Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga West.
Although I oppose the motion put forward by the opposition, I do believe this is a topic that is very important to us all and that the debate itself very valuable for the operation of parliament. It is a serious issue for all Canadians, particularly for those of us in the House of Commons who have been elected to serve Canadians.
We all recognize that public confidence is vital to democracy. If we individually and collectively do not tackle this issue head on, this phenomenon could well undermine the legitimacy not only of this government but of all governments in Canada.
I believe all of us chose public life based on the simple but important belief that we want to make a difference in the lives of all Canadians.
Confidence in government is rooted in trust. This trust in government is fostered when it meets the public's expectations for fair and effective administration through ethical and transparent activities. Citizens expect elected officials like us to perform their duties in a fair, honest and transparent way, where decisions are not affected by self-interest. As elected officials, we need to ensure that our government strives toward greater transparency and accountability to the public.
I believe this government recognizes the importance of this issue to Canadians. The evidence of that is that the government has been actively engaged in promoting initiatives to foster trust since we took office in 1993.
Maintaining and enhancing public confidence has been and will continue to be a key concern of the government. Public office holders are expected to observe the key principles of impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the performance of their official functions. All activities of the government are based on several basic yet critical principles that have served as cornerstones for everything that I believe we have done since 1993.
We do not take words like integrity, objectivity, accountability, impartiality, openness, honesty and leadership lightly. Public confidence and trust in the government must be conserved and enhanced, not only for the benefit of members who are here now but for members who will take our place in shorter or longer periods of time.
Let me mention a few of the initiatives the government has put in place already in recent years. This has nothing to do with the announcements of this morning.
For example, in June 1994 the Prime Minister tabled a new conflict of interest code for public office holders. All public officers, including cabinet ministers, are bound by its key principles.
For the two years I was a parliamentary secretary and I was subject to that code. I found the experience of being subject to it, of having to go through the procedures and think about potential conflict of interest very useful to me, to my family and to my staff in my constituency and Parliament Hill offices.
I am glad that now members of parliament will be subject to similar guidelines, not because I suspect my colleagues of anything untoward but because I think, like me, they will learn from the process of having to think about conflict of interest in a disciplined way.
The government has also brought openness and transparency to the work of parliament by participating in more policy debates, innovative prebudget consultations and involving MPs in the drafting of legislation.
I am chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I know that the involvement of private members in the House of Commons is now a matter of debate and has always been a matter of debate since the House existed. However there have been steps since we came to power to improve that. I mentioned the new prebudget consultations which now typically begin in the fall and continue through to a spring budget.
I have worked with colleagues on this side in caucus on post-secondary education and research. Throughout the year we engage people in the higher education and research community. We talk to them. We encourage them to be involved in these new prebudget consultations. It is to their benefit. They will be heard in the budgetary process because of these changes.
As the House knows, there are now more reports by the auditor general than there were when we came into power thanks to a private member's bill that was passed under this government. The auditor general now reports four times a year. I am glad about that even though in my riding every three months the auditor general inevitably finds something that has gone wrong in the system. That is her job. She is a key, independent part of making the system better.
I have also greatly appreciated the increased work of internal auditors in our various departments. They have been much more effective in recent years.
Time and time again the government has shown the kind of leadership demanded by Canadians. The leadership of the Prime Minister in these matters has been very important. The confidence that Canadians have in us has been shown a number of times in elections and has been shown time and time again in polls across the country.
Ethical issues affect us all, at least they should. They affect how Canadians view us and how they view public institutions. Our collective challenge is to enhance the confidence of Canadians in government, not just for this government specifically but governments in general. Our challenge is also to continue to earn the respect of Canadians for public office holders and the institutions that serve them well.
Again I repeat that this debate is very useful and healthy exercise. I would point out that it is not the sort of debate that would take place in parliaments in other jurisdictions. This is a very open debate on a very serious matter. I am glad it is happening, but I will not be supporting this motion.