Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to be here in the House today.
I am delighted the member for Elk Island is here because I want to start out debating a particular item he brought up in reference to this motion. He said that the government has the majority and that it can ram a bill through, as if that is what occurs these days. That is a total contradiction to reality.
That has not occurred since the new Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, took his spot. Before he even became Prime Minister, removing the democratic deficit was a tremendous part of his platform. He really has re-engaged Parliament and has made massive changes in the way Parliament runs. It came into effect the day he became Prime Minister.
We now have a Westminster system of voting, where there are three different voting options. The first option is totally free votes. The second option is where the government expresses its views and gives some background so that members can hear those views, read the reference materials and then form an opinion.
The third type of vote, which comes with the parliamentary system under which Canadians have chosen to be governed, includes votes on budgets and throne speeches, which is the platform the government has elected. In those situations members still have to show confidence in the elected government.
This new system has been in place since the very first day the member for LaSalle—Émard became Prime Minister. It has made a radical difference, as members in the House have experienced from all sides of the House, in votes on the Liberal side.
When the member says that the Liberal side can control the votes and can control the outcome, then they are controlling it both for and against government initiatives. They are also performing the role of the opposition now in the freedom of votes. If the government members and their constituents are not convinced of the benefit of a majority of bills, then they can vote that way. It is a whole new attitude in Parliament. It is amazing that a new Prime Minister can cause such a dramatic change on his first day in Parliament. It is one of a number of things that have occurred.
I will not go into the entire agenda of the throne speech and the budget, but as people in the media are beginning to realize, as they look back through all the questions in question period since January, there have hardly been any questions from any of the opposition parties on the great progress that we have outlined in both the budget and the throne speech related to social programs, Canada's place in the world and the modern economy and training. It is amazing that so much change and progress has been made in such a short time and how much is on the agenda for the future.
Therefore, that was a totally inaccurate portrayal that this motion or any bill is just being pushed through. That is not a reflection of reality and that is not what has occurred with the vast majority of the bills that have come in since the new government has taken its place.
The other thing I wanted to say about this, not only talking about this time in history, is that a number of members of Parliament on all sides support various elements of this motion, so it is not just the government. Since 1973 there have been a number of initiatives from various parties. I think there were about 20 initiatives from members of Parliament, members of governments and task forces related to this. It is not just a few members moving this forward from any particular party. I will not have time to go through the list but some of them will be reflected in my speech, if I get to it. I just wanted to make some personal comments before I went into my technical speech.
I find it distressing sometimes the amount of time we spend in Parliament concerning ourselves with the personal lives of individual parliamentarians. It is not just this Parliament, but previous parliaments under previous parties and governments. It is the nature of the institution that some 30 million Canadians spend so much time on the personal lives of the 301 Canadians here, while the business of the day and of Parliament that affects the other 30 million is not carried on in the limited time we have for legislation and debate.
Hopefully the committees, institutions and task forces that will look at how Parliament works might look at a way of moving the first round of debate on such items to another forum to maybe resolve it so that we do not take up so much time in Parliament. Perhaps we could have a first round in committee and the committee could refer it to Parliament thus allowing us to carry on with the business of the day and resolving issues.
I think a lot of them would be resolved through the ethics counsellor and this bill because the guidelines will be there. People will have good direction to follow and they will also have a non-biased and non-partisan advisor. That is one of the very strong points of this bill with which I am very much in favour.
As everyone will notice, this motion is some 20 pages long and there are a lot of details. Members of Parliament deal with all sorts of other things and may not be quite aware of those specific details. It is great if they can go to someone and ask if they are eligible for a RRSP, which members of their family can be included, what clubs or organizations could they sit on as a board of director. It is good to have someone to go to and I think that is a great strength.
It is very good that it deals not only with direct conflict of interest, but perceived conflict of interest. Anything we can do to ensure that our institutions are well thought of is important because it gives members more ability to work on the issues. Even a perception of conflict, although it may not be a conflict, deters us from those noble objectives.
I am also interested in the aspects of how, for those of us who have done a lot of work for non-profit organizations or volunteer work, this affects that type of work and whether one can still be involved or not. It would bring up a very interesting debate, unfortunately, at the moment there is not a gender balance and a majority of members are women. The question is, how much will this affect the abilities of women as they become more entrepreneurial and more involved in owning assets personally as opposed to jointly? What effect do all the declarations have on their independence and having an independent life separate from their marriage?
It is a pleasure to support, for those reasons and a number of others, the motion for concurrence in the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which provides for a code of conduct for members of the House of Commons.
Ethics and integrity form the first pillar of the government's action plan for democratic reform. I know that parliamentarians are committed to serving their constituents with the highest ethical standards. That said, a healthy democracy requires that its citizens have the highest degree of public confidence in political institutions.
The adoption of the ethics commissioner by the House, as well as the code of conduct, will not only help to strengthen the confidence of Canadians in their representatives, but will encourage us to place a renewed focus on three essential ingredients for a healthy democracy: ethics, transparency and accountability. I am confident that the hard work of MPs from all parties to develop the code of conduct will allow us to achieve these goals.
It draws on the 1997 report of an all party special joint committee, the Milliken-Oliver committee, and other reports of the House. The procedure committee members worked on the code in detail. It also worked with members from all parties, holding round tables open to all members of the House, and keeping all members informed of the committee's work on the code. In short, it is an excellent example of the work of the House in the best possible sense.
The code of conduct reflects over three decades of work by members of the House, going back to the Trudeau government's tabling of the green paper in 1973. Since then, both Liberal and Conservative governments have undertaken initiatives to develop a code of conduct for parliamentarians.
In 1978 the Trudeau government introduced the independence of Parliament act. In 1988 the Mulroney government introduced the members of the Senate and House of Commons conflict of interest act. The Mulroney government introduced a similar bill in 1989 and 1991. In 1993 the Mulroney government introduced the conflict of interest of public office holders act. This is not a new concept. It has been worked on by parliamentarians from all sides of the House for some time.
In 1995 the Milliken-Oliver committee was established to develop a code of conduct. The Milliken-Oliver committee recommended a code of conduct for parliamentarians in its 1997 report.
In 2002 the previous government tabled a draft code for parliamentarians based on the Milliken-Oliver report which was referred to the procedure committee. The procedure committee examined the code, held round table meetings for all members of the House, and circulated a draft code to all members as an interim report on the code. Last fall the committee tabled a report recommending a code based on the comments of members of the committee and other members of the House. Parliament was prorogued before the House could consider this code.
On April 26 the procedure committee agreed to support the appointment of Mr. Bernard Shapiro as ethics commissioner. The House agreed to a motion for this appointment this morning. The ethics commissioner will administer the Prime Minister's code for ministers and other public office holders, as well as a code for members of the House. That is an important reason why the procedure committee agreed on April 26 to table its fall report for a code for members of the House, which is the subject of the motion now before us.
I would like to speak for a minute about experiences in other jurisdictions. We are fortunate to have the experiences of other provinces and countries which have adopted similar codes of conduct. The testimony before the procedure committee demonstrated that the experiences of other jurisdictions show that a code of conduct administered by an independent ethics officer has benefits for parliamentarians in providing an independent source of advice on conflict of interest matters and in strengthening the public's perception of ethical conduct by parliamentarians.
The code would apply to all members of the House, including ministers and parliamentary secretaries, who are also subject to the additional obligations of the Prime Minister's code.
There are rules forbidding members from: furthering private interests, using influence to improperly further private interests, using insider information improperly to further private interests, and knowingly be a party to a contract with the government.
Members must file an annual statement to the ethics commissioner disclosing the members' private interests, and the private interests of their spouse and dependent children. The ethics commissioner shall keep the statement confidential but would prepare a disclosure summary that would be available to the public.
As the code will not come into force until the beginning of the next Parliament, adopting the code now will ensure that all candidates for a possible election are aware of the potential conflict of interest obligations under which they will be placed.
As I mentioned earlier, the code of conduct was prepared with the participation of members from all parties. Indeed, opposition parties have advocated in the past a code of conduct for the House. For example, a code was supported by the Canadian Alliance in its “Building Trust II” document released in 2002 and by NDP members, including a former leader, through private members' bills between 1999 and 2002.
In conclusion, adopting this code of conduct would be a great step forward for the House. It would provide a basis for the work of the ethics commissioner with members of the House. As the procedure committee stated in its 52nd report tabled last fall:
The result of our consultations and intensive study is, we believe, a document in which all Members of the House can have confidence. We are convinced that it is a very credible step forward in the self-regulation of this House.