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House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The Chair heard a question of privilege from the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville concerning the form of the supplementary estimates (A) tabled recently. The hon. government House leader, I understand, wishes to make further submissions on the matter, as he indicated he might yesterday, bringing additional information to the House on this question.

I therefore call upon the hon. Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Chair accepted my offer to provide the House with additional information on the question of privilege by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville concerning the supplementary estimates for the Canadian Firearms Program.

As we all know, the Canadian Firearms Program was transferred from the portfolio of the Minister of Justice to that of the Solicitor General of Canada this past April 14. It is now necessary, therefore, to seek authorization from Parliament to transfer the funding to a new organization, now to be called the Canadian Firearms Centre.

As the Solicitor General has explained already, there is no new money involved, only a transfer of funds already approved in Parliament.

The transfers are accomplished in two ways: either through a $1 item to provide the necessary authority to transfer the funds from one vote to another, in other words, from the Minister of Justice--

I think the Speaker probably would want to hear these points, but I can yield the floor to the hon. member if he has something intelligent to add.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

I would like to add something.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

--and then to the Solicitor General and a new organization created; or, in this case, because we have a new organization, the vote wording authorizes the transfer of $111.4 million, including $10 million for the operating budget carry forward. I will get to that point later.

There are two issues here: One is the transfer within this fiscal year; and the second is the transfer of funds from the last fiscal year to this fiscal year in the operating budget carry forward. Both have already been approved by Parliament, so there is no money.

The member for Yorkton—Melville has suggested that the $10 million for the Canadian Firearms Centre identified in the 2003-04 supplementary estimates (A) is, what he considers to be, new funding. Let me explain why this is not correct.

There is a longstanding practice with respect to operating budget carry forward from one fiscal year to another of up to 5% of a department's main estimates operating budget based on lapses reported in the public accounts.

Each year, to encourage sound management practices, every department is allowed an eligible operating budget carry forward based on lapsed operating resources from the previous year which have been obviously approved by Parliament. They were in the estimates, otherwise they could not be carried forward to the next year had they not been there to begin with.

In the 2001-02 supplementary estimates (A) the operating budget carry forward totalled $540 million--every year there are large quantities of them, all annotated in the way that were described--for 70 departments and agencies. In the 2002-03 supplementary estimates (A) the operating budget carry forward totalled $629 million for 87 departments and agencies. There are quantities of those in the estimates all the time.

If the Speaker would like actual examples of this to show that this the existing practice of the House, I have quantities of them here. For instance, page 36 of the 2002-03 supplementary estimates (A) has: operating budget carry forward, vote 1, $19 million for agriculture--and I will not enumerate the other dollars, just the millions involved; page 38, operating budget carry forward $13 million; page 46, Canadian Heritage department carry forward $1.6 million; in Canadian Heritage, National Battlefields, operating budget carry forward, vote 65, $340,000; and, of course, the Canadian Heritage National Film Board, $2.3 million on page 50.

Those are various examples of the carry forwards that have been made.

Each carry forward does not involve new expenditures. The carry forward is a carry forward of last year to this year within the 5% allowable amount of funding previously voted by Parliament.

The practice that I have just described encourages managers to use good management and planning rather than to use up funds in their budgets. The business of trying to encourage departments not to spend excessively in the month of March and so on was debated years ago.

When we came to power in 1993, it was established that there could be this carry forward of funds already voted. I am sure we all remember that and I think people on all sides of the House supported that initiative. We are not debating whether carry forward is a good or bad idea. I think Canadians generally think it is a good idea. The House has already said it is a good idea. We have adopted it several times in estimates and have done so for a number of years.

The principle of carry forward has two criteria: first, it must be stipulated in the estimates that it is being done, understanding that it is not new money; and, second, there must have been funds carried forward, in other words, already voted on in the previous year.

As we know, the item in question is identified as a carry forward, therefore voted on in the previous year, which means it has already been voted on and therefore is not new money. It is within the 5% allocation, otherwise it would not have been a carry forward, therefore, not new money. It is funding already approved.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

That's Liberal thinking. No wonder we can't follow it. That's Liberal thinking.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but the hon. member still is having difficulty understanding. I will do my best.

There is an option of drawing down the carry forward from a previous year's funding in either the first or the final regular supplementary estimates. Carry forward calculations for each program must be provided to and agreed to by the Treasury Board for the inclusion in the supplementary estimates.

I also, as a minister, sit on the Treasury Board when we go through this exercise.

I would emphasize that this is a longstanding and accepted practice. I have just given a number of examples where that is the case. I have identified the actual examples.

The $10 million in the supplementary estimates (A) represents the operating budget carry forward from 2002-03, which has already been approved by Parliament, and therefore does not represent increased funding for the Canadian firearms program.

In this case, the Canadian Firearms Centre is accessing a portion of the Justice's eligible operating carry forward budget for funds already approved by Parliament. This $10 million was for the operating expenditures that were planned for 2002-03 for the Canadian firearms program, which were unable to be completed until 2003-04 but already voted on.

As I have indicated, in April of this year the Canadian firearms program within Justice was transferred from Justice to the Solicitor General within what is called now the Canadian Firearms Centre. This is why the $10 million from the Justice operating budget carry forward is being sought in these supplementary estimates for the Canadian Firearms Centre.

To conclude, there is no issue of new money here. It is simply a transfer of funds already approved by Parliament for Justice. The clerks no doubt will examine this carefully and make a recommendation to our Speaker and the Speaker will arrive at his own conclusion.

It reflects the longstanding, well-established practices for the estimates. There is no question of privilege.

No doubt the House will anxiously await the apology to the Solicitor General for what has been said.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think most people listening to this are probably more confused than they were before the hon. minister rose to try to answer the question, because it is very clear, on page 88, that this is a new appropriation.

I want the Speaker to rule on this in the context of, and I think this is the key question here, will this amount in vote 7a be treated procedurally as new money? I believe that is what you have to rule on, Mr. Speaker. In other words, will we be allowed to oppose this amount on the last allotted day? That is what we need to know. Will the members of the justice committee be allowed to reduce this amount if that is in fact the case? I am sure the government will have some kind of opinion on this as well.

The other thing I would like to add is that what the minister has just said only applies to schedule 2 departments and agencies, according to our research. I do not believe the Solicitor General or the justice department is a schedule 2 department. It only applies to agencies such as the CCRA or Parks Canada, things like this.

That is what I would like to advise the Speaker of in addition to what the minister has just said in reply. It is pretty clear to me that in the supplementary estimates (A) this $10 million under the heading of “New Appropriations” is clearly there and it is not a $1 amount.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

I want to thank the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for the thoroughness with which he has pursued this matter and the government House leader for the submissions he has made this morning. Both members have been very helpful to the Chair and I will certainly get back to the House in due course with a ruling on this matter. I will be doing a little research of my own, and I thank both hon. members for their submissions on this important.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian branch of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie and the accompanying financial report. The first report is on the 29th regular session of the APF, held at Niamey, Niger, from July 4 to 10, 2003.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the hon. of presenting two reports this morning from interparliamentary delegations.

Pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to present to the House a report from the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concerning the 15th seminar of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which was held in the Cook Islands from August 16 to 23.

I also have the honour to present to the House a report from the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concerning the 42nd Canadian regional conference which was held in Victoria, British Columbia from July 12 to 18.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates entitled, “Meaningful Scrutiny: Practical Improvements to the Estimates Process”. Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-452, an act to amend the Criminal Code (proceedings under section 258).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce my private member's bill which would make it easier for police officers and Crown prosecutors to make drunk driving charges stick. My bill, an act to amend the Criminal Code (proceedings under section 258), is intended to aid in the prosecution of drunk drivers.

After all that has been talked about, drunk driving is still the leading criminal cause of death in Canada today. Statistics Canada figures state that four Canadians are killed everyday as a result of alcohol related crashes and another 200 are injured. Just as alarming is that although impaired drivers get behind the wheel an estimated 12.5 million times every year, most are never stopped by police.

Even when they are caught, Canada's Criminal Code makes it so difficult to gather evidence against these drivers that many officers just do not bother to lay charges. They do not believe that their work will result in convictions. This has to change. We have to stop the needless waste of lives caused by drunk driving. My bill would help to achieve this.

The bill would increase the time frame within which samples could be taken to determine alcohol levels. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the bill would allow the courts to use sample results as proof of blood alcohol levels. It would place the burden on the accused to dispute the results--

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member, but this was to be a brief explanation of the bill and not a speech on its virtues, which I know the hon. member will want to extol on another occasion when he has the debate on second reading.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition from my constituents. The petitioners call upon Parliament to reject any request to change the traditional definition of marriage, family and spouse and to continue to affirm the importance of the family as the foundation of Canadian society and that nothing in the future will change its fundamental role in society.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on behalf of some constituents of mine in Nanaimo—Cowichan who are still very concerned about Bill C-250 in that it suppresses the freedoms of religion and free speech in our society. The petitioners are hopeful that the Senate will appreciate their point of view.

I therefore present this petition on their behalf.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure of presenting two petitions. The first petition is from many hundreds of Canadians, including many from my riding. The petition state that scientists have demonstrated that growth factors can direct the evolvement of human embryonic cells into insulin producing cells that might help to cure juvenile diabetes type 1.

Therefore, the petitioners ask the Parliament of Canada to proceed using all types of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, because it is impossible to predict which would provide the most medical benefits.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is one from citizens of my riding and others. The petitioners call upon Parliament to protect our children by taking all necessary steps to ensure that all materials which promote or glorify pedophilia or sado-masochistic activities involving children be outlawed.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from September 22, consideration of the motion 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 read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in today's debate on Bill C-34 regarding the ethics commissioner. I already spoke to the bill at second reading stage.

As members of the House know, the bill would appoint a Senate ethics officer whose duties and functions would be assigned by the Senate regarding the conduct of its members and most important to us here in the House of Commons, an ethics commissioner whose duties and functions would be assigned by the House of Commons.

All members, and indeed all constituents, are concerned with the conduct of its members and the administration of ethical principles by the members of Parliament in this place.

The return of the bill to the House of Commons for debate this week is very interesting and perhaps very timely. We all know that the bill is part of the Prime Minister's ethics initiative first announced in May of last year, a time when he and others in his caucus were increasingly under the ethics magnifying glass.

The bill was born out of public necessity, not through foresight and careful planning. Furthermore, and as is all too often the case with the government, the Liberals use the right words but shift the meanings in such a way that what most Canadians expect and what the Liberal government delivers are often two entirely different things.

They say “independent ethics commissioner” but we all know that since the prime minister would make the choice there is no real independence. The consultation process would be with the leaders of the parties in the House and then there would be a vote following in the House itself. Remember that the prime minister does not have to follow any recommendations that are made and the confirming vote in the House would undoubtedly be a vote in which all Liberals would mysteriously vote in favour of the prime minister's choice regardless of who the person is and what that person thinks about him.

The House of Commons ethics commissioner would work under the general direction of a committee of the House of Commons, presumably the committee on procedure and House affairs.

It is appropriate that the ethics commissioner would perform the duties and functions assigned by the House of Commons for governing the conduct of its members of the House of Commons. A code of standards would be established and at some point would become part of the Standing Orders by which we all abide.

I trust then that the committee responsible for drafting the code would take a truly a non-partisan and honest approach to this very important task.

I will commend one aspect of the bill that I certainly can support. I believe it is important to recognize that a ministerial investigation can be initiated by a formal complaint from a member of Parliament or Senator and the fact that the results of such an investigation will be made public.

That sounds very good and I certainly agree with it. However I am concerned that the public report could be sanitized by removing all confidential information and what power that report might have after that is a moot point.

If there has been a breach of ethics, I firmly believe that Canadians have a right to know. What I am not pleased with is the lack of clarity as to whether a minister of the crown, a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary would be held accountable under the same rules that would apply to all other members of Parliament. This is assumed but it is certainly not specific in the bill.

Many years ago the Canadian Alliance addressed the whole issue and in our policy statement we said:

We will facilitate the appointment of an independent Ethics Counsellor by the House of Commons. The Ethics Counsellor will report directly to the House of Commons and be given the mandate to investigate, and where applicable, recommend prosecution for conflict-of-interest infractions by a Member of Parliament and/or his/her staff.

I strongly favour a high standard of ethical conduct by government and parliamentarians. I believe this is a core value in our democracy and one of the main reasons why the Canadian public sometimes views many politicians and politics in general with disdain because we simply do not measure up to the mark.

There are members of the House, past and present, who have abused the trust that Canadians have placed in them. The end result is the democratic deficit that is apparent all across Canada today: voter apathy, low voter turnout and contempt for many politicians.

This is not to say that my Canadian Alliance colleagues and I are in any way opposed to a code of ethics. Quite the contrary, I believe that ethics and moral standards are at the very core of what we do, so much so that we must strive for and maintain the highest standards possible. The Liberal lowest common denominator is simply not acceptable to us.

If we truly want a code of ethics that applies to all current and future members of the House we must have an ethics commissioner who is chosen by all, not appointed by and answerable only to the Prime Minister himself. To do otherwise will do all Canadians a great disservice in this exercise.

I believe that we need to give active consideration to having a truly independent commissioner being approved not by just a simple House majority but by both government and opposition parties as well.

Unfortunately, when the final vote is scheduled for the bill the government majority will prevail here in this place and, in the end, the ethics commissioner will be nothing more than a political appointment of the Prime Minister and confirmed by the Liberal majority of the House.

The one way that this may be overcome, of course, is to make this a truly free vote. It would be most refreshing if we saw a truly free vote on the government benches, not the type of free vote that the Liberal government has shown time and time again, most recently in the vote on the traditional definition of marriage, which is so important to the country, when cabinet is whipped and pressure is exerted on backbenchers to violate their consciences and not stand up for the majority wishes of their constituents.

Once again I note that in my home province of British Columbia the ethics commissioner is chosen by an all party committee that makes a recommendation to the premier, who must then obtain a two-thirds confirming vote by the assembly in order to make the appointment. Alberta has a similar process.

Let us be clear: the bill is primarily a damage control exercise. When minister after minister was shown to be in conflict and either removed from his or her posting, and we see frequent changes on the government frontbench in this place, or shipped off to Denmark or shuffled off to be quiet on the backbenches, the Prime Minister simply was forced to act. The bill did not come out of the Liberal red book, although the Liberals made that promise back in 1993. It came from the anger of Canadians all across the country who are simply fed up with the way this government handles its ethical standards.

Like a good Liberal, the Prime Minister checked which way the wind was blowing and quickly came up with a poorly thought through plan. The result is the bill that we have before us today.

The ethics commissioner should be totally and completely politically neutral. I question whether under this bill that will ever be the case. For a government that has had a decade to draft and bring a bill forward for public debate, this is a poor, last minute approach to somehow substantiate the Prime Minister's legacy and leaves much to be desired.

If this is the best the Liberals can come up with in a decade of ministerial mishaps, then shame on them, and we really are concerned about the future of the country.

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for an excellent speech on this issue. We all know that in the 1993 red book the Liberals promised that they would have an independent ethics commissioner. They fought the election based on their red book promises, but now we know that they have broken many of their promises. One of them was the appointment of an independent ethics commissioner.

Since they did not do what they promised, we reminded them. The official opposition had a motion in the House on the appointment of an independent ethics commissioner and the Liberals voted against that. Does the hon. member think that the Liberals were opportunistic in getting elected and that their cynicism and their hypocritical attitude are shown by not doing what they promised? Does the hon. member think there is no political intent on the government side to have an independent ethics commissioner?

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me say to my hon. colleague that it has been my sad observation of the governing party that much of what it does is simply window dressing to gain the support of the electors at the time of an election. Government members make some great speeches, pass some great resolutions and have some great policies, but when it comes right down to it, they are not prepared to walk the talk. We have seen ample examples of that over the last 10 years.

I am sure all Canadians remember the great promise about the GST. The ethics commissioner is another example of this.

If we as political parties are to gain the confidence of all Canadians and not simply the 63% who bothered to vote in the last general election, we will have to put forward policies and programs that we actually enact when we get into government. The ethics commissioner of course is one of those.

As long as we have a government which, seemingly at the end of the mandate of the present Prime Minister, brings in these last minute pieces of legislation to somehow make it appear as if it is fulfilling some election pledges, it simply will not be good enough.

The people of Canada are not that dumb. They will see through this. Eventually it is going to catch up with this governing party. The ethics commissioner bill, as important a bill as it is, is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kinds of reforms we need in this country to make government transparent and accountable.

Time after time in my riding I hear of people who are simply fed up, fed up with government and unfortunately fed up with all politicians of all stripes because of what the government does. They are simply opting out of the democratic process. If this goes on in this country, we are well on our way to having a process of government in which the public has little participation and little input. It simply becomes a dictatorship. Is that what we really want for this country?

Parliament of Canada ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really am disappointed in the fact that the Liberal members opposite do not express any interest in getting into this debate. They should be responding to the suggestions we are making, either by trying to defend the fact that they are not responding or by giving us an indication that they will support the amendment.

The amendment, as I hope all hon. members in the House know, is to send this thing back to the committee to make some very important and substantive changes to the method of appointment of the ethics commissioner. I really regret that members opposite are not responding to this. I suppose their minds are made up already.

I would like to get down to a question to my hon. colleague, who has given an excellent extemporaneous speech on the spur of the moment. I appreciate his willingness to do that. There is a question to which I would like a response from him. The members on the other side in committee suggest that having the Prime Minister appoint the ethics commissioner, but after consultation with the leaders of the other parties, somehow meets the criterion that the person is independent. It seems to me that such a process could still mean that a very partisan person gets into that position.

One of the objections we have heard is that members opposite feel that if there is a real agreement required among opposition parties, among all parties in the House, it will never happen. That is their only argument. I contend otherwise. I contend that certainly when it comes to having a person who will be making judgments and rulings on the ethical behaviour of all members in the House, we would find an individual who would meet that criterion. I would like my colleague to comment on the possibility of that happening.