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House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member. I know that he knows it is improper to use props in the House. I know he would not want to break the rules in that regard.

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, this appears to be my day for speaking.

We must be getting through reams of legislation. Let us talk about Bill C-49 which is the government's reorganization of the political patronage industry in this country.

As members know I publish a waste report. I brought one out a few weeks ago which dealt to some degree with patronage appointments and the illegal tax evasion scams of some of them.

Having been an accountant in a former life I know that the government has gone to great lengths to ensure that every dollar a person earns is a dollar taxable. These things are quite important because the government needs every dollar it can squeeze out of Canadians. However, it seems that when it comes to political patronage appointments it has forgotten to squeeze hard because there is an illegal tax evasion scam going on. It goes something like this.

Dr. Victor Goldbloom, the Commissioner of Official Languages, was asked by the Clerk of the Privy Council to accept the appointment of official languages commissioner. The job of course is here in Ottawa.

I have it on the record of the official languages committee when I asked the commissioner exactly what was going on. He said that he had no intention of moving from Montreal, where he lives, to Ottawa. The Clerk of the Privy Council then said: "You will therefore be entitled to a second residence allowance". Since that date we as taxpayers have been providing him with an apartment here in town. I understand the rent is somewhere around $15,000 or $16,000 a year.

In addition to that, he said: "I prefer to live in Montreal". Since his position carries a chauffeured limousine along with it, the chauffeur goes to Montreal every Monday morning and brings him to Ottawa and on Friday night takes him back home, all tax free of course. For every other Canadian commuting to and from work is not a tax deductible expense. They have to pay taxes on it if their employer provides that transportation. But not so for the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Every time an employer provides extra accommodation, the value of that accommodation is taxable except under very limited circumstances. The Clerk of the Privy Council gave Dr. Victor Goldbloom a tax free apartment in Ottawa courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer and that is illegal.

I have it on record at the official languages committee that that is exactly what has transpired. The government was asked through a question on the Order Paper a couple of years ago if this was an isolated experience or does it exist elsewhere. It took me two years to get the information. I had to rise on a point of privilege two or three times. I had to badger the government to get an answer to my question on the Order Paper. You know that yourself, Mr. Speaker. While the government has a responsibility to answer that question within 45 days it took two years before it was able to answer the question.

The reason is that not only is the Commissioner of Official Languages participating in an illegal tax evasion scam but others are doing it too. They may have received a patronage appointment in Ottawa and live somewhere else. They want a housing allowance tax free. They may be within reasonable commuting distance of the position but they have to drive a certain distance. They are getting up to $2,000 a month for travel allowance because they decided that they were not going to move to where the job they accepted actually is. This is all on a tax free basis.

Every other employer in the country cannot provide that type of service and that type of benefit on a tax free basis. Yet we have found numerous agencies that are paid by the taxpayer that are participating in this scam. These people with patronage appointments are in many cases making more than $100,000 a year and in some cases as much as $150,000 a year and are getting an additional $10,000 to $25,000 a year tax free.

I reported these people to the Minister of National Revenue. I have had her verbal assurance today that she will follow through and ensure that she fulfils her duty to apply the Income Tax Act fairly and without bias right across the country and also to these patronage appointments.

It is a disgrace that the people who are appointed by a government, not because of what they know but because of who they know and what they may have been, such as a minister or an MP in a government of a previous day, should be able to latch on to the taxpayers' purse and then on top of that start some illegal tax evasion scheme to make it even more generous. It is despicable that we allow it to continue.

I hope the message goes out loud and clear to every board and to every person with a political patronage appointment in this country that there are laws and they apply equally to them as they do to every other Canadian citizen. That is the type of attitude that brings disgrace on the political process. That is the type of thing that destroys Canadians' confidence in government.

That is why this government, like the previous government, has a serious integrity problem. It has destroyed the trust that people have in government. People now believe that those who are in power are in power to help themselves. Unfortunately the facts seem to prove that to be so.

Government and being a politician used to be an honourable profession where people wanted to serve their country, serve their constituents and serve the people of Canada. It is a noble calling that has been thrown in a trash can by the people who have used the opportunity to help themselves.

I hope that in a small way this will show a new beginning, that trust can be won. However, it has to be won through earning the respect of Canadians by living responsibly, by working responsibly, by living within the rules, by ensuring that the laws that we write in this House apply not just to all Canadians out there but apply to us in here. Surely that is the fair test.

If we are prepared to apply a law to Canadians that says this is how much tax you have to pay, this is how much tax you have to forfeit to the Government of Canada, then surely that same law should be applied to us without fear, without favour and without bias and without writing a special, more lenient rule for ourselves and for patronage appointments.

That is a small way that we could start to reintroduce integrity that has been lost and damaged and trashed by succeeding governments, especially this one right here. How can we have accountability when we have seen cabinet ministers whose positions of trust have been compromised by expense reports that cannot be fully justified by the travel on government business?

It goes a long way to telling the poor people in this country, who are being taxed to death to subsidize people's grand style of living. We hear government members say bring out another tax and spend program, another child poverty program so that they can throw a few crumbs back to these people, while at the same time feathering their own nest.

They are the tax and spend programs where people feel they only qualify for the tax side and seldom qualify for receiving the cheques side. When they open the paper and find out that here in Ottawa it is very easy to get on the receiving side that is when the trust is destroyed.

I hope that Bill C-49, which we do not agree with, will be the final step and that from here on we start to build integrity into the system.

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Reform

John Cummins Reform Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us, Bill C-49, makes some administrative changes to boards, agencies and tribunals according to the summary.

Our position is that this bill should be scrapped and done away with immediately. It does little, if anything, to reduce patronage. It makes surface changes to administration of boards and agencies but no real changes to improve accountability.

We need competence and quality in appointments to government boards and tribunals as well as improved accountability. This bill, in itself, in our view is simply a blueprint for patronage.

The bill does not affect the cabinet's power to make appointments. It can still appoint whomever it wants whenever it wants. In fact, the number of pleasure appointments have increased, which may open the door to increased political interference.

The bill says it will eliminate 271 jobs. Currently all 271 jobs are vacant and we know full well, and acting on common sense, when someone does not have something they cannot very well take it away.

There are still approximately 2,225 appointments available to cabinet. The person in charge of patronage appointments is Penny Collenette, a patronage appointment in and of herself.

In the red book the Liberals made a promise with regard to patronage. They said that a Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government and make competence and diversity the criteria for federal appointments. Open government will be the watchword of the Liberal program. That was on page 92. This bill flies in the face of that commitment.

Our commitment in our blue book was that the Reform Party supports restrictions and limitations on the number and types of orders in council permitted by a government during its term in office. That is the way these appointments should be made.

Let us take a look at what the Ottawa Citizen has to say and part of the list that it provided us on Friday, January 3 on government appointments. It notes that Deborah Coyne, a constitutional lawyer who worked as an advisor to former Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells during the Meech Lake accord negotiations and who is a special friend of former Prime Minister Trudeau, will kick off the

new year as a member of the department of citizenship's immigration and refugee board.

It says that Stephen Goudge, a former chairman of the legal aid committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada and a friend of the current justice minister, was appointed a judge of the court of appeal for Ontario. When contacted at his Toronto home, Mr. Goudge stated that he did not have any comment on his appointment. He said: "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on anything. I am honoured by the appointment. I will do the best I can". I am sure he will and he will be well rewarded for it.

Cabinet order in council documents show that the Liberal government made 53 such public service appointments on December 19. They were tremendous Christmas gifts. They included 27 appointments to quasi-judicial boards administered by the Department of Human Resources Development, 11 appointments to the immigration and refugee board and the appointment of five senior judges. Some of the jobs are high paying. For example, the immigration and refugee board jobs come with salaries of $86,400 a year.

These patronage appointments prompted an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen , a paper which customarily is friendly to the government. I would like to read into the record some of the editorial. The title is: Hypocrisy of Patronage''. The subtitle is:Having failed to uphold red book promises to control patronage, the Liberals are guilty of the sin of hypocrisy''. The editorial states:

What do hundreds of defeated Liberal candidates, campaign managers, fundraisers, and friends of Jean Chrétien have in common? They've been rewarded with patronage posts for their loyal service to the Liberal party.

Make no mistake, patronage is alive and well in the Chrétien government. It is most obvious with Gov. Gen. Roméo LeBlanc (former MP, senator, and election strategist). It is just as pervasive with the unknown Liberals who sit on countless agencies and boards.

Granted, the Liberals are not abusing the time-(dis)honored practice as much as Brian Mulroney did. He shamelessly spread the spoils of power and turned Canada into a nation of cynics.

Chrétien's political sin isn't that he's acted as cavalierly as Mulroney, but that he hasn't met the high standards he promised. His is a sin of political hypocrisy. Among the Liberals' Red Book promises:

The budget for consulting contracts would be cut by 15 per cent. So-called communications consultants with political ties can reap lucrative contracts by providing "strategic" advice. The Liberals say general spending cuts have saved enough money, so they have not chopped consulting budgets as promised.

Parliamentarians would be given "mechanisms" to review some senior cabinet appointments. No such mechanisms are yet created, and no excuse given.

All appointments would be "made on the basis of competence". So far, more than 1,800 have been appointed. Some, such as LeBlanc, have been highly successful, but overall quality suffers if the candidates' prime qualification is that they are Liberals.

Chrétien promised this week "he won't take Canadians for granted" in the next election. If so, he should remember it's their loyalty-not that of party members-that should come first.

Patronage is a problem. That is pointed out in this editorial. They are not my words, they are the words of a newspaper which tends to be friendly with the current government. Patronage spoils the feelings which people have for politicians and their government, especially when they see candidates who were unsuccessful in general elections being appointed to government boards and other bodies which pay well. They look at that with great alarm. It is taxpayers' money and they wonder how well their money is being spent. Why should their hard earned tax dollars be used to support failed candidates in a manner to which the taxpayers would like to become accustomed?

The bill makes very few changes, for example, to travel and per diem perks. In section 32(3), this bill will not affect such high flyers, as my colleague pointed out earlier, as Victor Gloodbloom, the Commissioner of Official Languages, who commutes between Montreal and Ottawa. But it will eliminate local commuting claims for people who used to claim the drive from home to work even if was just around the corner.

The bill will deal with remedial and disciplinary measures which will be standardized for administrative tribunals. However, the power of the minister to interfere with disciplinary measures has increased. The minister can now decide whether any member of a committee should be subject to remedial or disciplinary measures, section 5, or whether they should continue on-

Administrative Tribunals (Remedial And Disciplinary Measures) ActGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member, but it being 6.40 p.m., it is time to adjourn. When the debate resumes, the hon. member will have about one minute remaining in his remarks, which is why I am so reluctant to cut him off, but we have filled the time.

It being 6.40 p.m. the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to the standing orders.

(The House adjourned at 6.40 p.m.)