Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak in the debate on Bill S-21, the anti-corruption initiative that was taken at the OECD roughly a year ago. The memorandum of understanding was signed December 17, 1997.
What I am concerned with in that regard is not the content of the bill necessarily, although I certainly would like to have had some time to call witnesses and hear what they had to say. My concern is more that this was dropped on us on very short notice. I cannot understand why that would be.
The government had almost a full year to introduce this as a bill. It did not do it. It dropped the ball. It requires five major economies of the OECD to sign this to bring it into effect so that it does not all fall apart before the end of the year.
Four other countries, including the United States, found time to bring it through their legislative process. I assume they are pretty busy.
All of a sudden there is a panic these last few days. I know our committee ended up with this bill, looking at it last Tuesday afternoon. Liberals told us the reason it had to be started in the Senate as opposed to the House of Commons was that they did not think they could get it through in time, that they knew they could rush it through the Senate and get it on to the floor for debate.
The comments of the parliamentary secretary in that regard were that it is a more efficient process to have it introduced there, therefore the need to bring it through that process rather than through the elected officials of the House of Commons.
It may be more efficient from some points of view but not more efficient in terms of making a better bill. One reason it may be more efficient there is that the people appointed to the Senate do not have to go out and consult with constituents as we do.
I recall being on the foreign policy review, a review conducted jointly by the House of Commons and the Senate. I found that many of the senators involved were completely out of date on the issues. It took them several months to get them up to date in terms of what was happening in the country.
I suggest it was a good process for them because it gave them the opportunity to find out what the current thinking across Canada was. I see it is a problem because they do not get out and regularly consult. They do not need to. They are appointed until their 75th year.
I agree with the concept. I was on the subcommittee that examined small and medium size enterprises. We had a very good committee report. We heard a lot of things from businesses that came to make presentations to our committee.
Among them were the reasons that kept them out of the export business. They were not competitive outside Canada largely due to factors like high taxes, a great deal of regulation that is very difficult for small businesses to comply with, proportionate costs to the small businesses doing that and things like interprovincial trade barriers. They hurt their ability to get into the export business.
Those in the business did identify that bribery in the whole process of doing business outside Canada in some third world countries made it very difficult to do business. I can quote from the OECD document: “Considering that bribery is a widespread phenomenon in international business transactions, including trade and investment, which raises serious moral and political concerns, it undermines good governance and economic development. It distorts international competitive conditions”.
That is what they were telling us at committee. I suggest that, to some extent, the OECD initiative came out of those SME recommendations.
We agree with the concept that we should make it illegal for our public servants and businessmen to bribe foreign officials. The OECD plus a few other members have signed on to that convention and therefore will be bound by it when they sign the legislation.
I welcome that. It means that all of us who belong to the OECD, including Canada, including all our businesses, not just the private sector but our crown corporations, have to adhere to that as well.
We know that selling nuclear reactors around the world in the past got some Canadian officials into hot water in that area. We see AECL having to be subsidized to build these nuclear reactors. We have to subsidize the sale of them through export credit through the Export Development Corporation and in the past we have needed a finders fee, and in some cases I suggest it was beyond that, to grease palms of member countries that were considering buying this.
It certainly did lead to what has been identified at the OECD, serious moral and political concerns. It undermines good governance and economic development and distorts international competitive conditions. I agree with that.
It is a move in the right direction and we should move forward with it. Our party intends to support it and will be happy that third reading takes place today.
What about the consultation process the parliamentary secretary talked about in some detail? The subcommittee on international trade and trade disputes was just about to start the process of calling witnesses. We were denied that opportunity by a government that could not manage its own affairs. It left this until the last moment before dropping it on us and then expects first, second and third reading to take place in one day. There was no consultation.
The committee was to consider the hearings and invite witnesses to tell us whether they thought it was a good deal or not. We are not allowed to do that. We had to railroad it through the Senate process in order to ram it through. What about the consultation process? The parliamentary secretary told us there was consultation with businesses this summer. Where were they? Who were they? I guess we will find out in due course but it was not available to us.
Has the government learned nothing from the whole MAI process, that ordinary Canadians need to be consulted, not just its friends and special organizations, not just the industry groups but Canadians themselves? They want to be involved in something of the magnitude of the MAI. Apparently the government does not recognize that as an important process.
We went through some kind of facade of a consultation process over the summer apparently when the House was not in session. Parliamentary committees did not really count for much. We wanted that process of having witnesses. We did not have that opportunity.
There is a problem. Members over there have to get their house in order and understand that they had a full year to introduce the bill. Here we are in a last minute turmoil, a last minute rush to go through today before the House rises for Christmas.
I still have some concerns with the act itself although it is a start in the right direction. It makes it a criminal offence to bribe foreign officials by any members who sign on, and Canada will be signing on. That is the right thing to do but there is still the matter of a facilitation fee.
My understanding is that even though the United States has adopted a similar concept with its foreign corruption practices act there still is the business of recognizing that a facilitation fee is allowed.
It seems to me facilitation fees might become pretty large in the next few years and then what of the countries that have not signed on to this pact? Only 29 OECD countries have. I think there are four or five others that will sign on as well, but there are a lot of others out there competing for business around the world. Are they not going to adhere to the same code as the rest of us? Does this not need to go further, into the World Trade Organization and try to incorporate it into the 135 member countries that make up the World Trade Organization? It seems it does. There is no further plan to do that in this legislation but we are happy to make a start.
It is a step in the right direction. We will support all three readings today in the House of Commons as a result of this initiative.