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House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Shut up, I am talking. How can they use a system every day and then say that it is not valid? Earlier, the member talked about the Immigration and Refugee Board. All those who want to be appointed to the board must go through a process. There is a written exam as well as an oral exam.

These appointments are not made casually. Committees can invite practically any government appointee to question them.

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3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that my colleague from the Liberal Party is dealing with this issue. We know very well what happens in committee, for example, how opposition members can be muzzled when the time comes to ask embarrassing questions.

We know very well how the Liberals can shorten some sittings. I know this because I also sit on a committee. The chair, who is a Liberal, is quite friendly, but when I ask questions that are somewhat embarrassing for the friends of the party, we are told that it is not the time to ask certain questions.

We know very well that the sitting was shortened when Mr. Gagliano came before a committee. The Liberals used the Standing Orders and we know that they can use the Standing Orders. Finally, we know very well how opposition parties can be muzzled in committee. We do not have the opportunity to ask all the questions and we are often called to order.

When a motion to muzzle the committee members is moved, the Liberal members come out of their office—we had never seen them before—come to vote and that is that. The witness leaves, and we have not been able to ask the questions that we wanted to ask. The Liberals are fiddling with the truth here. They only say what they really want to understand.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, one after the other, the Liberal members mentioned Standing Order 110 and 111 concerning the operation of the House.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the other members all repeated this little pitch; they said that the people appointed automatically appear before the committee.

However, how can the member for Québec, whom I congratulate for her speech, explain to the people opposite that there is an inconsistency between saying, on the one hand, that this is automatic and, on the other hand, that Standing Orders 111(1) and 111(2) use the conditional tense, which makes it non automatic?

How does she explain that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has used these Standing Orders, if not to give us smoke and mirrors and to distort the true meaning of the Standing Orders of the House?

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are all well aware that the use of the conditional makes things other than self-evident.

Standing Order 111 reads as follows:

The committee specified pursuant to Standing Orders 32(6) and 110, ... shall if it deems it appropriate, call—

To a careful reader, this is not self-evident. We are very well aware how it can in fact be deemed that something is inappropriate. We know very well that the Liberal majority controls committees as far as voting goes. We know very well that, even if there are two Liberal members on a committee, they bring on five or six more to vote. They are summoned, told “There's a vote and you need to come on over and vote, so that we can block the opposition motion. We do not want to see dear old party friend or colleague in a tight spot”. That is that.

The second paragraph reads:

The committee, if it should call an appointee or nominee to appear—

We know just how undemocratic the committees are.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to again congratulate my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier on the appropriateness of the motion he is putting forward today, given the way this government is evolving.

For the benefit of those listening to us, I will read the motion, which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

I will point out that there are 3,500 such appointments, virtually arbitrary appointments, by the Prime Minister and his apparatchiks, in this fine democracy that is Canadian democracy. I would, however, like to focus my speech particularly on a number of heads of Crown corporations and agencies that are of great importance, both the agency and the individual. I am thinking particularly of Jean Pelletier.

Jean Pelletier is a former mayor of Quebec City, a man of strong personality and a former executive assistant to the Prime Minister. He certainly has the right high profile to head up VIA Rail; we have no doubts about his competence, but no one has ever had to prove it, even though it is obvious. Without challenging the individual himself, we do want to focus on the appointment process.

The same goes for André Ouellet, a nice young man. I spoke with him again last month, on a very sensitive issue, because it is not always very clear with Canada Post. However, he is very skilled with people, this is part of his abilities. He is a former Liberal minister. Apart from the fact that he was a Liberal minister, nothing proves his expertise. Once again, the PMO decided that, from now on, André Ouellet would act as president of Canada Post.

It is possible to make several dozen appointments like this. In my opinion, on many aspects, and we will try to demonstrate this in the few minutes that we have here, Canada is a fine, modern and sophisticated banana republic that knows how to present things, how to do things on a large scale so they do not show too much. However, they end up showing.

It is a little bit like Mexico. The PRI, that is, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has been in power for 73 years, probably because it appointed a good number of friends. Over the years, the number of friends adds up, especially with friends of friends. As long as the people do not protest, the PRI remains there. However, when citizens get upset, they kick it out as was the case recently. The PRI had been in power for 73 consecutive years.

In the case of the Liberal Party of Canada, it is 69 years—that is close to the PRI—69 years during the last century. That means that a lot of friends were appointed. That means that, between 1900 and 2000, particularly the latter part from the 1960s on with Trudeau, Turner and the present member for Saint-Maurice, many friends of the Liberals were appointed. We saw it in Shawinigan, and we see it everywhere, from coast to coast. Often times, it is for political reasons. Their skills are not taken into account; they are irrelevant. It is the whole appointment process that comes into question.

What I find irritating is the appointment of directors of Crown corporations, as well as of returning officers. This concerns us all, from coast to coast.

The chief electoral officer of Canada has been denouncing this situation publicly for a long time, saying that he should the one who appoints these people as part of an appointment process that would be as unarbitrary as possible. We need not look far; we have only to follow Quebec's example. The member for Beauharnois—Quebec spoke a little while ago about Quebec. We can talk about Quebec.

Where the appointment of returning officers is concerned, Quebec is a model. Of course, let us face it, nothing is perfect in this world of ours, but we should set benchmarks to ensure some kind of neutrality, if we want a non-partisan and objective appointment process. As things now stand, if you are not a Liberal, you do not stand a chance of being appointed as a returning officer, which means that the democratic process has been tainted.

Personal acquaintances can sometimes be blamed when mistakes are made. How many friends does a returning officer have in the Liberal Party who have some influence over the election process? To whom would they naturally turn to?

Let us say that funds were misappropriated or there was an attitude problem and a complaint was filed. At present, the chief electoral officer cannot fire a returning officer, because he did not hire him. It has happened. The chief electoral officer cannot fire someone he did not hire.

The chief electoral officer plays a key role in making this great big country a democratic country. He has a key role that is being tarnished because of the lack of an objective, unbiased and professional process for appointing returning officers.

Therefore, we do not have a democracy. I talk about a banana republic, and that comparison can take us very far. A banana republic is a country that hates referendums and that will have nothing to do with the kind of democracy we have in Quebec democracy, where we are constantly wondering if a referendum should not be held.

No referendum was held on the Confederation, in 1867; no referendum was held on the patriation of the Constitution, in 1982; no referendum was held on the social union agreement, in 1999.

There was never any referendum to deny the existence of the Quebec people. Aboriginals are recognized in this great big country, but not the Quebec people, which is not even recognized as a distinct society. Everyone knows that it is an empty shell. There never was a referendum. The public was not consulted, except on a few occasions.

We did it and were rebuffed every time. It sure does not make us enthusiastic. We were rebuffed at the time of the Constitution and we were rebuffed again in 1992, when English Canada said no and Quebeckers said no, but for fundamentally different reasons. However, everyone said no to the policy designed here in Ottawa. So, this is a strange model of democracy.

I personally saw, from another angle, just how serious it is when people talk about banana republics. You will recall, Mr. Speaker—you were no doubt here—the debate on family trusts, when Mr. Desautels, the Auditor General at the time, had the courage to criticize this government's attitude in siding with a big Canadian family at the expense of the poor, which cost the Canadian tax system some $400 million to $700 million. What happened?

At the time, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. Bay Street came to Parliament Hill. The great manipulators, the great taxation strategists were denounced by the Auditor General. The folks from Bay Street, the professional accountants came to Ottawa to reproach the Auditor General for having discovered their secret; they told him that he had violated one of the great principles of Canadian taxation, the secret, since it was possible to identify a person or family with the information that he had made public.

Instead of congratulating the Auditor General, we in this sophisticated banana republic of ours, shunned him, starting with the chair at the time, who is still a member today, who attacked him as chair, refusing to let any of his Liberal colleagues ask questions, using his background in finance as an excuse. He asked excessively detailed questions to the Auditor General, from his most recent positions on the taxation system to make him look bad, in an attempt to discredit the Auditor General.

I remember this as though it were yesterday, because that is how it was, and this exemplifies this nice, modern banana republic we live in. Those were very dark days, in my opinion, for the pretentious image of democracy that this country reflects, particularly abroad, in using Quebec, in trying to pass Canada off as a bilingual and binational country, when in fact we know quite well, as I said earlier, that in reality, the Quebec people is not recognized within Canada.

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I would like to remind the hon. members that they must try to stick to the subject on the Orders of the Day as much as possible.

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4 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a brief comment. First I want to congratulate my colleague on his remarks. Someone who rises to express his or her views on something always deserves constructive comments. However, I understand that he may be a little upset because the Bloc Quebecois, which is normally very concerned about important issues, has proposed today a motion on which we will have an opportunity to vote. They have been told that what the motion on which we will vote is calling for already exists in the House of Commons. This is obviously very disappointing. I understand why my colleague from Trois-Rivières is upset, but even though one is upset, one must not stop being rational and objective.

Talking about referendums, there were referendums on amalgamations in Quebec. Did the PQ government respect that? They should tell us about that experience. What I would like to ask the member is if he thinks that the motion before us today is productive. What the motion is calling for already exists. Standing Orders 110 and 111 have enabled the Bloc Quebecois to invite witnesses to appear.

Second, can he tell me if parliamentary commissions in the Quebec National Assembly have as much freedom when they hold hearings on appointments that were made?

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, we will start with the last question on partisan appointments by the Quebec government. If the statement made by my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord were true, knowing the Quebec press and how hard it is on the government, and how closely it follows the debates, I think the government would end up getting hassled about every one of its appointments. As far as I know, there are guidelines, there are mechanisms which lead to the recommendation of certain candidates for this or that position and the executive makes the decision on the appointment, because that is its responsibility.

As for the municipal amalgamations, the example I have in mind when I hear about this is Mont-Tremblant. On the one hand, we have all the development of the mountain with astronomical investments, and on the other the nearby villages which benefit less.

In its wisdom, the government said that it would form a new entity and that everyone would benefit from the riches. It is too easy to say “No, the mountain belongs to me and I am keeping it for myself,” as some people wanted to do in certain areas of the Montreal region, particularly in the west island. The idea of municipal mergers is a new way to redistribute wealth, and I think that it will bear fruit. Those who were opposed to the mergers are now beginning to realize that people are generally very satisfied one year later. Imagine what it will be like once the mergers gain full steam and they really start to pay off. They will benefit all of Quebec's economy and true democracy.

Finally, I would like to give today's example. In philosophy, there is comprehension and there is extension. It is possible to get to the same place using different approaches.

The sensitive issue of sponsorships is a good example of bogus democracy. There are new elements in this affair. We know that there may have been fraud involved. There was certainly propaganda. We saw big “Canada” signs on the ice at the Forum, costing $500,000 a piece.

Then, there are the contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada. When we ask questions of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, we get the impression that there are government agreements. The government answers in its own way without being accountable to the public. A minister answers that he does not really understand the question for whatever reason. He gives whatever answer he wants, and as the opposition, we are forced to live with that. This demonstrates my little thesis that Canada is a democracy that is in very bad shape.

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October 29th, 2002 / 4:05 p.m.

Mississauga South Ontario

Liberal

Paul Szabo LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I think the motion that the House is dealing with has been used very generously as a proxy to talk about the broader subject of parliamentary reform in a number of aspects.

With regard, however, to the specifics of the motion and particularly with regard to appointments, clearly a substantial number of appointments are made by a government. I do not know the precise number. I think it is something in the neighbourhood of some 4,300 appointments. This motion is specifically referring to matters such as ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and crown corporations.

I do not think that there would be any disagreement with regard to the spirit of the main motion. Indeed, many if not most of these appointments actually do get referred to committee under the existing Standing Orders. I have been at committee where we have reviewed the appointment of an ambassador. I have been to a meeting where we reviewed the appointment of the current privacy commissioner and had an opportunity to pose questions and to get an understanding of the work going on there. So this happens, and I think that I probably will be supporting the main motion, unamended.

If I could use a little latitude to talk more broadly about what may be the underpinning intent of the motion, it is, I believe, that parliamentary reform in a number of aspects is something that members in this place would like to see. This aspect has to do with more independence and more empowerment of committees. It means that committees will have this opportunity.

Having been a parliamentarian for some nine years, I can reflect on my work on committee, whether it be the finance committee, the health committee, the transport committee, estimates of government operations, or industry. I have had a broad experience. I also have had the opportunity to sit in for other members to do their committee work for them and I have watched how committees operate

I think it is terribly noble to say that committees should be empowered, should be more independent and should have this authority, but when we get these rights to do things that also carries with it the fact that we have responsibilities. We have to do the job properly. Are committees doing the job properly now in all respects? I think most members here would agree: no.

For example, let us simply look at the review of estimates. We have in our Standing Orders that the estimates are referred to committee automatically. If a committee does not review the estimates, they are deemed to have been reported back to the House. Therefore committees really do not have to do anything. What is the experience of the House? It is that 80% of committees do not review the estimates or report them back to the House. They are deemed to be reported back.

How can we suggest that we need more responsibility when in fact we are actually not taking care of probably one of the most important aspects of committee work, that being the review of the estimates and the performance reports? This is extremely important. Therefore to suggest that as a right we want to be able to do this has to also incorporate the concept that there is a responsibility to do the committee work that is being asked for and that is being required under the Standing Orders.

There have been other suggestions that committees should have greater autonomy to do certain things. There have been concerns expressed that a majority government, for instance, has the majority of members on a committee and therefore by virtue of mathematics tends to be able to control the agenda and in fact the results of virtually every vote. That is the peculiarity of a majority government. We could talk about the merits of having majorities or somehow releasing members of Parliament so that everyone can go their own ways. However, I can only assume that members will continue to want to represent the views of a party, of their platform, et cetera.

It would be very difficult to say “Let us just release members and we will trust them to be partisan in their activities”. The reality of this place is that it is a partisan House. The reality of this place is that members, as they discharge their responsibilities, also have other responsibilities, needs and wants. At the same time, if an opportunity should present itself in committee “I'll give you this if you give that” is something I have seen a lot.

We cannot suggest that this one item should be seen as simply a major improvement in the process. I think the spirit of the linear idea of reviewing appointments is important, but there have been some questions about whether or not those appointments should be reviewed. Or is it that we would like not only to review them but to have the decision making as to who in fact gets the job? On that purview of who gets the final appointment and where the approval process is, I do not think that at this point it has been suggested that it be changed to the committees. The motion before us does not suggest that the committees would make the appointment. They would not vote on the appointments. They would prepare reports and report on the referral to committee of an appointment.

There is precedent in parliamentary history that appointments not be politicized, not put into that purview, such as they might be in the United States where there are public hearings. There have been some quite public and quite damning episodes where people of integrity have been trashed in public. It is not the Canadian way. It is not the parliamentary way. I do not think I could support that, but I certainly do support the committees having this kind of latitude.

In this broader discussion about committees reviewing appointments and the other responsibilities they have if they want more rights, what happens with, for instance, referral of bills before second reading? They can go to the committee and the committee can do some work, but the fact of the matter is that once a bill is printed it has been developed by the departmental officials with whatever consultation they have done and it has cabinet sign-off. Once it is printed at first reading, as far as I am concerned that is a fixed position against which parliamentarians have to work. Even if it goes to committee before second reading, there will have to be some pretty serious work done to make changes. We have seen that on bills like Bill C-5, the species at risk bill, and some other bills. We have that authority to refer. We already do. It is not used very often but we do that already. It has not made the difference that I think people had hoped it would.

Maybe for public consumption it is nice to say as a generality that we have to empower committees, but the reality is that committees are in a partisan environment. They are subject to the ebb and flow of other things that happen in the House, to party discipline, to party platforms and to all the things that we experience throughout our parliamentary careers. It is idealistic to suggest that somehow we will simplistically change this unless one could demonstrate that in the Parliament of Canada it could operate in virtually all facets in a non-partisan fashion.

I believe that as long as we have parties running in an election with their own leaders, their own platforms and their own philosophies, partisanship always will be part of this place, and we have to work within the reality of this place. That is why I am happy that the motion before us does not go that one step farther and state that it will be the committee. I have seen committees stacked by members. If the appointed members do not seem able to wrap their support around a particular item, I see those people replaced all the time. If we want something to happen at committee, parties can make it happen. It is part of the partisan process. We have seen it. We have seen it with the drug patent legislation and other stories I have heard here.

I think that what we really want and the proxy that the motion brings to this place is that members of Parliament want to earn the respect of the Canadian public. I think that there is a serious concern about the attitude that Canadians have expressed toward parliamentarians from time to time. It has become almost a national pastime to bash politicians, yet I know most of the members in the House reasonably well and I know that 85% of them come from backgrounds where they have significant community service records, where they have done an enormous amount of work on behalf of their communities and therefore on behalf of Canada on a totally voluntary basis. They do come with credentials and that is the reason why they were elected. They were elected not because they promised to do things. They were elected because they had shown what they could do.

In this place there are changes that we can make to earn back that respect. I think that things like standing up in this place and reading a speech is actually contrary to parliamentary policy or parliamentary tradition. I do not think that members should stand up here and read a speech. Members should stand up here and look another member in the face and tell them how they really feel. If members do not know what they are talking about then they might as well sit down, because it is really important that we speak to each other about what we know. If members do not know, then they should sit down and not say anything because I do not want to hear somebody read a speech to me. I would rather that they send it to me and then sit down.

We need to have people talk about things that they know about . If they do not know about the subject, we do not need to have them stand up and give a speech. That is an example of something we can do in this place. It is a matter of credibility. It is a matter of integrity. It is a matter of talking about the culture of Parliament. We should talk about how we do things here. We have been playing with private members' business for a long time. I have often wondered about this as we play with issues of parliamentary reform, whether it be committees or whatever. It has been suggested as well, for instance, that private members' bills could go to committees after first reading, that we could let them all go, that the lottery process is ridiculous.

There are 301 members of Parliament. If we assume that half of them, about 150, would be interested in participating in the private members' process, they could not all get their bills dealt with by a committee within a session, so we would still have to rely on a lottery process of some sort. Somebody has to go first. It is maybe disingenuous to suggest somehow referring it to committee. Actually I could see that it might very well grind Parliament to a halt simply by virtue of the fact that committees would be burdened with private members' bills to which they would have to give due consideration. Every member is going to want to appear before committee. They are going to want to call witnesses. Most of them will go to the justice and finance committees. I wonder how the justice and finance committees are going to do their work if suddenly they are seized by private members' business and they have to do it.

We have to get our priorities straight. Reform of Parliament is an important aspect of this, but I think that reforming the culture of Parliament and reforming our attitudinal postures in this place are very important. We have to live with the reality, however, that this is a partisan environment. Our elections were partisan. We become members of a partisan party, a partisan group and a partisan government and we come here. But when we do not do our jobs properly, we do so at our own peril. Unfortunately we know that members of Parliament are often elected not for themselves but because of the party that they are with, their party platform or the region they come from, et cetera. These are the realities of this place.

Let us look at history. We know that this mix does change. It changed significantly enough that a government went from a majority down to two seats. It can change in one region from a majority of seats to a handful of seats or no seats. It has happened. As I have said, governments do not do their jobs properly at their own peril.

It is very important as we look at these aspects of how we empower committees or members of Parliament themselves that we are realistic about the environment in which we live. We have to be respectful of each other. We have to do our jobs. We have to know our subject matter. I think that the best starting point for us in this place is to make sure that people who participate in debates on issues in this place are those people who have done the work and know the issues and have something to contribute. I believe that the whole quality of the debate and the challenge to other members of Parliament would be to raise the game up to that level, to make it relevant and to make sure that we do not have the partisan bickering on matters of importance that transcend partisan activities.

We have just had a debate on the future of the health care system. We are awaiting the Romanow report. We want to ensure that Canadians have a health care system which provides for the medically necessary needs of Canadians. We want to ensure that it is properly funded, universal, accessible, publicly funded and portable so that Canadians have that security.

However it continues to be undermined. Today when I looked at the news I saw an advertisement on behalf of the premiers of the provinces saying that the provinces pay 86% of health care; it used to be 50% but now the federal government is only paying 14%. We all know the reason is that the dollars are not only in cash. They are in tax points. The federal government is the sole funder of aboriginal health care and all of the health protection issues. The direct spending that the federal government puts into health spending changes those numbers.

Those are the partisan games that are played. Those are the partisan issues that tend to influence Canadians because the optics make it appear that something is wrong. People will be influenced when we rely upon newspapers and television ads to make the case rather than sit down and look at what contributions are being made. If the provinces are not going to give credit for the tax points, there is a simple solution for that. Responsible parliamentarians say we should just undo it, let the federal government take those tax points back and make it all cash. The government could do that.

We have this motion and we agree with the premise but the motion was made with a broader point in mind. It was a demand to start talking about parliamentary reform in a way which would make this place function in a manner in which parliamentarians could feel proud about what they are doing and represent properly the interests of their constituents.

However if we do not accept the reality of being in a partisan environment, I do not believe we will fool anyone about any kind of reform. There will always be trade-offs.

For example, we have adopted the rule of applying votes. With the unanimous consent of the House we can have a vote on one issue, then apply the vote so we can get out of here quicker. The whip stands and says “with Liberal members voting yea”. If people look at parliamentarians as a bunch of sheep because we all vote the same way, this could not be a more dramatic example of that. Someone stands up and says we are all voting one way, and every other party does the same thing.

Why is that? We did that in reaction to people who wanted to demonstrate against a bill. They would put in a large number of amendments which would take the House days to vote. Therefore to get over that we decided to apply votes. However it does require unanimous consent.

There will come a day when a member will get sufficiently cynical about this place and will start denying unanimous consent on everything. This place will grind to a halt because we have accommodated that cynicism.

We must be realistic about this place and we must work together. It does not mean that we have to abandon the partisanship that is part of the environment we are a part of through the election process and which we bring to government. It does mean that we must work together in the best interests of all Canadians and at the same time have the freedom to represent the interests of our constituents, and debate openly and freely on motions, whether they be brought by the opposition, or on other matters that come before this place.

I hope that as we move forward on this overall theme of parliamentary reform and renewal that members will build on some of the points that I have raised.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I listened to what the member had to say. According to our colleague, things could not be better. The Liberal Party and the current government are apparently perfect and getting better all the time, when we know that no other government in the history of Canada has been more corrupt and more plagued by scandals than the current Liberal government since it has come into office.

I have been a member of this House for 18 years and I have seen what happened to members and ministers under the Conservative government, as did the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. We have seen Liberals get in a lather and demand that ministers step down because of some minor mistakes they had made. Four or five Conservative ministers had to resign, most of them because of minor mistakes.

Nowadays, ministers are taking part in propaganda campaigns; they seek contributions for the Liberal Party coffers; they award contracts to their friends. They are appointed for political reasons only and not because of their qualifications, but, according to the member, everything is fine.

I would like to ask him a question. In accordance with their party's philosophy, should the parliamentary secretary not recommend to the justice minister that he amend the Criminal Code in order to punish those who waste the taxpayers' money? He could recommend that the legislation be amended so that judges can send these people to prison or appoint them ambassadors, as was the case with a certain gentleman.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, my case has been proven. There is the partisanship coming through, without reference to the motion that is before us.

Notwithstanding allegations of giving contracts to friends and lining the pockets of relatives, and in fact there are potential lawsuits over that, here is a member whose decision was to leave one party, the Conservative Party, and go to another. In that particular party there were some 36 ministers who had to resign for a variety of reasons.

We are not perfect but I can only reflect on the former solicitor general who left cabinet because the ethics counsellor felt he should not have made representations with regard to funding to Holland College where his brother happened to be the president. There is no question that his brother could not have personally benefited but being an honourable gentleman, he stepped down and will try to defend his honour.

I guess that is part of the partisanship that is here. I have tried to work with members on all sides because eventually we will all need each other's support on something that is important not only to ourselves but, most important, to our constituents.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

I just want to say one thing to the parliamentary secretary. He spoke about the scandals of the former government, the Progressive Conservative government. Yes, I was a member of that party but when I saw the partisanship and the scandals, I had the courage to get out of the party so I would not be an accomplice to those dishonest activities and those patronage appointments.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member probably made a difficult decision for himself and I respect his decision. It is difficult for members to do this.

This is the kind of honesty and sincerity that we would like Canadians to appreciate. There is more good in this place than bad. There are occasions when things occur which should not have occurred and people have paid the price for it.

The member well knows and will concede, and I do not know if there is a member in the House who would not concede, that the talent in this place, the credentials and credibility are enormous. I have seen members on committees work together on a non-partisan ad hoc committee and do some extraordinary work. It has led to good legislation or changes to legislation which have improved legislation. Those are the kinds of things that we do not get enough credit for.

The member says I must make a decision. We make decisions every day about whether or not we are going to abuse the system by overplaying the partisan card or whether we are going to work within the system to make a better Canada.

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4:30 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me congratulate my colleague on his speech. He is always very respectful of his colleagues who, just like him, were elected in various ridings.

I will refrain from speaking about generalities because we all know there is almost unanimity on the main motion. There is no problem since what is proposed is already being done.

So I forgive them for presenting a motion requesting something that is already being done within the Canadian Parliament, but not in all legislative assemblies.

Yesterday evening, I listened to the leader of the Bloc Quebecois on TV. He said, and please correct me if I am wrong, that the take note debate on health was a waste of time.

I think that take the note debates which have been proposed by the government, with the approval of opposition parties, are definitely good occasions to give all members of all parties the time to express their views on important issues, such as regional development, the environment, international policies or our foreign policy, all issues that we have had an opportunity to discuss.

Could my colleague explain the importance of the take note debates proposed by the government over the past few months?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as long as I have been a member of Parliament health care has been the number one issue on the minds of Canadians and an issue of concern. It has been addressed in legislation and in budgets virtually every year. This attention comes as a result of the input of Canadians ostensibly through their members of Parliament. The take note debates certainly are a part of that process. Should a member decide that these are a waste of time, it is only a waste of time if a member of Parliament decides not to participate or tries to somehow use it for other purposes.

We have many tools. There is more than one way to discharge our responsibilities. A large number of members of Parliament spoke yesterday on health care. They have spoken on the ethics package and on Iraq in take note debates. These are important not only in terms of trying to influence policy, but also in terms of educating the Canadian public.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the motion presented by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier. First, I want to point out that I will share my time with the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. Just mentioning the name of her riding takes close to a minute of my time.

In the last little while, a number of hon. members, particularly those who sit across the floor, have said that the motion of the Bloc Quebecois and the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Mercier were pointless. We were just told that this already exists under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

I think there is a failure to understand the motion before us and I think that members opposite are changing the content of the motion slightly. What is the purpose of the motion presented by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier? It is very clear.

I will repeat the motion, so that members opposite clearly understand. The motion reads, and I quote:

That... government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

I have the relevant standing orders and I will get back to them later on.

The hon. member for Mercier added a very important amendment asking that appointments be “referred before confirmation of the said appointments”.

Once an appointment has been confirmed, even if we call the appointee to appear before the committee and ask him all kinds of questions, that person has already been appointed and nothing will change. This is what the Bloc Quebecois wants people to understand with this motion. It wants people to realize that there is a very important lack of democracy in this process and, as others have mentioned, we are not talking about one or two appointments.

We are talking about 3,500 positions, about order in council appointments, which include some 1,000 judges, some 100 heads of missions abroad, including ambassadors, senior public servants, 500 full time employees and 1,900 other part-time employees in all sorts of organizations, commissions, committees and so on, created by the government.

This brings me to the democracy in which we live. I would like to talk, among other things, about the standing committees of the House of Commons, to which the Standing Orders refer. It is said that appointments should be referred to these committees.

Even in the committees there is a democratic deficit. We are very much aware that the government always has a majority on these committees. Once that majority is questioned by an opposition MP, as my colleague for Québec has just said, the members are automatically called back, as they are often absent—which I ought not to mention—they are called back urgently to stop the opposition motion from getting through.

When the committees are sitting and there are public hearings, people ask us “What is the point of appearing before a committee if our position is opposed to that of the government majority? We won't get heard anyway or, if we are, it won't be taken into account”. I think we have had some fine examples of that in recent years.

My colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques is here to confirm that, but I did not want to revisit the business of the unanimity on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. All members had called for major changes to the Employment Insurance Act. What happened next? The government totally thumbed its nose at them; it ignored the recommendations of its own MPs.

We have seen this in other areas as well, and I have had personal experience with it on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

Last spring, a unanimous report was tabled by all members of Parliament, those in the government majority as well as those in the three opposition parties. We adopted a unanimous report so that an important fisheries-related issue might be settled. What good did it do? The government did not take it into consideration.

As citizens, the question we must ask ourselves is the following: do we still live in a democracy or in an apparent democracy? I think that we live in a partial democracy, but there is a vast part of government that is neither accountable, nor transparent.

People wonder why citizens these days are losing interest in democracy. One only has to look at voter turnout in the last election to see this. We wonder why citizens are not getting involved in our democracy. This is dangerous, because, as people gradually lose interest in our parliamentary system, as they gradually stop going to the polls, as there are fewer and fewer of them to exercise their rights, our democracy becomes threatened. I think we need to think about this.

The motion moved by my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier is very specific, even though it only refers to appointments. When I say only, I should be careful. When we are talking about 3,500 positions, all of the government is involved. There are a great many decisions involved that have a direct impact on citizens.

My colleague, the member for Trois-Rivières, spoke of the appointments of returning officers in every riding, but we could just as well mention—because my colleague, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques may well talk about it briefly—the appointment of those who, for example, preside over employment insurance cases at the Tax Court of Canada.

Again, these are political appointments. These are people who know quite well that they were appointed by the majority,and who are aware that they must respect government orders from on high. This does not do justice to taxpayers, to the citizens who are called to appear before the courts and who no longer believe in justice. As a result, they lose faith in the impartiality of the courts. Given that the judges are political appointees, people have severe doubts regarding the impartiality of the courts in which they must appear.

We could also have a look at the way board members of crown corporations are appointed. Here again, when private citizens have to deal with crown corporations like Canada Post, they are bound to think that decisions will not be free of bias. There is always some bias because the role of the executives is to defend the government policies. These people are appointed as directors or chairmen of the board precisely in order to uphold the policy of the government in office.

The motion before us raises the question of whether we are in a democracy and why we elect governments. Why do citizens elect a Parliament and form governments?

I think the primary role of the government is to serve all citizens and to redistribute services and wealth fairly. That is why we are a democracy, and not a dictatorship where a small group has total control of the government. We vote for members throughout the country, in Quebec as well as in Canada, so that they can speak for us, and express our ideals and our vision of our society.

To conclude, I think the way this government works and the way preceding governments have worked, for this has been going on for some time, is very dangerous for democracy. The manner of appointments and an increasingly secretive government are dangerous for democracy.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been following the debate since this morning on the government appointments motion by the opposition.

We are fortunate to live in a country like Canada which gives members of Parliament or citizens the right to participate within a system and come to the House with the intention of separating a province from the country. That is our system and we cannot deny that.

If one does not appreciate the democracy we have here, all one has to do is step one foot outside this country to appreciate what we have in this country. However that is a matter of perception.

There is an expression, Mr. Speaker, do not do as I do, do as I tell you to do. The hon. member for the last 10 minutes spoke against our system and the federal government. We all know he is a member of the Bloc Quebecois and Bloc Quebecois' twin organization, Parti Quebecois which has ruled Quebec for the last 10 to 15 years. Basically they are two sides of the same coin.

On the smart idea that the member brought forward in the last 10 minutes, is it the same as the Parti Quebecois does in the province of Quebec? I know the Parti Quebecois appoints officers overseas to what it calls Quebec House and it asks them to be Parti Quebecois members. If it can do that for them, why can it not do that for us? I cannot figure that out.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not respond to the last part of the statements made by the member for Brampton Centre because I think that it would be pointless. However, I will say that Quebeckers as a whole are very well informed as to what goes on in Quebec. They are very much aware of what goes on in Quebec; in terms of democracy, it is superior to what goes on here. I hope that my answer is clear, that he heard it well and understood it well. I will repeat it if necessary.

He said at the outset that getting out of the country makes one realize how good things are here. In Quebec, things are good also. We have a great democracy in Quebec. That does not mean that Canadian democracy is not good. However, there is a danger, for example, in believing that it cannot be improved and that it cannot change for the better. It is very dangerous to think that democracy can be taken for granted in a country such as this one where more and more decisions are made secretly in the backrooms without consulting the public and without informing the public.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think we should rise above partisan politics and look at this issue in a very good light. Some of the opinions expressed by my colleagues across the way have merit.

The one difficulty I have is that the motion would require that before any appointments were finalized they would have to be tabled in the House of Commons and be scrutinized by us.I have absolutely no difficulty with more scrutiny by the House on many of the appointments. It does not matter if the appointments are made by this party, the previous party or if they are made in Quebec or made in Alberta, sometimes they are slipped through in covert operations.

As a humble suggestion, would my colleagues across the way want to change their motion to read that when the House does not sit that appointments made will be looked upon when the House comes back? We would like to give the power to the government to function. Not only do we want the government to function but we also as parliamentarians must scrutinize what happens.

Would the Bloc members alter the motion so that appointments would be allowed to go through when the House is not in session but that they would be dealt with when the House returns?

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4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, if my colleague wants to propose a motion or an amendment to that effect, he is free to do so. We will discuss it. We are not here to discuss a possible amendment that he could propose to the motion before us, to which an amendment has already been proposed.

I would like to come back to what I was saying earlier and would like to add that democracy must never be taken for granted. We must never forget that anything done secretly, anything that prevents the public from being informed is dangerous for democracy.

The fact that we live in a democratic society does not mean that democracy can be taken for granted. Democracy can never be taken for granted.

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4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this debate on a motion introduced by the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier. As far as I am concerned, this motion is quite relevant and deserves all the consideration of the House. I would like to read this motion, which says:

That, in the opinion of this House, government appointments of ambassadors, consuls general and heads of regulatory bodies and Crown corporations should automatically be referred to the appropriate committee of the House of Commons for consideration, and that the relevant Standing Orders of the House of Commons should be amended accordingly.

The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier introduced this motion this morning to see whether we could not, in this House, improve the situation on the whole issue of patronage appointments, on the whole issue of transparency, truth, justice and also the appearance of justice. This is a debate that was raised by the member for LaSalle—Émard, who has several supporters on the other side of the House who are saying that they agree with him in the speeches that are made outside this House. But today we have not seen many members of the Liberal majority agree to have a debate on this issue.

To go a bit further, the government House leader said in his remarks this morning that this motion is just a confirmation of what is already being done.

First of all, we have shown this is not the case. Under Standing Order 110, the majority of members on a committee can decide whether or not they will summon somebody who has just been appointed to examine the merits of the appointment.

What we are suggesting is that appointees should be examined to counterbalance the very broad power wielded by the Prime Minister, who can abuse this power and even appoint people like former minister Gagliano.

We are giving a certain amount of leeway to Mr. Gagliano by saying the facts have not been completely proven because there has been no public inquiry, something the government refused. There was at least the appearance of injustice because the minister was appointed as an ambassador mere days after the situation in which he was involved came to light.

By this motion, we want to restore some order and close loopholes so that appointments will be screened and partisan appointments weeded out.

When the government House leader said in the House “That is exactly what we are doing. They should be asking instead that the appointments be referred before confirmation of the said appointments”, we took him at his word. The member for Mercier came up with an amendment. That is what parliamentary debates are all about. We brought forward the amendment and, since then, the Liberal majority has been arguing that it can no longer support our position to plug all the loopholes and make our system much more efficient than what we have now.

I used Mr. Gagliano as an example, but I could talk about lesser known officials, in more ordinary positions, like the members of the EI board of referees. Some appointees are honest people who are entitled to their political opinions, but others are appointed only because of partisan considerations, and that is unacceptable.

We have to ensure that there are more qualified candidates for these positions. The decisions made by these people have an impact on our constituents. We have seen the impact some immigration decisions have had; they caused major complications. It also happens with the employment insurance legislation and in other areas, like with our embassies.

We know that, normally, foreign service career people advance slowly, depending on their skills and assignments. When someone without a background in this field has just been appointed, it would be a good thing to look at their CV to see what they have done, to make sure they are qualified for the job.

In committee, the hon. member for Mercier wanted to question Mr. Gagliano on his experience, and the committee chair systematically prevented her from doing so. This is the kind of situation we do not want to see repeated in similar circumstances.

That is why making the review automatic is important. There needs to be a process guaranteeing there will automatically be a review, a control, some counterbalancing of the power of the Prime Minister who can always recommend those he feels are appropriate. This way, we will be able to attain an objective like the one in place in the American-style presidential system, which goes a lot farther.

In our British parliamentary system, however, this tool is not currently available to us. It is not sufficiently present in any satisfactory form. I therefore find today's contribution by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, calling for such a decision, a worthwhile undertaking.

It would also be to the advantage of the appointees, because it would enhance their credibility. According to the public opinion of the day, many people who have been appointed come with a reputation of having been appointed because of their partisan choices or their ties to the Liberal Party of Canada in the current government. This was equally true of Progressive Conservative appointees in the past.

If there were a provision for such a systematic inquiry, the matter would finally be settled. Once appointees have gone through the process, we on both sides of the House would have the guarantee that the opportunity was provided to people to express themselves, that we had the opportunity to express our opinion and to ask questions, so that public opinion could make a decision.

As I was saying this morning to the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, if the House supported this motion and if the government implemented it, in a few years, we would notice an improvement in the quality of the appointees.

Before the government could say, “It will be this person or that person, because we know him in the Prime Minister's Office; we will appoint him to this position”, there would be a watchdog saying, “Yes, but before appointing that person, we must make sure that he is a good choice and that he is competent; therefore, that person will have to go through a test to check his qualifications”. This is not being done right now. Such a process would avoid having appointments such as those that we have had and that were more or less acceptable and desirable.

This evening, twe will vote on this fundamental issue. This will be a vote which will give us an idea of the type of decisions that will be made in the future by the government, if the member for LaSalle—Émard becomes the leader of the Liberal Party.

If there is a debate in this House and if, when the time comes to vote, the Liberal majority toes the party line, we can be assured that they will behave in the same fashion when they form the next government. We will be faced with the same reality. The leader will have changed, but the spirit, the philosophy and the results will remain the same. This is unacceptable.

The Liberal majority that will vote today cannot invoke the fact that the party line has been imposed by the current Prime Minister. Liberal members will have to assume the responsibility, individually, of toeing the party line, rather than endorsing the position advocated by the person whom they see as their next leader.

The vote on this issue should signal a change in this regard, because this is an issue that should be above these matters, an issue that should make every member of Parliament think about what he believes in, about what he represents and about how he wants these things to be done in the future.

When we go back to our ridings, it may not be the first question that our constituents ask us. However, it is a question that always underlies our mandate as elected representatives. Are we acting with enough appearance of justice? Are we the same as those who have come before us? Do the appointments only serve to oil the machine, as was the case in the past?

For all of these reasons, we have debated a motion all day, a motion that is an interesting proposal. I urge every member of the House to support the motion moved by the member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier and amended by the member for Mercier because in the end, we could end up with a better quality of life and better appointments made by the government.

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5 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. member, particularly his comments regarding the statements made by the member for LaSalle--Émard last week. I do not think he perhaps was listening to those statements carefully. I have heard this all day about the member for LaSalle--Émard.

It seems to me that the Bloc has ignored some of the things that member for LaSalle--Émard said. For example, he said that it was necessary to determine which of the many thousands of appointments made annually would merit public review. He referred to the need to review appointments perhaps of the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. He then said that to determine which other senior appointments should also be subject to mandatory review in advance, we should turn to a parliamentary committee for direction.

He was not in favour of doing it in this kind of piecemeal manner, as the Bloc has suggested. Why is it ignoring what he actually said?

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5 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I interpreted the comments made by the member for LaSalle—Émard as meaning that, fundamentally, the current system does not work. It is a system in which the power is concentrated in the office of the Prime Minister. I am sure that that is what the member for LaSalle—Émard said, that we have a system where the decision-making power is concentrated in the office of the Prime Minister, which means, in the end, that who you know at the PMO is more important than your skills in the sector where you are being asked to work.

When it comes to this, things absolutely must be shaken up and we must make significant changes. That is why I said that if the Liberal members voted tonight against our motion as amended, they will have made a decision to continue to bow to the old system. They may make statements outside the House, but when it comes down to a vote in the House, they keep the old system, because that is what they stand for: unabashed partisan politics.

This is what the current Liberal government advocates. This is the system that was condemned by the member for LaSalle—Émard, and I hope that each member of the Liberal majority will decide to vote according to his or her own conscience, so that we can change this system.

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5 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, there is just so much you can do with empty rhetoric.

I can understand why my colleague is disappointed. First, the Bloc members are disappointed because what they are proposing in their motion is already in place. It is disappointing. What is suggested in the motion can be fully implemented. They are also disappointed because they got elected in 1993 by making their constituents believe that they would have real power here.

Unfortunately, when a government is elected, it has to take its responsibilities and carry out its agenda. In fact, on the issues raised by the hon. member, significant measures have been taken. However, members cannot tell all in the House and not be consistent when they meet their constituents in their ridings.

This is a member who fights for roads and wharves. But when it came time to vote on Bill C-49 to allocate money for such projects, he voted against it.

I will just ask the following little question: his leader in the House, the member for Roberval, was correct in saying the following on March 21, 2001—not a century ago:

Of course there are rules so that the government can govern—and it is ultimately the objective pursued—but there are also rules allowing the opposition to slow down the government in its decision making process. When we feel that a decision is bad, we can slow down the government, we can make things more complicated for it, we can even question some bills on which there is no consensus, particularly when opposition parties work together and pool their resources.

With this statement, I find that the leader of the Bloc Quebecois in the House has shown absolutely impeccable judgment. I would like to ask my colleague whether he feels that his leader was right in saying that the government is elected to assume its responsibilities. I feel it has made considerable progress in improving the way it listens to the opposition parties.

Take note debates allow all members to express their views. I know that his leader called it a waste of time yesterday. I wonder if more time is not being wasted today than was wasted yesterday in the take note debate on health.

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5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, there is a fundamental difference between the two debates. As far as the one on health is concerned, we have known for years that it was a problem, that there are solutions and that governments are not proposing them.

In this case, it is a proposal by an opposition member, because we are indeed here to improve the system. We all know what the status quo and the old way of doing things mean. We all know the consequences of that. We have Ambassador Gagliano representing Canada while we cannot even guarantee his integrity. This model has to be changed. This should not be allowed to happen again.

The member says that the motion corresponds to the present reality and I invite you to read it again because there are two important elements in this motion.

The motion says that consultation should be automatic and also that it should be done before these people take up their duties. It seems to be two different things.

I would like to add one last thing to the declarations made by my leader. I think that, yes,he was talking about the parliamentary activity. We are here to improve the situation and we are here to hold constructive debates like the one that has been proposed today.

We will see tonight if the Liberal majority sings two different tunes: one outside the House, to try to be chosen as a leader, and the other one, based on reality, for those moments when a vote is called in this House. We will see the difference between the two.