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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was barbados.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Monday, September 26 by the hon. member for Calgary East concerning the work of the Ethics Commissioner. I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter, as well as for the additional information he provided.

In presenting his case, the hon. member for Calgary East argued that the Ethics Commissioner had not followed the proper process for conducting an inquiry as defined in the Conflict of Interest Code appended to our Standing Orders. Specifically, the hon. member claimed that the Ethics Commissioner failed to provide him with reasonable written notice that he was the subject of an inquiry. In addition, the hon. member stated that, by commenting on the inquiry to a journalist, the Ethics Commissioner failed to conduct the inquiry in private.

Finally, the hon. member alleged that the Ethics Commissioner's comments to this journalist had damaged the hon. member's reputation and unfairly prejudiced the investigation.

For those reasons, he charged that the Ethics Commissioner was in contempt of the House and asked that I find a prima facie breach of privilege.

As both the position of Ethics Commissioner and the Conflict of Interest Code are relatively new, I believe it would be helpful to review how they came into existence.

On March 31, 2004, Royal Assent was given to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer) and other Acts in consequence. This act created the position of Ethics Commissioner, whose role in relation to Members of Parliament is specified in subsection 72.05(1) of the act, namely to:

“perform the duties and functions assigned by the House of Commons for governing the conduct of its members when carrying out the duties and functions of their office as members of that House”.

On April 29, 2004, the House adopted the 25th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which recommended that a Conflict of Interest Code for members be appended to our Standing Orders. This code, which came into force at the beginning of the 38th Parliament, assigns several responsibilities to the Ethics Commissioner.

I mention these events to underscore that the Conflict of Interest Code contains rules that the House has adopted for itself and that the House has mandated the Ethics Commissioner to interpret and apply the code. However neither the act nor the code provide a mechanism for members to make a complaint against the Ethics Commissioner regarding the discharge of that mandate. By the same token, there is no mechanism for the Ethics Commissioner to defend himself against a complaint about how he performs his duties.

Having no other recourse, the hon. member for Calgary East has asked me to rule on whether or not the Ethics Commissioner has breached two specific portions of the code. The first alleged violation relates to subsection 27(4) of the code which reads:

The Ethics Commissioner may, on his or her own initiative, and on giving the Member concerned reasonable written notice, conduct an inquiry to determine whether the Member has complied with his or her obligations under this Code.

The hon. member stated that the inquiry into his conduct began last May, but claimed not to have been notified officially until August 23, 2005 of the nature of the allegations against him.

Second, the hon. member claimed that by revealing details of the investigation to the media, the Ethics Commissioner has failed to conduct his inquiry in private. This requirement is found in subsection 27(7) of the code which states:

The Ethics Commissioner is to conduct an inquiry in private and with due dispatch, provided that at all appropriate stages throughout the inquiry the Ethics Commissioner shall give the Member reasonable opportunity to be present and to make representations to the Ethics Commissioner in writing or in person by counsel or by any other representative.

Those two allegations are troubling in themselves and the correspondence provided by the hon. member lends further weight to his case, so I have concerns about how this matter has progressed.

That being said, it is unclear what role, if any, that I as your Speaker have to play in ensuring that the code is properly interpreted and enforced. For example, is it up to the Chair to determine what constitutes “reasonable written notice” or to say to what extent inquiries are to be conducted in private? Can the Chair be expected to rule on what constitutes “due dispatch” or on whether a member who is the subject of an inquiry has been given a “reasonable opportunity to be present and to make representations?” A close reading of the act and the Standing Orders suggests to me that that responsibility lies elsewhere.

Subsection 72.05(3) of the act specifies that the Ethics Commissioner shall carry out his duties and functions under the general direction of a committee of the House. The House has designated the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to be this committee. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(viii), the standing committee has the mandate to “review and report on all matters relating to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons”.

Since, as I stated earlier, the code is still relatively new, I believe it would be beneficial both for the office of the Ethics Commissioner and for the House if the committee considered this matter. This would afford the Ethics Commissioner an opportunity to explain the process by which inquiries are conducted and give hon. members a chance to raise any concerns. The Chair hopes that such a dialogue between the committee and the Ethics Commissioner will clarify matters for all involved.

To summarize then, while the Chair is hesitant to rule that the conduct of an officer of Parliament constitutes a contempt of the House in the absence of a thorough review and assessment by the responsible committee, the Chair is nevertheless sympathetic with the hon. member for Calgary East who is seeking guidance on what avenues are open to him to ensure that this very serious matter is resolved. In particular, the Chair is concerned that the absence of a clear process to address these kinds of disputes leaves both hon. members and the Ethics Commissioner lacking the clarity to which they are entitled in the performance of their respective roles.

For these reasons, and to afford the House an opportunity to pronounce itself on how it wishes to proceed in this very delicate case, I am prepared to find a prima facie question of privilege, and I therefore invite the hon. member for Calgary East to move his motion.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, just before you started, you said we are here to make wise decisions and I thank you for making a wise decision here. I move:

That the process by which the Ethics Commissioner is conducting inquiries in relation to the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons, in particular, the issue raised in the House by the hon. member for Calgary East on September 26, 2005, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)viii.

I know the committee in its wisdom will ensure I receive a fair hearing.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Privacy CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Privacy Commissioner pursuant to the Privacy Protection Act for the year 2004-05.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Personal Information ProtectionRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Privacy Commissioner on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act for the year 2005.

Pursuant to standing order 108(3)(h), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Energy Costs Assistance Measures ActRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Finance

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-66, An Act to authorize payments to provide assistance in relation to energy costs, housing energy consumption and public transit infrastructure, and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.

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

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and citizenship issues entitled, “Updating Canada's Citizenship Laws: It's Time”.

In tabling this document, the committee calls on the government to fulfill its commitment in the throne speech to present the House with a citizenship act. We have had three previous attempts at reforming the citizenship laws since 1997 which were Bill C-63, Bill C-16 and Bill C-18.

In concluding, citizenship is the most sacred covenant between the citizen and the state and it is time we had citizenship laws that reflect that reality.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a number of petitions concerning the importance of kidney research. Hundreds of petitioners in my area are concerned about kidney disease, which is a huge and growing problem in Canada, but in particular, they are interested in a form of research which relates to the bioartificial kidney. This is a partly artificial, partly natural device that will help people who, at present, can only be helped by dialysis.

These citizens call upon Parliament to make research funding available to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for the exclusive purpose of conducting bioartificial kidney research as an extension of research being successfully conducted in several centres in the United States.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of petitions signed by the people of Fundy Isles, the St. Andrews area and surrounding towns as well. The petitioners are asking the Government of Canada to say no to the transport of LNG tankers through Head Harbour Passage to a proposed liquid natural gas plant on the American side of Passamoquoddy Bay. These citizens say that it is much too dangerous and we are putting our citizens, our environment and our economy at risk. They are asking the Government of Canada to say no to the transport of those tankers, as it did 30 years ago.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Marc Boulianne Bloc Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to table the following petition on the clothing and textile industries.

This petition was circulated by my constituents and it calls on the government to intervene as soon as possible to save the clothing and textile industries by taking significant measures that will produce results as quickly as possible.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions signed by hundreds of Canadians concerned about the state of our national broadcaster. Although these petitioners will be happy to know that the two parties are reaching a settlement and that CBC will be back on the air, they do want to register their concern with the process and with the plan by CBC senior management to hire, without restriction, temporary and contract employees. The petitioners call upon all of us to protect the future of public broadcasting in Canada.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of residents from my riding of Cardigan, Prince Edward Island, who have the same concern. They are certainly concerned about the CBC as a national public broadcaster and they feel they are at risk because senior management planned to hire, without restriction, temporary and contract employees. These residents of Canada in the federal riding of Cardigan call upon Parliament to help unionized employees at the CBC negotiate a fair collective agreement and protect the future of our public broadcasting in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I also have a petition signed by residents of Charlottetown and from the constituency of Malpeque, who are also expressing concern about the same issue and contract and temporary employees and who want a fair contract for them.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to rise and present a petition on behalf of many of my constituents from Calgary Centre, particularly in this case the Westgate, Wildwood and Glamorgan areas of my riding. The petitioners are concerned about the CAP program. The community access program is in its last year of existence.

The CAP initiative has greatly increased the number of Canadians who are able to take advantage of the social and economic benefits of computers and the Internet. The absence of CAP will be a step backward in the Canadian government's ongoing goal to improve the quality of life of Canadian citizens. These petitioners are asking that the program be continued.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Conservative Calgary South Centre, AB

Further, Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by citizens of Calgary who want to amend the Criminal Code to provide exemption for all martial arts and all martial arts contests and competitions.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc 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 Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-57, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to financial institutions, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Bank ActGovernment Orders

October 6th, 2005 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to continue the presentation I started yesterday. To quickly review, Bill C-57 is about the governance laws of banks, insurance companies, their holding companies, and credit unions. It is to provide a framework that they are going to be obligated to operate within. It also brings this in line with the Senate bill, Bill S-11, which was a standards update that occurred in 2001.

I am sure that Bill C-57 is going to give a lot of comfort to Canadians who invest and who have savings and business with financial institutions. I think this is a good bill. My party agrees with it, of course, because while the Liberals failed to mention this in their presentation, it is here because of the insistence of members of our finance group, the member for Medicine Hat, the member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, the member for Peace River and the member for Portage—Lisgar and, of course, also the insistence of the chief member of the finance committee from the Bloc. They have insisted that the government not delay the introduction of this legislation to provide this framework and to update the governance regulations, basically so these institutions will have a clear understanding of where and how they are supposed to operate within these guidelines. I know that does give a level of comfort to Canadians.

As part of my presentation on the bill, I want to now move to what Paul Harvey might refer to as “the rest of the story”. Canadians who are watching the progression of this bill through House and who have read about it are no doubt, as I mentioned earlier, getting a great deal of comfort from knowing that the trust they have in their financial institutions is going to be even more secure and they are not going to be troubled by having another Enron or a WorldCom here in Canada. That is a good thing for Canadians, and I think all parliamentarians should take credit for getting the bill into the House.

The rest of the story is this. Let us imagine the average Canadian watching the progress of this piece of legislation about how these financial institutions are going to be governed and how they are doing their business. Let us imagine the questions they must have in their minds about how this Liberal government, which has shamelessly, over the last 12 years that I have been in the House and probably longer than that, been followed by scandal after scandal, by corruption after corruption, plagued by evidence and accusations and acts of patronage that are just beyond the comprehension of—

Bank ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

On a point of order, the member for Mississauga South.

Bank ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order on two matters. First of all, with regard to allegations of corruption of anyone, whether it be a member or any other organization, that is in a legal situation which has not been adjudicated, and to suggest such is just improper. Second, we are talking about Bill C-57. To deal with matters to do with political party performance is not relevant to the debate. I would ask the member to keep his comments relevant to Bill C-57.

Bank ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

We take the comments of the member for Mississauga South. I would ask the member for Cariboo—Prince George to be as relevant as he possibly can in this debate.

Bank ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, as I say, in a courtroom I intend to show the relevance of my presentation to you, and you will find out how it unfolds. I can understand the member wanting to jump up and defend his government against, quite frankly, the indefensible.

What I was trying to point out is that Canadians have to form an opinion about everything we do in this chamber that affects them. They have formed an opinion about Bill C-57 and they like it. It gives them some security. Canadians will draw a comparison between Bill C-57 and how the government wants these financial institutions to operate, and they will draw a comparison between that and how Canadians want their government to operate.

The question they are asking themselves, I am sure, is the question of how this Liberal government can demand that financial institutions operate with honesty, transparency, full disclosure and accountability when the Government of Canada, those Liberals, fail to do that themselves. This is the question that Bill C-57 raises among Canadians. I am drawing that comparison to point out that a government is responsible not only for talking the talk but, in addition, for walking the walk. This government has not done it.

The member wants some examples. We can go right back to early in the first time I was in Parliament, to the infamous sale of the Grand-Mère Golf Club, when the Prime Minister himself was perceived to have been involved in a golf course and hotel that received government financing. We can go from there to the office building leases not too long ago, when the government leased an office building from a Liberal friend, it turned out, that it did not even move into for about a year.

There was the flagrant use of the Challenger jets, the sole sourcing of government contracts to Liberal friends, and the sponsorship scandal, when hundreds of millions of dollars went into the pockets and companies of Liberal friends. The list goes on and on. Now we have the famous David Dingwall case where, as an unregistered lobbyist, he received a success fee of $350,000 for successfully placing a request for several million dollars in government funding for the company he was representing, and he is not paying it back.

The relevance is this: Canadians are looking at Bill C-57 and saying, “That is really nice and it gives us some comfort, but why can the government not learn to live by its own rules?” Why has this Liberal government failed to be accountable? Why has it failed to be transparent? Why, in many cases, has it been involved in cover-ups? Why can the government itself not do all the things which Bill C-57 is designed to ensure that these financial institutions do? That is what Canadians are asking.

I am sure the word “hypocrisy” must be on the minds of Canadians as they listen to the presentations that have been made by the Liberal members throughout this debate. Canadians must be saying that it is all very nice and they like Bill C-57, but where is the accountability, the honesty, the set of strict guidelines, and the application of opportunities for redress to the government? Where is this within the government itself? Why can it flagrantly abuse the very rules that it is setting down for the financial institutions? Those are questions that average Canadians must be asking themselves.

It is very simple. This bill talks about the standards and duties and the ethics of the directors of financial institutions, including allowing for a due diligence defence and clarifying conflict of interest. There is a provision to make minutes of board meetings available to the public where conflicts are disclosed. Could these same rules not be applied to the cabinet of the government? The cabinet operates in much the same way, with much bigger numbers than financial institutions. Cabinet members handle a budget well over $100 billion a year, yet they are not expecting themselves to operate within the same guidelines that they want the financial institutions to operate within.

There are four simple rules which the government, and every government in the world, should operate by if they want to earn and maintain the confidence of Canadians: Do not lie. Do not cheat. Do not steal. Do not pay off their political friends with taxpayers' money. It is so simple, yet the Liberal government has a hard time grasping it.

I speak on behalf of so many Canadians who are asking themselves that if the government expects, and demands through law and legislation, that financial institutions and insurance companies operate within this very clear set of guidelines as far as their governance goes, why on earth can the government itself not adopt the same policy? That is the question. The Liberals have not done it. They have been wrought with scandal, rampant with corruption and rife with patronage payoffs. Canadians have had enough. When Canadians look at Bill C-57 they just roll their eyes and say, “what hypocrisy”.

We in the Conservative Party are always vigilant about how our financial institutions, insurance companies and credit unions handle the money of Canadians. We will always be vigilant in ensuring that the investments of Canadians are safe and sound, and that the companies that look after them are operating in an open, transparent and honest manner. At the same time, I would like to say on behalf of Canadians that it would be nice if the government could do the same.

Bank ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I will not disagree with the member on his point, as long as he understands that the member himself also has to meet the criteria that he has laid out. I think the member would agree. I would like to point out a couple of examples used by the member.

He said that an office building was leased and the building was not moved into for a year. He used that as an example of patent patronage.

The matter came before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The building actually was built by the company to the specifications of Public Works and Government Services. It was delivered on time and on spec. The tenants scheduled by the government to move in required substantial changes to the building layout and to the preparations of it. It led to about a year's delay in their getting into the building.

The member is suggesting that since a person who was an officer of that company at the time subsequently became a senator it is a Liberal payoff.

Clearly, as was stated at committee, the company that built the building and is leasing it had absolutely nothing to do with the delay. That in fact was confirmed by the ethics officer of the Senate in a complete 20 page report which is available to the member as he knows.

He mentioned sole sourcing and that somehow sole sourcing without going to competitive bids is a nefarious activity.

Under Treasury Board guidelines sole sourcing is permitted in certain circumstances. For example it is permitted for contracts under $25,000, where there is only one possible supplier, and where there is an emergency and it has to be dealt with quickly. I believe there are a couple of other circumstances.

The member would like to throw around a lot of examples but I am really concerned why the member did not talk about the significance and importance of making the changes proposed in Bill C-57 to bring it into line with the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Insurance Companies Act. It is going to ensure that there is an efficient operation within the financial system and provides a better foundation for accountability, transparency and governance.

These are the important things that Canadians should be advised of on this matter. If the member wants to use examples, I understand the opposition will take every opportunity. It is the opposition's job to talk about other things, but I think it is important first of all to emphasize the priority, which is the importance of the financial sector to Canada's economy.