Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes for all the work he has done on this bill.
I could not help but think, as I was preparing some notes on the bill, that there should be some criteria for any conflict of interest and a code of conduct. On my own I made up those that I thought should be in the bill, and the hon. member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes had covered all of them and a number more.
When I thought about how I would address these issues, one has to put the proposed bill in a historical context. The history of some of the abuses that went on in the government that was in power from 1984 to 1993 to a great extent resulted in the election of the current administration in 1993. Those abuses led to a great feeling of distrust of politicians generally and certainly of a number of cabinet ministers more specifically. That distrust has not waned in the country as a result of the promises that were made by this administration when it was outside of government and which showed up quite forcefully in its first red book. One of those promises has not been met.
The red book was very clear about what the Liberals would do to deal with some of the ethical considerations that had arisen in the prior administration, the one from 1984 to 1993. They breached that trust and broke the promises they made to the Canadian electorate. One can stand in the House, as we have heard tonight from the speaker for the government, and say that they got re-elected. That is not a satisfactory answer.
Did the level of trust in our politicians go up since 1993? It is obvious from the size of the votes we now get, the decreasing number of people who vote and the general cynicism. As the member for Elk Island said in his joke, that level of cynicism has not gone down. If anything, under this administration, it has increased.
When we look at what is contained in the proposed bill, it cries out for support from both sides of the House. It is obvious we will not get it from the government side. It speaks in a number of ways to the point about rehabilitating our reputations as politicians in this country. It goes very directly to that in a number of ways. I want to address some of those specifically.
It sets out very clear guidelines of the conduct that we expect from our ministers, our members of cabinet. It addresses very specifically what they have to do about divesting themselves of certain assets that will put them in a conflict position. It sets out very clearly other members of their family, their family relations and how they have to deal with those. It sets out a code of conduct, and government members in particular should be looking at this part of it, as to what is permissible and what is prohibited conduct vis-à-vis constituents, other members of this country or anybody else and what the minister is allowed to do and what the minister is prohibited from doing. If that conduct had been in legislation, perhaps we would never have had the Grand-Mère affair.
The bill sets out very clearly what has to be disclosed by the minister. It establishes an ethics counsellor who will be appointed independently and it makes it very clear that the ethics counsellor will be independent and will report to parliament not to cabinet nor the Prime Minister.
This was some very good work on the part of the member for Verchères--Les-Patriotes. His bill sets out very clearly the role that the counsellor should play. The counsellor would have the right to consult with individual cabinet ministers and direct them in their course of conduct. It would allow the counsellor to investigate and conduct enquiries. All these points are covered in detail so there is no question as to the role of the ethics counsellor and how extensive it is.
Bill C-388 would allow the counsellor to make rulings to a cabinet minister on what is prohibited conduct and what is permissible conduct. For example, if a cabinet minister has some question as to whether he or she can sit on a board or be on a committee of a non-profit nature, a charitable group of some kind, the counsellor can make a ruling as to whether it is prohibited or permissible.
The bill provides some guidelines but also provides in a very concrete fashion some ability for the counsellor to be a support for the cabinet member who is uncertain as to what is inappropriate course of conduct.
The bill also deals with the question of gifts and the provision of hospitality for cabinet ministers, such what is permitted and what is prohibited, and it allows the counsellor to rule on them.
A major point that has always bothered me is the role that a cabinet minister can play once he or she leaves cabinet. This bothers me perhaps because I live in Windsor and I have been influenced in many ways by the American experience in politics. Over the years I have seen a number of abuses in this specific area. Cabinet ministers, both at the state and federal level in the U.S., move, in my opinion, at least historically although it has tightened up somewhat, much too easily between their former cabinet positions to the private sector where they are very clearly in conflict. This does not leave a good appearance for the general electorate.
If the bill were ever to become law there must be meaningful and effective penalties for offences. Bill C-388, after all the work the member has done, does address that issue.
I want to praise the member for Verchères--Les Patriotes for the work he has done on the bill. It seems to me that his bill is comprehensive and it covers all the points we have dealt with in terms of abuse over the last two administrations and it does it in a very effective way.