Mr. Speaker, while we are certainly going to support this motion and give the committee the extra time in order to table its report, I would like to take this occasion to say just a few things about this topic and about the process.
It is very important for us to recognize what is going on in our House of Commons, the place where we make rules for the Canadian people, where we pass legislation and where we administer on behalf of the people of this great country the money they send us in trust as taxpayers. We are managing their affairs.
Referring to the incoming Trudeau regime in 1968, Grattan O'Leary said: "So far we have had nothing but props and music. The curtain goes up and the play never begins". That comment is true here as well.
We have talked a lot about ethics. It was a large portion of the debate during the campaign of 1993. It comes up very frequently in the House. Frequently the Prime Minister and other ministers of the crown, as well as government members, rise in the House and say over and over again: "We never do anything wrong". The Prime Minister bragged just yesterday: "I have not had any ministers resign".
It is a point of great consternation to us that in fact there now seems to be even lower standards than there were under the Tory regime of Mr. Mulroney.
When the Liberals took power one of the things they said in the infamous red book was that Canadians had come to distrust their government and they wanted to trust it again. The Liberals were able to garner a lot of votes because people wanted to trust government. In the red book, in the campaign literature and in the campaign speeches the Liberals repeatedly promised that there would be a new level of trust, that members of Parliament, cabinet ministers and, indeed, even senators would no longer be able to look after themselves, that they would have an obligation to deal ethically, correctly and honestly with the people who they deal with on behalf of taxpayers and that there would be no more of these shenanigans that Canadians had come to dislike in the previous government.
Today I want to point out emphatically that there is a lot of talk about ethics. I also want to emphasize just as emphatically that the talk is empty. The ethical behaviour that we had expected has not been delivered.
I remember back in 1984 that we were delighted because the member of Parliament for the constituency which included Elk Island was a member of the Tory party which had formed the government. Finally the Conservatives had won. We knew that it would be a great advantage, or so we thought, to send to Ottawa a member of the governing party.
A scant nine years later the hope that was enjoyed by Conservatives right across the country had evaporated. Primarily it evaporated because of questionable behaviour and ethics.
The same thing is happening with the Liberal government. It came to power promising to do things better and to solve the ethics problem so that once again Canadians would be able to trust their government. We need to look at what has actually happened.
I endorse the work of the committee. One of the reasons I am in favour of the motion to postpone for two weeks is so we can do a better job, a thorough job, instead of meeting a timeline. Of course that is important, but it should be the secondary goal. The first goal should be to do it well and the second goal should be to be timely. I would rather do it very well and have it two weeks late, as this motion proposes.
One of the promises of the Liberals, and I mention it often in the House, was the promise of an ethics counsellor. The present ethics counsellor is a man who, as far as we know, has an untarnished reputation. He is, to the very best of his ability, doing the job to which he has been called. Unfortunately he has tremendous strictures on his position. He is not independent as the red book promised. The Prime Minister has made the ethics counsellor answerable to him only.
One of the purposes of postponing the work of the committee must be to assure that there is a counsellor, an ethics watchdog if you like, who will be quite independent of the political realm. That is the flaw in the present system. It is deemed much more important by the Prime Minister that there be an appearance of doing things right rather than actually doing them right.
Over and over again we see the political damage control team swing into action. All sorts of different tactics are used to persuade the people that nothing is wrong when in fact the simple and obvious remedy is not implemented. That remedy is to provide adequate disclosure. Let us lay the facts out before the people. Let us lay them out before the press. Let us lay the facts out before the opposition. The facts will speak for themselves. We do not need to
have a large public relations campaign. We do not need a damage control team if all we are doing is dealing in facts.
I would like to have a couple of things that are very important to us included in a code of ethics and I hope that our code will have them. One of them is that the person who oversees questions of ethics will be totally removed from any implication even of being part of the damage control team.
In the case most recently before Parliament that appears to be so evident. That is very unfortunate because of the fact that, first, the ethics counsellor is restricted in what he can ask, what he can do and what he can investigate, and second, he is restricted in what he can say. If the ethnics counsellor were truly independent, as the auditor general is now, he could say what he wants because he would say what he actually finds. He would put the truth on the record and there would be no attempt to try to hide it or to cover it up.
We need an ethics counsellor who is truly independent, totally removed from the political realm of this place.
The next thing we need is adequate disclosure. It is unconscionable for us as MPs and as senators, as people who are governing the country, to not be willing to put on the public record any facts and figures that may be relevant to a discussion. We need openness. We need to correct things that prevent the people from knowing the truth in a situation.
We need to make sure that when we have conflicting rules, for example, the Access to Information Act conflicting with accountability to the Treasury Board, we need to make sure that in those instances that the priority is honesty, openness and accountability. Everything should be laid on the table. If something is wrong it needs to be corrected.
In this House we are only allowed to call each other honourable members. I believe that by far the majority of us are. I would like to think that all of us are. However, just being forced to say the word "honourable" does not necessarily make it so.
Many years ago when I was a kid I taught high school. I had students who were just a little younger than I and we had a discussion one day on whether they should respect me. As high school students sometimes do, they challenge authority. I remember that the discussion went to a level where we agreed on two things. The first one was that a certain amount of respect was inherent in the position because they were the students and I was the teacher. Because of that relationship there would be a certain amount of initial respect granted.
However, they quickly told me, and I agreed with them, that respect also had to be earned and demonstrated. As a teacher in mathematics I had to demonstrate to them that I knew my subject. I had to demonstrate to them that I knew how to teach and communicate it so that I could improve their knowledge of the subject.
The same thing is true here. I travel to various parts of the country and to my home riding. Some people seem to take a great deal of pleasure in being able to introduce their member of Parliament. They give us all a certain amount of respect which is very humbling actually when one stops to think about it. They do that because they expect us to be honest and open.
However, when a member of the House or the other place engages in activities or involves himself or herself in behaviour which does not reflect that honour, truthfulness, openness and accountability then the words become empty. Though they may still introduce us with an air of respect, the actual respect will disappear if we do not demonstrate it.
The essence of my little intervention is that while we wait for the ethics committee to table its report, I believe that there is much more involved here than simply giving the appearance again of doing something about ethics. Just repeating over and over again that we are ethical is not going to produce ethical behaviour. It is only going to happen if we have inherently a predisposition to doing things correctly and honestly. If we have a mechanism in place that will clearly and succinctly point out to the Canadian public when one of us goes wrong, let us be honest and open and put it all out on the table and let the truth prevail.
I am not content with my participation in this ethics committee to simply go through yet another exercise in the whole public relations work of this government or any other government in trying simply to improve the appearance of being a highly ethical party or a highly ethical government or whatever it is. I am not content with it. I will not be content until it actually is ethical, honest and above reproach. That ought to be our ever-seeking goal.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the Prime Minister has spoken often about his own secret code of ethics that applies to ministers. Over the last two and a half to three years he has made frequent references to it. The other day in the House he said that the ministers have seen it and read it. However, one cannot read something that does not exist either on paper, a television screen or somewhere. It has to be a document of some sort if one is going to read it.
Now we are finding that perhaps there is serious doubt as to whether or not this code actually exists. I do not in any way want to show any disrespect to the Prime Minister of this wonderful country. However, I believe that he must give an example of honesty, openness and truthfulness which is just beyond reproach among Canadians. I seriously doubt that is happening right now because of this blight on his record. He is saying that he has this
code of ethics and he is not willing to show any evidence of its actual existence. Then he says that this code is a higher standard than that which is out there and available to Canadians and parliamentarians.
We have found over and over that even the code which exists is not being enforced. We have numerous instances of people clearing breaking existing guidelines. We have had several ministers who have written to quasi-judicial bodies against regulations.
In the previous government when that happened these people were forced immediately to resign. That is incredible. That was in the previous Mulroney government. They were at least honest enough to admit that they had done wrong and resign.
This Prime Minister is so proud of being able to say "none of my ministers has resigned" that he is closing eyes to the facts. There have been ministers who have breached these very codes but his inability or his unwillingness to take action has resulted in his being able to say no ministers have done anything wrong and so they have not resigned. The truth is on the other hand which says they have done something wrong and the fact is no action has been taken.
We have this recent case of the minister for youth. I cannot help but really feel bad for her and for this situation. What an anguish. I regret that this government and this Prime Minister have so little accountability and so little conscience that they will let her hang because of this. Where were the people who were to have instructed her on what was right and what was wrong? Where are the people in the department who she said in her statement never told her that what she was doing was wrong? That is not acceptable.
I have a certain degree of sympathy for this minister. She unfortunately is the latest example of people who are breaking these ethical guidelines and rules and nothing is being done about it.
Here is a case which illustrates perfectly my thesis that we need to put the truth on the table. If in fact what she is saying is right and true then it is perfectly in order for her to table those facts in this House. She could show them to me, she could show them to the press. Let the facts prevail. Hey, there it is all out in the open.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said we have this tradition that when someone says something we just accept it without checking. We accept it without looking. The Reform Party is ready to do things differently. We say there is openness, accountability and when a person says something we will begin by saying they are hon. members and we trust them but when it is demonstrated and proven then the trust is built and the trust is established. That is all we are asking.
In this instance either the minister is stating what is correct, in which case it should be demonstrated, or she is stating something which is not correct, as we suspect, because the numbers do not add up. There are too many blank spaces. We want to get to the root of this. That is we want.
Again the Prime Minister is bragging. He says nobody ever does anything wrong. He has the gall to accuse us in this House of breaking the parliamentary tradition to accept what the government says without questioning it.
I am ready to question it. I am here on behalf of Canadian taxpayers and when there is even the appearance of a minister of this government's not using taxpayer funds correctly, I and the members of the Reform Party are here to hold them to account. That is what ethics is all about and that is what we are going to do.
I am emphatically stating here that my goal and my purpose in saying let us give this committee two more weeks is that those types of issues can be addressed.
We can have built into these ethical guidelines the fact that there will be openness. There is one thing we must definitely have. No minister should be able to hide behind privacy when they bring these types of things into the public domain by using public money for this type of expenditure. That is only an example, which I would like to state again. We have had others. There have been several other ministers.
It is wrong to simply put out the image of everything being right. Let us strive for the facts of the case, the truth of the case. That is the definition of ethical behaviour.