Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of the government motion to establish a special joint committee on a code of conduct for parliamentarians.
On May 23rd the Prime Minister outlined in the House an eight point plan of action on government ethics. The action plan reaffirmed the Prime Minister's commitment to meet Canadians' expectations of the highest standards from the elected and non-elected officials.
The Prime Minister stated that a key element would be to seek the support of all members of parliament for a code of conduct for all parliamentarians that would include an officer reporting to parliament who would advise MPs and Senators on ethical matters, drawing on the work of the 1997 Milliken-Oliver report.
I want to focus my comments today on how the Milliken-Oliver report's code would work.
The 1997 report recommended a code for all parliamentarians with an independent parliamentary ethics officer. The code would consolidate and strengthen our existing rules and would have a disclosure regime for parliamentarians. These recommendations were based on the experience of other countries and provinces who have had effective codes for parliamentarians.
A key element of the proposed parliamentary code would be the disclosure regime. Once the code is fully operational, all parliamentarians, including ministers and parliamentary secretaries, would be required to file a statement within 60 days of taking office. This statement would be filed in confidence with the parliamentary ethics officer who would be responsible for the administration of the code. The statement would list financial assets, liabilities, sources of income and directorships for the member, their spouse and any dependants.
A public statement derived from the private disclosure document would be placed on the public record. The public statement would be a summary and would indicate the source and nature but not the value of the member's income, assets and liabilities.
However, assets or liabilities of less than $10,000 in value and certain interests, such as the family home and car, would remain private. Members would be responsible informing the parliamentary ethics officer of any changes which could raise conflict of interest issues.
The code, as proposed in the Milliken-Oliver report, introduces rules on the receipt of gifts and personal benefits, other than expressions of hospitality, with respect to a member's official duties. The regime also requires parliamentarians to disclose gifts, benefits and trips worth more than $250.
Some of those requirements are not new to members. The House of Commons Standing Order 22 requires the Clerk of the House to maintain a public registry of the details of foreign travel by members if the cost is not borne by the consolidated revenue fund by the member personally, a political party or any interparliamentary association or friendship group recognized by the House.
Another key element of the proposed code is general rules that would prohibit parliamentarians from taking actions, making decisions or using influence to benefit themselves or their families; voting on matters in which they have a direct financial interest; and being a party to a government contract that bestows a personal benefit.
Some of these rules have already been addressed by the House, just not in such a modern and precise form as the proposed code would do. For example, the Parliament of Canada Act prohibits a parliamentarian from receiving outside compensation for services rendered on any matter before the House, the other place or their committees.
The act goes further to address members contracting with the government. It is generally felt that the act's antiquated language needs an update.
As already mentioned by the government House leader, the Prime Minister's conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders also incorporates these rules and adds more.
Because it is more stringent on ministers and parliamentary secretaries, the Prime Minister's code shall prevail.
I believe hon. members after review will find the proposed code is quite workable. While the code does require members to provide information about their financial affairs, it will ensure that requested information is kept to a minimum and with a minimum amount of paper burden.
Once members are familiar with the regime they will be readily able to comply without much personal inconvenience. Such has been the experience with similar regimes in the majority of Canadian provinces. I want to repeat that only summaries of this information will be made public.
It is worth noting that the proposed code is user friendly. The parliamentary ethics officer's major role will be to provide advice and counsel to parliamentarians on ethical issues which may arise during the course of their duties. The advice will be provided on a confidential basis. Parliamentarians will be able to cite this advice if there are ever questions about the parliamentarian's actions or assets.
The Milliken-Oliver report is a non-partisan and balanced approach to an important issue for Canadians and members of the House. A code of conduct would bring this House in line with other countries and provinces which have long had effective codes.
A code would consolidate and update our existing rules, some of which were found to be antiquated by the Milliken-Oliver report. A code would demonstrate to Canadians that their elected representatives are subject to fair and transparent rules which are administered by an independent parliamentary ethics officer. A joint committee would be a key step toward this objective.
I ask all hon. members to support the motion for the establishment of a joint committee to develop a code.