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”.