House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was commons.


On the Order: Government Orders

April 30, 2003—The hon. Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—Second Reading and Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence.

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10:10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence, be immediately referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

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The Deputy Speaker

Wait a minute, I believe there is a problem.

I am sorry, but in the translation of the documents, two bills were mixed up.

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Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, is the French version exactly the same as the English version?

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The Deputy Speaker

No, but all depends if we are talking about the bill or the sheet of paper I have in front of me because on this sheet of paper, the two bills were mixed up.

So, the English version is the right one, if that is what the right Hon. member for Calgary Centre is asking.

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Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

My question concerns our Standing Orders, which provide that bills presented in both official languages should be identical.

If that is the case, we can go ahead, otherwise we have violated the fundamental rules of the House.

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The Deputy Speaker

It is the Speaker's form that is in error and not the bill. The bill is actually in the same form in both official languages.

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Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-34, the proposed changes to the Parliament of Canada Act, an act of Parliament for which I have ministerial responsibility. The bill would establish an ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer.

On October 23, 2002, the government tabled a draft bill to establish the independent ethics commissioner reporting to Parliament, as well as a draft code of conduct of parliamentarians. The documents were tabled in draft form to give members the maximum flexibility in considering these documents.

The two draft documents have been the subject of extensive parliamentary consultation and study since last fall. The procedure and House affairs committee heard from numerous witnesses between November and April 2003.

On November 19, 2002, the committee circulated to all members a working document, outlining its findings up until that time. On March 21, 2003, the committee again released a draft report to all members seeking their input before finalizing its recommendations to the House. The committee held three round tables with MPs to seek their views.

The committee tabled its report in the House on April 10. It approves the appointment of an independent ethics commissioner, as provided in the bill, and it recommends several changes.

I want to thank the chair and all other members of the committee for their excellent work. I also want to thank members on both sides of the House, since the committee has tabled a unanimous report.

I am pleased to inform the House today that the government has accepted all the recommendations in the unanimous report. It remains to be seen whether the hon. members, who gave unanimous support to the report, will still be unanimous when it is time to vote on a bill they unanimously supported a short time ago.

It also remains to be seen how serious the hon. members opposite were in wanting a bill or saying they wanted a bill. It is not always the same thing.

There are key changes to the bill from the draft of last October. As recommended by the committee, the appointment of an ethics commissioner would be subject to consultation with leaders of recognized parties in the House. That was unanimously recommended and adopted by the committee. And of course, there was a subsequent resolution of the House.

The committee recommended that Standing Order 111.1 be amended. That is the Standing Order that we adopted after the equally unanimous modernization committee phase I where we set in that procedure for all other House officers. The committee unanimously recommended that the ethics commissioner be appointed pursuant to that rule. We agreed and are putting it in the bill.

The committee considered the length of the term of the ethics commissioner, which in the draft bill was set at a single five-year term. The committee recommended a term of five years or more and that it be renewable. I am pleased to advise the House that we have provided for a five year term and that it be renewable, but if it is renewable there would be another vote in the House of Commons pursuant to Standing Order 111.

The committee requested that the wording of the tenure provisions in the bill be clarified so that its meaning is clear when discussing the process for removing an ethics commissioner. Accordingly, proposed subsection 72.02(1) of Bill C-34 has been redrafted to do just that. We have agreed again with every recommendation of the unanimous committee report.

The committee recommended that the mechanism for parliamentarians to request that the ethics commissioner examine the actions of a minister or secretary of state under the Prime Minister's code be extended to parliamentary secretaries to ensure that they would have as much coverage or accountability under the bill. We agreed.

There are proposed changes to the Senate. The Senate committee studying the draft bill concluded that the other place should have its own separate ethics officer because its traditions are different. It has a separate Clerk. We have a Sergeant-at-Arms who we call the Usher of the Black Rod in the other place and so on. The other place has its own separate independent officers in many cases. It has provided us with a unanimous report. Having agreed with the unanimous report of the House, we gave the same courtesy to the other place and we will agree with the recommendation that it made to us in that regard.

Bill C-34 proposes that the ethics commissioner be responsible for administering a code of conduct for members of the House and the Prime Minister's code for public office holders, and that there be a separate Senate ethics officer to administer the code of conduct for the Senate. The name is different to differentiate the two people, but the responsibilities are identical in both houses.

Bill C-34 includes additional provisions to reinforce the fact that the ethics commissioner and the Senate ethics officer are covered by parliamentary privilege which is also provided for in the bill.

There are a few other changes that were made to clarify Bill C-34 and I hope colleagues agree that they would improve it. In any case, we are sending the bill to committee before second reading so that we could have even more amendments from colleagues.

The new wording clarifies that ministers, secretaries of state, and parliamentary secretaries would be subject to the House or Senate codes when carrying out their MP functions. This is so that someone does not think that ministers would be exempt from one code when dealt with by the other. They would be covered by both. We further clarified that.

When carrying out duties and functions of their office as ministers, parliamentary secretaries or secretaries of state, they too would be subject to the Prime Minister's conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders. There is further clarification in that regard.

Bill C-34 would require that requests to examine the actions of ministers, secretaries of state, and parliamentary secretaries under the Prime Minister's code be made in writing, and only if there would be reasonable grounds to believe that there has been a breach of the code. That is the same thing that is being asked for members and would be extended to ministers to make it more uniform. It is similar to the complaint mechanism I described before.

We have made amendments to the first draft of the bill pursuant to the unanimous committee report and we have agreed with every recommendation that was proposed in the unanimous report.

The first draft of the bill on the ethics commissioner has been the subject of broad consultations in both houses. I thank my colleagues in the House of Commons for their unanimous report, and the members of the other place, who also worked very hard.

The government has listened to the advice of parliamentarians. We have accepted all of their recommendations for improvements to the bill. Today, the bill will be referred to committee before second reading in order to make it even better, if need be.

I will conclude by saying that the first attempt to have such legislation started as early as 1976. I see two colleagues in the House today who, I think, were in the House of Commons at the time. There have been many tries at this. None of them have ever gotten as far as what we have in front of us today, but that is not far enough. Let us work together to ensure that this time this actually becomes the law, as opposed to just things that we say we are going to do in the future. We can all contribute toward that.

I invite colleagues to make this positive step by sending the bill to committee, possibly as early as today. If not, I will schedule it again on Monday. I want to send it to committee as quickly as possible, have another study of it, and hopefully pass it before June so that it will be the law of the land, not only for ourselves but for parliamentarians to come as well.

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10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in this wonderful place, the House of Commons of Canada, where all of us call each other hon. member, which is the requirement, and where the Standing Orders say that we because we are honourable obviously we will never say or do anything that is dishonourable. We cannot, according to our Standing Orders, even imply that it could be done, because that is a violation of the Standing Orders.

Here we have in this particular environment the need for a code of ethics, which is a strange outcome if we consider the fact that we are all here to be hon. members. Really what we are doing is introducing a bill that says there will be a watchdog to make sure that everybody is honourable. Indeed, it has become a necessity because of the foibles of this and previous governments.

I would like to make some points for anyone who happens to be listening. Back in my riding right now it is twenty minutes after eight and I am sure that probably 3,000 or 4,000 people there are watching CPAC. They are very interested in this. Really, our debate right now is whether or not the bill should be sent to committee before second reading.

When we first came here way back in 1993, that had not been done at that time. It was a new innovation that bills could be put to a committee before second reading. My first evaluation of that process was a positive one. I thought it was great that before the government entrenches its position and then at every stage in the bill marches its MPs through votes on command on the bill, it should be sent to committee so that there is more input into the bill.

I originally favoured that process, but it has turned out to be not so good for us because in a way it becomes a way of limiting debate. By sending the bill to committee before second reading, we have today an opportunity at this stage for only ten minute speeches and for a maximum of three hours. That is not really enough time to debate an issue of this magnitude and to see whether or not in principle we really should support the bill.

Second, when that process is done, then the government and the Secretary of State and Leader of the Government in the House of--

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An hon. member

Minister of State.

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Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Minister of State. Sorry, I tend to get his titles wrong.

The minister takes great pleasure in saying that the committee has studied this and agreed unanimously; therefore, we need not debate it any further, let us just do it. Let us jam it through.

We have been informed that unfortunately in the Liberal caucus the other day there was actually almost a veiled threat, well, not a veiled threat, it was given as a carrot, I guess, with the Prime Minister saying that if they would pass this quickly he would allow us to leave earlier. Oh no, that was the other one, I think, the one on financing of political parties--

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An hon. member

Yes, but the problem is the same

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Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

--but the problem is exactly the same in that the power is all exercised by the Prime Minister.

The hon. member opposite who just spoke indicated that government members would like this passed really quickly. He is hoping that he can send it back to committee.

Having been one of the members on that committee, I would like to report here that it has been a really great experience. I have really come to respect the people from all parties who have worked on the procedure and House affairs subcommittee where we studied this bill and put together this report and the recommendations.

However, when the government House leader indicates that it was all unanimous, it was not without a lot of convulsions. It was not without a whole bunch of really deep concerns and the largest concern is undoubtedly the method of appointment of the ethics commissioner for the House of Commons.

It is true that the report was unanimous in the sense that we chose not to file a dissenting report. However, the reason for doing so was that we were told our requirement to have a super majority or a double majority to approve that ethics commissioner for the House of Commons would have required a change in the Constitution since the Constitution says that all votes in the House of Commons are decided by a simple majority.

We would really like to see the ethics commissioner have a higher level of approval because of the fact that this officer of Parliament would be unique in the sense that he or she is going to have jurisdiction over individual members of Parliament from all political parties. It is absolutely mandatory that the ethics commissioner have the support of all members in the House, not just the Liberal government.

Let us review what Bill C-34 does in terms of the appointment process and the ratification process on reappointment. It has a serious flaw. If everybody were wonderful and getting along with each other, there would not be a problem. People are congenial and they are kind and nice, and we would like to think that where it requires that the Prime Minister consult with leaders of other parties in the House prior to putting forward a name, that is in essence all very well. But all the bill says is that there shall be consultation with the leaders of the other parties in the House. There is absolutely no requirement in the bill that those leaders agree or that the majority agrees on the appointee being put forward. All it states is that there shall be consultation.

With a lack of definition of what consultation means, and without actually specifying that there be some degree of agreement on it, this really could turn out to be quite a sham. The Prime Minister could pick someone he wants and then talk to each of the House leaders and ask them what they think. It would not matter what they think or say about that person in response, the Prime Minister could say he has consulted, that he met the requirements of the act.

Further, Bill C-34 states that there is to be a ratifying vote in the House of Commons. Here again, we have observed that in a majority government, like the Liberals we have had here for the last nine and a half years, these Liberals tend to vote pretty well the way the Prime Minister wants them to, as directed by the party whip. So there is the possible scenario of the Prime Minister choosing someone objectionable, then talking about that individual with the other House leaders, and that would be as far as that goes; then he could then come in here and tell his members, “Hey, if you want to get out early, vote in favour of the appointee I am putting forward”. So either by persuasion, by hanging out a carrot, or by some whipping by the whip, the Liberals would get their majority vote and the commissioner would be in place.

Yesterday I talked to somebody about what would happen if I were offered this position, although I do not think it will happen because of other disqualifications, namely in the area of language, so I am disqualified from most of these positions in our country. But if I were offered this position and in a vote in the House of Commons the majority government voted in favour of my appointment but all other parties voted against it, I would feel obliged to thank the Prime Minister for his offer but decline the position. I hope the person offered the position will have that same degree of honour in accepting it. It is absolutely mandatory when this person is going to delve into our personal lives as members of Parliament on both sides of the House that the person have integrity and the trust of all members of Parliament.

Even though the actual double vote is probably impossible because it would require a change in the Constitution, I would hopefully expect that there would be a very high degree of support for this person upon appointment.

Now here is the dilemma, Mr. Speaker: My time is up and of course I would like to speak for another hour or so on this topic because I have covered only one of about eighteen objections. However, it will go to committee and hopefully we will have some good work there.

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10:30 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-34, concerning the appointment of ethics commissioners, and on the possibility of referring the bill to committee before second reading. Bill C-34 seeks to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and to create two distinct positions.

I am going to describe this bill briefly, for the people listening now and those who, we hope, will be reading these debates in the future.

These are the two positions. There is an ethics commissioner, responsible for administering a House of Commons code of conflict of interest—which does not yet exist, but which is being discussed and studied in committee—and for assisting the Prime Minister in administering the code of conduct for public office holders with respect to post-term conflicts of interest. There will also be a separate Senate ethics officer to administer the code of ethical conduct for the Senate.

As I was saying, the Senate code of ethical conduct and the House of Commons code of conduct governing conflicts of interest are now being developed within the two appropriate committees.

The Senate ethics officer will be appointed for a seven-year renewable term. The House ethics commissioner will be appointed for a five-year renewable term. This follows the pattern for the appointment of other officials, such as the Commissioner of Official Languages, or the Auditor General, or those who act as independent representatives before Parliament.

However, the unanimous report of a House of Commons committee, presented early in April, recommended that both these terms be renewable in order to reduce the loss of institutional memory. If it appears necessary to renew the term of someone in such a position, it is important to be able to do so, in order to preserve institutional memory.

The ethics commissioner will be appointed by the governor in council, after consultation with the leaders of recognized parties in the House. My colleague from the Canadian Alliance was wondering whether the appointment would be subject to consultation or to approval. That remains to be defined, but in this we recognize the wording of a promise from the 1993 red book. Ten years later, an old Liberal promise has almost been fulfilled. In fact, during second reading or in the committee stage, the top priority should be to make this point clear.

The draft bill tabled in the fall did not contain any provisions guaranteeing that the party leaders would be consulted. This is already a step forward. The government has committed to doing this, and we recognize this today.

Nor did the draft bill provide for a resolution by the House of Commons. Today, there is a possibility for a resolution in the House of Commons before these two commissioners are appointed.

We are also pleased that the bill will be sent to committee before second reading. This bill must undergo very serious analysis, which can only be done by concurrently considering the House of Common's conflict of interest code being drafted as we speak by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

It is impossible to discuss the appointment of an ethics commissioner, either separately or concurrently, without knowing all the ramifications of this code for members, ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Only by comparing the two documents will we be able to evaluate the overall process, in terms of whether there are possible ethics loopholes for elected representatives in the House of Commons. A serious analysis must be undertaken to understand what rules apply to public office holders, ministers and parliamentary secretaries. We intend to consider these issues very carefully, and we will continue this consideration in committee.

However, it is clear already that several aspects of the bill are very intriguing. We now have the assurance that the leaders of recognized parties in the House of Commons will be consulted about the appointment of the ethics commissioner since this will be a legislative requirement from now on. This obligation, which the Prime Minister committed to, was not included in the draft legislation introduced in the House of Commons on October 23.

Furthermore, the House will also be asked to approve the appointment of the ethics commissioner through a resolution. This is also a new provision in this bill. In its most recent report, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs had recommended that these provisions be included.

We also are pleased that a complaints process for parliamentarians concerning ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries will be formally in place from now on.

As well, the commissioner will be required to provide an activity report to the House of Commons, and not just the Prime Minister. These provisions were included in the draft bill and are being maintained, and we are pleased with this.

As the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell has pointed out, this is not a new bill, or not the first time this important matter has been raised in the House of Commons.

Pleased as we are to have this opportunity to discuss this bill and this matter in the House today, we are somewhat disappointed that it has taken 10 years to be able to do so. We might say it is high time the Liberal government decided to keep its 1993 red book promise to appoint an independent ethics commissioner.

The red book made the following commitment:

A Liberal Government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor--

This was expressed in the future tense. There are various kinds of futures, and this is a very distant future.

The Ethics Counsellor will be appointed after consultation with the leaders of all the parties in the House of Commons and will report directly to Parliament.

That was, I might again point out, back in 1993.

Strangely enough, today we are accepting the appointment of an ethics commissioner after consultation, whereas the Canadian Alliance had, on an official opposition day, tabled a motion with exactly the same wording, if I recall correctly. It had had the finesse to copy the red book promise word for word, which was, I repeat:

A Liberal Government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor ...appointed after consultation with the leaders of all the parties ...and will report directly to Parliament.

At that time, the Liberals voted against it. Today, however, they are presenting a bill to keep that promise, for which we are grateful, particularly having seen the ineffectuality of the present ethics commissioner, who answers only to the Prime Minister, reports only to the Prime Minister, is appointed only by the Prime Minister, and whose only friend, I believe, is the Prime Minister. That alone is a clear indication that there is a problem.

What happened during those 10 years to convince the Liberals to change their mind and honour their promises? I will tell you what. There were scandals at the Auberge Grand-Mère. There were scandals at HRDC. There was a scandal in the sponsorship program. There was a scandal in the firearms program. There were scandals in many departments, National Defence being one I happen to be thinking about. During all that time, we had an ethics counsellor reporting to the prime minister, accountable to the prime minister and dealing only with the prime minister.

We think it important that this ethics commissioner will have a code to enforce and to abide by for members, ministers, parliamentary secretaries and everybody else, and that he will report to the House of Commons and not to the Prime Minister.

Although we agree entirely with the bill or with the principles of a code of ethics, we think that we should not be sending out the message that we are regulating ourselves in this way because we are dishonest.

If improper actions have been taken, we have to correct the perception. Unfortunately, in our society, politicians are not perceived as being very good at respecting rules. I fear that if things are not made properly in the design process of this study - and not in the application - and if we play politics, then all the politicians in the House will suffer from an even worse perception in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

I urge us all to proceed with the utmost caution in our study at second reading stage of this bill dealing with the position of ethics counsellor and the ethical guidelines in general.

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10:40 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.

First, I would like to state that the New Democratic Party supports the adoption of a code of ethics for all parliamentarians. It is interesting to note that all of the provinces of Canada have codes of conduct that require disclosure to an independent commissioner or to a legislative clerk. The House of Commons must therefore update its practices in this regard.

It is also interesting to realize that most of the conflict of interest scandals which we have witnessed in recent years, and which have culminated in a bill, involved ministers, and not backbenchers. Clearly the ministers are not following the guidelines already in place.

Ethics legislation must at the very least create an independent ethics commissioner, who would be an officer of Parliament and who would have the following duties: ensuring that the rules for disclosure of private interests of senators and members of Parliament, including their immediate family members, are respected; providing advice to members of Parliament regarding ethics and conflicts of interest; hearing complaints from the public regarding inappropriate behaviour under the terms of the code of conduct; and carrying out investigations into these complaints.

This last point is very important. In fact, Canadians should be able to file complaints directly with the ethics commissioner, and not solely through a federal member of Parliament. This would show the public that it is able to contribute to the process. It goes without saying that frivolous accusations must not be grounds for complaints. This process must be handled with the respect it deserves.

I believe that ethics standards should be the same for all parliamentarians, be they members of Parliament or senators. My colleague, the member for Halifax, introduced a private members' bill on the issue, in which she proposed creating a code of conduct for all parliamentarians. I think that her draft legislation would have been a better model than the bill before us today.

Bill C-34 sets out the duties and functions of an ethics commissioner and a Senate ethics officer. It is interesting to see that this bill proposes the appointment of two ethics officers, one for federal members of Parliament and one for senators. This leads me to believe that senators follow different ethics rules than members of the House of Commons.

I have a solution to this problem, and perhaps many Canadians will agree. All we have to do is get rid of the Senate and we will no longer have to deal with this problem. Why should we have senators, who are not accountable to the people? On reading this bill, it is obvious that if a senator has a conflict of interest, his peers will protect him.

At least, with members of the House of Commons, if voters do not like their ethical standards, they can show their dissatisfaction by not re-electing them. You need only ask Doug Young. I think he could tell you how the electoral process works.

Unfortunately, we cannot get rid of the senators. This is ridiculous. The purpose of this ethics bill is to reinforce the public's confidence in public office holders. Yet, Bill C-34 proposes two separate standards for parliamentarians. The NDP cannot support this double standard approach.

I am disappointed that this bill does not clearly explain how the ethics commissioner will be chosen. I believe that a vote in the House of Commons on the approval of the person appointed to the position of ethics commissioner should require a two-thirds majority. This seems essential to me. A simply majority would not be enough. The ethics commissioner must have the confidence and the support of all members of the House to have the confidence of the House of Commons.

I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I can say that this committee has debated at length the issue of appointing an ethics commissioner and the rules contained in the code of conduct federal members of Parliament would be required to comply with. I would like to pursue these discussions when this bill is considered by the relevant legislative committee.

The House committee has already discussed what should be included in the code of conduct in terms of the definition of assets held by federal MPs.

Members generally agreed that spouses should be included in this definition, recognizing that many federal MPs share the ownership of assets with their spouse. To not include spouses would be to overlook a significant portion of the information regarding members' assets.

It was also suggested that it might be appropriate to include children who are not adults in the definition of family. I think the code should go even further and include adult children. This is one of the proposals in Bill C-417 put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Halifax.

I am disappointed that this bill is not more comprehensive. Most of the rules of ethics that federal MPs are expected to comply with are set out in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and not in a piece of legislation.

I think that this weakens the bill. I also think that we should have rules that could be used in court, in addition to those which apply only in the House of Commons.

As my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois said earlier, polls on how Canadians perceive their members of Parliament show that their popularity level is the lowest. It is sad to say that this lack of popularity of Parliament was the doing of ministers. It is due to the way they managed their portfolios, their departments. It is due to scandals, widespread scandals, like the one involving Groupaction. Think of—

Think of Auberge Grand-Mère, government advertising contracts, the gun registry for which Groupaction was paid $22 million. One might wonder how they got these contracts.

It is important to have a code of ethics for all the members of the House of Commons. If we are to have a code of ethics for the House of Commons as a whole, it must show respect for the House of Commons. The only way to do that is not to shift the burden onto the Prime Minister of Canada, who would pick the ethics commissioner. The ethics commissioner should be selected by Parliament through a two-thirds majority vote, through a majority of parliamentarians. That person would be accountable to parliamentarians. He or she would have to be accountable to Parliament and not to the Prime Minister of Canada who, with all due respect, might choose someone he knows, someone who is a good supporter of his party as we saw in the case of the Electoral Boundaries Commission and any other commission put in place. It is always questionable.

If we want Canadians to have respect for Parliament, let us give the job to parliamentarians. Let us do it through a two-thirds majority of votes here in the House of Commons, and then maybe Canadians will give us a better rating, bringing it from 17% to 60% or 75%. We are the people's servants. We are here to serve the people, and our fellow citizens should have faith in us.

All I am asking for now—and one might hope it will happen—is that at second reading we look into the process, a process the Canadian people could respect. The best way to proceed is through democracy and by holding a vote in the House of Commons where two thirds of parliamentarians would choose the ethics commissioner because they are the ones the people elected.

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10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Progressive Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, a main feature of the 1993 election campaign was a promise by the Liberal Party to establish new standards of ethics. Well, it has certainly done that.

The Prime Minister intervened with a crown corporation to benefit a business of which he had once been a part owner. At least three ministers have been forced from office for conflicts of interest. A fourth has been given safe refuge as ambassador to Denmark.

As recently as this week, the Minister of Canadian Heritage broke the guidelines in such a way that according to the rules she should resign, but the Prime Minister, going against his own rules, chose to protect his friend.

Now the government proposes new legislation, establishing new ethics commissioners whose appointments can be controlled by the government majority.

The government has lived on loopholes. When the loopholes were not large enough, it enlarged them.

Remember the observation on Shawinigate by Gordon Robertson, the distinguished former clerk of the Privy Council, who wrote the first conflict of interest guidelines for Prime Minister Pearson. Mr. Robertson noted that there had been no specific provisions governing the prime minister because it never occurred to anybody that a prime minister's actions would require guidelines, not until this government made a show of appointing an ethics counsellor and then made a sham of that office by having it report not to Parliament, as promised, but to the Prime Minister.

The most notorious loosening of the rules involved the so-called blind management trust. For decades, cabinet ministers in the House were required to put their assets in an absolutely blind trust. One made a choice. If one pursued one's private interests, one stayed out of cabinet. If one served the public interest, one cut off all contact with one's private assets.

This government changed that rule deliberately. It deliberately broke the separation between private interests and the public interest. It created a system where a minister could look after his or her private interests at the very same time he or she purported to act in the public interest.

As a footnote, but to make matters worse, the Prime Minister told the House that system had been used by ministers of former governments. He knows that is not true, but he has not had the rectitude to correct the record of Parliament.

I do not know why the government let ministers abandon blind trusts. I do not know if that was done specifically to meet the requirements of the member for LaSalle—Émard, but he was certainly quick to take advantage of the looser system.

A few weeks ago, and under pressure, the member for LaSalle—Émard announced that he was divesting himself from his giant shipping company, Canada Steamship Lines. He admitted that during the time he was minister of finance he held 12 separate private meetings with his company officials regarding business activities of the multinational private company that he personally owned.

For the record, I do not believe he acted to enrich himself. He came here as a millionaire and he did not need more money. F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that the rich are not like the rest of us. He probably did it because he thought the rules that applied to others should not apply to him.

Whatever the motive, the government broke the wall between private and public interests. Even the member for LaSalle—Émard now admits that system fails the test of appearing to be fair.

What is clear is that this tailor-made system was not recommended by outside experts. On the contrary. Mr. Justice Parker, who conducted the public formal inquiry in the Sinclair Stevens affair, warned specifically against this type of arrangement.

It is worth noting how Justice Parker, in his report, defined conflict of interest. It is, he said:

--[a] situation in which a minister of the Crown has knowledge of a private economic interest that is sufficient to influence the exercise of his or her public duties and responsibilities.

A minister need not act on that knowledge. Justice Parker did not find that Mr. Stevens acted on his knowledge.

Mr. Stevens was required to resign because it was alleged that he had done nothing more than what the member for LaSalle—Émard has admitted to doing 12 separate times.

That was the standard in Canada before this Liberal government deliberately lowered the bar. Simple knowledge of a private economic interest was enough to constitute a conflict of interest.

For eight years, the member for LaSalle—Émard regularly acquired such knowledge. That is not in dispute. He has admitted it himself.

According to the Prime Minister, Justice Parker's definition of conflict of interest is at the heart of the government's code of conduct for ministers. He has repeatedly said that in the House.

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Turner said in Parliament, on May 12, 1986:

In public administration a Minister has the burden of proof, the duty to show that what he is doing is beyond reproach. The burden of proof is not on Parliament. It is not on the opposition, nor the media. The burden of proof is on the Minister.

The new looser system of a managed blind trust does have its own clear rules. Canadians have a right to know whether even those rules were respected.

Article 7 of the agreement stipulates that:

If at any time whilst this agreement remains in effect, it appears that an extraordinary corporate event is proposed or threatened which might have a material effect on the shares or assets, the supervisors may consult with and obtain the advice, direction or instruction of the public officer holder....

The then minister of finance was allowed to be briefed only if: first, Canada Steamship Lines had an extraordinary corporate event; second, it had a material effect on the assets; and third, the supervisor was unable to handle it on his own. We are asked to believe that happened 12 times in eight years.

The Prime Minister says that while he has no knowledge of the subject of those 12 meetings, he is satisfied that each of them met the criteria of article 7. Why? Because Howard Wilson said so, the member for LaSalle--Émard agreed, and the Prime Minister declined to do his duty and find out if his new loose rules were respected or were broken.

The member for LaSalle--Émard says that he recused himself, he stepped aside from his ministry or the cabinet whenever there was a possibility of conflict. However more than the vast majority of companies, Canada Steamship Lines is critically dependent on a wide range of federal laws and regulations, including the tax system. Was the then minister of finance outside the room whenever taxes were discussed, or environmental laws, or shipping regulations, or safety standards, or changes in international laws or treaties?

The then minister's first budget in February 1994 announced the closure of tax havens. However between February and June 1994, the legislation that gave effect to the budget was changed. The Barbados tax haven was left open. Later changes were introduced that allowed the subsidiaries of Canadian corporations in Barbados to enjoy the same tax status as the parent company.

To follow the rules, the former finance minister would have had to recuse himself from all those decisions, some of which were at the heart of his own first budget. Perhaps that is what he did. However a vice-president of Canada Steamship Lines said on the CBC program Disclosure that the then minister's company shifted operations to Barbados in that period because of, and I quote directly,“changes in Canadian tax rules” .

We will not know for sure whether the rules were followed until the member for LaSalle--Émard makes public the full list of meetings he held with Canada Steamship Lines while he was minister of finance, who he met with, when he met with them and what they discussed.

Most members of the House accept the need for a conflict of interest code for individual members of Parliament. We will debate the details of the bill in days to come. However many of us also believe that this focus upon ordinary members of Parliament is designed to divert attention away from the flagrant conflicts of interest which have characterized so many ministers of the government, starting at the very top.

If that dark shadow is to be dispelled, the member for LaSalle--Émard must stop hiding the facts. He must be honest about what went on in those 12 secret meetings, what were the “extraordinary corporate events”, what were the “material effects” on his business, and whether and how, having been briefed 12 times, he stood aside from ministerial or cabinet decision which affected the interest of the multi-million dollar company he owns. Leading the country requires moral authority, not just delegates' votes.

I have outlined today fundamental questions of integrity which must be answered by the member for LaSalle--Émard and any government that expects to be taken seriously on questions of conflict of interest.

2010 Winter OlympicsStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Julian Reed Liberal Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, today marks an important milestone in Canada's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The International Olympic Committee will release reports on three candidate cities: Vancouver, Salzburg and PyeongChang. Its conclusions will have an influence on the key vote on July 2 when the IOC members gather in Prague to elect the host city for 2010.

During the IOC evaluation commission's visits in early March, the Government of Canada offered firm commitments of support and detailed information about essential federal services. These presentations clearly had an impact, as the chairman of the IOC commission went out of his way to praise the federal commitments.

The report will bring Canada's bid to host the world in Vancouver and Whistler seven years from now another step closer.

Private Members' BillsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, private members' bills often bring forward issues which either the government has overlooked or are too small for formal legislation. Unfortunately, the government tends to look upon them as an intrusion into its powerful domain as drafters of legislation.

I recently introduced Bill C-347 seeking to eliminate conditional sentencing for violent offenders. After conditional sentencing legislation was first introduced, the then justice minister said that he never intended for it to apply to dangerous offenders, yet never did anything to fix it. My bill will.

I will soon be introducing a bill to eliminate automatic parole for offenders who have done nothing to earn parole. I am also working on a bill to broaden pension accrual legislation to apply to all public safety occupations and another to create a national compensation fund for public safety personnel. I will only be able to bring one of these important bills forward during the session.

I urge the government to examine these and other private members' bills and seriously consider introducing a collection of the as one or more government bills to place these overdue changes into legislation.

Chinese Cultural CentreStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Sophia Leung Liberal Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, this year the Chinese Cultural Centre of Vancouver is celebrating its 30th anniversary Founded in 1973, this centre has worked hard to promote Chinese cultural understanding.

I have joined with thousands of volunteers to build this cultural centre. It gives me great personal pride to stand in the House of Commons today to congratulate the Chinese Cultural Centre on its tremendous achievement over the past three decades. Its contributions have made our community stronger and has provided many needed resources to our Vancouver community at large.

Congratulations to Monty Jang, chairman of the CCC, Kitty Mar, chair of the fundraising event, the board of directors past and present and the thousands of volunteers who have made the Chinese Cultural Centre a true anchor of our community.

Fédération des caisses populaires de l'OntarioStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, on April 26, the general assembly of the Fédération des caisses populaires de l'Ontario voted in favour of closer ties with the Mouvement des caisses Desjardins.

By so doing, the Fédération des caisses populaires de l'Ontario made a decision that will greatly benefit its members and our community.

I want to congratulate, in particular, the president of the federation's board, Thomas Blais, who said,

The Caisses de l'Ontario will be able to build on the economic strength of the Mouvement des caisses Desjardins. This is the most important decision in the history of the Caisses de l'Ontario.

Since the start of the cooperative movement in Canada, which was closely associated with Alphonse Desjardins and his wife Dorimène—by the way, Mr. Desjardins was a Clerk in this House at the turn of the last century—francophone rural communities have benefited from greater economic development, which still serves their interests today.

I want to congratulate the Fédération des caisses populaires de l'Ontario—


HmcsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, in a few short hours from now the men and women of the HMCS Winnipeg will be home in Esquimalt after seven and a half months at sea.

Throughout their lengthy development, Winnipeg played an important part in the campaign against terrorism and in the process appears to have set a new high for the number of boardings by a Canadian war ship.

Their success follows not only from their training and determination to accomplish the difficult task at hand, but stems from the continued support from family and friends and of course the gratitude of her namesake city, Winnipeg.

I know that all members of the House will join me in thanking Commander Kelly Williams and the men and women of the HMCS Winnipeg for their outstanding work in the name of Canada.

Ride for SightStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, this year is the 25th anniversary of a great organization formed to help the visually impaired; 25 years of caring for the sightless, 25 years of community volunteering, 25 years of motorcyclists all across Canada riding to fight blindness.

The longest running motorcycle charity ride in the world this year celebrates raising over $11 million for vision research.

Congratulations to the executive, the coordinators, committee persons, and of course the legions of riders and volunteers.

I encourage people to join with rider Gilles Cronier from Scarborough, volunteer Sue Ross from Whitby and thousands of others as they meet at the Great Northern Exhibition Fairgrounds in Collingwood. Do not miss the 2003 Ride For Sight in its 25th anniversary celebration ride June 20 to 22 in Collingwood, Ontario.

I encourage everyone to support the Ride for Sight all across Canada. We can help too.

United NationsStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Sunday I hosted a town hall at Beth Tzedec Synagogue on the United Nations, Canada's legacy and responsibility for the future. I was pleased to welcome my colleague, the MP for Mount Royal, and Professor Andrew Cooper from the University of Waterloo. The presence of the Right Hon. John Turner, Rabbi Gunther Plaut and Rabbi Frydman-Kohl was a special testimony to the importance of the debate and the ongoing commitment of all the impressive engaged citizens of St. Paul's.

Canada's strong support for the United Nations cannot be unconditional. We must speak out strongly for reform. We cannot accept an organization that allows Libya as the chair of its human rights commission, the disgrace of the Durban conference and agendas that single out nation states such as Israel and give exculpatory immunity to offenders such as China and the Congo.

Professor Cotler said that if the UN did not exist, we would have to invent it. He urged that we immediately address the suggestion for an organization of democracies within the UN to work toward a more effective and just institution.

Msgr. Léonce BouchardStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to tell the House today about the exceptional work of Monsignor Léonce Bouchard, who has just received from the Quebec government the Hommage bénévolat-Québec award for the Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean.

At 72 years of age, Msgr. Bouchard is the epitome of people helping people in my riding. For over a dozen years, he has helped provide services for our society's most vulnerable.

In 1990, Msgr. Bouchard opened the first soup kitchen in Chicoutimi. This initiative quickly spread to Jonquière, La Baie and Lac-Saint-Jean. He also opened, in 1991, a shelter that cares for some 20 homeless individuals each day, people with addictions, mental problems or no place to live.

He has worked tirelessly for the community and its most vulnerable 365 days a year, seven days a week. Msgr. Bouchard clearly deserves this award. He is the symbol of people helping people among the various levels of society, and each day he makes our part of the world a better and fairer place to live.

Sea Lamprey Control ProgramStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ontario's quarter million lakes and rivers hold about one-third of the world's fresh water supply. The Great Lakes in particular, which define most of Ontario's border with the United States, account for a large portion of Canada's fresh water supply. The Great Lakes are also the source of a $4 billion a year fishery that supports thousands of jobs.

I would therefore like to congratulate the hon. member for Huron—Bruce for his efforts to prevent a $1 million funding cut to the sea lamprey control program. The sea lamprey is a non-native aquatic species that invaded the Great Lakes in the early 20th century and is known to devastate numerous species of fish.

It is critical to maintain funding for a highly successful program that is key to ensuring the future health and economic well-being of the Great Lakes and those who are living around it.