Mr. Speaker, the Liberal record on ethical conduct speaks for itself. In 1993 the record is well known: the Liberals promised that they would introduce measures to establish and enforce high ethical standards among parliamentarians. A decade later, public confidence in the ethical conduct of elected officials is in tatters. It is at an all-time low precisely because of the failure of the Liberals to deliver on that commitment.
What do we get today from the government to clean up the mess that it has overseen? Nine and a half years later we get less than half the legislative commitments that were first promised which were regurgitated again in the House last week. Even those that have been introduced today are sadly diluted versions of what is needed to ensure that ethical conduct of parliamentarians is enforced and that public confidence in politics and politicians is restored.
Having said that, I and I know my colleagues welcome the fact that the government has finally tabled its so-called ethical package; talk about a case of johnny-come-lately and legislation-come-lightly.
I appreciate that the Deputy Prime Minister has acknowledged that there has been an NDP private member's motion on the books for the last year introduced by myself, but it must also be said that for three consecutive years there has been a private member's bill dealing with these issues from the New Democratic Party on the order paper, commencing with that introduced by my previous colleague from Halifax West, Gordon Earle. On this day it is appropriate to acknowledge his leadership on this issue.
What do we have before us now? We have a pathetically weakened, watered down version, not just of the NDP code of conduct and the proposed provisions to enforce that ethical conduct that has been before the House for four years, but even a watered down version of the report that came out of the 1997 parliamentary committee, the so-called Oliver-Milliken report.
I will take just a moment to mention four of the ways in which the legislation clearly does not measure up to what is needed.
First, there is no provision whatsoever for the disclosure of spousal interests, as was properly required, set out and called for by the Oliver-Milliken report, and as properly exists now in provincial codes of conduct in a great many of the provinces across this country.
Let me say that I am not immune or insensitive at all to the need for balance here between the interests of a member and the interests that need to be properly protected with respect to spouses, but there are provisions in many other provincial jurisdictions that require full disclosure of those spousal interests to a commissioner and do not necessarily require that those be fully disclosed to the public. There is some balance that can be achieved here between those competing interests.
Second, investigations can be initiated only by parliamentarians. It is regrettable that there is no provision for any citizen initiated complaints. Yes, we have to be concerned about ensuring that they are not frivolous complaints, but measures could be put in place to deal with that without creating the impression once again that there is something of a closed shop here and that somehow it is none of the citizens' business.
Third, it is unfortunate that there is no requirement that sanctions must be prescribed by the commissioner in dealing with a complaint and finding a member guilty of violations. That must be changed.
Finally, it is most regrettable that there will be different procedures for dealing with such matters as complaints, conflicts of interest and so on between ministers and between ordinary members.
I think that is unfortunate. I think it will create the impression that we not only have two tier health care, two tier education and two tier security today but that we now have a two tier system for ethical conduct as it relates to ministers compared to ordinary members.
I would like to give the Deputy Prime Minister and the government the benefit of the doubt that they have introduced this in a draft form in order to allow flexibility. I would like to accept that it is an undertaking in good faith and that the government is absolutely open to the kinds of changes that are needed. However, I regret to say, given the appalling record and an almost decade of delay in dealing with these issues, it is somewhat difficult not to come to the conclusion that this is just one more delaying tactic.
Let me say very forthrightly that there are disturbing allegations and some disturbing evidence coming forth around some of the handling of another minister, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, with respect to matters in his own backyard in my province of Nova Scotia that should now be the subject of a proper, full investigation with the kinds of procedures that are needed.
Let us get on with this. Let us do it quickly and let us make sure that such complaints are dealt with in a manner that is transparent, comprehensive and effective.