govern". The present Prime Minister is this network's new lieutenant. We have the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is responsible for Quebec. And remember Eddie Goldenberg, the Prime Minister's trusty adviser, who happens to be the son of Carl Goldenberg who helped Pierre Elliott Trudeau draft his bill for patriation and a charter of rights in the summer of 1967.
The Senate still harbours Leo Kolber, one of the Liberal Party's great bagmen, childhood friend of Charles Bronfman and member of the board at Seagram. Mr. Kolber is also a friend of Tom Axworthy, who was Mr. Trudeau's former chief of staff and is the current Minister of Human Resources Development's brother and the manager of The CRB Foundation, which was set up by Mr. Bronfman. As we know, The CRB Foundation is greatly involved in promoting Canadian nationalism. And Paul Desmarais, Charles Bronfman's equal, is still in Montreal.
As Professor Guy Laforest wrote: "-by boards of trustees and collaborators, their networks are interlaced. The Liberal planet finds everything it needs in its network. John Rae, one
of the key people at Power Corporation, was one of the most important strategists behind the campaigns of the current Prime Minister of Canada".
It is the financial interests of the richest Canadians which govern Ottawa, not the elected representatives of the people. They are all following in Pierre Elliott Trudeau's tradition, and that is having a one track mind when it comes to Quebec: having Quebecers assimilate anglo-Canadian values as quickly as possible.
Before our very eyes, once this government got to office, it considerably diluted commitments it made in its red book during the 1993 election campaign. Such an about face raises in the minds of the public a legitimate doubt about whether the Liberal government truly intends to legislate ethics in Parliament.
The Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, believes that, to re-establish the integrity of our democratic institutions, we must put a stop to the empty promises of the past 30 years to legislate parliamentary ethics.
In addition, the administration of the affairs of government must be as transparent as possible in order to eliminate the grey areas and to ensure Canadians that public policy decisions reflect the general interests of the people and not those of powerful lobbys. However, with the Liberals in power, the reality of the matter is something else.
In the context of Bill C-43 governing the registration of lobbyists, the lobbyists increased their meetings in the months before the tabling of this bill. Others threatened suits if the law forced them to disclose their political ties. In this instance, as in others, a lack of transparency prevented the people of Canada from knowing the extent and the nature of lobby activities with regard to Bill C-43.
We have to admit that Bill C-43 as it stands will not likely prevent such troubling events as those surrounding the privatization of Pearson airport or the business involving the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Worse yet, according to Mitchell Sharp, the Prime Minister's principal adviser on matters of ethics, even if the legislation arising from Bill C-43 had been in effect at the time of the discussions on the privatization of terminals 1 and 2 at Pearson airport, the public would have been none the wiser.
The Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition, presented more than twenty amendments in committee on Bill C-43. They were rejected by government members who had not even been at the hearings or taken part in discussions in recent months.
We were also hoping, good players that we are, that the new rules, or at least the approach taken and the commitments made by the Liberal Party of Canada in its red book would permit in depth discussion of this issue, so vital to a democracy.
However, we have to admit that the Liberals' intentions with regard to transparency and ethics are those of the Bronfman, Seagram and Power Corporation families. These measures serve solely to impress, with the government using all kinds of lofty language to keep up appearances for political reasons.
Once again, the federal Liberals' version of history is written on the backs of the country's most disadvantaged, and, just as obviously, on the back of Quebec.