House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was corporation.



11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation: Mr. Mac Harb, member for the electoral district of Ottawa Centre, by resignation effective September 8, 2003.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)( b ) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Business of the House

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary in light of public debate around recent court decisions to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Calgary Southwest, will be votable. Copies of the motion are available at the Table.

It being 11:08 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from April 10 consideration of the motion.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak today, as Parliament resumes, in support of the motion of my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this Hous, ethe government should make available to Members a support fund for community activities in each of their ridings.

It is an extraordinary thing to see Liberal MPs at last supporting an initiative by a Bloc Quebecois member. It is my turn to applaud them.

This private member's business from my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Jean, is of extreme importance for our communities.

This summer, I travelled all over my riding, and met with the MNA for Jonquière. as well as municipal and county councillors.

In Quebec, we have set up large-scale municipal structures, and the municipal councillors informed me that they had discretionary envelopes. Imagine, municipal councillors have these, while we federal Members of Parliament do not. With the stupendous budget surplus this government has amassed from the taxes of ordinary citizens, it is high time steps were taken to enable us, as representatives of our constituents and the ones closest to them, to help them out on an ad hoc basis.

I could name hundreds of associations in my riding from which we get letters daily saying “I would like to obtain funds from your discretionary fund, your discretionary envelope as an MP.”

When I inform them that I do not have such a thing, they cannot believe it. I was an assistant to a provincial member of parliament for ten years, and we had discretionary funds. The whole system worked very well. Last spring, certain Liberal MPs were saying “Oh but we do not know how that will be administered.”

The chief returning officer for Quebec has carried out a study that showed this was very well administered in Quebec. As far as I am concerned, having a discretionary envelope will make it possible for me to help people out, not give them presents, but give them help. They are not asking for a fortune. Sometimes they are asking for $100, $200 or $300 in order to be able to make it to the end of their fiscal year.

We all know what a hard time these community organizations have chasing up funds. They are constantly holding fundraising campaigns. No one can imagine how important it would be to them to be able to get help from the MP for their riding.

I congratulate my colleague from Saint-Jean for having dared to move his motion. After all the fine applause from the Liberal members, it is time for this government to take real action, so that every member of Parliament can benefit from a discretionary allowance in his or her riding.

These funds would not be used to do just anything. The money would be available to help the people and associations who need it. This is not to put on a big show, because we have had enough of the noise the Liberal Party makes whenever it gives the most paltry amount to people who organize activities.

I think it is a form of recognition. If we did not have such community organizations, how much would it cost society? Imagine the billions of dollars it would cost if we did not have these people who take care of the less fortunate, women, abused women, children, the poor, and so many others. There are also organizations representing seniors and defending their rights. We need these people.

We know how difficult it is to follow all of Parliament's legislative activities. We cannot plead ignorance, but not all legislation can be followed. Even ourselves, as members of Parliament, sometimes have trouble following all the legislation.

These people provide help and can point to what they are doing for their clients.

Once again, I think it is time to act. We are going to stop putting off until tomorrow the things that can be done today. The federal government has enough money to do this.

By the way, as we resume sitting here in the House, I want to welcome all those who are listening and all the members in this House. I want to wish them an excellent session. It will be a very important session. We will be talking about subjects that will affect the people who are asking for our help, in order to give them the means to help the most needy.

When I was working at the provincial level, I never gave assistance to those who did not need it. Sometimes an amount like $100 or $200 is received as if it were $100,000, because they truly need such sums of money if they are going to be able to continue their excellent work.

In my opinion, if the members of this House do not support my colleague's motion, then they are out of touch with their constituents. They are burying their heads in the sand. They are telling their constituents, “Vote for me but, once elected, your concerns will no longer be mine.” It is too bad. I do not know if the other members feel as responsible for their constituents as I do, but I get two, three or four letters every day from such associations asking me for this money.

It is fine to say that it has to come out of my salary. That is normal, and I do so frequently. It is fine to say that we are going to help promote them by giving them $100. They do not even have the means to promote themselves. They spend all their energy seeking both provincial and federal funding just to survive. Furthermore, they must constantly hold fundraisers.

It is time to admit they are right and to recognize them for what they are by giving them a small sum. Even $100 will grow as if they had received $5,000. It is not much, but we are talking about an organization's survival.

I congratulate my hon. colleague from Saint-Jean for moving this motion. Not all the members in this House would have had the courage to do so. Since I become a member six years ago, this issue has been discussed informally. Some members do not know anything about it because they do not want to know anything. However, this goes on at the provincial and municipal levels.

People say that the federal government should provide the support, and this means that it must consider the real needs of individuals and do whatever is necessary to help them. These people are not asking for a free ride. With all the money being stockpiled here, this is their right.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


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

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the debate on Motion No. 393 introduced by the hon. member for Saint-Jean.

The subject of the motion is as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make available to Members a support fund for community activities in each of their ridings.

This debate centres on how we, as members, can meet the needs of our constituents. The government feels that members should play an active role and support the initiatives taken in their ridings.

That is why the government is ensuring that members actively participate in approving programs in their ridings—programs such as Summer Career Placements and Job Creation Partnerships.

A wide range of views were expressed during the first hour of debate on this motion. Some MPs noted that the proposal would allow MPs to play a positive role in supporting the voluntary sector in their communities. Others expressed concerns that MPs would be put in a difficult position having to choose to support certain activities over other worthy initiatives. Concerns were raised about how this program would be administered.

In this respect, I note that the motion raises a number of questions. For what purpose and under what circumstances is the fund to be used? How much money should be provided to each MP? What would be the total cost of the program? Who would administer the fund? Who would be accountable for management of the fund? Would this duplicate other federal, provincial and municipal initiatives?

That said, this is an important issue and I understand that there have been some discussions among the parties about the idea of referring the subject matter of the motion to committee for further review, with a view to having detailed recommendations put to the House. I gather there has not been agreement to do that but it is worthy of consideration nevertheless.

One issue a committee could consider is how a fund such as this could be administered. Quebec's National Assembly is one of the few legislatures in Canada that has a program similar to what is proposed in today's motion. The Quebec program is called Programme de soutien à l'action bénévole, meaning a support program or a program of support for voluntary works.

In Quebec, members are responsible for administering the funds. The provincial government plays an oversight role in members' activities. Members are subject to random checks by the government.

If a committee were to examine this issue it could determine whether MPs in the House would support the government overseeing their activities or conducting random checks of their constituency work. Alternatively, the committee could consider what other administrative mechanisms, such as having the program administered entirely by the federal government or have the Board of Internal Economy oversee the management of the fund by MPs.

I support the idea of amending the motion, so that the important subject matter could be referred to a committee for study.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House and be back again after a summer break. I want to welcome the new pages to the House while I have the chance and also to say hello and best wishes to my colleagues all around the House.

In particular, of course, I want to address Motion No. 393 and I must say that, in general, my colleagues and I are overwhelmingly opposed to the motion. There are any number of reasons why we are opposed to it.

Just to remind people who are in the House and who are watching this, effectively the motion would give members of Parliament a fund that they could use at their discretion to hand out to various community organizations. The reason why we are concerned about that should be pretty obvious.

We are concerned that the money will be used for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with the public good. If there is any question as to whether or not that can happen, I invite members to take a look at the record of the government when it comes to how it has used funds through Human Resources Development, Industry Canada, and through other grants and contribution granting agencies and departments. It has blatantly broken the rules in many cases and used the money to end up benefiting it politically.

There have even been cases where charges were laid and actual convictions against members of the Liberal Party when it came down to using government funds that ended up coming back to the Liberal Party. Pierre Corbeil is the name that people may remember who had a sordid history and actually ended up being convicted because of his involvement in those types of shenanigans. The Canadian Alliance is vehemently opposed to this idea.

I want to lay out some scenarios to show why we are opposed to this motion. As a general principle the government hands out grants and contributions. Members should recall that the federal government in Canada today has about $18 billion that it hands out in grants and contributions every year to various groups and to different bodies of all kinds, and a lot of that money, to be fair, is pretty tightly controlled. But with a lot of that money there is tremendous discretion at the ministerial level. There are some rules in place, absolutely, but sometimes I would argue that those rules are broken. We do not want to encourage that by opening up the discretion even more by giving a slush fund to members of Parliament. Let me give some examples of how those rules are broken.

We know for instance that right now the RCMP is investigating Human Resources Development Canada and that at least six people have been fired, maybe more. I wish to point out that it was not human resources personnel that found these problems in their department where money went missing. It was the RCMP who brought this to their attention.

The last thing we want to do is to take what has occurred in Human Resources Development Canada, and which everyone agrees is a bad thing, and now make it the official policy of the government to extend those same sorts of privileges to members of Parliament. It is ridiculous to do that where people would start using taxpayers' money for their own ends.

Members of the Bloc can understand where the potential lies to use that money to benefit them politically and there are many ways in which that could happen. For example, we could be facing some kind of political challenge from a certain group in a riding and all of a sudden we could see how it would be very tempting for a member of Parliament to ensure that money from his or her slush fund went toward a particular group to get it off their tail. We could see how that could happen or contrarily a member of Parliament could use money to go toward a particular group. That particular group could then kick back the money to that member of Parliament's election fund. That could happen very easily.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

An hon. member

Or to a golf course.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Or to a golf course, as my friend said. Money could go from a member of Parliament to a group that has a family member on it and benefit a family member or a friend.

We do not want to encourage that. Let us not use scarce economic resources for things that could be blatantly political or personally benefit members of Parliament. We do not want to see that happen.

Every day in question period we get up and ask questions about instances where money may have gone in some cases to benefit government members, either politically or in some cases I am afraid to say directly. We are concerned about that and we do not want to create more opportunities for that to happen.

In the last budget we saw spending go through the roof. We saw all kinds of new spending initiatives and things that were questionable. We know there are many areas of government where there is inadequate spending. I think of the Canadian military as an example. A lot of people would argue that we have not kept pace with the demand for spending when it comes to things like pursuing criminals.

Therefore, if we are going to talk about spending extra money why do we not talk about reallocating money in some cases and not pursuing crazy ideas like this one in this case.

Politics is always about a choice. What we would effectively be doing is making a decision not to spend this money on issues such as health care, criminal justice, increasing support for the Canadian military, or a hundred other things that are important to Canadians. Instead, we would be making a decision to spend it in a way that would give political incumbents an opportunity to ensure that they stay where they are as incumbents, by taking this money and spreading it around potentially for political ends. We do not want to encourage that.

We already saw that in the new changes to the Canada Elections Act and what the government was proposing with respect to campaign financing. We do not want to see more protections for incumbency. In fact, what we want is different ways to encourage people around the country to run against incumbents to ensure that we have lots of competition and new ideas coming forward. It seems to me that this is another way of guaranteeing incumbency and we do not want to encourage that.

In summary, there are a whack of reasons why we oppose this. They include potentially using this money to benefit sitting members of Parliament politically, using it to benefit them personally, and using it to benefit their family members and friends personally. It would give the appearance to the public that this might happen, that there is a greater concern for giving members of Parliament some fund money than there is to ensuring that we actually have enough money to fund those things that are very important to Canadians that show up in the polls week after week.

For those reasons I will recommend to my colleagues that we oppose Motion No. 393.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on Motion No. 393:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make available to Members a support fund for community activities in each of their ridings.

I feel this matter probably deserves a bit of serious consideration, and of course I would be pleased if this issue could be sent to an appropriate parliamentary committee maybe to work out the snags and flaws that could be inherent in the motion itself.

In the meantime, I want to make a few observations. We have 301 members in the House of Commons and decision making powers and authority currently rests with the Prime Minister and the cabinet of the country. Money is spent in the ministry through departmental programs which are generally operated by bureaucrats according to a fixed formula and fixed spending criteria. That is the way it should be done and that is the way it is done in every province in Canada and here at the federal level as well.

However, we have to recognize that in that process not everyone is well served. Many community organizations from around the provinces and the country often do not meet program criteria. As a result of that, they very often cannot access public funds. Given the billions of dollars spent on an annual basis by the federal government, such criteria and procedures are of course necessary for the protection of the public purse.

We have seen in the House of Commons, over the last couple of years in particular, how HRDC funding has been allocated. We have seen a number of scandals in the Department of Human Resources Development and what happens when politicians meddle in the provision of regular government spending and funding. Bureaucratic procedures are very often short-circuited and program criteria, as in the case of HRDC, are often ignored and were ignored. This was brought to the floor of the House of Commons, and we are all very much aware of it. Direct involvement by politicians in current funding programs has led to scandalous behaviour and many heated exchanges in the House of Commons. Last year was a typical example where the Prime Minister himself got involved in calling certain government officials to have funding approved for his own riding.

Obviously we cannot have bureaucrats or politicians passing out grants willy-nilly. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves as well if worthy causes and community organizations should be shut out completely, as they very often are. Maybe this motion points to a way in which we could have the best of both worlds.

To cite an example of where this way of funding certain community organizations has worked, I can point to my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador where it had a system in the house of assembly that allowed MHAs, known as MLAs here, to use public funds to support community organizations and activities. Each MHA was allocated about $10,000 annually. Standard application forms were developed which applicants could submit to their MHA. The actual payment of the grant was done by a department designated by cabinet to be a line department for these applications. I believe the system was in effect up until a couple of years ago. I gather it is no longer in use although my colleague from St. John's West tells me it is.

In any event, I am not aware of any major outcry or major scandal arising from that program. As far as I know, it worked very well, and probably is working very well if it is still in effect.

Another factor would be the cost of that program. The Alliance members have some very legitimate concerns with the cost of the program. As I said earlier, each MHA in my province was given approximately $10,000 for distribution. In the 48 seat house of assembly that would come to about $480,000 annually. A $10,000 allocation to each of the 301 MPs would come to approximately $3 million. It is not an unreasonable sum but one would have to ask, in the federal riding, if that would be enough money. I think one would have to go a bit higher.

My current federal riding and most Newfoundland federal ridings, including I guess the member for Gander—Grand Falls, would have a riding that encompasses 10 or 11 provincial ridings. We have a much larger population to service, so a $10,000 allocation may be kind of low. Perhaps if the appropriate parliamentary committee had a chance to look at it and at some of the federal ridings across the country that could benefit from it, maybe we could have a $100,000 allocation that would go to each federal member.

We would have to know a little more about the motion itself. The motion seems to be a little vague in that community activities are not really defined in any particular way or what kind of organization might be able to avail of this kind of funding. As well, there might be a very real danger that a fund like this could be mismanaged, if MPs themselves exercised any authority on the allocation of funds. We know what happens when politicians get involved in the actual allocation of the funding. It has the potential to be abused and misused. Therefore there might be a real danger of mishandling the fund if politicians become involved in the allocation of the funds themselves.

Would there be, for instance, any partisan influence in the decisions? If there is to be no partisan influence, then the bureaucracy would have to be involved. Are we creating another program for the bureaucrats to administer? Many questions need to be answered before we get down to the business of approving this motion.

What guarantees would there be that MPs on the government side would not have any kind of special influence in the allocation of the funds and how could we ensure that all MPs, if they were to be involved, would have any kind of equal representation in the allocation of the funds?

I think it is fair to say that we could support the motion depending on what the finished product might be, depending on reasonable allocations being made to the fund, and not having it so low that the fund could be almost useless in itself, and depending as well that every MP would have equal influence in the allocation of the funds.

Maybe MPs should not have any influence in the allocation of funds because they do not do a very good job. Politicians generally do not do a very good job when they are able to influence the spending of government money. We should have very clear criteria established. To that end, I would support the motion going to a parliamentary committee to be fleshed to see what could be done to make it happen.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for Saint-Jean for introducing Motion No. 393 in the House of Commons and the member for Jonquière for her speech this morning. She talked about the fund that has existed in Quebec for many years.

I would like to add that such a fund also exists in Manitoba and that it works very well. Members are able to distribute this fund to the people in their region.

The motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make available to Members a support fund for community activities in each of their ridings.

The motion is clear. It refers to community activities and not partisanship. That is what this motion is all about. If some members rise in this House and say that members of Parliament cannot be trusted to administer such a program or money for community activities, I would suggest that they go back to their ridings, where they will be held accountable by their constituents and the people of their community. I think their stance would come under intense scrutiny. It would be seen as something particularly serious in the region.

If we look at the government's position, we can see that already, in previous speeches, reference was made to partisanship and accountability. The government member mentioned this. If this is grounds for rejecting the motion, I suggest we just look at federal programs to find partisanship. It has been going on for 100 years. It is said that there is always partisanship with political parties. Here, however, we are talking about a fund for individual members.

I can only think of the good that could be done with a fund allocated to members in their communities.

How will the fund be used? That is where rules must be established. First things first, let us start by accepting the motion. That will set the ball rolling. The hon. member for Saint-Jean is indicating that he is in agreement with me. He agrees with that the motion must be accepted. That will set the whole process in motion to move forward with this new fund.

People wonder what members would use this money for? I just want to say that, in my community for instance, I receive a fair number of phone calls from community services, people involved in adult literacy for example, who are not paid and who sometimes need money for publicity or something of the sort. They phone the office, but we cannot be of any help. There is no federal program under which we could help them out.

Earlier, with my hon. colleague, I indicated that that we can go a long way a little at a time. This means that sometimes even small amounts can really help a community organization do good things and be in a position to support its community.

In our community, there is a halfway house where battered women can go overnight following a family incident. How many times have these people phoned us, asking if funding was available to help them?

We are talking about community organizations, and not partisanship. We are not talking about an individual who will be voting for the hon. member for Acadie-Bathurst, for Saint-Jean, for Halifax or for Peace River in British Columbia. That is not the point. We are talking about money that could benefit a community.

When it comes to youth centres, for example, it saddens me to see how many young people are involved in criminal activities today because they did not get support earlier on. There are youth centres in my area. There is an area where the youth centre closed down and was looking for help. The government did not want to take any responsibility for helping the youth centre to reopen. We were told by the RCMP that, during the time the youth centre was closed, there was an 85% increase in the number of young people in trouble with the law.

Yet the government can find a lot of money to help them once they are behind bars. So what is needed is prevention. These community groups work hard and sometimes need a little boost, a little help that could go a long way. Help is what they need.

That is why I personally will be supporting the motion of the hon. member for Saint-Jean. A number of my NDP colleagues will be doing so as well. Yes, some have reservations, but not about the motion itself, actually. My colleagues say that the federal government ought to be responsible for the communities. It ought to be responsible as well for getting transfer payments to the provinces in order to enable them to help their communities. These are things that we ought to be able to expect, but they are not.

So, that is why it is important to see what has happened in Quebec, where there is a fund available to members of the legislature. We have never heard of any scandals like those the federal Liberals have been involved in, where the federal Liberal government paid $1.5 million twice for the same report from Groupaction. It was screened by the government. There has never been a scandal like that in Quebec, among the members of Quebec's legislature, with respect to a fund to help people in their communities.

I would suggest to the committee that will study this issue—if the motion is passed—that it ensure that there is a local association or organization that can help the member identify the community groups in need. There are many ways to protect the fund to ensure that it is properly distributed.

As I said, I hope that the motion will be passed and that the members of this House will feel responsible. They must not be afraid that they are unable to manage this fund. I say that if a member is afraid to manage a fund himself, he really has a problem. We should have confidence in ourselves regarding this fund, since it works well in Manitoba and Quebec. Moreover, it will help groups in our communities, groups that are in real need.

Giving a small amount such as $500 to such organizations can take them a long way, for instance, to advertising a fundraising campaign for their own organization or for young people. I recall a community group that wanted to have an outdoor skating rink in order to organize winter activities for young people. There was no way to obtain money from anyone. But a small sum of money would have helped them. Federal members of Parliament receive this kind of request in their offices. It would be a way to help small, community-based organizations.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to support this excellent motion moved by the hon. member for Saint-Jean.

I listened carefully to today's speeches, particularly the one given by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, who was very eloquent, as well as the one by the hon. member of the Progressive Conservative Party.

This motion concerns the creation of a support fund for community activities. Quebec currently has one. This is about support for isolated or northern communities and urban centres.

It is obvious today that the Canadian Alliance still does not understand. It thinks that this motion is about creating a support fund for election periods. That is false. This support program would be available during a member's mandate to assist federally or provincially regulated non-profit organizations. This is key.

These days, there are youth or seniors groups that work very hard, and social clubs like Kiwanis, Lions or Kinsmen clubs, which hold fundraisers. It is not easy. This excellent motion from the hon. Bloc Quebecois member must be addressed. But the Canadian Alliance must carefully consider what is happening in Manitoba and Quebec. The example of the Quebec government's program, which is very successful, is often cited. It is not about election periods, it is a fund that needs to be established.

All that need be done is abolish the government's current $40 million sponsorship fund and give that money to the 301 members, whatever their political affiliation. This is not a partisan issue; it is about helping community groups and supporting voluntarism.

They are having a hard time in the regions. Scouts, children, schools all work very hard raising funds by selling chocolate bars. It is about time that tax money went back into the regions, instead of always going to foreign countries or to big companies.

This is important, as we know and as we can see in the province of Quebec right now. The volunteer action support program, at the local level, provides financial assistance to municipalities and non-profit corporations in their efforts to respond to needs in community, recreation, sports and community support activities.

It is important to win this vote today so that the motion can be examined by a standing committee. Solutions need to be found for seniors and many others. We know this covers sports and recreation activities and related management activities.

It is also important that the amounts involved be divided geographically and on a per capita basis, because there are members whose ridings cover ten square kilometres, while there are others whose ridings cover 200,000 or 300,000 square kilometres.

Today, the hon. member followed in the footsteps of the hon. member for Beauce, a Liberal, who tried to put that idea forward. But if today the Liberal members in this House, members of other political parties and even members of the Canadian Alliance really looked at what is going on in their communities, they would be in favour of a volunteer action support program.

The idea is always to find solutions. If members have access to a fund, we know this fund will not benefit them. At present, the recently elected MNA for Abitibi-Est, Pierre Corbeil, has a $60,000 or $62,000 fund. He uses it to give $500 to a group, to seniors or to children in a school.

What matters is that decisions be made very wisely. This is a program that should be made available to individual members in their riding offices, because if we wait for a decision to be made by public servants in Ottawa, it will take three months. Out of a $25 million fund, $15 million will go to public servants and there will only be $10 million left for support programs in remote areas and urban centres.

It is important that we support this motion, because its purpose is to help people, and young people.

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to thank my colleagues for their contribution to this debate. Their speeches were very interesting. It should be noted that this is the second hour of this debate, which began in May.

I found that generally the speeches were relevant. However, there are a few things I would like to clarify. As mover of the motion I feel it is important, in matters of procedure, that I be given the last five minutes.

I moved this motion to recognize the work done by community groups. I have often said in speeches, and when I meet the people concerned, that society would not be able to function without these groups.

I am talking about literacy, youth centres, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Under its present structures, the Society is unable to fully sustain all these activities. If no one provided literacy programs any more, would we come up with the large sums needed to have the Society and bureaucrats provide them? I do not think we are able to do that.

The same is true of youth centres. If we did not have youth centres, would society be prepared to pay the cost of such services? I think it would be impossible to do so. Thus, these responsibilities are given to community groups, who are of great value to our society.

What do these community groups do? They spend 50% of their time looking for funding for the coming year. There is a problem and I think it is time to recognize the work of these groups and to do something so that we can help them provide real support for public services.

I have heard some arguments I found less appealing. I have heard members say, “You know, if we entrust these funds to politicians, things are bound to go awry.” One has to have very little confidence in one's talents as a member of Parliament to say things like that. Personally, I have confidence in my colleagues. I even think that they are in the best position to determine who will receive funding.

Now, for the mechanics of it. I have heard arguments that the motion is vague. On October 25, it will be 10 years since I entered this House, and I am starting to understand how things work. When someone proposes a specific procedure and an amount of money, that amount will be found to be too high or too low or else the motion will be found unacceptable. When someone proposes ways in which funding could be distributed, people decide that it is not a good idea to distribute the funding. That is why the motion is worded as it is.

In fact, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will probably have a role to play in implementing the motion, setting up a framework, defining the methods and criteria. It will be done. Of course, we are not asking for unlimited funding. First, the House must have a democratic debate. That is the issue today.

Everyone always says that the members do not have enough powers. We want to give them some by allowing them to allocate funds to specific groups. I trust the members to make this determination. Now, we will see which committee of the House will address this. But when that committee does so, it will have a democratic mandate from the 301 members of this House. This is key.

So, the time has come for members in favour of some decentralization or who believe that the machinery of government is too unwieldy to put their trust in each other as members and colleagues. The fund should simply be approved once the terms have been set by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I would not send this fund straight to the committee so that, in short order, it can tell me that it considered the matter, declared it unfeasible and said the committee could do nothing. The committee's hands would be tied by the 301 members who will vote on this motion.

In closing, I want to say that, in some societies, some governments impose various taxes. When there are budgetary surpluses such as the present $13 billion surplus, the government has all the latitude it needs to provide better services to the public. That is the purpose of today's motion. That is what this motion is recommending.

I ask my hon. colleagues to put their faith in each other, to support this fund and to let the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs address this issue once it has received a democratic mandate from the 301 members of this House.

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11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 11:57 p.m., the time provided for the debate has expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

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

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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Some hon. members


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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Community Activity Support FundPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, September 17, at the end of government orders.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other acts in consequence, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is one motion in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-34.

Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON


That Bill C-34 be amended by deleting Clause 38.Debate arose on the motion in Group No. 1.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this particular amendment to Bill C-34. In its simplest form, the amendment would withdraw clause 38 from the bill.

While I suppose one could argue that clause 38 is fairly technical, its ramifications are really quite serious. In its simplest form, by withdrawing that clause we would open up the ability of both individuals and members of Parliament to challenge the ethics commissioner in court.

The effect of clause 38 as printed and now before the House is to include the ethics commissioner in the provisions of Bill C-34 that in effect precludes the commissioner at any time from being challenged in the Federal Court of Canada.

We know from the provisions in the rest of the bill that the federal ethics commissioner, if the bill is passed and becomes law, will, for all intents and purposes, be chosen and appointed by the government.

In spite of our attempts at the committee to have the appointment approved by a vote of two-thirds of the House, that was rejected by the government. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, as long as we have a majority government it will be appointing the ethics commissioner.

I will not spend a lot of time in terms of the concerns that have been expressed over the role the commissioner has played up to this point but it certainly has not been a satisfactory role.

The role played by the ethics commissioner, who would be appointed by a majority of the House of Commons, which is the government, would simply not be enough. The role would not be satisfactorily performed. The independence that is required from that person playing the role would certainly not be guaranteed at all unless we had that two-thirds vote.

If we were to take out clause 38 it would give both individuals and members of Parliament the ability to bring the ethics commissioner to account. To a great extent that is what the amendment is about. The amendment is about the accountability of this person.

The effect of the amendment, if clause 38 is not amended, will be to equate to a great degree the ethics commissioner to the role and privileges that we have as members of Parliament. The House has been critical, even to the degree that the government has attempted to push that role, that privilege.

We currently have outstanding litigation that will in effect say that the privilege extends to human rights and that the privilege of the member even overrides human rights in the country. That is a position that we have been opposed to but it is one that the government is pushing at this point.

Also, if clause 38 is not repealed, that role, authority or privilege, as wide as it is and as historically based as it is, would extend to the ethics commissioner.

I and my party believe that clause 38 does not have a role to play in the role that the ethics commissioner should be playing in this country. We should be saying to the ethics commissioner that we expect him or her to be responsible to the House and to the Canadian people but unless clause 38 is removed the Canadian people will have absolutely no role to play.

If there is concern on the rulings of the ethics commissioner in the future, if he or she take positions to the House that are not satisfactory to individuals, groups of individuals or communities within the country, they will not be able to do anything about that unless clause 38 is removed.

The history of the use of judicial review, because that is the process that would be allowed if section 38 were repealed or removed, has been one of checks and balances. We have a government system that generally sees Parliament as being supreme but it is not in all cases.

It was quite clear in 1982, when the Constitution was repatriated and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was introduced, that we were putting limitations on the role of Parliament. If it were appropriate to use judicial review at that time vis-à-vis the ethics commissioner then it is appropriate at this time.

Section 38 is in effect a throwback. It states that the ethics commissioner would, in many respects, be above the law. Yes, I recognize that person would ultimately still have to report to the House but that individual would be above the law with regard to anybody else. It is not an acceptable position in this day and age.

As elected officials we call upon our constituents to be more involved. We are concerned about the lack of participation at election time. We are also concerned about the lack of participation in the democratic process on a number of other occasions. I suggest this would be one of them. If we pass section 38 unamended we will be precluding that participation from the public.

It is also worth noting, and almost as a warning to other members of the House, what would happen if we had an ethics commissioner. I am not going to suggest for a moment that the government or any other would appoint a commissioner who was not expected to do a good job. However I would point out that whoever that person is he or she will be human and will have eccentric behaviour and personality clashes from time to time. That individual will also make mistakes from time to time. Rulings from the ethics commissioner could have a very detrimental effect on individual members of Parliament. I would suggest that members of Parliament having the ability to resort to an independent tribunal in the form of the federal court would be an appropriate thing to have built into the legislation.

It is not only individuals or groups who would like to make the commissioner more accountable. By removing section 38 we would also be permitting individual members of Parliament to press the commissioner if they were not treated fairly or the commissioner makes a mistake.

In spite of some of the paranoia that we have heard from the Leader of the Official Opposition in the last couple of weeks about our judiciary, the reality is that Canada has a very proud tradition in terms of its independence and the quality of our judiciary. By removing section 38 and relying on our judiciary to be the final arbitrator or final decision maker if the ethics commissioner does not perform his or her job appropriately is something of benefit to individual members of Parliament but, more important, it would give average Canadian citizens the ability to make the commissioner accountable.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


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

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to talk about the work done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on Bill C-34, which provides for an independent ethics commissioner who is to report to Parliament.

I would like to thank the members of the committee for the zeal with which they tackled Bill C-34, which they began studying as draft legislation last year.

Bill C-34 was sent back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs before second reading. The Standing Committee reported back to the House of Commons with an amendment.

This amendment would add a provision requiring the Prime Minister to establish ethics principles, rules and obligations for public office holders and to table them in each House of Parliament within 30 sitting days after coming into power.

Any subsequent change to these ethics rules would have to be tabled in Parliament within fifteen sitting days of being made by the Prime Minister.

The government in 1994 established and made public a conflict of interest code for public office holders shortly after entering office, so this is a practice that predates the current bill. Nevertheless, the amendment makes it clear that future prime ministers will have this obligation within a specific timeframe.

I want to turn now to the report stage motion tabled by the member for Windsor—St. Clair, which proposes the deletion of clause 38 of the bill. Clause 38 is a coordinating amendment of the definitions found in the Federal Courts Act, which ensure that the institution of Parliament is not subject to judicial review by the Federal Court. This is consistent with Parliament's long-standing privileges. Clause 38 amends subsection 2(2) of the Federal Courts Act by adding references to both the ethics commissioner and the Senate ethics officer in order to exclude these officers from being subject to judicial review by the Federal Court.

During committee examination of Bill C-34, parliamentarians were clear: they want Parliament, not the courts, to administer and enforce their own ethical codes, as has always been the case. I would add that Bill C-34 contains other provisions to ensure that both the ethics commissioner and the Senate ethics officer are able to perform their functions fully and independently as officers of Parliament. These provisions include express recognition that both officers enjoy the privileges and immunities of the House and Senate respectively in carrying out their duties and functions, and express recognition that the bill does not in any way limit the powers, privileges, rights and immunities of Parliament or its members. These privileges include freedom from scrutiny by the courts in matters relating to the conduct of members of either House. These provisions are based on the principle that Parliament regulates its own affairs. This is a long-standing parliamentary tradition and privilege, which is critical to the effective functioning of Parliament and its members.

The proposed amendment to Bill C-34 by the member for Windsor—St. Clair is inconsistent with this approach. The government does not support the amendment because it could provide a basis for arguing that the Federal Court can review the activities of the ethics commissioner in relation to the conduct of members of Parliament. The amendment is inconsistent with other provisions of the bill that provide for the ethics commissioner to have the same privileges as Parliament and the amendment is contrary to the views of the House and Senate committees that reviewed the draft bill. Accordingly, I would ask members of this House not to support this amendment.