Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on Bill C-34. I am particularly interested in saying a few words on the amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“Bill C-34...be referred back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 4 with the view to ensure that:
(a) a standing or “an all party” committee of the House of Commons search for those persons who would be most suitably qualified and fit to hold the office of Ethics Commissioner; and
(b) the said committee recommend to the House of Commons the name of a person to hold such office”.
My party supports this amendment because it is a good amendment. I cannot see why anyone would not support it. After all, this is public money that the government is spending. It is the hard earned dollars of taxpayers that we are talking about here.
Why would we not want an independent individual, arm's length from government, to oversee the ethics of the people who are spending this money on behalf of the people of Canada? Why would the government not want an all party committee to do the search and find a truly independent individual who would report to Parliament?
The public would then know that we do not have an ethics commissioner who is the lapdog of government, or an individual who is a friend of the Liberal Party of Canada acting as an ethics commissioner for the people of Canada.
It is ridiculous that we should even be talking about this amendment today. The government should already have this amendment in its bill. An all party committee of the House of Commons should be the process to be used to appoint an ethics commissioner.
We all know that an ethics commissioner should have some ethics. If an ethics commissioner were to comment on and preside over the ethics of a minister or the Prime Minister of the country, then his or her own ethics should be above reproach and scrutiny.
One way we could ensure that the ethics commissioner is indeed above reproach is to have an all party committee of the House of Commons do the search. After all, we should have absolute confidence in the ethics commissioner to do what is right.
When we get right down to it, is it fair to ask any future ethics commissioner to go poking around and judging the very people who appointed the individual if that person is not a truly independent individual?
Therefore, one has to ask the question, is the government afraid to have a truly independent individual appointed? Is the government so caught up in scandal, wrongdoing, graft and corruption that it cannot bear the thought of allowing a truly independent person to be poking around in the government's bag of secrets?
We should not even be talking about this amendment today. The amendment should already be included in Bill C-34. After the numerous scandals of the government, it should be truly rushing to have an independent person appointed as the ethics commissioner.
We all remember the main feature of the 1993 election campaign was a promise by the Liberal Party to establish new standards of ethics. It has certainly done that. The Liberals have established new standards of graft and corruption, and standards which the people of Canada are very concerned with.
The Prime Minister, for instance, 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. If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner, I wonder if these things would have occurred?
The Minister of Canadian of Heritage, for instance, broke the guidelines. According to the rules, she should have resigned her cabinet position. However, the Prime Minister, going against his own rules, chose to protect his cabinet colleague. One has to wonder if we had a truly independent ethics commissioner, whether that would have happened?
The government is now proposing new legislation establishing new ethics commissioners whose appointments can be controlled by the government majority. That is not the way to go if we want to give the people of Canada confidence that their money is being spent properly and that their ministers are acting in the way they should be.
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 anyone that a prime minister's actions would require guidelines. It was not until this government made a show of appointing an ethics counsellor and then made a sham of the office by having it report not to Parliament, as has been promised, but to the Prime Minister of Canada. That makes a sham of the ethics commissioner.
The most notorious loosening of the rules involved the so-called blind management trust. We are all very well aware of that. For decades cabinet ministers in the House were required to put their assets in an absolutely blind trust. If one pursued one's private interests, one stayed out of cabinet and if one served the public interest, one cut off all contact with one's private assets. A choice was made. That is the way it worked way back when.
The government changed that rule deliberately. It deliberately broke the separation between private interest and public interest. It created a system where a minister could look after his or her private interests and at the very same time he or she was purported to be acting in the public interest.
If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner acting for the people of Canada over the last four or five years in particular, I am convinced that the scandals that have plagued the government and the people of the country would not have occurred, or at least would have been a whole lot less serious than they were.
As a footnote, but to make matters worse, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that this 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 lets ministers abandon blind trusts. I do not know if that was done specifically to meet the requirements of the Prime Minister-in-waiting, the member for LaSalle-Émard, but he was certainly quick to take advantage of the looser system that had been established. As the Minister of Finance for the country, he knew very well how he could take advantage of that system.
Some time ago, under pressure, the member for LaSalle--Émard, the individual who will be the Prime Minister of Canada, 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 multi-national private company that he personally owned. I really do not know if people are truly aware of the seriousness of that.
The Prime Minister-in-waiting--the person who was second in command in this country, the most powerful position outside of the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Finance--held 12 separate private meetings with officials of his own company while he was sitting around the cabinet table of Canada talking about tax havens, environmental problems, shipping standards, and all kinds of things pertaining to the operation of his own company. He sat around the table with his corporate officials on 12 different occasions and had 12 different meetings while he was number two in power in Canada.
For the record, I do not believe he had these meetings to make himself any richer than what he already was. He came here as a rich individual, and I do not believe he needed any 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 The former Minister of Finance felt that the rules that had been established really did not apply to him, but did apply to everyone else. If we had a truly independent ethics commissioner who was capable of delving into these problems, would this have happened?
Whatever the motive, the government broke down the wall between private and public interests. That is what it amounts to. Even the member himself, the Prime Minister-in-waiting, now admits that the system fails the test of appearing to be fair. We always hear that not only must the system be fair, but it must have the appearance of being fair as well. What is clear is that the tailor-made system was not recommended by independent, outside experts who could examine the current rules and regulations and come up with some really good ones to make cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister truly accountable to the people of Canada.
Justice Parker, who conducted a public formal inquiry into the Sinclair Stevens affair, which I am sure all members remember, warned specifically against the type of arrangement that we have today. Justice Parker defined conflict of interest in his report as:
--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.
The minister need not act on that knowledge. Justice Parker did not find that Mr. Stevens acted on that knowledge. He was required to resign simply because it was alleged that he had done nothing more than what the member for LaSalle--Émard has set limits on doing on 12 separate occasions. That is worth noting.
That was the standard in Canada before the Liberal government deliberately lowered the bar on ethics in this country. Simple knowledge of a private economic interest was enough to constitute a conflict of interest. Is that not interesting? Simple knowledge of a private economic interest was enough to constitute a conflict of interest. We are all very much aware that for eight years the member for LaSalle--Émard, the prime minister in waiting, regularly acquired that kind of knowledge. That is not in dispute. The member himself admitted that he regularly acquired that kind of knowledge.
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 of Commons.
Here is a very interesting quote from former Liberal Prime Minister Turner who 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.
That is what former Prime Minister John Turner said on May 12, 1986. But the new looser system of the managed blind trust does have its own clear rules. Canadians have a right to know whether even these rules were respected. Article 7 of the agreement stipulates that if at any time while 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 of an asset, the supervisors may consult with and obtain the advice, direction or instruction of the public office holder.
The then minister of finance was allowed to be briefed only if first, Canada Steamship Lines had an extraordinary corporate event, second, if it had a material effect on the asset, and third, the supervisor was unable to handle it on his or her own. We are asked to believe that that happened 12 times in eight years, with the former minister of finance, the prime minister in waiting, and Canada Steamship Lines.
The Prime Minister says that while he has no knowledge of the subject of these 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 whether they were broken. Again this points out the need to have a truly independent ethics commissioner who will be appointed by an all party committee of the House.
The member for LaSalle--Émard says he excused himself, that he stepped aside from the cabinet table whenever there was a possible conflict of interest. However, more than the vast majority of companies, Canada Steamship Lines is critically dependent upon a wide range of federal laws and regulations, including the tax system. The question has to be asked, was the then minister of finance outside the room whenever taxes were talked about, or environmental laws, or shipping regulations, or safety standards, or changes in international laws or treaties?
Hopefully the government will agree to have an all party committee of the House look at this issue and make recommendations for a truly independent ethics commissioner.