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House of Commons Hansard #13 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition is not making the task of maintaining order any easier and I would appreciate his assistance.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian Alliance Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me talk about the real serious reservations that these proposals should raise in the minds of any hon. member, particularly those in opposition. The selection--

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I offer this in the most friendly and sincere of terms. It would be in the interests of the comportment of the reputation of the House if the Leader of the Opposition, whose statement was subject perhaps to misinterpretation, would withdraw the remarks he made with regard to the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian Alliance Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, so that I can complete my comments without all this heckling, I have never accused a member of the House of being a criminal or a member of a criminal conspiracy. Let us be clear about that so that we can move on.

Let us talk about the serious concerns that this package raises. The recommendation here is not a truly independent ethics commissioner, appointed with the agreement of all parties as all four opposition leaders have recommended.

What is recommended is an ethics commissioner who is effectively appointed by the Prime Minister. That prime ministerial recommendation is only reviewed by a committee with no powers to refuse. Standing Order 111 would be used, which allows the committee to scrutinize the appointee, but does not allow a vote on the appointment itself.

Since this man or woman's recommendations impinge upon all members of the House, we will never accept to be subject to a prime ministerial appointment unless it is approved by this party. I believe all opposition parties should take the same position.

Let me point out the difference in the government's proposals between how it would treat cabinet ministers and how it would treat ordinary members of Parliament. In the case of cabinet ministers there are no statutory reporting deadlines on individual complaints. On top of that, disciplinary advice given to the Prime Minister on ethical violations by ministers would not be contained in any public report on a minister's conduct.

In the case of ordinary backbench members of Parliament the situation is different. The opinions in that case would be communicated to the House as a whole. The opinion itself would be binding and action would be left to the government majority in the House of Commons to decide on the appropriate discipline. The House could see why members of the opposition would be concerned about that.

This is a government that talks about reform, but what we have here is the possibility of an unprecedented attempt to bind backbenchers to the power of a government official appointed by the Prime Minister himself. It is another missed opportunity by the government to deal seriously with ethics. It is an opportunity missed not just because of its lack of ethical standards, but because of its desire to put pressure on the opposition to get itself out of the difficult ethical questions it face here everyday.

I am not here to offer the government any congratulations at all for this. In fact, I say to the government, thanks for nothing.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I did want to wait until the leader of the official opposition had concluded his remarks with respect to ethical and moral integrity. I want to make it very clear that I will be reviewing the record, as I hope the Speaker will as well, to determine whether the comments that he made with respect to this member crossed the line in the House. If so, I will be coming back and asking for an apology.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, first let us look at what brought us to speak today about this new ethics bill proposed by the government, which will finally give us an ethics commissioner who will be independent from the Prime Minister and who will report to this House.

What brought us to this point is a series of questionable behaviours on the part of the government or some of its members who have exhibited a flagrant lack of judgment in carrying out their duties and who have cast a shadow on the integrity of all the members of this House and particularly on the conduct of government members.

Since we have had the bill only for a few minutes, let us take a quick look at some of its elements. The most important aspect, and I would say the most satisfactory, up to a point, is the fact that the ethics commissioner will be accountable to the elected members of this House and will be able to work independently. That is the positive side.

The concern that goes with that is that the points of reference that we have are, for example, the Auditor General or the Official Languages Commissioner. These people have a certain degree of independence to do their jobs, but their recommendations should also be implemented.

We do want an independent ethics commissioner who will report annually on the conduct that members of this House should adopt in terms of the code of conduct for members and the code that applies to ministers and to the Prime Minister, except that these reports should lead to concrete measures and not simply be shelved year after year. Time will tell. Of course, we will ensure that the person appointed to this position has all the independence and the tools he or she will need to do the job properly. Certain tools will have to be modernized. The person in place will have to enforce the existing code for ministers. That does not mean that there is no room for significant improvements in that regard.

Other less important measures concern lobbyists. Again I will express some disappointment because, in improving ethics, the government is not looking at ways of measuring the work of lobbyists. I am thinking for example about disclosing the amount of money they put into their campaigns. The registration of lobbyists is not enough. We must have a way of knowing how much money they put into their work since all lobbyists do not do their job with the same intensity.

Before I conclude, I want to point out that there is one element missing from the measures before the House, namely the ethics guidelines that would make the financing of political parties and the funding for leadership candidates more transparent. There is no mention of this issue. The Prime Minister created expectations in the House when he promised some action. “Later” we were told today. In politics, there is no clear definition of “later”; it can mean “maybe, never, or we'll see”. We will find out after his term or his departure. So, we are not pleased to see that there is nothing to ensure more transparency in terms of the contributions to political parties.

Let me give the House an example. Increasingly, trusts are used to accept contributions for candidates in an election or a leadership race. We have no idea who makes contributions to these trusts. It is the way people get around the Elections Act and we do not know, for instance, who is funding the leadership campaign of the member for LaSalle—Émard or of any other candidate. Questions are raised and we need information to properly assess the situation, especially since the starting point is not the same for everyone, depending on their own financial situation. Therefore, it is important to know who is behind the candidates and who is funding them. It might help us understand some of the government's decisions.

To conclude, I would say that legislation and structures are all very fine, but what we need overall is ethics, something badly lacking in the government, as we have seen in the last few months and the last few years. Moral and ethical values ensure that guidelines are set, of course, but also that politicians do not fall short of the expectations people have when they vote for them.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

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.

EthicsRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by congratulating the government on actually making an announcement of policy here in the House of Commons. That was not so difficult. I hope the government will turn that now into a practice, as was the case when this Parliament was a more respected institution.

The Progressive Conservative Party is pleased that the Prime Minister has finally recognized the need to appoint an independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament. This has come after a decade of amnesia and a clear failure to deliver on one of the government's fundamental campaign promises. It is unfortunate that it took four ministerial resignations, and perhaps counting, to get to this point.

Almost ten years ago, the Prime Minister campaigned on the theme of ethics in politics. He was going to change the way government operated. He certainly succeeded, but definitely not for the better.

Now we have a government whose reputation has been so seriously tarnished by the behaviour of its ministers that it has to account for its actions.

Today's tabling of this draft bill is proof positive that, however difficult, Parliament can hold the government to account.

I note there is no change in the conflict of interest code that will be applied. It is worth noting on this point that the code is loose enough that it allows the Prime Minister of Canada to lobby the president of crown corporations in the interests of his constituents. The code itself needs strengthening, not just the person or the office who enforces it.

This is just a draft bill. We welcome the opportunity to amend it in the House but I make the point that it may take some time before Canadians actually see an independent ethics commissioner. There is opportunity for the government to delay here and it may well do that.

The ethics commissioner will have powers to investigate ethical issues, analyze the facts and draw conclusions. That information will be released to the Prime Minister, to the person who made the complaint, including a member of Parliament in either Chamber, and to the minister being investigated.

Officials tell us that the information will also be released simultaneously to the public. However the ethics commissioner will also provide the Prime Minister with confidential information that will not be part of the public record. That is another way of saying that the reports to the public may well be edited. We would want to have an assurance that the reports that this House receives, the reports that are made public, contain all the relevant information and are not edited by the government or by the Prime Minister on the way to the public domain.

Of course under this provision it is the Prime Minister who remains the one who makes the decision as to whether a minister goes or stays. That is hard to change in our system, except that the spirit must be understood that if improper behaviour is found, the overwhelming weight of responsibility on the government is to dismiss a minister whose conduct has been found inappropriate.

This new package calls for an annual report to Parliament. We will want to know in great detail what will be contained in that report. It must be more than simply a listing of how many investigations were initiated, discarded or completed. It should provide details of the investigations that were started but discarded.

I regret, as did my colleague, the leader of the New Democratic Party, that there is no provision here for a citizen's initiative of inquiry. I think the world has changed and the expectations of democracy have reached the point that we cannot continue to ignore the rights of citizens on questions of this kind.

As for the code of conduct, I am happy the government based its bill on the Milliken-Oliver report, a report that was ignored for four years.

We look forward to examining what the government is introducing and comparing it with what the joint committee recommended.

With respect to the appointment of the commissioner himself or herself, let me ask the Deputy Prime Minister to consider a method of appointment that may find support in the House and would certainly add to the stature of the person named. Would the government consider having a committee of justices of the Supreme Court convene to nominate a person who might serve in the capacity of ethics commissioner of the House of Commons? I think that would be one step that could ensure we had an officer whose credibility and reliability were respected generally in the country.

Finally, the amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act are long overdue. We will want to examine this legislation closely so as to ensure that the amendments accomplish the goal of strengthening the act. I am a little surprised to note that the penalties for abusing the act will not change. We will want to ensure that those penalties are adequate, particularly in an age when the role of lobbyists becomes much more significant, certainly more significant than the role of members of this House, and the law must reflect that reality.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Réginald Bélair Liberal Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report on the mission by a Canadian delegation of the Canadian Group of the Canada-France Inter-Parliamentary Association for the presidential elections in Paris, from April 29 to May 16, 2002.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Canada-China Legislative Association regarding the fifth bilateral meeting held in China in May, 2002.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour of presenting to the House, in both official languages, the report of the delegation of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association to the fifth Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region held in Tromsø, Norway from August 11 to August 13, 2002.

I should mention in passing, if I may be allowed to do so, that parliamentarians were extremely pleased that the Speaker of the House agreed to attend the meeting.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

October 23rd, 2002 / 3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-237, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce my private member's bill designed to bring some simple but long-needed reforms to our immigration system with respect to refugees.

Currently the senior immigration officers' standards call for them to review each file. However, the SIOs' findings are not binding and all claimants go through a regular process regardless of the legitimacy of their claims. This can take anywhere from two to five years. My bill simply would give the senior immigration officers the authority to determine if a refugee has made a prima facie case. If not, they would be sent home rather quickly.

Canada has been a place of safety for refugees in the past and must remain so. My bill seeks to fulfill a need for SIOs to speedily remove obvious abusers of the system while still providing for genuine refugees that need our help.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Patients' Bill of RightsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-238, an act to establish the rights of patients in relation to health, treatment and records.

Mr. Speaker, this bill would be commonly referred to as the patients' bill of rights, what rights patients are entitled to in Canada and the corresponding responsibilities of patients themselves in dealing with health care professionals.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Food and Drugs ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-239, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (process for approval of new drugs)

Mr. Speaker, this bill would effectively improve the process of drug approval in Canada. It would speed up the process.

The model that I am looking at in this bill would correspond very closely to the one in the European Community.

There would be an absolute benefit to Canada. The sooner that drugs get on the market and become available to Canadians, the sooner that diseases will be cured and people will not be hospitalized for as long a time. There would be real benefits to Canadians if this bill were passed by the House of Commons.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

A Day for Hearts: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-240, an act establishing A Day for Hearts: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day

Mr. Speaker, congenital heart disease affects approximately 4,600 newborn babies every year in Canada. In fact in one birth out of every 100 births in Canada, the baby suffers congenital heart disease.

This bill would be a recognition and awareness of that medical phenomenon. With this bill we would set aside February 14 as congenital heart disease day in Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Public Service Whistleblowing ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-241, an act to assist in the prevention of wrongdoing in the Public Service by establishing a framework for education on ethical practices in the workplace, for dealing with allegations of wrongdoing and for protecting whistleblowers

Mr. Speaker, this is a very appropriate day to introduce this bill, given the fact that an ethics package was introduced today by the Prime Minister.

The bill would effectively establish a framework for education on ethical practices in the workplace and for dealing with allegations of wrongdoing and for protecting whistle-blowers.

We know that if there is wrongdoing in any government department, there is always a reluctance by the people who know of that wrongdoing to come forward. Obviously they have been punished from time to time by the government. There are many examples of that today in the country.

The bill would free people up from sitting back and not coming forward. We want openness and transparency in government and a sense of public servants working on behalf of Canadians.

The bill is commonly referred to as the whistle-blowers bill. I am looking forward to a debate in the House on the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Medically Unnecessary Abortion Referendum ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-242, an act to provide for a referendum to determine whether Canadians wish medically unnecessary abortions to be insured services under the Canada Health Act and to amend the Referendum Act

Mr. Speaker, this bill would provide for a referendum to be held on the question of whether public funds should be used for medically unnecessary abortions. If electors agreed that this should not be the case, an amendment to the Canada Health Act would be brought into force which would allow a reduction in fiscal transfers to provinces that allow such funding.

I note for the record that prior to prorogation the bill was numbered Bill C-452. I request the consent of the House that that designation remain unchanged.

Medically Unnecessary Abortion Referendum ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Speaker

We will get the bill read the first time, if that is satisfactory with the hon. member, and then we will put that question.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Medically Unnecessary Abortion Referendum ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member has asked for unanimous consent that his bill be labelled Bill C-452. Is there unanimous consent to have the bill named this way?

Medically Unnecessary Abortion Referendum ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Medically Unnecessary Abortion Referendum ActRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-243, an act to amend the Criminal Code (abduction).

Mr. Speaker, I am reintroducing this legislation to amend the Criminal Code, specifically the section concerning the offence of the abduction of young persons.

Section 281 currently provides for the offence of abduction of persons under the age of 14 by a person other than the young person's parent or guardian. I am proposing to change the offence so that it applies to the abduction of all persons under the age of 16. My intent with this change is to provide law enforcement and the courts with just another tool to combat the sexual exploitation and the abuse of young people by those involved in the sex trade.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Remembrance Day National Flag ActRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-244, an act requiring the national flag of Canada to be flown at half-mast on Remembrance Day.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to reintroduce this bill. If the bill were to come before the House, I am sure there would be unanimous consent to it.

It will be November 11 in a few short days and we will meet across Canada. Up until now the only flag that flies at half-mast on a government building on that day is the one on the Peace Tower. This bill would require all government buildings from coast to coast to fly their flags at half-mast on November 11.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Remembrance Day National Flag ActRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

My colleague asked for unanimous consent of the bill in order for it to be effective by November 11, which is just around the corner. Therefore, I ask for unanimous consent of the House to approve the bill just introduced by the member.

Remembrance Day National Flag ActRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?