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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Public ServiceOral Question Period

Noon

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, not only do we have a policy but we received the first annual report of the Public Service Integrity Officer. Dr. Keyserlingk has recommended a legislative framework for his actions. At the same time he said that he needed some further analysis to suggest any model to the Canadian government.

We have a working group, led by Professor Kernaghan, that will report to me in 2004, and I took the commitment to submit those recommendations directly to parliamentarians so they can have a say in it.

TradeOral Question Period

October 3rd, 2003 / noon

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, the good news is the International Trade Commission has ruled unanimously today that U.S. tariffs on Canadian durum are illegal. The bad news is the ITC split two to two on wheat tariffs so the United States will doubtless continue its ongoing harassment against wheat farmers as political considerations trump common sense.

Does the government intend to launch an appeal on the 14% tariffs that harasses our wheat farmers and will it help by picking up some of the legal tab which is now running in excess of $10 million?

TradeOral Question Period

Noon

Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey Ontario

Liberal

Murray Calder LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, first, Canada's wheat exports to the United States are not subsidized. We are carefully reviewing the U.S. decision and then we will examine our WTO and NAFTA options under the context of deciding the most effective steps to take.

Public ServiceOral Question Period

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General has now twice used the phrase “every rule in the book was broken” in her reports about the financial mismanagement of this government. It appeared in the report on the Quebec advertising scandal and just this week appeared in her report on the expenses of the former privacy commissioner.

My question is for one of the prime ministers over there. Given the stinging indictment of the Auditor General, why is this behaviour allowed to continue?

Public ServiceOral Question Period

Noon

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General was very clear this week. She said not to generalize problems found in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to the whole public service. This is not me who is saying that. The Auditor General is saying it.

This is exactly what the member is doing. This is not a general problem across the public service. For the Officer of the Privacy Commissioner, we have said that we will implement all the recommendations of the Auditor General.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

Noon

The Deputy Speaker

Today we are honoured to have with us a group of distinguished Canadian craft artists: the winner and two of the finalists for the 2003 Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in the Fine Arts which was presented last evening at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

I would ask you to join me in saluting these distinguished artists: Walter Ostrom, ceramic artist, from Indian Harbour, Nova Scotia, winner of the 2003 Saidye Bronfman Award; and the finalists Michael Hosaluk, wood turner, from Saskatoon and Gordon Peteran, furniture designer and artist, from Toronto.

Presence in GalleryOral Question Period

Noon

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

Noon

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been negotiations and an agreement reached among House leaders yesterday and earlier this morning about the following motion. If you were to seek it, I believe you would find consent for its adoption. The motion is with regard to Bill C-41, the technical corrections bill. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice, all questions necessary to dispose of amendments at the report stage, concurrence at report stage and third reading and passage of Bill C-41, the technical corrections bill, be now deemed to have been put and carried.

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Business of the HouseOral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill deemed reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Ways and MeansOral Question Period

12:05 p.m.

Vaughan—King—Aurora Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalSecretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(1) I wish to table a notice of a ways and means motion to amend the Excise Tax Act. I am also tabling legislative proposals and explanatory notes on the same subject. I ask that an order of the day be designated to debate the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Finance concerning Bill C-48, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (natural resources).

The committee has considered Bill C-48 and has agreed to report it (without amendment).

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage seeking authorization to continue its deliberations for the statutory review of the Copyright Act beyond October 3, 2003, as determined by the act, and to present its final report no later than September 30, 2004.

If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the fourth report later this day.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, presented on Friday, June 13, 2003, be concurred in.

I understand that I have 20 minutes with a 10 minute question and comment period. I would like to advise the Chair that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot.

The fourth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates was presented and tabled in the House on June 13, 2003. I would remind all hon. members that this report is the one page report in which the committee reported that it had lost confidence in the Privacy Commissioner.

I would like to read relevant extracts from the report, which states:

Officials of the offices of both the Privacy Commissioner and the Information Commissioner, having acknowledged that they were testifying under oath and had a duty to speak the truth, have given the Committee information during a series of in camera hearings that has compelled Members to conclude, unanimously, that the Privacy Commissioner has deliberately misled the Committee on several recent occasions.

The report continues:

Committee Members believe the Commissioner has misled the Committee with respect to: (a) the circumstances under which the Office provided a copy of a letter from which one of the original paragraphs had been deleted; (b) a set of expense reports whose incompleteness was not acknowledged in the cover letter; (c) travel expense forms on which there had been an attempt to conceal, by the application of white-out material, certain information; and (d) the reasons for his failure to appear in person at a hearing on the Commission's main estimates. When these concerns were brought to the attention of the Commissioner or Office officials, some additional documents were provided but the Commissioner has continued to mislead the Committee with respect to these matters in subsequent letters and testimony before the Committee.

The report concludes:

Absolute honesty, in reporting to Parliament and its committees, is a central requirement for all officers of Parliament. Unconditional confidence in that honesty, on the part of parliamentarians, is essential if Parliament is to support its officers in their important duties.

Having deliberated upon the findings set out above, Members of the Committee are in unanimous agreement that they have lost confidence in the Commissioner. We are no longer able to believe that information provided by the Privacy Commissioner about his activities can be assumed to be accurate and complete.

Furthermore, evidence provided to the Committee raises concerns about financial practices in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and the Committee has requested by letter that the Auditor General conduct a comprehensive audit of financial practices at the Commission.

First of all, I would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot. I want his constituents to know that he is an excellent member of Parliament who has earned a lot of respect in this place for the work he did to assist the committee to identify in the first instance some of the threads of evidence that led to this report. He is singularly responsible, and his constituents should know that he has been of enormous assistance to Parliament in addressing this most serious matter.

The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates is a new committee. We have a number of responsibilities. One of them was to review Bill C-25, a very important bill on the renewal of the public service.

The committee reviewed this very extensive, comprehensive bill, Bill C-25, which came forward after two years of consultation in the preparation of the bill on behalf of the President of the Treasury Board and her department, on behalf of the Public Service Commission, and on behalf of all the representative groups. In the committee's review of the bill, one aspect of that bill and the discussion was the aspect of whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowing is a label given to a person who brings out information when they believe or allege that there is some wrongdoing, which may in fact come back on them in a punitive way, whether it be fear of reprisals, et cetera.

This is a very serious question and I want to assure the House that the President of the Treasury Board, in consultation with the committee and the other stakeholders in this matter, all of us, are working very diligently. In fact, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates now has struck a subcommittee to examine this more carefully to determine what steps might be appropriate to ensure over the long term that our very honourable and capable public service will have the protections it needs, not unreasonable protections but general protections, so that there are no frivolous allegations, but so that should there come to our attention even the slightest allegation of an impropriety or a violation of the Financial Administration Act or other aspects, they will have a venue to be able to bring that to the attention of those who are in a position to properly investigate and to address it as appropriate.

This was the environment in which our committee was first engaged: this aspect of the need for whistle-blower protection. As a consequence, the rest of our responsibilities involved the review of the estimates of a number of departments to look into the financial activities.

The member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot has been a champion for transparency and accountability, for access to information provisions, for protection of privacy, for the protection of the privileges of Parliament, but not unduly, and has championed that if we set standards, we should set standards by our own performance. He is working very diligently to show that parliamentarians are on side. It is extremely important and it is because of his contribution.

I will not be going into the details of how this has all unfolded, but in my brief time I did want to make the point very simply. I want Canadians to know this. Notwithstanding that a particular office, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, with approximately 100 employees, of which it has been identified that there are some people who have committed acts in violation of policies, procedures and maybe even criminal law, I want Canadians to know that this should not be taken as a broad brush indictment of the employees of the privacy commission, of the access to information commissioner's office, or of any other public service group or department.

Our work addressed solely the matters that came to our attention with regard to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. We did not conclude or have any evidence or any indication that the problems we identified in this one office were endemic outside that office. I want to assure Canadians that our public servants continue to be held in high esteem by parliamentarians for their work and the support they give to the processes of making good laws, of making sure that there is compliance with all the rules, the policies and procedures, and the laws of Canada. We had that evidence and the committee is very supportive of our very capable public service.

There is one key area I wanted to mention but that I do not have time to go into, so let me try to wrap up. We will, over the coming weeks and months, be addressing some of the points that came out, not only from the committee's fifth report wherein the details of what we found are laid out and available on the parliamentary website, but also from the Auditor General's report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. There will be subsequent investigations ongoing, some even referred to the RCMP and to the tax authorities.

This will be with us for some time, but I want everyone to know that from what I can see in this place, parliamentarians are 100% in agreement, not only that each and every one of these matters has to be addressed and disposed of in the specific cases, but that we are committed as a Parliament to ensure that the tools and the changes are made to ensure that this never ever happens again.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to what the member was saying. He was using phrases like “this should never happen again”. I do not know whether he observed when I asked a question earlier today. The President of the Treasury Board responded to my question by saying that we ought to heed the Auditor General's report and not paint with the same brush all the civil servants. I am inclined to believe that, yet these things seem to be dealt with only when they come to public light. So it does raise the question: How often is this occurring, notwithstanding that we do not want to paint all of the civil servants with the same brush? I too want to believe they are honest and forthright.

We now have this report. The member is suggesting that we should concur in the report, but I would like to know what steps the government is taking that are tangible and explicit and which will give a message to all civil servants that we expect that they are honest, but in the event they are not, this is not to be tolerated.

Has that message been sent out? What is the Liberal government doing to actually hit this thing at the beginning and prevent these problems?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not disagree with the member's statements, but I believe that Parliament must be very careful about how it attributes the root of the problem to the government or to the Public Service Commission or to the minister or whatever.

I commend to the member's attention for his reading the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, which is on the process of reviewing the estimates. That is the process under which this matter came to light. I would remind the member that throughout this place historically, 80% of standing committees have not reviewed the estimates. They have not done the work and we must share part of that blame. It is not the government; it is parliamentarians.

The member will know of an important op-ed piece that was written by Robert Marleau, former clerk of the House and now interim privacy commissioner. He suggested that Parliament was ignoring 50% of its responsibilities, that is, a proper and thorough review of the estimates. I agree with the member, but we cannot throw the mud away until we get our own act cleaned up. We are also culpable in this matter.

I know that all hon. members will want to read the sixth report of the standing committee because we will be encouraging all committees to adopt a process which will allow us to effectively discharge that 50% of our responsibilities that heretofore has been ignored.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member for Mississauga South could describe how the committee, in its investigations after the initial problem surfaced with respect to Mr. Radwanski's expense accounts, operated in a non-partisan way to reach the conclusions in the report he has just tabled.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, because much of the information we received was in fact from whistle-blowers, from employees who had first-hand, direct knowledge, it came to our attention and we were able to discern that the best thing to do to get them to put that information on the record was to go in camera and under oath so that people could be open and would not be subject to any reprisals for their open statements.

This matter, I am sure, will be discussed by others, but in the end result, we worked on a non-partisan basis and had a unanimous report of all parties represented on the committee, which is all five of our parties, that the process we used was appropriate and the conclusion we reached was the correct conclusion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's interest and expertise in this important question.

Given the enormity of the government, with $160 billion, $120 billion of which is operating expenses, with some 28 major departments, some 400,000 employees, and countless agencies, boards, and commissions, how does he think we ought to, as a parliamentary body, choose which ones to focus on? Obviously there is some degree of waste in all of them and there may be some abuse in many that we do not know about. How do we choose and prioritize them?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I would recommend the sixth report of the standing committee to the member. It describes the process.

The Auditor General does not do a 100% audit every year, and we do not have to either. It is an established process of sampling, risk analysis, and consulting with existing documentation rather than reinventing the wheel each and every time. But we must start somewhere.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the government operations committee report on the George Radwanski affair.

The member for Mississauga South was, I think, far too kind with respect to my role in the affair. However, it is certainly true that it was a question that I posed at the government operations committee that led to the disclosures and the whole salacious scandal, shall we say, of a servant of this House, an officer of Parliament, engaging in overspending, improper spending, and treating his staff and department in almost an abusive and brutal manner.

What ultimately came out was a story that has been in all the newspapers of a person who had very little regard for the expectation of integrity that he should have had, very little regard for the people he managed or very little regard indeed for the office that he held. And it has been quite a story, certainly.

Despite the fact that it has made headlines and it has been so salacious, it is, in fact, an exceptional circumstance. It does not speak to the entire civil service.

I would like to address part of my remarks to the concern expressed by the member for Elk Island. People must keep in sight the fact that the reason the Office of the Privacy Commissioner developed the problems it did was because it is not under the Access to Information Act.

The original question that started all of this was a question to the Privacy Commissioner about why he thought that his office should not be under the Access to Information Act. It is legislation that applies to most government departments and permits access to routine financial documents and operational documents by the media, other members of Parliament and the general public.

Mr. Radwanski replied in the negative. He said he did not want to be under the Access to Information Act even though other officers of Parliament said that they were willing to be under the Access to Information Act.

The fact that there was no routine disclosure and the fact that a department like the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would not come under routine external audit enabled Mr. Radwanski to engage in practices that would normally never have come to light.

Indeed, the fact that his documents were requested by the committee, which had the power to summon the documents, is the only reason any of this came to light in the first place. The documents were sent to the committee, and I was the one who requested his expense accounts and other details of his operations. When I looked at them for the first time, and when other members of the committee looked at them for the first time, none of us could see anything wrong with them. In fact, when I looked at them, I thought the hospitality expenses were rather high, but I did not see that as a very important issue.

However, because they were tabled before the committee, people in the Privacy Commissioner's office saw those documents and realized that they had been altered, that they were incomplete, that there had been sections whited out, and that in one document a whole paragraph had disappeared.

Now I submit to the House that no ordinary audit would have caught that alteration of documents. Had the Auditor General gone in on a regular external audit and looked at Mr. Radwanski's expense sheets or looked at the letter he sent to the justice department that later was discovered to have been altered, she would not have noticed it.

And this is the power of the Access to Information Act. When routine documents are available, they are not only available to the media, they are not only available to the public, they are also available to other staff in a department of government.

When documents are altered or changed and they can be called up on the Internet, then there is an opportunity for people who know that they are false to raise the alarm. That is precisely what happened in this case.

When the documents were tabled before the committee, there were people who called me, the chairman of the committee and others to point out the missing information.

That set in motion the investigation that my hon. colleague from Mississauga South and other members of the government operations committee conducted so thoroughly and effectively. It has now led to the resignation of the Privacy Commissioner and an ongoing investigation of where the failures occurred that enabled this person to abuse his public office.

I would insist and I would repeat that the primary problem, no matter what other problems existed, was the fact that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was not under the Access to Information Act.

Returning to the question of the member for Elk Island of how extensive the problem is that we discovered with Mr. Radwanski, I would suggest that it probably does not exist where government agencies and departments fall under the Access to Information Act.

There are many departments that are under the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately there are a number of small tribunals, small agencies and organizations of perhaps 50 or 100 employees that are not under the Access to Information Act, are not subject to internal audit, and are not required to publish annual audited statements.

They are out there and one of the things that has been disclosed by the Radwanski affair is the fact that there is this major gap in our coverage and our oversights of agencies that spend taxpayers' dollars.

Two things should flow, I hope, from the work of the government operations committee on the Privacy Commissioner's file.

First, we need to reform or adjust the Access to Information Act so that every agency of government that spends taxpayers' dollars comes under the Access to Information Act so that everyone can see how that money is spent. Second, we need to compile a list of those agencies that are not under the Access to Information Act and set up a regime where they are regularly audited. I do not see why any agency in government should not be subject to a proper audit. Those are two major lessons we can take from our experience with the Privacy Commissioner.

This whole exercise with respect to discovering the problems in the Privacy Commissioner's office and investigating them is a wonderful example of what members of Parliament can do together. It was not the government that discovered this problem and it was not just the Liberals. The fact that such a thorough job was done to expose the problems that existed with the Privacy Commissioner is a reflection on standing committees, in this case the government operations committee, realizing their power.

I have been in the House for 10 years and 10 years is a long time. But I can remember when I first came in 1993 and, generally speaking, standing committees did very little. Basically, because they were dominated by government members who always wanted to do what their leadership wanted them to do, it was very difficult to see standing committees show any independence or show any real initiative to get to the bottom of things, to look at government spending, and to look at the issues that they were really charged by Canadians to look at.

There has almost been a revolution. The government operations committee did a wonderful job on the estimates as well as on the Radwanski file. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has done excellent work in looking at expense accounts and at the problems of the sponsorship files where public agencies appear to have misused public funds.

Other committees have shown similar initiatives but these two, in particular, I commend. I think what we are looking at is a new era of Parliament. Once backbench MPs discover the real power there will be no looking back. There will only be looking forward.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague across the way. I listened intently with great interest to the premise that I think he asserted very strongly, as did his colleague, the member who made the motion and whose motion we are now debating.

That is the premise that there ought to be accountability at all levels of government and I think I am right in saying that no taxpayers' money should be spent for them by the government without full exposure, transparency and disclosure. Everything should be available.

I would like to ask the member, how does he feel when we get information in a public document outlining how public money was spent and there is a whole bunch of information obliterated with whiteout? I, too, have experienced that when I have tried to find out some information. I got blank pages with a code that said “private”, therefore I could not see it.

How can private stuff get into public expenditures? That is one of the issues of course in this particular case and I would like the member to respond as to whether that is a general premise that he is making, that it should be full and total transparency and disclosure?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, obviously we cannot have absolute transparency because there are certain things that governments must keep confidential in order to be able to operate. Of course, personal information must be kept confidential, as well.

This is why, when the member summons documents under the Access to Information Act, and that is indeed what he is referring to, there are sections that are blanked out.

However, where he is very right is that both the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act must be reformed. They must be updated because there are sections of the acts that enable bureaucrats to take things out of documents that should remain there.

Unfortunately, the Access to Information Act is now 21 years old. It has never been reformed. There have been various tries at it. I am one of those who will be introducing a private member's bill to upgrade the Access to Information Act so that there is better access, for instance, to cabinet documents and background papers. Every document that is 30 years old should be accessible. The Access to Information Act must re reformed to bring the Privacy Commissioner and the Access to Information Commissioner under the act.

These are all very positive things that need to be done and I would hope that the member, and his entire side in fact, will support me when I table a private member's bill in the House next week that does this for the Access to Information Act. It would reform the Access to Information Act in these many ways and enable better transparency and accountability, and would bring in all those agencies that right now are outside the act. It would bring them under the act so that we could see what is going on because that is our job as MPs from both sides of the House.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not being flattering to the member. The previous speaker has taught all parliamentarians quite a bit about how to be an effective member of Parliament.

He did say one thing in his speech that I think members would like to hear a little more about. He said that he did not think that departments that were currently under the Access to Information Act purview would likely have the kind of problems that were identified under the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

At the same time the member has for some time been advocating some significant changes to the Access to Information Act in order to make it even more effective and transparent. It would be appropriate to have further commentary on the key elements of some further reform to the Access to Information Act that would help us with this matter.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I have already mentioned that there are many ways to reform the act and that we should bring those agencies that are spending public money under the act.

Our experience with the Privacy Commissioner's office, a small department that was without scrutiny, signals that there may be an even more vast problem out in the not-for-profit sector, the charities and non-profit organizations, that have no legislated scrutiny or transparency whatsoever.

This a $100 billion industry that could have problems similar to those disclosed in the Privacy Commissioner's office. Indeed, anecdotally one hears stories that this type of thing does occur.