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House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to this motion this morning.

A number of people in my riding admit to watching CPAC regularly. I ask them, through you, Mr. Speaker, if that is the end of the excitement in their life, what do they do in the evenings? I also ask them if they have any other medical problems. Those who are watching CPAC and listening to the debate on the motion to concur in the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must be saying to themselves that this is another report that will sit on someone's shelf and then be archived so that a 100 years from now people will be able to study it, if they are so inclined to look at the history of the country.

I submit that the motion today is one of great significance because we have an increasing loss of trust and confidence in our political process and in our Parliament. Consequently, having such a code, I believe is first and foremost rather helpful in rebuilding that trust and confidence, just as the purpose of the code says. I would like to remind members why we are here.

It was just a little under two years ago, I believe in June, that the initiative was introduced by then Prime Minister Chrétien. It was a big point plan on increasing ethics in government. We must not forget what it was that triggered that response.

Members will recall that the Auditor General presented her first report at that time on what has now become the ad scam scandal. We will recall that in January of that year, the former minister of public works and government services, Mr. Gagliano, was summarily dismissed from cabinet, dismissed from Parliament and dismissed from the country. He was sent way off to Denmark to do his penance at maybe $200,000 a year. No wonder people are outraged at this place, when they see that this is the way their taxpayer money is being abused and misused. Consequently, the government responded in what I call damage control mode by trying to do whatever it could to put a better spin on this.

Notwithstanding that this was the motivation, I am in concurrence with the report and with the code. I have worked on this. I had the privilege of working way back, about seven or eight years ago, on the Milliken-Oliver report which was an extended study. It was a great exercise. As members know, the first individual mentioned is the present Speaker of the House. The second one is the hon. Senator Oliver who I got to know and really respect and appreciate. When we on this side of the House sometimes cry for the election of senators, I know people like Mr. Oliver would certainly be re-elected because he is a very good, hard-working and a respectable person.

In that committee we dealt with the necessity for a code of conduct for parliamentarians. Now, some seven or eight years later we finally have one. I would like to take this occasion to thank all those people, including the member for Peterborough, who so ably chaired the procedure and House affairs committee as we worked through this, and all staffers who worked so hard as well in doing the research and helping us with this work. In that sense, I am pleased with this.

However, I would also like to point out that this is taking a tremendously large action to solve a problem that does not exist. The committee is recommending that we adopt the code of conduct for parliamentarians. If we adopt it, we adopt its recommendations. The first recommendation is that the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons be included in our Standing Orders, and after that become a guide for how we behave as parliamentarians.

However, this is a redundant exercise in a sense. In the years I have been in the House there has not been a single scandal, to my knowledge, involving an ordinary backbench member of Parliament on either the government side or in opposition. I think some have had a few difficulties. I think one or two have had charges of drunken driving, which is a criminal offence, and we need to encourage members of Parliament to not only set laws, but to obey them. That is my own personal code.

I am probably the only person in Ottawa, even walking home at midnight, who stops at walk lights. Everybody walks past me and probably thinks what a stupid man I am. I stop because of two reasons. One, I need the rest and relaxation. It is mandatory. Let us stop and look around a bit instead of always running. The second reason is that it is the law and I believe in obeying the law. That is why I do it. I have a couplet that I use as one of my personal mottos, “You can't be a lawmaker if you are going to be a lawbreaker”. I try to the best of my ability to obey all the laws of the land, even some with which I perhaps do not agree 100%. I do it and members of Parliament should do it.

However, the real issue in the country is not with ordinary members of Parliament. Therefore, I believe the results of this code will be almost non-consequential in the sense that I believe most parliamentarians right now basically are living up to this code already. All it will be is a disclosure and a declaration that indeed they are.

What really disturbs me is the fact that when it comes to ministers of the Crown, the government as they are called, this code only applies to them when they are working as members of Parliament. As we know, all the executive branch is chosen from the rank of elected members of Parliament. Yes, they were elected as members, as all of us are. When they act in a the role of cabinet minister, they become the government and, lo and behold, the bill, which gave essence to this code of conduct, is specific in excluding cabinet ministers when they act in that role.

It says in the bill that when acting as a minister of the Crown, for greater clarify the code shall not apply. I am speaking from memory, but I think the wording is that for greater clarity, the prime minister's code shall apply. There are some who will contend that the prime minister's code is more stringent, and in some areas it is. However, there are other areas in which it is not as stringent. One of those is the whole issue of the public reporting of wrongdoing.

Under the code, we are being asked to adopt, and under the legislation which governs it, if there is misconduct by a backbencher, then the result of that investigation by the ethics commissioner will be made public. It is not clear to me at all in the legislation that if a minister of the Crown does something that is untoward, that will be made public. There is an argument going on because Bill C-4 provides that the ethics commissioner will provide confidential advice to the prime minister on matters of ministers of the Crown.

We have a two tier system here. The first is for MPs who have very little say on government contracts. In fact, let us be honest, they have no say at all. They are being held to a higher standard of ethical conduct than the ministers of the Crown who control, as the public works minister does, budgets of billions of dollars. Right now we are finding that the accountability is just absent.

I would like to digress for a few seconds about the ethics commissioner himself. We heard him in committee the other day. Very frankly, Dr. Shapiro presents a good resumé. When the issue came up earlier today on whether or not the House should concur in his appointment, we did not object strenuously. We objected only on the basis of the method of choice.

I object to the fact that he was invited by the Prime Minister's Office to serve in this role. His name was put forward and then we had a debate in a Liberal dominated committee and a vote in a Liberal dominated House.

In this particular instance, as I said, I have no reason to have any lack of trust in the new person who is going to be appointed. However, it is very near sighted of us in this place to set up a process that only fits the here and now. There will come a time in the future where the choice of the person by the government will not meet the approval of all of the members on this side.

There is no mechanism which would require meaningful input from opposition parties. The government, especially if it is a majority government, can in effect choose whom it will, whether that person has the approval of members over here or not.

I trust that Dr. Shapiro will do a good and honourable job. In fact, I have told him personally that it is my expectation. We shall await eagerly to see how he does his work. Personally, I think we should give him our utmost cooperation.

As a little aside, I think that the attitude of the Liberal government in doing this, unfortunately, is exactly the antithesis of what we are trying to accomplish with this particular motion today.

I would like to point out that by jamming through, with the government's majority, its method of choice over the protestations of all of the members in opposition has actually helped to increase the distrust of Canadians. If Canadians see that they ask, “Why do they not trust all the members of Parliament? Why do they only trust themselves with their whipped votes?” That is also a very serious issue with respect to the trust that people have.

I would like to make a few comments about some of the issues in the motion. I took note of one of the things that it says in the definitions. In the definition for a common law partner in relation to the code, it states:

--with respect to a Member, means a person who is cohabiting with the Member in a conjugal relationship--

About 20 to 25 years ago then Prime Minister Trudeau said “The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation”. I think most of us agree with that. That is very intrusive of the government. Here we are saying that if members are living at the same address with persons and not cohabiting in that sense, they are excluded. That is a fat joke.

Interestingly, this morning I got word in my office here in Ottawa that there are people who are separated, and sometimes even divorced, but because of financial necessity they must still live in the same house. Therefore, he lives in the basement and she lives upstairs. They have totally separate lives, but the income tax department is now saying that they are still spouses because they have the same address. It does not allow them to separate their income tax forms.

That came to my attention just this morning. It has nothing to do with this motion, but it shows how silly it is for us to define members who are cohabiting by including that term “conjugal relationship”. Who is ever going to tell whether they are conjugating? Members know what I mean.

The member's family is also wrapped into this and I mentioned this in a question to the parliamentary secretary earlier. It says that this includes all of the people. We really debated this in committee and we have come up with a reasonably good solution.

If members of Parliament receive personal gain through their spouse or through their underage children, that is offensive. But at the same time, many of us have children who are adults in their own right and they ought to and properly are excluded. It involves only members or common-law partners and dependent children in essence.

I would like to point out the fact that there are some useful exclusions of activities that are acceptable. One, for example, is that members of Parliament are not considered in a conflict of interest if they continue to carry on a business. We know that many members do and that would be an intrusion in their lives to require them, if they run for public office, to sell their little family business or whatever they have going.

Here is one. It states that a member shall not participate in debate on or vote on a question in which he or she has a private interest. I do not know whether the members present here recall, but not very long ago we had a motion when we had a conflict going between who was the real prime minister in this place. We had the previous prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, sitting there as the nominal prime minister and the prime minister in waiting at that time who had been or was about to be chosen by his party. They were both in control of certain aspects of government. We had a motion on when this transition should take place. I took note of the fact that in that vote the former prime minister and the former finance minister, the present Prime Minister, both voted on that.

According to this code, that would not be possible. What distresses me is that this was not permitted then, but they did it anyway, with impunity in my opinion. We need to be careful about this.

There is a whole issue on gifts; receiving, disclosure of them and travel. Those are all really good things because of the fact that this can influence members of Parliament and cabinet ministers.

I hope that on the adoption of this code and on the appointment of a new ethics commissioner that things improve around this place. I hope that we do not degenerate into partisan attacks using the commissioner now for partisan attacks, instead of as has been done in the past, using him as part of the damage control team. I can see this potential. We need to be warned about it.

One of the issues in this code is that when there is a complaint against a member, it will ultimately come to a vote right in this House. If we have a majority government, of say Conservative members over there next time, I hope that we will withhold our partisanship when voting on the outcome of such a debate. Let us be sure that as true parliamentarians we obey the rules of fairness.

In conclusion, to me personally, the whole code of conduct can be wrapped up in two short sentences. First, do not lie. Second, do not steal.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech of the Conservative member. He pointed out the case of a person who is present for a vote, when that person may be in a conflict of interest situation. He gave the example of the current Prime Minister.

If my memory serves me well, in the case of Bill C-28—which granted shipping companies a tax refund retroactive to 1995—the Prime Minister did vote. That legislation was passed in 1998. The Prime Minister's shipping companies were directly exempt from paying millions of dollars in taxes. Yet, the Prime Minister was present during that vote and he was in full contradiction with our intent with regard to having such a code for parliamentarians.

On another occasion, a tax credit of $250 million was granted to oil companies. The current Prime Minister, who has interests in oil companies from Alberta, also voted on that measure.

Should we not ensure that the code does not allow such situations to occur?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, when standing in the House on a vote, I believe that cabinet ministers are also standing and voting in equality with other members of Parliament. At that stage, they are acting as members of Parliament in the vote. Notwithstanding that, of course, they have an awful lot of clout, as cabinet ministers, in driving forward the agenda that they want.

The real issue here was the fact that the present Prime Minister, then the finance minister, was originally the sponsor of this bill. I think later it was moved to another minister because the government was embarrassed by it. The fact that it was embarrassed by him sponsoring the bill should have indicated the necessity to abstain from voting on it.

This particular code of conduct provides that all members of Parliament shall not vote on an issue in which they have a direct and a personal advantage. I think that is good. I believe that it is now going to be up to members of Parliament to ensure that this part of the code is upheld. When that happens, then we go to the ethics commissioner and we will see whether or not he can make these corrections.

I would like to see the Speaker intervene so that he would disallow the vote as it was taking place.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to what my friend opposite had to say. I must say that I passed him on Queen Street on my way up here this morning and he is correct, he stops at all the stop-walk lights.

My friend opposite has made a number of observations on the nature of democracy when one does not agree with the majority, and we understand that. I want to draw his attention to the 1997 report of the special joint committee which was struck in 1996. In that proposed code it said that:

“family” when used with reference to a person, means (a) the Parliamentarian's spouse;

I heard him, and I am not totally unsympathetic when we start these terms that are somewhat vague, such as, “in a conjugal relationship, or someone who happens to be a spouse”. What does this all mean in this day and age?

I would ask him, would he acknowledge that the report of that joint committee, which defined family as being a spouse, was agreed to by his colleague, from his party and his caucus, that being Senator Oliver?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, at that time Senator Oliver and I did not enjoy the fact that we were in the same party. Therefore I do not think I should be held accountable for what he said and did at that time. However, be that as it may, I do not believe an error was made then.

We have to look back in history where there have been cases of cabinet ministers who were perceived to have received benefits through their spouse. It is a huge loophole to say that the member cannot benefit from his position as a parliamentarian but then not to include the fact that usually spouses have a close relationship with each other. My wife and I have been married for 42 years. We have a policy in our house that what is mine is hers and what is hers is hers, and it works very well. For me to give a benefit to my spouse because I am a parliamentarian is just as wrong as if I were to take it for myself. It should be included, it is included and I am quite content with it except for that little aberration.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, before I pose my question to my colleague, I just wondered if you would allow me to pass congratulations on to one Chad Kilger for his outstanding play with the Toronto Maple Leafs? I do not know if he gets any breaks from the referees in that league but maybe he should.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Let me be very straightforward with the member for Lethbridge. I do not know if he gets any breaks but I know the member for Lethbridge does not expect to get any breaks here today.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it never hurts to try to butter up the referee, whether in a hockey game or in the House of Commons.

I agree with the fact that there is a difference. Members of the cabinet, who do have control of the larger chequebook, need to be watched. They do need to have different regulations from the ones under which we operate, particularly those of us in the opposition. The budgets we control are only our members' operating budgets.

I agree with all the rules, regulations and decisions on what a member of Parliament should make public. We should all have guidelines under which we operate and we should have no problem with that. However I do believe that the real concern is in cabinet and that those recommendations and those comments should come to the House in a public manner and not directly to the Prime Minister.

I wonder if the member would comment a bit further on that aspect.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree a lot with what the member has just posed as a question. However we must remember that this code will only come into effect at the beginning of the 38th Parliament. The little fact that is hidden in here is that we will be under the Liberal regime until the next election.

Under the present regime, the ethics counsellor provides personal and confidential advice to cabinet ministers and to the Prime Minister. Any public pronouncements that he has made and that have been posted on his website, unfortunately, have, in some instances, been very carefully sanitized so that they, in essence, become part of the damage control team to which I spoke.

I believe that in this code and with the regime of the new ethics commissioner and the rules under which he will operate, there will be more openness. However I think there is still a real danger of sanitization of things. For example, when the Prime Minister was originally suspected of arranging for a loan in his own riding, of which he became an indirect beneficiary, we got no real facts out of that at all.

I will wait eagerly to see whether this new regime will be better but, frankly, I have serious doubts about it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion presented by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

First, I would like to point out that the motion presented earlier by the hon. member for Peterborough concerning the appointment of Mr. Bernard Shapiro as ethics commissioner was agreed to on division. To clarify things, I will add that it was not the Bloc Quebecois members who dissented; the Bloc Quebecois was and is in favour of the choice of Bernard Shapiro as ethics commissioner.

He is a very competent person, whose integrity cannot be questioned, and who is very much involved in the Montreal community. I will not go over his resume again here, but we know his involvement as a professor emeritus and rector of McGill University. I just wanted to clarify that.

Second, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the introduction of this conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, but I would like to add some nuances, some shading; I shall explain.

In the first place, and it is certainly not my intention to reread the code, I would simply like to look at the first paragraph in this code, section 1.a.

The purposes of this Code are to

(a) maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of Members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution;

That is what I wanted to read, and you will see that my comments are relevant.

I would also refer the House to section 4, which reads as follows:

Application to Members

  1. The provisions of this Code apply to conflicts of interest of all Members of the House of Commons when carrying out the duties and functions of their office as Members of the House, including Members who are ministers of the Crown or parliamentary secretaries.

That is where the problem lies. As we see it, we could look at what has happened since 1993, a period with which I am familiar because I was elected in 1993, but it could be an in-depth examination and look back farther than 1993. So, I would like someone to point out to me how many unethical acts have been committed by members of this House since 1993.

Today, we are discussing a code of ethics for members of Parliament. No member has been suspected of behaving unethically. However, there have been cases of ministers suspected of behaving unethically. I will give a few examples of this.

I feel I must set the record straight because the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member, attempted, particularly the opposition parties, to ensure that the code of ethics for ministers would also be subject to review by the ethics commissioner so he could identify instances where ministers fail to behave ethically. Currently, section 4, which I read, refers only to the behaviour of ministers in carrying out their duties as members of Parliament. But what about all these instances of ministers failing to behave ethically while in office?

I wonder if there have been any such cases in the past ten years. The answer is yes, and some ministers had to resign. For example, there were a number of salmon fishing trips to the Irving family lodge in New Brunswick, paid for by Irving.

Where in this code of ethics does it say that a minister will not be able to engage in such activities? Where is it written? No members of Parliament—at least, if there have been, their names have not been made public—have been invited to the Irving lodge.

I will spare the House the list, but members can simply refer to the debates initiated by the Bloc Quebecois and the other opposition parties. If memory serves me, six or seven ministers spent time at the Irving fishing lodge.

Ministers also used the Irving private jet to travel between Ottawa and their riding. I believe that the Minister of Labour, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, was one of them. I do not think she went fishing but she admitted to flying on the Irving plane once.

I would remind you that this was clear for a former minister, now ambassador to the UN, I believe. I refer to Allan Rock, whom we can name because his seat is vacant; he resigned. This is one person who admitted that he had acted unwisely as Minister of Industry by accepting this trip. Irving is a major forestry company, and thus a major figure in the forestry industry, as well as a refiner, distributor and retailer of petroleum products. The Minister of Industry was forced to admit that this was a flagrant lack of judgment, but what it is is a lack of ethics. Where in the code is this covered as punishable or forbidden? Nowhere.

Then there is the former government House leader, who for a while was a kind of pinch-hitter in Public Works. I refer to the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. He sheepishly admitted it had been unwise for him to accept an invitation to a family ski weekend at a Bromont chalet. Hon. members will recall this matter, how he produced cheques, how a priest was involved. It was nearly impossible to make any sense of the thing. The endorsement on the back of the cheque could be produced, but not the front. They have gone so far as to start using priests to justify their actions. I had thought that there was a clear line between religion and politics here in Canada and Quebec. In this case involving the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, where would this code of ethics have contained anything by which he could have been chastized as a minister?

Then there is the member for York Centre, who still sits as an MP. He was forced to resign for having awarded a contract to a woman friend with whom he had a relationship. People have a right to relationships, but because privilege entered into it the member for York Centre had to resign as minister, although he still sits in this House. Where in this code of ethics is there anything that would have applied to this situation?

I could also refer to the case of the member for Don Valley East. In his capacity as a minister, as well as an MP, he wrote to an immigration board member requesting preferential treatment for someone in his riding. He was obliged to resign as the Minister of National Defence. Where is there anything in the code of ethics that would govern this behaviour on the part of a minister? Nowhere.

Let us talk about the current Prime Minister and his friends, who accumulated a war chest of some $12 million for his Liberal Party leadership campaign against the member for Hamilton East. He accumulated $12 million and we have the list of most of the donors.

The morning after the election, will this code of ethics ensure the independence of the Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who accumulated $12 million in contributions from his friends? Does he owe something to the companies that, in some cases, contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Let us talk about the contributions he received from Mr. Schwartz at Onex, or the contributions from Earnscliffe, the company to which he awarded contracts when he was the finance minister. We could also talk about Jean Lapierre, the Quebec lieutenant for the Liberal Party of Canada, the party of scandals—but there is not enough time. In addition to his broadcasting career, Jean Lapierre did some lobbying.

When I was the Bloc Quebecois transport critic, Jean Lapierre invited me to meet with Gerald Schwartz from Onex to talk about the acquisition of Air Canada. As a lobbyist, he invited me to come and talk about developing the Bikerdike Basin in Montreal. The Olympia and York Developments group, linked to the Reichmann family, wanted to develop a Disney-style amusement park in the Bikerdike Basin and Jean Lapierre lobbied for this. The morning after the election, will Jean Lapierre, who is the member for Outremont and in opposition with us, be completely independent? No, he will not.

We could talk about Dennis Dawson, the Beauport candidate for the Liberal Party, the party of scandals. He is a former president of Hill and Knowlton, a lobbying firm. When he is elected, if he is elected, will he be independent?

That is what I wanted to say in conclusion on this code of ethics. Indeed, we cannot oppose virtue and there are interesting provisions. However, all the scandals of the past 11 years involved ministers, not members.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always listen with interest to the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. I want to thank him and the member for Elk Island for their fine work over many years, as the member for Elk Island indicated, on this legislation.

With regard to my colleague from the Bloc, it seems to me one can always list particular examples of problems that occurred in the past or hypothetical problems which might occur in the future. I know my colleagues have worked on this in good faith, but if one tries to draw up a code, as we have tried to do here, it is absolutely impossible to list every possible contingency, circumstance or whatever. Human nature being what it is, things change. The code could be faced with problems, which we do not anticipate at the present time, so we should make it as strong as we can for the present time.

The member for Elk Island put it very nicely, but one thing that came out during our hearings, with respect to members of Parliament, was that this was not to address a particular problem. Members of Parliament, as far as we can tell, are honest, straightforward and all those things.

When we heard from commissioners in different provinces, they constantly made a point. We asked them what serious problems they had to deal with and what fires they had to put out. They very often said none. However, their role as commissioners and, therefore, the role of their codes were preventive.

The existence of the commissioner and the existence of the code, first, prevented people from doing things wrong because they knew there was a chance of being caught. Second, it gave the members of these different legislatures term of references and some rules at which they could look. Then it gave them a person to whom they could go and ask advice. Perhaps they and their families were engaged in a particular business and before a situation arose, they would seek advice on how they should behave in the House of Commons, or in their legislatures, or in the national assembly in Quebec, under those circumstances.

Would my colleague comment on the value of this code and the value of the commissioner as a preventive measure?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague from Peterborough who, by the way, chairs the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs brilliantly, that I find him unbiased, and responsive to members. He does a great job.

Of course, the ethics commissioner can play a preventive role. Contrary to what we had in the past, the ethics commissioner will be accountable to Parliament. Right from the start, the Bloc Quebecois has held that Harold Wilson was actually a political adviser to Prime Minister Chrétien. He was not accountable to anyone, and he was a political advisor to Jean Chrétien.

This institution has more credibility now, and that is why we agree with the appointment of Mr. Shapiro, because the ethics commissioner will be accountable to the institution of Parliament. I think he will indeed have an important preventive role. We will be able to ask for his advice on whether or not we should accept a gift we have been given, whether a certain thing is appropriate or prudent, whether something should be put on paper. I have no qualms about this.

But the problem remains intact. Members do not have ethics problems. These problems tend to occur at the ministerial level, and this code does not say anything about this.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a pleasure to rise and take part in this debate today, which is on a code of conduct for members of Parliament.

Let me begin by dealing with recommendation 1. It states:

The Committee recommends that the following Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons be appended to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and that the Code come into force at the beginning of the 38th Parliament.

I think it is fair to ask why we are debating this at this point in time, and I believe the answer is pretty straightforward. The government is almost certainly heading toward calling an election within the next short while. There is concern because the Prime Minister, in his lengthy run up to becoming the prime minister, talked about the democratic deficit in the country and in Parliament, and made suggestions for ways to overcome that deficit prior to the election.

By any objective account or standard, this has not been a roaring success for the new Prime Minister. I would submit that House of Commons standing committees have not been liberated and freed up to any great degree. The whistleblowing legislation that has been introduced is largely seen as farcical and will not work. However, this legislation is something that can be rushed through in the dying days of the 37th Parliament to say that, yes, the government is serious about the democratic deficit and that it is doing something about it.

When I meet with constituents in the riding of Palliser to discuss their concerns and issues in the campaign or with the House of Commons or the government, the concern that keeps coming back to me time and time again is respect for taxpayer dollars. By and large, people do not object to paying their fair share of taxes if that money is being spent wisely and properly. When they see things like the so-called ad scam, also known as the sponsorship scandal, they shake their heads, particularly at this time of year when the tax filing date is coming up very quickly. I would submit that those are of concerns to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

That takes me to the entire argument about the code of conduct applying to the backbenchers. Yes, it should apply, but the real force and effect of the legislation should be at the ministerial level at the cabinet table. That is where influence can really be brought to bear to impact how contracts are awarded or not awarded and how business is done. I agree with the member for Elk Island and the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans. The crux of the matter is really with the cabinet. The vast majority, I think the parliamentary secretary said 99.9%, of House of Commons MP backbenchers from whatever side of the House are straightforward, honest and reliable.

That, unfortunately, as we all know is not how the public perceives it. I tend to agree with the parliamentary secretary on that, from my almost seven years in this place. Members will have read articles that have been written probably by people who do not believe in government, who believe that all politicians are dishonest and crooked because of the vast numbers of them that have been arrested for drunk driving or bank robbery. I agree fully with the Elk Island MP when he says yes, there have been one or two.

I believe there is one in Parliament right now who was convicted following the 2000 election campaign. I believe he has sat as an independent ever since that event and conviction came to light.

Many of us have been in groups and have heard people say that all politicians are crooks. Then they realize there is a politician in their midst and they say, “We did not mean you. We just mean all the others”. It is important for us as a group to stand and defend one another and say that politicians are not all dishonest and they are not all crooks, because the vast majority of us are not. However, as we all know from reading public opinion polls, that is not what the public thinks.

The purpose as it is outlined is to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of members as well as the respect and confidence that society places in the House of Commons as an institution. That is important. It certainly is supportable by our party and I suspect by all members of the House.

One of the purposes is to demonstrate to the public that members are held to standards that place the public interest ahead of their private interests, and to provide a transparent system by which the public may judge this to be the case, and that is fairly self-explanatory, and to provide for greater certainty and guidance for members on how to reconcile their private interests with their public duties and functions.

As was described recently, when somebody believed that he or she may be in a conflict of interest because of spousal holdings or business arrangements, he or she would have an opportunity to meet with the ethics commissioner before he or she had to vote on the legislation. This would be a useful step. Obviously it is one which we would support.

Another stated purpose is:

2 (d) foster consensus among parliamentarians by establishing common standards and by providing the means by which questions relating to proper conduct may be answered by an independent, non-partisan adviser.

On one of the principles of the legislation, to serve the public interest and represent constituents to the best of our abilities, I think back to the early days of the 37th Parliament when a contretemps arose. The member for Scarborough Southwest was accused of not representing a constituent because she had declined to vote for him in the previous election. There was a real furor over that. One would hope that item 2(a) under principles, to serve the public interest and to represent constituents to the best of our abilities, would be something we would all fully respect, regardless of how people voted or how we think that they voted.

Once we are elected here, we represent, as has been said many times, all of the people who reside in the constituency, even those who did not vote for us and would have no intention of ever so doing. It is our duty and responsibility to represent them and their views to the very best of our abilities.

The code further states:

(b) to fulfill their public duties with honesty and uphold the highest standards so as to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interests, and maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each Member and in the House of Commons;

(c) to perform their official duties and functions and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully discharged by simply acting within the law;

(d) to arrange their private affairs so that foreseeable real or apparent conflicts of interest may be prevented from arising, but if such a conflict does arise, to resolve it in a way that protects the public interest--

The protection of the public interest is always very important. It goes on:

(e) not to accept any gift or benefit connected with their position that might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity--

There are a lot of useful things in the bill on ethics. Certainly the New Democratic Party supports the adoption of the code of ethics. We would have preferred to have seen it for all parliamentarians, including senators. There are some difficulties in the other chamber apparently with regard to this, so the bill affects only members of Parliament.

The parliamentary secretary said that we are not in the vanguard on this. That is obvious since all of the provinces have ethics legislation that impacts on MLAs, MPPs and MNAs from coast to coast to coast.

As I and others have said before, the conflict of interest scandals which we have witnessed in recent years have almost exclusively focused on cabinet ministers. Even though there was an ethics bill, it was clearly not being followed by a number of cabinet ministers. Howard Wilson, the ethics commissioner, reported only to the prime minister. In effect he became a laughingstock in Canada because he was seen to be under the thumb of the prime minister at the time, Mr. Chrétien.

The ethics legislation must at the very least create an independent ethics commissioner who would be an officer of Parliament. As I understand it, that is what the bill would do.

Dr. Shapiro will be a worthy appointee. It will be an important step forward as we finish off the 37th Parliament and go into the 38th Parliament

It is important that Canadians be able to file complaints directly with the ethics commissioner and not solely through a federal member of Parliament. This is an important provision. It shows the public that it is able to contribute to the process directly. It goes without saying that frivolous accusations must not be grounds for complaints. The process must be handled with the respect that it deserves.

I want to acknowledge the member for Halifax who introduced a private member's bill proposing a code of conduct for all parliamentarians like the one we see here today. The former member for Halifax West, Gordon Earle, presented a bill in the 36th Parliament dealing with a code of ethics to assist us to become more transparent and for Canadians to have greater confidence in us as individuals and collectively as members of the House of Commons.

It would have been preferable if the House of Commons had voted by a two-thirds majority on the appointment of Dr. Shapiro rather than accepting his appointment earlier today on division. It would have given greater comfort to all of us if that had been the case. Having said that, our caucus has confidence that Dr. Shapiro will be a strong ethics commissioner. He certainly has a very good background for the post.

In summary, I will merely reiterate that the New Democratic Party will be supporting the legislation.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 29th, 2004 / 11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want the hon. member to know that I also think Mr. Shapiro will be an excellent ethics commissioner, but I also feel very strongly that he has to have independence.

The ethics commissioner appointed by the government and reporting to the Prime Minister knows that if he does not do what is right in the eyes of the Prime Minister, he will not be the ethics commissioner. That is why we feel very strongly that there has to be an independent ethics commissioner who does not report to the Prime Minister but reports to the House of Commons and is able to tell each and every one of us what proper ethics he feels are right.

I wonder how the hon. member of the NDP feels about that. Does he not feel that the ethics commissioner should be independent? Does he not feel that the ethics commissioner should be able to tell the hon. member of the NDP as well as each and every one of us what we should be doing? Does he believe that the ethics commissioner will have that freedom of choice by reporting to the Prime Minister and not to the House of Commons?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I stand to be corrected, and it would not be the first time, but it is my understanding that the ethics commissioner would be reporting to the House of Commons.

I tried to indicate in my remarks that one of the problems we had with Mr. Wilson was that he was reporting to the prime minister and the prime minister alone, and that this was totally unsatisfactory. People saw through it. Canadians saw through it. Certainly members on all sides of the House saw through it.

What we have just agreed to on division before this debate began was to accept Dr. Bernard Shapiro to be the ethics commissioner. He indeed would be reporting to the House of Commons and not strictly to the Prime Minister. I take some comfort in that. It is a step in the right direction and I support it.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a comment and an observation and I would ask my friend to respond.

First, I want to thank him for his support of this initiative. It is consistent with the private members' bill, as he noted, brought forward by the member for Halifax in the past. It is interesting that it is consistent with the motion brought forward under private members' business by the then leader of the progressive conservative party, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.

I would point out that in the member's comments he has referred to a bill that is legislation. I would point out to him that this is not legislation, that this is indeed a motion that is a proposed amendment to the Standing Orders, which is profoundly different from a piece of legislation. I make that observation. If he cares to respond, I would welcome that.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, obviously the parliamentary secretary is correct. I appreciate his pointing that out to me.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would reiterate again the concern that was expressed by the member for Saint John. She said that the ethics commissioner, in dealing with public officer holders, has a different role. It is very explicit in section 72.07 of Bill C-4:

The mandate of the Ethics Commissioner in relation to public office holders is

(a) to administer any ethical principles, rules or obligations established by the Prime Minister--

In other words, the Prime Minister establishes them. The bill provides that the Prime Minister must table that in the House so that it is accessible to everyone.

In the previous 10 years, remember that the then prime minister kept saying, “I have this code, I have this code,” but we could not get a copy of it. It took six years of cajoling until finally the thing was made public. Now the legislation requires that it be made public, but the Prime Minister is still the author of it according to the bill.

Also, it says explicitly:

(b) to provide confidential advice to the Prime Minister with respect to those ethical principles, rules or obligations and ethical issues in general; and

(c) to provide confidential advice to a public office holder with respect to the application--

There is all this private and confidential advice referred to. On the one hand I can see where it has some merit. Everything cannot be done out in the public, but how does the public know that the thing is being administered properly if there is all this confidential advice being given to the ministers and the Prime Minister? I would appreciate the member's comments on that.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult in terms of the confidentiality on material like this. I think there does have to be some sensitivity. However, the larger concern the member for Elk Island raises in supporting the member for Saint John is that somehow this code of conduct is to be exclusively in the hands of the Prime Minister. I do not think that will occur.

Perhaps I am being too generous in saying that and I will be proven wrong at a later date, but I think there has been such a hue and cry about what has happened that changes have to be made. There has been such a hue and cry about what has been allowed to happen with Howard Wilson as the former ethics counsellor, who was, as I said in my remarks, completely under the thumb of and dominated by Jean Chrétien when he was the prime minister. I think there is a recognition that changes have to be made. There is a recognition on all sides of the House and in the standing committee that has been dealing with this matter.

I also have some hope that in the next Parliament the government of the day will not have the same kind of majority to ram things through in the way it has been able to in the last 10 years and that there will be more interaction from all political parties to make some significant changes. If indeed the member for Elk Island and the member for Saint John are right on this and I am wrong, we will have some opportunities, as a Parliament that is working much more directly together to get legislation through, to make sure that those problems, if they exist, will be corrected.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, one more issue that we ought to consider is the fact that this report becomes a part of the Standing Orders and those Standing Orders can actually be amended at any time. The fact is that putting it not into a statute but into the Standing Orders provides for the kind of flexibility the hon. member has just spoken of, so that if there are errors, they can be corrected.

However, Bill C-4 becomes a statute. That is the one that provides specifically the activities of the commissioner and it is much more difficult to change. I would simply point out, probably more as a comment, although I would be interested in the member's response, that this set-up right now is pretty well written in stone. I guess our only hope can be that the newly appointed ethics commissioner will respond according to our expectations.

Although I did not hear it from the government side, the member said and I said and all of us have said that we do expect him to deal honestly, fairly and openly, all those things. Those are the expectations even though I think there is a place in the legislation, in the report we are discussing today and in the ethics code, to weasel out of it if the ethics commissioner were so inclined. But we are hopeful and are expecting that he will not.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have not, unfortunately, been on the committee that has been dealing with it. I am just reading from news reports, but in specific response to what the two members from the Conservative Party have been saying, yesterday's Globe and Mail states:

The best news is that the commissioner will report to Parliament and serve a five-year term, removable only for misconduct. This distinguishes the job from that of ethics counsellor, a tamer post created by then-prime-minister Jean Chrétien in 1994 and filled, until now, by Howard Wilson.

I would say that I think this is the way it is going to work and it will be a whole lot better in the next 10 years than it has been in the past 10 years.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise today to take part as we debate the motion for concurrence in the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

In that regard, of course, it has been said many times today that we are very pleased Dr. Shapiro has been appointed as the ethics commissioner. He is a man of great standing. Within the House it certainly appears that there is every confidence he will perform well in his office. We certainly wish him the very best of good fortune in that regard.

As we look back on the history of getting to this point, clearly we see that it has been a very lengthy struggle. Many members today have commented on the fact that it has taken a long time for us to deal with the issues that reflect on our ability to represent the public in an open and transparent way, where in fact the public will have the good faith and the trust that we are operating not in our self-interest but rather in the public interest.

I think that one of the problems we face today, and I know the member for Peterborough has been very active in this regard, is in working to encourage more individuals to participate in the voting process in the election of members of the House and in other elections within our various legislatures. Clearly public cynicism is rampant on many of these issues of the day concerning our ability to act freely and without conflict of interest.

So when we come today to deal with concurrence in this report, clearly it is of great concern to all of us that we make certain we are dealing with this in an appropriate manner and that we are going to increase the transparency and the trust in the public interest.

When one deals with the concept of trust and public confidence, I think the public perception created through the various media outlets is extremely important. We must be very responsible in trying to make certain that when we represent the facts brought before this place, we do our best to make sure that the members of the media and also the members of our constituencies do hear, clearly defined, what steps are being taken to protect their interest.

I believe that in the process of disclosure it is very important that we have guidelines. Although in the past there may not have been problems of any significance with respect to MPs generally, clearly it is important that disclosure be made. I will take a moment to reflect on a passing thought as we look at the disclosure requirements. Some of the requirements tend to suggest at the moment--and I will accept clarification on this--within the report that a member who has a private corporation and is unable to or chooses not to dispose of that interest in the private corporation would in fact have to place that corporation in a trust in order to be able to sit in the House and deal with the affairs of government.

My concern in that regard relates to whether something of this nature might tend to deter someone who has assets of that nature from coming forward into the House and participating in the legislative process. I know that if members participate as parliamentary secretaries or as ministers and fall into that category, they have an opportunity to be compensated for the cost of maintaining a trust of that nature.

I do not believe that any similar provision is available to any other member of the House. I am not aware of any at this moment. Although it may not fit appropriately in a code per se, I would think steps need to be taken which would appropriately place all members of the House on an equal footing in terms of costs required in order to be in this place.

The possible alternative to that, of course, if there were no compensation for those who would have to place their assets in trust, could be that one might be able to look at it as another cost of doing business. Therefore, through amendments to the Income Tax Act, one might be able to appropriately dispose of such a concern.

We in this House do not wish to discourage those who would come forward and who do have significant assets. I know that we do see within the House a great deal of concern about one's property and other assets, and sometimes it is used to take political advantage by certain inferences that are made within the House. I think it is quite inappropriate to make adverse inferences if in fact people are fully open and clear as to what assets they possess. Therefore, I think that in this code of conduct we will be able to deal with this issue in a manner that I think is acceptable. I think there will be full and complete disclosure, which should, I believe, relieve members of the concern that they would be unduly attacked for having assets in their name.

I believe that a code is just that: a code. Each of us must respect the code. It is like the hon. member for Elk Island said: stopping at the crossing when the light shows that he should not cross. I think each and every one of us has a responsibility not just to respect and reflect the actual words within the code but to actually think about and reflect the intent of the code as we go about our work here.

In the past, clearly, for the most part there have been no such violations. Obviously, as has been pointed out, more of those violations that have a higher profile have come from a cabinet or ministerial level.

At this juncture I believe we are much more aware and respectful of those who deal in these issues, but clearly the public is demanding for their trust and confidence that we take every available step to meet the needs as seen. The standards we have here must always be maintained at the highest level and we must always put the public interest ahead of our private interest.

As we look at the history of getting the code to this point, it is quite incredible. I think it has been more than three decades now that the House has struggled with this issue of how to deal with a code of conduct. On and off over that time, we have seen that both Liberal and Conservative governments have dealt with and considered this concept.

In 1997, as has been previously mentioned, there was the Milliken-Oliver committee, a special joint committee that recommended the independent ethics commissioner and a code for members of this House and the Senate. That was an extremely interesting committee, because it did ultimately provide us with a report that drew on the experiences of others, both in other provinces and in other countries of the world. It was a rather comprehensive report. Since 1997, obviously we have spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to develop a code, but it has always seemed to bog down in the process of debate.

Clearly today we are at a crossroads. We have come to the point where there is general consensus that this is the appropriate way to go and that the code does reflect the best we have been able to gather from other jurisdictions. Simply put, I am very supportive of the principle and I know that members of my constituency are supportive of anything that will advance the public trust.

I believe the presentation of the motion for concurrence is one that deserves the support of the House and one that we should be able to support.

As we look at the office of the ethics commissioner, I believe the ethics commissioner will be given the opportunity to do what I think all of us would hope an ethics commissioner ought to do, and that is to independently deal with the concerns of the House, member to member or side to side, as we may find ourselves from time to time; that the ethics commissioner will be able to make an appropriate assessment; and that when the ethics commissioner assesses a complaint or a concern that it will be given the good judgment of the ethics commissioner as an independent person to determine whether a complaint is frivolous or done for some type of partisan politics that does not actually go to the foundation of the code, and that is to have the public interest served above private interests.

I believe that provision will take away some of the concerns that some members had that complaints might just simply pile up and that the process of actually getting to the bottom of a legitimate claim would not be well-served.

In this case, with the provisions that are in this report, I believe the ethics commissioner can very easily deal with those issues that he believes are simply not well-founded and grounded in legitimacy and have them disposed of, without causing any member within the House undue concern.

Today I am very pleased to present my views and thoughts on this matter. I am pleased that within the House we seem to have come to a consensus on going forward with this code. I am pleased to support this code of conduct and the concurrence in this motion as it goes forward today.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member's words, and I do not for a moment question the sincerity of those words, but I would ask him to comment on something.

We undoubtedly have this motion before us today, the new code of conduct and the rules for the ethics commissioner, because of the fact that there were some scandals that involved the cabinet. It was at that time that the Prime Minister pointed out that there would be a correction of this. The Liberals of course are famous for this. They always like to announce things and appear to be doing things that are necessary, whether they actually do them or not.

I have a bit of a tough question for the member. Does he perhaps have any cynicism in the fact that the rules will now encompass all members of Parliament, where there was not a problem, and show a different set of rules for cabinet ministers, with whom we have had problems in the last number of years?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I recall correctly, the hon. member, when speaking earlier, did refer to the code of conduct that is in place with respect to the ministerial responsibilities. I believe that in his commentary he did mention that he thought possibly that code may even be more strict in some areas than the code that is before us.

I believe that standards are appropriate within any setting where standards are required to be addressed. They should be clear and well stated. In this case there is nothing wrong with setting out standards. Even if the standards were already adhered to, I still believe that the setting of that again is also adding to the ability of each and every one of us to talk to our constituents throughout the country and to clearly state that there is a watchdog and that we are being careful in the way in which we deal with the matters of public interest.

I do not see the concern of cynicism in this regard. I believe that standards ought to be broad standards and that they should encompass the entire constituency of the House. In that end, we are trying to simply maintain, for not only our individual guidance but also for the protection of the public, a system of rules that are meaningful. I think the report will go a long way toward helping reduce any concerns that anyone may have raised because of incidents that might have occurred at the ministerial level.