House of Commons Hansard #210 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

About $950 my helpful member from Nova Scotia points out. Really what this constitutes is a once a year opportunity for these low income, disabled people to perhaps make one large investment for which it is difficult to save, be it furniture, housing issues or anything. However it really does make a difference in their lives.

Sometimes it is not even the disabled person who benefits from the tax credit. It is the family or the caregiver of the disabled person. There is very little recognition for live-in caregivers, be they parents, family members or relatives. The mother and father of a severely disabled person incur a great amount of additional costs in their day to day lives in caring for that family member. If they are not in a position where the disabled person is institutionalized, they get very little credit or recognition for the extra financial burden and the extra time and work it takes to keep the individual out of an institution. This disability tax credit is one way we can recognize the contribution they make to the broader community by being a full time caregiver.

Recommendation eight is one which I had highlighted. The committee recommends that, beginning with the tax year 2002, the government pay the cost for the services of a medical practitioner who provides the CCRA with any additional information beyond completing the form T2201. The committee is saying that in the eventuality if any new applicants, from the tax year 2002 on, need to get supplementary medical evidence or a letter from a doctor, this would be paid for by the Government of Canada. This takes the burden away.

The committee is saying that the upfront costs should not be a barrier to accessing this program because these people are already poor and marginalized. It would be completely unfair if it were also limiting them from availing themselves of what help was available to them because of the upfront costs. This would include any charge for providing the CCRA with supplementary information about an individual's disability tax credit recertification or a medical appraisal for the purposes of appealing the denial of a claim.

For greater clarity, appellants would not be able to claim these costs for providing any information beyond a completed form T2201 until their disability tax claim is approved. Therefore, if the claim were approved, then the government would pay for the extra medical advice. I suppose if the claim were rejected and the person was not deemed to be disabled to the degree that they would deserve the tax credit, the government would not have to pay. It sounds like a reasonable compromise.

The committee also recommended that to use health care resources more efficiently and to reduce potential costs to disability tax claim claimants, the recertification process should be streamlined to easily identify the instances where an individual's disability had remained unchanged or had worsened. They would view this as less of a burden on the health care system if we could streamline the way we observe the ongoing health care condition of the disabled person who is claiming the tax credit and monitor whether they remain unchanged, or if they worsen or in rare cases if they improve.

I will close simply by saying that I really believe that the letter of October 19, 2001 was a horrible mistake. I would like to believe that we would take steps to remedy that before the end of this session of the House. That is why twice in recent days we have seen members of parliament, under routine proceedings, move a motion of concurrence of this report, to try to get it moving forward so that we are not bogged down with this thing gathering dust.

An injustice has been done. There was a terrible unfairness. The government seems willing to apologize. It should get that letter of apology out to those 106,000 disability tax credit claimants. Anyone who incurred a cash outlay trying to requalify for that tax credit should be reimbursed promptly. This should happen before the end of this session of parliament

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from South Shore for letting me speak first. If you agree and if everyone agrees, I will share my time with the member for South Shore.

The House will recess tomorrow, for the summer. Members will take some time off to rest with their families. The calendar says that we will be done tomorrow. We will have a chance to spend some quiet time with our friends and families, and everything will be fine.

In the meantime, some persons with disabilities are no longer eligible for the disability tax credit. Several of our colleagues here in the House have mentioned, in their speeches, the fact that they have had people in their office who used to claim the disability tax credit and who can no longer claim it because of the new rules.

I will give just one example, although there are many. There is a man in my riding who had his leg amputated just below the hip. As far as I know, there is no chance that it will grow back. He used to be eligible for the disability tax credit.

This man was asked to go to his see his doctor and have him fill out the new form based on the new criteria and the new definitions. What hurt this man—and we are still fighting for him—is that the form asks if the person can go a few dozen metres with or without a cane, a walker or crutches.

What was the doctor supposed to do? He said “With a cane or a walker, sure he can move around even though he has only one leg”. That made him ineligible for the disability tax credit. His leg has not grown back. It is unbelievable that the government can tell that man that he is no longer entitled to his tax credit. He has lost a leg, and it is just like telling him that he is no longer disabled.

I think the biggest handicap is on the other side of the House. When the government gets to the point of cutting the disability tax credit, I think that is where the handicap is.

Reviewing applications implies that people have cheated the system. This is not true, but bureaucrats are trying to find clever ways of keeping people from qualifying for the tax credit.

Why? Because of one or two, or a few cases of fraud, they are penalizing everyone. They are putting these people through stress by telling them that they are no longer really disabled. The disabled are telling themselves “I am no longer really disabled. I am missing a leg; I am in a wheelchair; I am no longer really disabled”. “I have Down's syndrome: I am no longer really disabled because my trisomy is low enough that I can manage on my own a bit”.

This makes no sense. It is the ultimate example of a government without a heart. And we are going to bat for these people in our ridings.

When we speak to Revenue Canada employees, they tell us “I am not really supposed to talk to you about this, but I will tell you what I think. It makes no sense at all, but we have to implement the new rules. We know that the person is missing a leg and is disabled, but these are the new rules and the decision comes from higher up”.

But we are right there and see these cases, and we are going to bat for them. The disabled say “What is going on? What did I do wrong? I am disabled; what did I do to the government that it is cutting my credit and questioning my disability?”

Doctors say “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Obviously, the leg has not grown back in 15 years”. Even if the disabled person goes to St. Joseph's Oratory, they are still in their wheelchair, and even if they douse themselves with St. Joseph's oil, nothing has really changed.

People are in a difficult position, as are the doctors, and must deal with this pressure. Quebec's college of physicians says “We must apply the rules; we have no choice”. So, the doctor says to his client “Sorry, I cannot help you. I must fill in the forms according to the new definitions and the new questionnaire”.

This does not make sense. We are struggling, and the government has a surplus in the billions of dollars. Officially, it is $6 billion. Between you and me, we know it is a lot more because it has put $2 billion here and $3 billion there in various foundations and other things like that. We will recall the budget of last December, in which the government promised to create a new infrastructure fund and to put $2 billion in it if it had the money. It got the money, billions of it.

I am not saying that is not important, but now it is going after the most vulnerable members of society, people who are disabled through no fault of their own, and it is questioning their situation. It is insinuating that they may be defrauding the system. It is putting added pressure on physicians and health care workers. It claims it only wants to review the situation.

The committee report was very critical. As we know, yesterday and a few weeks ago, we discussed committees' reports and recommendations. Members on both sides of the House put their heart and soul in their work. They dedicate hours and hours, days, weeks, months to their work. They put together fine reports and recommendations, but the government looks at them and says “Forget it”.

All it is doing is keeping the opposition busy and making government backbenchers believe they can make a difference and their work in committee as legislators is very important. As the House is winding down, we have another example of that.

The committee went very far, demanding that a letter of apology be sent. However, if the government can give me the assurance today that it will rectify the problem, as requested by my colleagues in the House—we are talking about a regulation and it is up to the minister to decide—we might forego the apologies. If the problem is rectified, we will let it go at that. We will not hit them over the head as they did the disabled. We are more tactful than that.

But are they going to address the issue? Will they wait until the queen's visit or the prorogation of the House to do it? Will they wait until the new Minister of Finance tables his first budget, which could be a budget with a heart and make the government more caring? I doubt it.

We can act right away. This is not a piece of legislation, just an administrative decision. There is no need to ask the House or the Senate to urgently pass a bill. The government made an administrative decision when reviewing the cases, and it denied eligible people what they were entitled to. It can make a quick decision to address the problem successfully.

On this beautiful day in the national capital, it is a shame to end a session with this kind of discussions. I cannot believe it. This government has no vision and no strategy for Canada, as I often say. The only vision and strategy it has is for the Liberal Party of Canada, period.

When the most vulnerable in our society are being accused, and pressure is put on health care professionals because there may have been a few cases where tax credits should have been denied, I think it is time for a few things to change.

I congratulate my colleague who moved this motion this morning, and I urge the government to take action in the interest of those we on this side are representing in the House.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the hon. member when he spoke about people not asking to be handicapped.

I thought about a person who had come to my office when the tax credit was taken away and how upset he was. He was only asking for a tax credit. He had lost his leg while doing a charitable act, helping someone change a tire on a highway. As he was changing the tire a car came along and hit him in the back.

When he got the review he was told he could no longer receive the tax credit. I felt bad for him. I thought about what we could do to help this gentleman. Of all charitable acts, this was one for which he should probably get a tax credit. I would liken it to a charitable tax donation much like the charitable donations to political parties we have talked about many times in the House.

I thank the hon. member for his words. The issue is important. These people did not ask to be handicapped. This would level the playing field. It is a good way to do it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said during my speech, members on this side of the House have opened up their doors and their hearts to people faced with a review of their disability tax credit. Some were reduced to tears, of course, because they live on a very low income.

In our riding offices--I know you have experienced that personally, Mr. Speaker--some absolutely incredible cases come up. When it is about an administrative issue, an administrative decision at the expense of tens of thousands of disabled people in this country, I find that somewhat disgusting.

We have to deal with that. Representatives if all the groups of persons with disabilities, notably in Quebe, have said “What is happening? What is this all about? What is the reason for all thist? Is it to be good administrators?” Good administrators at the expense of disabled people? We will remember this, 33 months from now.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have been anxious to get up to debate this subject for some time. I thank my hon. colleague from Richmond--Arthabaska for sharing his time with me. I thank the hon. member who moved the motion today.

A couple of things about the disability tax credit need to be explained to the Canadian public and put to rest. First, everyone should know exactly what we are talking about. We are talking about a disability tax credit for individuals deemed eligible to receive it. They may claim a non-refundable tax credit worth $960 or 16% of their $6,000. The October 2000 budget statement indexed the disability tax credit to inflation. An individual who supports a person entitled to a disability tax credit may under certain circumstances claim any unused portions of the credit.

The fact that we are debating this in the House of Commons speaks volumes. It is absolutely scandalous that in a time of surplus the Government of Canada is doing little more than deliberately bullying and picking on some of the most vulnerable people in society. It speaks volumes about a government that has lost its direction and sense of responsibility to the most vulnerable in society

All members here, government and opposition, have had dozens and sometimes hundreds of people in their offices who have been refused the disability tax credit. The rules Canada Customs and Revenue Agency has set down for people to qualify for the credit are obscene in every extent of the expression. The first rule is that an individual claiming the tax credit must be examined by a medical doctor to determine whether he or she is able to walk 100 metres.

The hon. member for Blackstrap spoke about a young man with one leg who came to her office. He had been doing a good Samaritan act, helping change a tire. Through no fault of his own he was hit by a car, lost his leg and had his disability tax credit reviewed.

A young woman came to my office, a single mother who has worked every day of her life and is still working today. She had her disability tax credit reviewed. The government decided she could continue receiving it. However because she was a single mother and the disability tax credit meant a lot to her, she was extremely upset at being reviewed. She was another individual with only one leg. She said she goes to work every day, is ambulatory, gets around and does her job.

How many Canadians understand that someone with the use of only one leg must spend 20% more energy to get from point A to point B than a Canadian with the use of both limbs? Most amputees spend on average 20% more energy to do the same jobs and live the same lives we live.

The disability tax credit is not something that says a person is disabled and cannot work. That is what it has become. The disability tax credit should recognize that it is more difficult for people with disabilities to do the same job and perform the same role in society as those of us without disabilities.

People should not have to be quadriplegic, and heaven protect those who are, to get the disability tax credit. They should automatically should get it. There are a lot of other people who have lost an arm or a leg or who suffer from mental impairment who should receive the disability tax credit, because it is in recognition of the fact that they have a disability. This is not a pension and this is not about someone looking after them for life. This is simply in recognition of the fact that they have an impairment which makes it more difficult for them to do the same jobs the rest of us take for granted.

A young lady who is an amputee came to my office. She said “I could walk 100 metres, but it is more difficult for me when it is snowing. It is more difficult for me if it is uphill. It is more difficult for me if it is raining. It is more difficult for me if it is level ground and perfect conditions, because it will cost me 20% more energy to walk the same 100 metres that it takes the rest of you”.

I agree with my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska that this is a regulation, it was a mistake, it needs to be reviewed and reversed and absolutely the sooner the better.

This is an immense pressure upon medical professionals, upon the doctors who have to review this for their patients. I was trying to go over the list of criteria. I do not have it in front of me, but I have handled enough of these in my office that I believe I can remember the criteria. The first criteria of this meanspirited change in the regulations is, can the patient walk 100 metres? There are others. Can the patients think, perceive and remember? Can the patients feed themselves? Can the patients use the washroom by themselves?

This is an embarrassment to members of parliament. It should be an embarrassment to CCRA. It should be reversed immediately. It is absolutely scandalous that for lack of foresight we would pick on the most vulnerable section of society. It is absolutely scandalous.

Not only is it arbitrary and insensitive, it goes a step further than that. The issue is that people were able to access the system in recognition of a disability and now we are debating that disability, front and centre in the House of Commons and so it is on every TV screen in the nation, as to whether or not we should be giving this tax credit for this disability. People who are disabled, who are unable to work or able to work, do not want this debate to be occurring in the nation.

There is a very, very small percentage of individuals who receive a disability tax credit without good reason. That less than 1% who may have actually received something from the system and did not deserve it is not a reason to reverse the entire process.

As a member of parliament, I am appalled that we are debating this piece of legislation. It needs to be reversed immediately. We should be ashamed of the fact that we cannot do a better job than we have done as members of parliament to defend the most vulnerable in society.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Burin—St. George's Newfoundland & Labrador


Bill Matthews LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, when I came to the Chamber this morning I had no intention of participating in the debate, but I must say that I have been quite taken aback and I have been struck by the quality of the debate by members who have participated this morning.

Members of the human resources committee have done a very good job and high quality work and I want to commend them for their work. Really I think it is a testimony not only to the quality of the work that individual members of parliament do here in this place but also to the standing committees of the House of Commons. It is a testimony to the quality of work that we do in this place. All too often we get criticized for not working at all. We get criticized about the amount of time we work and quite often about the quality of work.

However, it is the second day in a row that I have stood in this place to take part in a concurrence debate on a unanimous report from a standing committee. Yesterday the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans tabled a unanimous report that made some very strong recommendations to the Government of Canada to deal with the issue of foreign overfishing. Today a unanimous report of the human resources development standing committee has been tabled. The committee has done some very thorough work and I cannot commend it enough for the work it has done, particularly in zeroing in on this disability tax credit problem.

Like most members of the House of Commons, I have received many calls at my office about the disability tax credit issue and the problems it has caused. Almost to a person, the people who have called have received the tax credit for years. They are wondering why the change has taken place. In most cases the condition of the client has not improved and in a lot of cases it has become worse.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre has said, each illness or disability has to be looked at in isolation because they all vary and there are peaks and valleys in certain conditions. In some weeks or months a condition could be worse. In other weeks it could level off. In other weeks and months there could be improvement.

Members have made some very valid points. I listened to the member for South Shore who made some excellent points. I have to commend him for the thoroughness of his debate and input. It has been a good debate. For two days in a row we have been debating unanimous reports of standing committees, and as one member of parliament I have to ask these questions. What does a unanimous report of a standing committee really mean to the Parliament of Canada? What does a unanimous report mean to the Government of Canada? I do not know how we address these questions.

However, it seems to me that as we go about addressing the importance of members of parliament and the importance of having more input and productivity in regard to what happens here, I think that we somehow need to give serious consideration to the weight of a unanimous report from a standing committee of parliament. As we all know, quite often we are presented with unanimous reports that have involved some very thorough work and make some excellent recommendations, but nothing seems to happen afterward.

I have listened very carefully to what members opposite and members on this side have said. I commend them for their very direct remarks. I want to concur with many of their remarks, because as one individual member of parliament I have many of the same concerns. I think the government has to give greater weight to unanimous reports and the recommendations contained therein from the standing committees, all party committees of the House. Once again I cannot commend the members enough for bringing forward this issue and for being so thorough about it.

Having said that, I am sure members will agree, particularly those who are on the human resources committee, that because of their work and the work of individual members of parliament we have seen some improvements in the mandate and the issues of Human Resources Development Canada.

In the employment insurance file we have seen the elimination of the intensity rule because of work of members of this parliament and because of the standing committee recommendations. We have seen tremendous improvements in parental leave. In regard to the income cap level, because of the work of members of the House of Commons we have seen it raised, which means the clawback is not as much. These things have been positive happenings in the last 18 months or so because of the work of parliament and because the Government of Canada listened, not only to individual members of parliament but to the work of, in this case, the standing committee on human resources. I want to go on record as highlighting that, because we have seen some improvements as a result of the work of the committee.

Of course as members all know there are other issues with the employment insurance system that need further consideration and, in my view, need further changing. I only need reference the number of weeks, the divisor rule. Many of us in parliament, in fact perhaps all of us, represent some pockets of high unemployment. It just so happens that some of us represent more pockets of high unemployment than others. However, across this great country, even in the richest provinces, there are pockets of unemployment. The same problems and the same rules apply in those provinces.

We do need to have a real serious look at this divisor rule. in my view, because it is causing some very serious hardship for many Canadians who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in industries that are seasonal. Some people say that these people only want to work for 14, 15 or 20 weeks. That is not the problem. The problem is that the work only lasts for that amount of time.

If we are in the forest industry, climate or market conditions determine how long we work. If we are in the fishing industry, the fish allocations, the total allowable catch that is set by this very Government of Canada dictates how much fish can be taken from the ocean and consequently put into our fish plants for processing. That impacts on the number of weeks of work that an individual gets. It has nothing to do with the individual's desire to work or not to work for 12 months a year. It has everything to do with resource supply, which is managed and allocated by this very Government of Canada. Yet because of some of those rules we as a government penalize them to a large degree because we, over time, have mismanaged a very important resource.

I think we have to dig a little bit deeper into some of our employment insurance problems, rules and regulations. There still needs to be some adjustments made to our employment insurance system for the benefit of those, of course, who pay into the fund and over the lifetime of the fund have been very significant contributors.

I just want to go back once again to the crux of the debate this morning, that of the disability tax credit. I want to say that I have had numerous calls to my offices on the issue. I have spoken personally with a number of constituents who have run into problems with the disability tax credit situation. There are people who have received it for years and years and now find themselves in the predicament that many hon. members have alluded to this morning.

From my own point of view as one member of parliament on the government side, I hope that the minister and the government take very seriously the recommendations of the committee and will recognize the very thorough job and all the work it has done, because it really has done a fantastic job in getting into this issue.

With that, I conclude my remarks. I wanted to go on record here this morning as commending the committee and saying that I hope the issue is dealt with in a fair manner. I hope some attention is given to the recommendations of the committee. I conclude my remarks on the debate, and I once again want to thank all hon. members who participated.

Before I sit down, I move:

That the House do now proceed to orders of the day.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec


Pierre Pettigrew Liberalfor Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons


That the Report of the Special Joint Committee on a Code of Conduct, tabled on March 20, 1997, be deemed to have been laid upon the Table;

That a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to consider whether the recommendations of that report ought to be adopted, with or without amendment;

That eight Members of the Senate and sixteen Members of the House of Commons, to be named at a later date, be the Members of the Committee;

That changes in the membership of the Committee, on the part of the House of Commons, be effective immediately after a notification signed by the Member acting as chief Whip of the appropriate recognized party has been filed with the clerk of the Committee;

That the Committee have the power to sit during sittings and adjournments of the House;

That the Committee have the power to report from time to time, to send for persons, papers and records, and to print such papers and evidence as may be ordered by the Committee;

That the Committee have the power to retain the services of expert, technical, professional and clerical staff;

That the quorum of the Committee be 13 Members, whenever a vote, resolution or other decision is taken, so long as both Houses, including at least one Member of the opposition from each House, are represented, and that the Joint Chairpersons be authorized to hold meetings, to receive evidence and authorize the printing thereof whenever six Members are present, so long as both Houses are represented;

That the Committee have the power to appoint from among its Members such sub-committees as may be deemed appropriate and to delegate to such sub-committees, all or any of its powers except the power to report to the Senate and the House of Commons;

That the Committee make its final report no later than October 31, 2002;

That, notwithstanding usual practices, if a House is not sitting when the final report of the Committee is completed, the report may be deposited with the Clerk of that House and it shall thereupon be deemed to have been presented to that House; and

That a Message be sent to the Senate requesting that House to unite with this House for the above purpose and to select, if the Senate deems advisable, Members to act on the proposed Special Joint Committee;

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


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

Mr. Speaker, before I get into the topic today, I want to note that this is probably our second last day before the summer recess. This morning when I arrived at my desk I had the pleasure of finding an ice cold glass of water. It struck me that this is the second last day that this group of pages who have been with us all year long will be with us. I noted their wonderful job. They knew I was on the list to speak today and were kind enough to be ready with a glass of water. It is indicative of the good service we have seen here all year long from this wonderful group of pages. I want to thank them very much for all their services. I am sure my colleagues would agree.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

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.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian AllianceLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, talk about something ending with a whimper rather than a bang. We had the vaunted ethics agenda of this government, and what has become of it? We had the meaningless package that was presented by the Prime Minister last week which was more of an attack on his leadership rival than anything to do with ethics. Today we have before the House a motion to strike a committee, and I will get into that issue in a few minutes.

This is so unimportant to the government, which is an exercise in low balling, that it does not even bring a minister to present the motion to the House of Commons. I mean no disregard to the member who presented the motion but there is only one member of cabinet here to introduce this vaunted committee.

We also talked about campaign finance reform but now we learn that is a committee that will be struck sometime in the fall. I guess the House will get on with that sometime in the third millennium.

It has been a tumultuous spring for the federal Liberal government, not just with all the infighting and the increasing divisions within that party, but in terms of what Canadians have come to realize. Canadians have come to some very grave realizations about this government. They see that we are governed by a federal government that has betrayed the trust put into it by Canadians, and it has betrayed its promise of good and ethical governance.

The government has shown Canadians that it routinely engages in practices that are worldwide synonymous with unethical conduct. Whether we call it abuse of power, influence peddling, dirty politics or corruption, I think it depends on the particular file we are dealing with. This government has been exposed in systematically misusing the money of hardworking Canadians for its own political benefit.

Canadians now know they are being led by a federal government that has betrayed public trust and broken its promise of an ethically governed country.

This government has not ceased to misuse the funds of Canadian workers for its own political advantage.

It applies political pressure to help its friends. At the same time, it is showing how incapable it is of understanding the true significance of this debate on ethics.

When Canadians pay taxes, they are making an investment in essential public services such as national defence and security and national health care, for example, two of the most important things. These areas of government responsibility have endured serious underfunding in recent years as we all acknowledge.

Our Liberal government has been at the same time misusing taxpayer money and misusing taxpayer investments by throwing money into dubious ventures, where often little or no work is done, to reward its friends in the form of sponsorship and advertising contracts, always the firms, just by coincidence, with important financial ties both ways to the Liberal Party of Canada. This is a betrayal of the worst kind. Canadian families must deny themselves economic betterment by paying taxes that are too high only to be ripped off by a system of cronyism and kickbacks by which the governing party reaps financial benefit.

At the same time the government has shown it has no understanding at all of such basic concepts as conflict of interest and political interference. These are symptoms of a governing party that has governed for far too long. These are signs of a ruling party that has come to identify its own interests with those of the nation. It is an indication that ideas of propriety and impropriety no longer exist in the minds of the people at the top of the government as long as the Liberal Party benefits.

After several months of scandalous revelations that have splashed words like ethics and corruption across all the front pages of our newspapers, we finally find ourselves today doing what? We are debating a motion to address ethics in government. Rather than debating a substantial motion that would address the serious violations of ethical governance that we have seen over the past several months and years from this government for that matter, here we have a debate on whether or not to strike a parliamentary committee whose mandate would be to study and report on a previous report conducted by a similar parliamentary committee over five years ago.

I remember this report well. I was in the House of Commons when the member for Elk Island and others from our caucus were working on that report. I went away for five years, did a whole bunch of other things, had a family, came back and we are right back to the same business. Nothing has changed. It is just like one of those soap operas. One can miss it for several weeks, tune back in and pick up right where one left off. I should add the report we are talking about resurrecting now is the report of course that was never actually acted upon in the past five years. If we ever have had an exercise in smoke and mirrors, it is today.

Let us ask some hard questions about this exercise. Is it really the backbench legislators who have been violating rules of ethical conduct? Is it opposition MPs, for that matter government backbenchers, who have control over the allocation of millions upon millions of dollars in contracts? Have Canadians lost faith in their government because of the actions of private members of parliament who spend their time writing private members' bills and assisting their constituents?

No, we all know what it is all about. This issue has been about the misbehaviour and the unethical conduct of ministers of the government. It has been about cabinet ministers overseeing a system that gives out millions upon millions of dollars in improper contracts. It has been about cabinet managers, senior government officials, who have engaged in endemic ethical mismanagement and who have presided over something that quite frankly appears to be little more than a cash for contracts racket, all to interfere with the bureaucracy and obtain grants and loans for their friends.

Just so I do not throw out those kinds of words without backing up my position, let me take some considerable time to go through the files that we have been debating in the House of Commons over the last several weeks so we understand the scale and diversity of the problems that have been brought forth. In introducing this not so little list actually of stories and of government files, I will begin with introducing some of the characters.

Some of the characters in our little drama are: Groupe Everest, which has donated $83,000 to the Liberal Party since it came to power; Groupaction, which has donated $100,000 to the Liberal Party since the 1993 election; Lafleur Communications Marketing, which has donated over $50,000 to the Liberal Party in the same period; Groupe Polygone, which formerly employed the immigration minister, has also donated to the Liberal Party and to Liberal candidates in both of the last two national elections; and Coffin Communications Group, which donated a total of $20,000 to the Liberal Party in the years 1999 and 2000.

Let me review the various scandals in which the names of these firms have been featured. This by the way includes mention from recent news only. I could go farther back and add to this litany.

First, Groupaction was awarded three contracts worth $1.6 million to “increase the visibility of the Government of Canada”. We certainly could say that it has achieved that recently. The first contract was awarded without a proper selection process. Contracts two and three were virtually identical to contract one, or at least the reports.

Second, in December 1996 the Department of Justice paid $330,000 for a communications strategy for the Firearms Act, but now claimed this year that no work was ever done or even requested. It makes us wonder why, as in so many of these files, no one bothered to ask any questions about this over a six year period, when we could get this information from an access to information request. Presumably every minister and every senior official in these departments knew all about this in the interim.

Third, in 1997, just after it had been incorporated, Media IDA Vision received a five year contract to be the “agency of record for media buys for the government”. It is linked of course to Groupe Everest. From then on, this firm began to receive three-quarters of all government media buys in spite of treasury board guidelines saying that these contracts should not have exceeded one-quarter.

In January 1998, a crown corporation, the CBC, awarded a $4.5 million contract to Groupaction, by telephone no less, for federal advertising announcements during the Olympics.

This one is particularly interesting because of course CBC is a state owned company which specializes, as do all major media outlets, in putting together advertising packages. Then we pay an additional firm to put together advertising packages to go on the government advertiser.

In the summer of 1998, Communication Coffin received $38,000 from public works to purchase $320,000 of advertising, and management of the advertising for the Cascar Superseries and the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières.

Communication Coffin then billed the government $116,000 for the preparation of three reports explaining how the original amounts of federal funds were spent on advertising and other services at these two auto racing events in Quebec. Two of the Coffin reports have yet to be located.

Then there is public works. The department of public works spent $2.6 million on the Almanach du peuple , an annual publication in French similar to the Farmer's Almanach . The government gave $392,000 more than the cost of the advertising to the French printers, Groupe Polygone.

So this is a case of course of a firm advertising in its own publications and being paid additionally for doing so.

Another case was in 1999. Public Works awarded Groupaction $112,000 for merely passing along a cheque to VIA Rail Canada for a film on hockey legend Maurice Richard. It is hard to imagine anyone in the private sector actually would be interested in making a film about Maurice Richard. This is one of the sports heroes of Canada. Obviously there is a market for it but somehow we have to publicize it here.

In another case, Groupe Polygone received another $330,000 in 1999. I am going to draw attention to that because the figure of $330,000 keeps coming up. Someday we will find out why that is because it is awfully suspicious. The same figure, the same amount comes up over and over again. I bet there is some significance in that. I bet there are some Liberal Party fundraisers who could shed some light on exactly why it is that number. It received that money in 1999 to organize sponsorship for a Quebec hunting and fishing show, Le Salon National du Grand Air . The show never actually happened and the money was never returned. No one even looked into returning it until questions were raised three years later in the House of Commons.

Lafleur Communications is another case. I will have to extend the sitting of this parliament just so I can finish this list. Lafleur Communications was hired by the federal government to provide promotional items such as golf shirt and balls. I will not say that I had any dealings with that. However Lafleur then subcontracted the business, $158,000 worth of items, to a company controlled by Éric Lafleur, the son of Lafleur Communications president, Jean Lafleur. Now everyone in the family is involved in that deal.

Groupe Polygone is another example.

Groupe Polygone got $656,000 for a 50 page report on the life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the 2001 edition of the Almanach du peuple . In comparison, the Government of Quebec purchased 155 pages for $39,000.

In other words, the Parti Quebecois government paid somewhere between 30 and 50 times less for the same advertising. It is a rare time that anyone will hear me note the superior financial management of the Parti Quebecois.

In March 2002, the minister of public works spent a weekend at a cottage belonging to the president of Groupe Everest, Claude Boulay. Public Works does business with Groupe Everest. This mistake cost the minister his job.

Perhaps that is why they did not want the minister to present this motion, to remind us that the minister was front and centre in all of these scandals.

I cannot help but add something. I was introduced to the House five weeks ago. The Prime Minister rose and teased us about having eight leaders of the opposition over the past nine years. I have only been here five weeks and there have been two ministers of defence, two House leaders, two ministers of public works and two ministers of finance. By the way, the Minister of Finance is only part time at the moment. We have big problems over there.

Since 1997, Groupe Polygone has received $38.7 million to promote the federal government at hunting and fishing shows, in magazines and books, and on the radio. In total, Polygone has received 17% or $40 million from Ottawa's sponsorship budget, which has totalled $232 million since 1997.

Here is another instance. The justice minister admitted in May that he had gone on fishing trips with Lafleur Communications president, Jean Lafleur, but indicated he always paid his own way. Of course we remember hearing that from the House leader as well until we got the half a cheque. Lafleur did work for the Canada economic development when this Minister of Justice was minister for that portfolio between 1996 and 2000. No doubt, this is coincidental, once again.

In June 2002 the Department of Justice admitted it had kept using Groupaction despite the minister of public works indicating that the firm had been cut off. It has been cut off, unless of course they happened to not hear that announcement, in which case it just kept going on.

That is the pattern. No matter what they say, no matter what happens, the money keeps flowing to these people. Some of that may have to do with the last item I will mention in this long list, and the one I think is the most reprehensible of them all.

In September 2000, before a public works audit was released to the public or even to the rest of the government indicating that there were serious abuses in the sponsorship program, Pierre Tremblay, chief of staff to then public works minister, Alfonso Gagliano, held a special retreat at Hotel du Lac Carling with the presidents, with the dons of the five Quebec advertising companies, identified by auditors as having abused the program. One can only presume that they were either warned of the impending release or developed some kind of strategy for whatever purpose to keep the money flowing to deal with the publicity, not unlike the meeting that was held only a few days later in the Prime Minister's office to work out some of the details.

Again, in September 2000, Pierre Tremblay, Alfonso Gagliano's chief of staff, went away with beneficiaries of the sponsorship program, namely Claude Boulay from Groupe Everest.

That is a good portion of the story's history. When I read all that it is not surprising to figure out why it gets really hard for the media, the public and even some of us to keep all of these cases straight. It is endemic, widespread and all over the place. We are not talking about one thing. We are talking about virtually every contract we look at in that department over a specific time period.

It has led to RCMP investigations, as far as we know, because the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will not tell us what files have been referred to the RCMP. He will not even tell us the number of files. We know of at least six ongoing RCMP investigations.

One is the Groupaction contracts referred to in the auditor general's report. Two is the Coffin Communications $116,000 contract for the three post-mortem reports on how it spent the $320,000 on the ads at the two car races. Three is the RCMP investigation of which we are aware involving Lafleur Communications. It was a $112,000 contract for passing on a cheque from public works to VIA Rail Canada Inc. for a film on Maurice Richard.

Four is an RCMP investigation of which we are aware involving Groupaction's phantom $330,000 contract with Justice Canada to sell the Firearms Act in 1996. We know how successful that has been. It would have been better to save the money to pay for the Firearms Act. The government will need it as the bills get over $1 billion.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Have you got your guns registered yet?

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian Alliance Calgary Southwest, AB

I was asked if my guns have been registered. Let me just say that I have my guns aimed at the right place and we are going to keep aiming them there.

Those guys over there should be up to date on all this stuff. Number five is an RCMP investigation on a contract related to federal funding of an educational CD-ROM and comic strip on street safety for children. Something which I did not mention earlier is that the comic strip and CD-ROM were designed to give advice to children on street safety and subjects such as not talking to strangers. I hope the Liberal cabinet minister is included in that.

Government documents show that the $1.3 million sponsorship deal was handled by Groupaction Marketing for an $81,000 commission. Children of the Liberal Party will probably be investigated before too long. I should not joke about this but it is so bizarre.

Number six is the RCMP investigation of Groupe Polygone's $330,000 sponsorship contract--there is that number again--for the hunting and fishing show, Salon national du grand air, which never took place.

What has the government done in response to all these matters? We know it did not do anything, particularly in terms of trying to retrieve money or have a police investigation, until all of this came up in the House under the third public works minister who has been supposedly looking at it.

What has it done? This is important. In most cases the first response of the government is not to deny the allegations levelled at it but rather to defend the behaviour. That is always its first course of action.

Here are a few things we have learned recently about the Liberal mindset, particularly the mindset of the Prime Minister because he is the one I am quoting in most of these instances. I am tempted to call these the Prime Minister's laws but maybe we will not go that far.

One, just because a firm has provided substandard or even fraudulent work in the past, even when the work is under criminal investigation, does not mean it should automatically be ruled out for other contracts. This principle was articulated by the present Minister of Public Works and Government Services in a late night session we had here one night. He called it natural justice to the firms in question. He began to reverse himself the next day. Natural justice as I understand the concept is supposed to be permanent and eternal but apparently not with the government.

Two, if it serves a good political cause like national unity, we should not be upset if money gets stolen in the process.

I am not making these up, by the way. These are the Prime Minister's actual positions.

Three, there is nothing wrong with ministers of the crown lobbying even in their own areas of responsibility for friends and relatives. In fact, they have a duty to do so. I will comment later on exactly how that operates.

Four, it is grossly unfair and unacceptable to criticize the government for corruption unless an elected person has actually been charged and put in prison. That is the high ethical standard the Prime Minister sets.

A member just asked when was the last time that ever happened. We have trouble enough keeping convicted murderers in prison. It is unlikely anybody will go to prison for these kinds of violations.

Number five is the one I like the most. The Prime Minister said we should be more concerned about controlling how bad information gets out than about doing anything to fix it. We remember that this was really illustrated when the Prime Minister had his rant outside the cabinet room because people were getting information out. Remember the passion? He was going to deliver a bar room cross to any cabinet minister who got in his way that day.

We see the completely mute, almost amused reaction of the Prime Minister when we actually try to get something done about these things. What he is mad about is that we actually find out about them. That says all we need to know.

How are we addressing it? We are addressing it today with the Oliver-Milliken report. Why now, five years after the report was first presented?

I would suggest that as in everything the reason is diversion. The extension of the ethics debate to the conduct of ordinary members of parliament and senators is simply a smokescreen to allow the government to have this debate move on to a different terrain, away from the cabinet and the ministers, and quite frankly to the idea that all politicians are just equally corrupt anyway.

Only ministers and parliamentary secretaries, including the Prime Minister, are faced with true conflict of interest situations and the temptation of using public funds to reward friends of the government.

The fact is that other members of parliament do not even have the power to get involved in the kind of conflicts we are talking about, even if they had the will. It is only ministers of the crown and parliamentary secretaries, including most importantly the Prime Minister, who are faced with real conflicts of interest and the temptation and power to use public money to favour friends of the government.

That is what all of these scandals have been about. Every single one of them, HRDC, Shawinigate, Alfonso Gagliano, Canada Lands, Groupaction and all the related scandals over sponsorship, advertising and polling contracts. They are all about the Prime Minister and the cabinet. They are not about any of the people whose conduct will be monitored in this particular report.

Since the report came down in 1997, there has not been a single instance, or even an accusation of which I am aware, of undue influence being exercised by backbench or opposition MPs. Obviously that is not where the problem lies.

The Oliver-Milliken report goes on anyway to propose the development of a code of conduct for all parliamentarians. Interestingly, it would in any case in many ways match the virtually toothless code that has been applied to ministers since 1994. At least we would know what is in it. We only found out about the ministerial code of conduct last week. Until then we did not even have a copy of it.

That code has been totally inadequate because it deals only with the private interests of politicians coming into conflict with their public duties. It does not look at the real problem which is when it involves the public interest being intermeshed and interfering and being in conflict with the interests of friends of the Liberal Party, or of the Liberal Party itself.

We would need assurances that any package arising from further consideration of the report that we are going to strike a committee to examine would provide for enforcement of an independent officer of parliament chosen by parliament. Once again, we demand an independent ethics commissioner and not just for backbench members of parliament and senators who under our unreformed system of government have virtually no power, but one that applies to the cabinet and the Prime Minister in particular who possess all of the power. Otherwise such a package is useless, just as the current regime for ministers since 1993 has been utterly useless.

The report was tabled in 1997 but the government chose to take no action on it whatsoever until today, even though it had the full power to do so. The government is only acting now as part of its attempt to show that it intends to deal with the increasing evidence of rot and corruption at the base of the government, motivated as always by an appearance to act with no real effort to ensure that any change that matters actually happens.

The real issue is the systematic and systemic erosion of the public interest in favour of the narrow partisan interests of the Liberal Party and its friends. The ethical question is the mixing of the public interest with those narrow partisan interests and the use of the spending power of ministers and ultimately the Prime Minister.

The blending of private and public interests as used by the government, is used by the Liberals simply as a cloak for masking and justifying these inappropriate actions. I can give four examples of how they cloak their behaviour and justify it.

One example is when the solicitor general talks about the needs of a public college that wants government money to pursue a program but the real interest turns out to be that the minister's brother is the head of the college. It is sheer nepotism.

The cloak of national unity is employed to cover the Liberals pumping public money into advertising contracts, supposedly to boost the image of the country when in reality it enriches friends of the party who in turn will make donations to and render services to the party.

Third is the cloak of public interest invoked in the case of the office of the so-called ethics commissioner. This is an employee of the Prime Minister, an official over whose decisions and behaviour the Prime Minister maintains absolute control.

Fourth is the cloak of tending to the needs of constituents. This is the one I really like. This is used by the Prime Minister himself and many other ministers in lobbying the Business Development Bank of Canada. His real interest is the health of the adjoining golf course which assists the Prime Minister's own business affairs.

That is the failed Liberal legacy. That is the way the government is conducting business. That is what the committee is designed to take our minds away from and not to address.

The government has had not only five years since the Oliver-Milliken report to clean out government but it has had nine years in power. During those nine years it has done nothing other than window dressing. In fact, the corruption which has been at the core of some of these scandals has continued to expand.

In 1993 when the Liberals came to power and were given a mandate to govern Canadians based on their red book promises, here is what they said.

The red book did indeed describe the problem of ethical integrity in the government, one of the reasons the previous government was removed. The Liberals were fully aware of the problem and their failure to deal with it has to be judged in that context. Today reading the red book proposals from 1993, “Governing with Integrity”, one gets a positively eerie feeling.

It states on page 91 “After nine years of Conservative rule”--and we just have to replace it with Liberal rule now:

--cynicism about public institutions, governments, politicians and the political process is at an all time high. If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored.

What has been done? There has been absolutely no change since 1993 in spite of all the protestations of government. The reason? The most damning is the Liberals have failed to deliver on their own specific red book promises, which I will get into in a minute. Before I do that I want to make one observation of the difference between the present government and the previous government.

As is known, I am no fan of the previous government. However, with the previous government, I recall well when there were instances of cabinet ministers behaving improperly and unethically, they were forced out, forced to resign. This is something the Prime Minister used to trumpet about the Mulroney government, that so many ministers had been forced out for corruption, ethical misconduct, incompetence or dubious dealings.

What has the Prime Minister's present song been? Up until the former Minister of National Defence, nobody had been forced to resign. Does that mean he actually dealt with the problems that would lead to resignations? No. It just meant that his standard was that no one ever had to resign. He has a completely different conduct. I will say that it has been an effective exercise in communications.

If a minister engages in misconduct or gross incompetence, and I could name some, or outrageous statements, they are backed to the hilt by the Prime Minister. Then six months or a year later there is a cabinet shuffle and they are floating at the bottom of the Rideau River. However, he can say that there has been no misconduct and no one has ever been fired in his government. The fact is that the list of the people who should have been fired is as long if not longer than the list in the previous Conservative government.

All of this of course just generates cynicism. It is worse because after talking about it and opportunistically getting elected on it, the Liberals have turned around and have done nothing about it.

As I have said, on this and several other issues, the real scary part of the government is that it has lowered our expectations of what we should get from public officials. The difference between now and 1993 is that in 1993 people were outraged about what went on. Now people expect it. There is no difference. That is what we are really fighting against.

What did the Liberals promise in 1993? Here are some of the promises that would clean this up. First, on parliamentary reform the red book states on page 92 “give MPs a greater role in drafting legislation through House of Commons committees. Needless to say that has not happened. We have the continued stranglehold by cabinet and the Prime Minister over all legislation. All legislation that ever passes through parliament has to be maintained and augmented by the Prime Minister. He simply will not change or tolerate any real legislative initiatives by his own backbenchers let alone by the opposition. We have examples of this.

I can talk from my experience sitting on parliamentary committees. I recall one in particular on electoral reform. The Speaker will remember Dr. Ted McWhinney, the vaunted and expert political scientist who participated on the committee. We were ready to come up with all kinds of excellent recommendations. What happened as always happens is that at the last minute when we were getting ready to vote on something, the government whip came in and the guys who had been there who knew what we were talking about were gone, the trained seals were put in place and the vote went through and there were no changes whatsoever. It is typical and it still happens.

Another point also from page 92 is “more free votes in the House of Commons”. That was another check. There have been virtually none of these since 1993. In fact, there have been less than there were previously under the Conservative government.

I could also talk about the election of senators which was also a promise of the government. If we want to talk about cleaning up the Senate, I do not think it is with a code of conduct. What does it matter what their conduct is if they are not elected? Let us have some elected senators. That was another promise of the government.

In addition, the government has continually thwarted and gone back on its word every time we have initiated members to ensure votability on private members' bills. It is only now, after nine years of complete intransigence, that the government is prepared to entertain some reforms to private members' business. It is another thing that it was going to reform and has not done.

What did we find out? That it was another smokescreen. We have sat around while our House leader and others from the opposition parties have debated this stuff endlessly for the past couple of weeks. Today there was a report in the paper saying that there will be changes to private members' business, that all things will be votable and that it is a little victory for the reform of parliament. We found out this morning that is probably not going to happen either.

The second set of changes that were promised were to appointments and elections. After attacking the Conservative government for “the practice of choosing political friends when making appointments to boards, commissions and agencies” and promising to make such appointments on merit, the government has simply extended the process. The ultimate example of this is the appointment of the former minister of public works to a prestigious foreign diplomatic post when some of the things that happened under his term of office here are under police investigation. Some people have asked what Denmark ever did to us.

This was exactly the sort of patronage appointment the Liberals ranted about in the 1993 campaign. As I have said, nothing has changed. In fact, this Liberal system of patronage appointments has been refined and expanded into a real science.

What would our approach be? The Liberals say “Just trust us. We will make all the necessary inquiries if you bring these matters to our attention. We will rectify them internally. We will send things to the RCMP. You do not need to worry about them any more”. That is simply not good enough. It is simply the government, its agencies and the ministers examining their own conduct.

Nothing short of a full, independent public and judicial inquiry will suffice to get to the bottom of the current rot. Nothing short of an independent ethics commissioner chosen by parliament, accountable directly to parliament as an officer of parliament, with a clear legislative mandate will do to ensure that this rot does not continue.

The continual refusal of the government to allow for such an officer is really incredible. Most modern functioning parliamentary democracies have such an officer. In fact, they exist in virtually every province. We need look no further than the provinces that I and my colleague the House leader represent, British Columbia and Alberta. Both have independent officers of their legislatures chosen by the legislatures and not the premiers, with real powers to examine the ethical conduct of ministers of the crown and report directly back to the legislatures. These officers have real teeth and are fearless. In one case in British Columbia a decade ago it actually resulted in the removal of the premier. That is what is needed.

It is incomprehensible to any of us in this party why the government refuses to adopt this approach. It can only be because the Liberals sincerely, and particularly under the direction and inspiration of the Prime Minister, do not want to really deal with the problem of ethics and corruption in government.

Our approach is not to say “Trust us”. Quite the contrary. The Canadian Alliance approach is to set up a truly independent official to ensure honesty and integrity in government regardless of who is in office.

The only conclusion we can draw from this whole ethics fiasco is that the Liberal government and the Prime Minister in particular simply do not speak the same language as the rest of Canadians on matters of ethical conduct. I talked about this in a recent speech. When the Prime Minister uses the term corruption, he means an offence under the criminal code.

When most people use the term corruption, they mean the abuse of power, as in power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The system maintained by the government is one where power is centralized in Ottawa and the power in Ottawa is centralized in the cabinet and in the Prime Minister's Office. It is a system that invites corruption.

When we accuse the Liberals of being unethical, dishonest or corrupt, we are discussing issues that I am afraid to say the Prime Minister sees as what he calls the normal operation of the Government of Canada. He sees it as normal to reward the businesses and industries of friends,supporters and financiers. The Liberals see it as normal to flood their own constituencies with pork grants and contracts, not just as a matter of favourable legislation but even if such friends and such constituencies do not qualify under the government's own rules, it will happen just the same.

The greatest realization that Canadians have made about the government is not the string of scandals, conflict of interest and political interference but that the government party deep down really thinks it is all okay and that is how it should work. When pressed into action, the Liberals come forth with red herrings and new guidelines, yet none of it reveals any sense of action, any sense of a real problem or any sense of fairness, disinterest, impartiality or desire to let go of the kind of power that corrupts.

I could talk about this in terms of economic policy and what this has done to the business environment of the country, what it has particularly done not just to Canada's performance as a whole but this form of handing out contracts and doing business, and seeing this as a form of normal policy and respectable economic policy. I could speak at great length about what this has done to our country's productivity and performance, particularly in have not regions, but I will leave that for today.

I will just say that Canadians do need better. Canadians need an independent ethics commissioner with an independent legislative mandate. Canada needs a comprehensive and binding code of ethics for cabinet ministers, the ones who control the purse strings and contracts. Most important, Canada needs a government that understands right from wrong, one that understands that the meaning of conflict of interest and corruption go beyond the letter of the criminal code and the written rules of conduct and into the spirit of good judgment, honesty, benevolence and integrity that all Canadians expect and deserve from their government.

Mr. Speaker, in that light, I would like to amend the motion before us. I move:

That the motion be amended by:

(a) replacing all the words in the second paragraph with: “That, when the Prime Minister follows through on the Liberal Redbook promise to appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor who reports directly to Parliament, a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to consider whether the recommendations of that report ought to be adopted, with or without amendment;”

And (b) by replacing the words: “That the Committee make its final report no later than October 31, 2002” with the words “That the Committee make its final report no later than the 30th sitting day after its appointment”.

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12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair is satisfied that the amendment is in order.

The debate is on the amendment. I remind the House that members will now have a maximum of 20 minutes for speeches, with 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, a substantial amendment to the original motion has been brought forward, but let me return to the main motion before us.

We are discussing the appointment of a committee, which will examine the ethics guidelines and the code of conduct for all parliamentarians. Depending on whether the amendment is passed or not, there could be provisions on the ethics counsellor and whose jurisdiction he will fall under.

We must also ask ourselves why we are debating this very important issue today. It would be better if the government were more sincere about this. Some fundamental issues have to be examined when ethics guidelines and the work of lobbyists in general are examined. But all this comes in the wake of the major crisis that has shaken the government because of the sponsorships scandal.

There is always a credibility problem when a government decides to table such measures at such a time. We wonder if it is trying to create a diversion or if it sincerely wants to change the rules. Finally, if we do change the ethics guidelines, maybe it will solve several problems for the future, but we will still have to shed light on the past.

We are not yet adopting new rules, that is still a long way off. There is still much work to be done before that time comes and it may take a long time. We have to ask ourselves if the government wants to follow through on this or if this is not, as I said earlier, some sort of diversion to show us how good things will be in the future, and at the same time, make us forget that Liberal cronies all over the place, at Groupaction, at Everest and at Lafleur Communications, have lined their pockets for the past five years with taxpayers' money.

People do not take well to working hard and paying their taxes, and then watching the government take this money and send it to its friends who, on top of this, did no work for it. When we think about the fact that people received 3% commissions to oversee sponsorships that never took place, it is pretty easy to understand why voters are cynical when it comes to some aspects of politics.

Unfortunately, we have spent a great deal of time debating this issue, but we have to. Practices will not be improved by hiding these things. This painful debate on all of these dubious government actions must take place. It is not true that it is limited to only a few individuals.

Day after day, systematically, we saw how people who stood to benefit from organized events made sure that communications firms and friends of the party, very close to a number of government ministers, received money in ways that astonished those who have been following this issue.

I repeat, we must get to the bottom of this. Public money has been mishandled. People have to account for this, both politicians and public servants. Sending the minister off to Denmark has not solved this issue. We must not forget that we have not yet gotten to the bottom of this.

Among our objectives, we are asking for a committee to be appointed to study a code of conduct for members. No one is against the idea of defining a clearer code of conduct for members. Personally, I am all for it, but we will have to look at what this means more closely.

There was already a group that worked on this ia few years ago. I have been here since 1993, and this is not the first time a committee has looked into this.

At the time, the Bloc Quebecois tabled a dissenting report pointing out that the government was trying to impose an even greater burden on members than on ministers. The government was creating a bit of a diversion by trying to impose very high standards on MPs, when ministers have much more latitude in how they manage. We are not talking about the same thing. The scope is very different.

The executive—the ministers—controls many things. A desire to tighten up and redefine the work of MPs is a good thing, however. It is not a waste of time. It is something worth doing. At the same time, however, there are things we must not lose sight of in connection with the behaviour of certain ministers or the rules that are going to be imposed on them.

I am going to talk more specifically about the rules. The Prime Minister said “Yes, we will have much tougher rules for the funding of leadership races”. One of the fears is that ministers are using taxpayers' money to give preference to certain individuals in connection with contracts, to obtain political favours in order to achieve their personal ambitions.

Naturally, there is a way of dealing with this in the way that public finances are managed. However, there is also another way of dealing with it through the funding of political parties' leadership races.

What has been proposed so far may, at first glance, seem tougher, but let us take a closer look. The Prime Minister said “Candidates will have to reveal their expenses 30 days before the end of a leadership race”, an official race. But we all know that, in real life, there is an unofficial race going on between the former Minister of FInance and the Prime Minister. And we do not know the source of all the funds now being used to fund the former finance minister's campaign. We will only find this out in connection with the official part in a future race.

Without making a big political deal about it, several candidates often run for leader, but they do not all make it to the end. We are told they will have to reveal the names of those who contributed to their campaign 30 days before the end of the race. But what about the candidates who mysteriously disappear 31 days before the deadline?

There could very well be incidental alliances where money goes through a supposed leadership candidate, who would function as a foil or a cash entry point. There are a number of unanswered questions in the government's proposals.

The way to provide for the ethical funding of political parties, be it with regard to nomination races in ridings or leadership races, is through amendments to the Elections Act, not through a code of conduct or a code of ethics.

There is a problem with a code of ethics. Indeed, what happens when the code of ethics is broken? As we know, currently the ethics counsellor reports to the Prime Minister and is appointed by the Prime Minister. So eventually he always ends up saying that after all it was not that bad or that it was not improper.

The government is not proposing that the ethics counsellor report to parliament. The amendment put forward by the Canadian Alliance proposes that the counsellor report to parliament, whereas the government's proposal is for party leaders to be consulted. It does not say it will listen to the advice of the other party leaders. Yes, they will be called and told “We have a couple of names of people we are thinking of appointing”. In any event, at the end of the day, it will still be the Prime Minister who has the last word in this respect.

If the ethics counsellor still reports to the Prime Minister the problem will remain as is. When there are only ethics guidelines for ministers--regarding for instance the funding of leadership races within the party in power--the question is what happens when these guidelines are broken.

First, will the public be informed? Second, will there be penalties? When I see what is happening in the sponsorship scandal, I have trouble believing that the government's ethics standards are being followed. So far, very few people have paid the price. Very few people have been punished either among public servants or in the party apparatus.

It is as if nobody were responsible. Now, the RCMP is investigating. I am somewhat skeptical. I am willing to believe in the independence and skills of people in the RCMP, who are doing their job. However, I doubt they will be given all of the information and receive full co-operation.

We may find ourselves dealing with such cases as CINAR, on which an investigation was carried out, but without RCMP co-operation. In this regard, in the riding of the Prime Minister, there were investigations of his involvement in the Auberge Grand-Mère and with the BDC, but nothing came of the investigations.

In two or three years, we will find that many RCMP investigations have led nowhere for all kinds of reasons. This is why we have called for a public inquiry, where the impact is much greater, because there is a public dimension to it. In fact, it is an independent and neutral person who tables a report, which becomes general knowledge. With RCMP reports, we do not know exactly what will happen to them.

In shorty, a code of ethics is a good thing, but if it is not followed and does not have teeth, there is a problem. According to the timetable before us, a group of members is being asked to examine some rules of ethics, a code of conduct for members of parliament this fall. The Prime Minister has washed his hands of the whole thing by saying that he just tightened up the rules for his ministers. But this is not true. His ministers will have to follow a code of ethics that has no teeth if they break the rules and, also, he has announced that he intends to bring some changes to the Elections Act. But we have seen nothing at this time.

Make no mistake, it is a good thing for MPs to study a general code of conduct on what a member should or should not disclose, providing a framework for his job, but this is not where the main problem lies. It relates to the ministers, who collectively administer in excess of $160 billion annually. If we deduct the fixed interest on that debt, that leaves some $125 billion annually that are administered by the Prime Minister and a group of ministers. This is more than regular MPs have any control over, since we are primarily lawmakers.

There is a blurring of roles here. MPs represent the legislative level, while ministers are the executive level, which manages and administers allocations voted by parliament. There could, of course, be a temptation to influence the lawmakers. That is why there must be a framework for the actions of lobbyists, lobbying practices.

On a day to day basis, in practical terms, the ministers administer public funds and there must be protection against potential abuse of all kinds. We have no reassurance, judging by what we have seen in recent weeks, about the ethical standards of the team in place at this time. And there have been other instances in the past.

It is my impression today that what we are seeing is a government public relations exercise. The Prime Minister has revealed a certain number of measures to govern the actions of his supporting team. At the same time, he has tried to include some guidelines for the leadership race which pits him against his former finance minister, but I doubt that the motivation for this is to elevate general ethical standards, particular since his announcements are virtually toothless in the short term.

There is reference to doing something in connection with MPs as well. They claim a desire to do some housecleaning. This fall, the government will try to steer us toward some other program so that we will sort of lose sight of this one. I am very anxious to see the actual bill that will amend the Elections Act with respect to the funding of political parties, for example. People are contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then we hear about the contracts they have obtained. This is a major problem. Often, these contracts have been obtained in a dubious manner, as we have seen with the sponsorship programs.

If this practice existed with the sponsorship programs—which we know about—there is also what we do not know about. The government has more spending programs for advertising than sponsorship programs. I have the feeling that there may also be potential intermediaries in the government media placement. Is it the same system that is in place?

Will it take another year or two to learn, through access to information requests, that Groupaction and others are not only connected to sponsorship programs? We already know that they have connections in other departments, be it justice or defence, for example, but are they elsewhere as well? And, regarding the $40 million in sponsorships, are there more ramifications?

I have the feeling that the government does not want to share this information. This is why we have not given up on our idea of getting to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal, which could also reveal more about all the ramifications between these communication firms and the government in general.

The motion before us proposes that a committee be appointed, and a substantial amendment was just moved a few minutes ago. We will have to examine it further before making a definitive judgment.

From what I understood, the amendment proposes that the ethics counsellor report to parliament, and not to the Prime Minister. This is more than desirable. I do not want to attack the individual personally, but the current ethics counsellor has lost all credibility because of the very nature of his position. He is paid by the Prime Minister and reports to him.

It is important to the public that there be a credible ethics counsellor. If the government wants to introduce ethics standards and get people to trust what it does, the people it appoints and the nature of the position they occupy deserve this trust on the part of the public. This is an important criterion.

It is a bit like the auditor general, who has the public's trust. There are bodies which have the public's trust because people know that they are independent and that they are not there to protect the government, but to try to defend citizens. So the auditor general model is much more appropriate because of the autonomy of the position, than that of the ethics counsellor.

Someone who is around a Prime Minister to give advice to ministers plays the role of political adviser. Having a political adviser handle the ethics side is fine. But when the same individual has responsibility for ethics, this poses a problem.

Obviously, we are in this situation which led up to a sequence of events, from the Auberge Grand-Mère to where we are today, where the Prime Minister and ministers have been involved in scandals and misuse of public funds.

While the public at large condemns what happened, the ethics counsellor still finds it normal. There is certainly a problem there.

This will give us an opportunity to discuss these issues in the fall, because we are not opposed to the creation of this committee and we intend to participate in its work. Of course, we will see if its mandate is modified somewhat by the proposed amendment. We took part last time. We had things to say, and we will have things to say again this time.

However, we will not lose sight of the fact that ethical standards for ministers and for the government need to be raised, the elections act needs to be amended, and all that will be done at the same time. We will take part in this effort to develop a code of conduct for parliamentarians.

That is basically what I had to say today. We will have more to say in the fall when we take part in the committee's work. Surely summer will be an inspiration. It will give all members an opportunity to listen to their constituents and find out what they think about the way public funds have been managed in light of recent events.

Let us hope that it will inspire many of us and that we will indeed give ourselves the tools we need to work effectively and to regain the confidence of the public. It is our duty to do so. However, the government must be sincere in this initiative. It must not turn this into a political show, merely to divert attention from the major crisis that has rocked the government.

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Témiscamingue for his speech, in which he made a rather thorough examination of this dark, shameful and nebulous aspect of the operations of this government.

We must realize that, if this were about the government of certain African countries, someone would quickly point out, in a condescending way, with a smile on his or her face, that it is all one can expect from a banana republic. Considering the degree of sophistication of these wrongdoings, one cannot help but think that the role of the ethics counsellor is just a joke.

In this context, I would like to hear what my colleague from Témiscamingue has to say about the words of the Prime Minister, who got carried away and said that perhaps there were a few million dollars that might have been stolen, but that it was for a good cause. Those who are watching us will understand that a few millions dollars were stolen. Let us imagine what would have happened had the Premier of Quebec said such a thing. Where would he be now?

“Perhaps there were a few million dollars that might have been stolen, but it was for a good cause”, in other words, Canadian unity. Canadian unity comes at the cost of Quebec. The real mandate behind this is to put Quebec in its place. This has been a dream that some folks have had for a long time, especially the little guy from Shawinigan. It involves neutralizing Quebec internationally and flouting the constitution, which gives specific powers to the provinces in areas such as education, health and social programs. It is about trivializing Quebec. That is the cause of the member for Saint-Maurice.

I would like to hear from my colleague from Témiscamingue, as to whether this “code of conduct” raises any hope that this government's approach, which is not mandated, will end.

What motivated this government was the result of the referendum on October 30, 1995, in which 49.4% of Quebecers expressed a deep wish for change, for the benefit of the Minister for International Trade. Quebecers expressed a firm will for change at the very least, and just 50,000 more votes would have expressed a will for sovereignty.

The government has no other mandate than to interpret these results as it sees fit, by tightening the grip, in an attempt to trivialize and neutralize Quebec.

How can we hope that some day, the members opposite will be any wiser, or democratic, and respect the aspirations of Quebecers and the results that were expressed democratically at the time?

Are we supposed to believe that this thing, this code of conduct, is going to give us any hope in an issue that has been purely political? If we look at today's headlines—no need to look very far—we see that nearly $4 million was spent on the Maurice Richard affair to steal our national hero from us, to paint him as a Canadian, when he is a Quebecer. We see that $500,000 was spent so that the Minister for International Trade could strut around Quebec to try and make connections between the government and Quebecers—whose national government is in Quebec City—to make people realize that the government in Canada is the one in Ottawa. He is allowed to strut around Quebec, along with other ministers, at the expense of Quebec taxpayers, to try to bond so that Quebecers will feel closer to them.

Are we to believe that with this code of conduct, something in this country is going to change?

Code of ConductGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I do not think that it will change the nature of what the hon. member for Trois-Rivières described.

My colleague did raise the question, and for a good part, the answer was also in his comments. We must remember what led to the establishment of the sponsorship program, which began, in a more controlled fashion, in the aftermath of the referendum.

During the Easter recess, I read on public works' Internet site all the conditions imposed on the department regarding its corporate image, or how to sell Canada. It was obvious that the whole thing had been written with Quebec in mind. I am not convinced that they show the same rigour across Canada.

All this is based on a logic that is the result of the last Quebec referendum. People in Ottawa got a real scare and told themselves “If so many Quebecers vote yes, it must be because they did not understand something. There is a problem”. When they say that the public did not understand, perhaps they should ask themselves if they themselves understood. So, they figured, “We will make Canada visible everywhere. That should take care of problem”.

If they think that this is the way to the future for them and let themselves be fooled by this gain, the shock will only be greater when Quebecers decide to have another referendum on the matter.

It may not be tomorrow morning, but it will happen some day.