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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Parliamentary Delegation Report

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Canadian parliamentary delegation that visited the Russian Federation from October 11 to October 14, 2005.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

Modernization of Investigative Techniques ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-74, An Act regulating telecommunications facilities to facilitate the lawful interception of information transmitted by means of those facilities and respecting the provision of telecommunications subscriber information.

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

National Capital and Gatineau Park ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-444, An Act to amend the National Capital Act (Gatineau Park).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce my bill, an act to amend the National Capital Act, Gatineau Park. The bill is seconded by my colleague, the member of Parliament for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

The bill would amend the National Capital Act to establish for the first time legal boundaries for Gatineau Park. If brought into legislation, it would give legal status to the park and would recognize that one of the objectives and purposes of the National Capital Commission is to acquire privately owned real properties or provincial properties situated in Gatineau Park. It would also require owners of real property situated in the park to give the NCC a right of first refusal on the sale of the property. In short, it would ensure Gatineau Park remains a treasure for future generations of Canadians.

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

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by several hundred individuals from Ridgeway, Fort Erie, Welland, Crystal Beach and Niagara Falls.

These petitioners say that because marriage is the best foundation for families and the raising of children and that the majority of Canadians support the definition of marriage as the voluntary union of a single male and a single female, they petition Parliament to use all possible legislative and administrative measures to preserve and protect the current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to present a petition from several hundred people from Regina and the Regina area, including Regina Beach, Buena Vista, Kinookimaw, Kannata Valley, Chamberlain, Marquis and Bethune, Saskatchewan.

All of these signatories want to express their belief that the government should reduce the level of taxation on gasoline. They are petitioning the House of Commons to ensure the GST is eliminated on taxation so we do not have tax upon tax.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I have done so often this fall, it is my pleasure to rise again and present this petition on behalf of citizens from two provinces: first, from Waterloo, Kitchener, Paris and Cambridge, Ontario; and second, from Salmon Arm, Vancouver, Richmond, Port Coquitlam, Surrey, New Westminster, Port Moody and the great city of Chilliwack, all in British Columbia.

These citizens wish to draw to the attention of the House that on average about 2,000 children are adopted from foreign countries and brought to Canada each year and yet the government continues to refuse to grant them automatic citizenship.

Therefore the petitioners from both Ontario and B.C. are uniting to call upon Parliament to immediately enact legislation to grant automatic citizenship to those minors adopted from other countries by Canadian citizens with this citizenship being immediately granted upon finalization of the adoption.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to present three petitions containing thousands of names from Canadians across the country.

Since we came back this week from Remembrance Day events in our ridings, my first petition calls upon Parliament to enact Bill C-295, an act to amend the Holiday Act to recognize Remembrance Day as a legal holiday that honours the men and women who died serving their country in war and in peacekeeping efforts.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the second petition, the petitioners call upon the House to enact Bill C-391, an act to recognize and protect Canada's hunting and fishing heritage to ensure the rights of present and future Canadians to enjoy these activities are protected in law.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Inky Mark Conservative Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, the final petition deals with the gas tax. The petitioners call upon the House to eliminate the federal excise tax on diesel fuel and gasoline used in farming operations and commercial fisheries, to cap the amount of tax it collects on gasoline and to eliminate the practice of applying the GST to the provincial fuel tax and the federal excise tax, a practice that charges a tax on top of a tax.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 208 and 210.

Question No. 208Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

With regard to the use of chemical agents by the Canadian military, were chemical agents tested by the Canadian military and, if so: ( a ) in what year(s); ( b ) which chemical agents were tested; ( c ) where were chemical agents tested; ( d ) were there different locations where chemical agents were stored and not tested; ( e ) were there chemical agents tested or stored at CFB Shilo and posted to CFB Petawawa and, if so, what type of tests were performed and how often; ( f ) what quantity of agents were stored at CFB Shilo and CFB Petawawa respectively and for how long; ( g ) were there ongoing shipments of chemical agents from base to base; ( h ) were military personnel made aware when they were involved in the transport or storage of chemical agents; ( i ) was there a safety policy relative to chemical agents at the time of storage or testing; ( j ) how many times has the safety regulations protocol pertaining to chemical agents been amended since the 1960s; and ( k ) does the current policy differ greatly from military policies of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and, if so, in which way?

Question No. 208Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as agreed with the member of Parliament, the department has interpreted the original question on the order paper to read: With regard to the testing of agent orange/agent purple or other herbicides tested by the Canadian military, were such chemicals tested by the Canadian military at CFB Shilo and CFB Petawawa and, if so: (a) in what year(s); (b) which chemicals were tested; (c) where were these chemical tested; (d) were there different locations where these chemicals were stored and not tested;(e) what type of tests were performed and how often; (f) what quantity of these chemicals were stored at CFB Shilo and CFB Petawawa respectively and for how long; (g) were there ongoing shipments of these chemicals between CFB Shilo and CFB Petawawa; (h) were military personnel made aware when they were involved in the transport or storage of these chemicals on or between these two bases; (i) was there a safety policy relative to these chemicals at the time of storage or testing; (j) how many times has the safety regulations protocol pertaining to chemicals been amended since the 1960s; and (k) does the current policy differ greatly from military policies of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and, if so, in which way?

To date, with the records available, there is no indication that agent orange, agent purple or any other herbicide was tested at CFB Shilo and CFB Petawawa and therefore our answers to questions a. to i. inclusive are nil.

That said, as a longer term due diligence project, National Defence, in early 2006, will initiate research to determine all of the herbicides that were routinely used at military bases across Canada. This project will review and report on factual historical information related to the regulation, the production, the sale, and the use in Canada of herbicides used or likely to have been used at Canadian Forces military bases. The information gained through this research project will provide the department with the information being requested by questions j. to k. This study will likely take at least two years to complete, as there are more than 50 years of files to be researched from sites all over Canada. Should any new information emerge that indicates agent orange, agent purple or any other herbicide was tested at CFB Shilo and/or CFB Petawawa, this information will be provided.

Question No. 210Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Pallister Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Did the government provide a severance package for André Ouellet when he resigned from Canada Post and, if so, what were the details and monetary figures of this package?

Question No. 210Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Liberal

Navdeep Bains LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, government policy provides that all ministerial responses should respect the protections afforded by the Privacy Act and Access to Information Act, regardless of whether those acts apply to the government organization providing the information in the responses. Consequently, ministerial responses prepared by a government organization should not include information whose disclosure would be prohibited by those acts, if they were to apply.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Question Nos. 206 and 207 could be made orders for return, the returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 206Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

With regard to the formal dinner held for the Queen on May 24, 2005, in Edmonton, and the procedure for invitations for such: ( a ) when were the invitations sent to the invitees; (b ) to which individuals were invitations sent; ( c ) were the whips of the recognized political parties of the House of Commons asked to extend invitations to their Members, and, if so, when were they asked to do so; and ( d ) do the final calculations for the total cost of the dinner hosted by the Prime Minister include any and all commissions to contracted agencies?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 207Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Randy White Conservative Abbotsford, BC

With regard to the Correctional Service of Canada: ( a ) how many inmates have escaped custody while taking either an unescorted or an escorted temporary absence for personal development in 2003, 2004, and from January 1 to June 30, 2005; and ( b ) given that the February 1998 joint Correctional Service of Canada and National Parole Board report on Personal Development Temporary Absences shows that 10 inmates were given 15-day escorted temporary absences for recreation purposes and 11 inmates were given 15-day escorted temporary absences for other purposes, what type of recreation and other activities were these inmates involved in?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 207Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

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

Question No. 207Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Question No. 207Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Access to Information Act should be amended to: (a) expand coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, all officers of Parliament, all foundations and to all organizations that spend taxpayers' dollars or perform public functions; (b) establish a Cabinet-confidence exclusion, subject to review by the Information Commissioner; (c) establish a duty on public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions; (d) provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, in that the public interest should come before the secrecy of government; and (e) make all exemptions discretionary and subject to an injury test.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this House and speak to this very important motion, one that I believe all Canadians as well as all members of this House should participate in and which members will hopefully vote in favour of at the end of the day.

Before we go into the actual details of this motion and why I believe it to be important, I think it is also important to once again give a bit of a history lesson to those Canadians who may be watching as to why I believe that access to information is such a vital part of our democratic process, both in government and across the land. For quite a while, in my opinion, there has been a need to expand and change the access to information legislation. In fact, members have attempted, on a number of occasions in the past few years, to introduce a new piece of legislation to this House.

I recall that back in 2004, a former member of this House, John Bryden, introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-462, which dealt with changes to the Access to Information Act. This piece of proposed legislation came in the form of a private member's bill. That private member's bill received widespread support from members on all sides of this House when it was first introduced. In fact, it made it past second reading with I believe unanimous consent by members of this House and then was referred to committee. Unfortunately, that is when it died.

However, it was about to be resurrected by the member for Winnipeg Centre, who had sought on a number of occasions over many years to introduce and support changes to access to information, because, and let us make no mistake about this, access to information is a fundamental part of every Canadian's right to know what governments do and what political parties are doing in government.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, who felt so strongly about increasing the level of access to information within government, was about to reintroduce this private member's bill first introduced by John Bryden when he had a conversation with the current Minister of Justice. At that time, the Minister of Justice told the member for Winnipeg Centre that he, as minister, was about to bring forward new legislation, legislation that would be complementary to John Bryden's bill and would open up and make more transparent the dealings of government. He convinced the member for Winnipeg Centre to stand down on his private member's bill.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, being a man of a trusting nature, a man who believes the word of others, ultimately decided not to enter his private member's bill dealing with changes or new legislation regarding access to information, believing that the Minister of Justice would keep his word and introduce his own piece of legislation at his earliest opportunity.

Lo and behold, what happened? In April of 2005, I believe, rather than introduce legislation, the Minister of Justice brought forward a discussion paper. There was no legislation. It was a discussion paper. To add insult to injury, this discussion paper was not complementary to Mr. Bryden's original private member's bill. It did not support the initiatives, the thrust and the objectives of Mr. Bryden's private member's bill to open up levels of government so that all Canadians could determine for themselves what their government was doing. In fact, this discussion paper suggested that there be even more secrecy in government than there is currently. It was, in other words, an absolutely opposite view to the intent of Mr. Bryden's bill.

I can only say to members of this assembly that what the Minister of Justice brought forward was an absolute betrayal of trust from the conversation and the commitment that he made to the hon. gentleman from Winnipeg Centre. He did not bring forward legislation to deal with increasing the level of access to all government departments, crown corporations and foundations. He did absolutely the opposite. I think that is shameful.

I know that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will speak on this matter himself later today, but I must say for the record, and I think all Canadians should understand, that the Minister of Justice betrayed not only the member but all Canadians when he made a commitment to bring forward legislation and then reneged on his promise and his commitment.

It is also important for Canadians to understand why it is so important to bring forward changes to the current legislation. Why should we bring forward this motion today? Why should we bring forward in the future a proposed piece of legislation that deals with access to information and increasing the levels of access? In light of what has transpired over the course of the past few months in Canada as a result of the government's actions with respect to the sponsorship scandal, I think it is quite apparent that we need to be more open, accountable and transparent in all of our dealings in government.

I would suggest to members today that had we as a government, a party, an assembly, passed increased access to information legislation, there is a chance, although I cannot guarantee it, that some of the things we saw happen with respect to the sponsorship scandal might never have happened, because the ability to allow Canadians access to information is vital to guaranteeing good, transparent, accountable and democratic government. If Canadians had had the opportunity to investigate through access to information requests what was happening with the sponsorship program, there is a chance, although perhaps not a high degree of probability, I agree, that some of the activities within the sponsorship program may never have occurred.

Unfortunately, the sponsorship program is an example of that cloud of secrecy and it shows how this is pervasive not only in the government but within the Liberal Party. If there is legislation that allows opposition members and Canadians at large the ability to ask questions and receive answers as to the activities of government, it will in effect act as a deterrent to any proposed or planned or perhaps even inadvertent abuse of the public trust. All parliamentarians, after all, whether they be on the government side or the opposition side, have a responsibility to respect the taxpayers and the Canadian public.

After all, we are servants of the public, not the other way around, but unfortunately we have seen time and time again that this government has done just the opposite. Rather than be responsible to the Canadian public, rather than be accountable to the Canadian taxpayer, the government has consistently over the last 12 years been secretive and has acted, as Justice Gomery puts it, on “a culture of entitlement”. In other words, the government feels that what is best for the Liberal Party of Canada is best for all Canadians, but in fact we all know that is absolutely not the case.

The access to information piece of legislation that I am referring to, which I hope will eventually see the light of day and be passed in this assembly, is something that is absolutely vital to ensure that Canadians' interests are protected. Time and time again, we have seen examples of crown corporations engaging in activities that later are found to be perhaps irresponsible and perhaps illegal. Yet we only find out that information through investigation by outside parties. It would appear that it is never this government which brings forward some of the problems that have occurred within crown corporations, agencies or foundations. It takes others to dig out that information.

If a set of rules is put in, as the Minister of Justice attempted, to try to make it more difficult to get information on potential wrongdoings or on just incompetence, it is not serving the interests of Canadians and Canadian taxpayers. That is just the reverse of what we need to do.

We all remember what happened in the past few months with a former cabinet minister by the name of Mr. David Dingwall. We remember some of his activities, particularly some of his lobbying activities. Basically he engaged in a lobbying effort that was contrary to the rules. In other words, he accepted a contingency fee from a client based on the success he would have in lobbying for a contract for that particular client. It was contrary to the rules. We found out nothing about that wrongdoing until much later. In fact, the statute of limitations had run out, so we were not able to have Mr. Dingwall prosecuted. We were not able to have Mr. Dingwall punished by this assembly.

Part of the reason we were not able to do it is that we did not know. That is the whole point I am trying to get at. The public has the right to know about the activities of the government and the activities of people who lobby the government. The public has a right to know about all the activities done supposedly on its behalf.

In Mr. Dingwall's case, it gets progressively worse, because from there he was then appointed head of the Canadian Mint. After resigning, he stated for the record when asked about a potential severance that he was “entitled to his entitlements”, which I believe was part of the reason that Justice Gomery put that famous phrase in the Gomery report, saying that the government basically lives under a culture of entitlement, where its members feel they are entitled to either cash or benefits and perks to which in fact they should not be entitled.

Beyond just this culture of entitlement that is so pervasive in this government, there is a culture of secrecy. I believe that if we combine the culture of secrecy and the culture of entitlement, that is a surefire recipe for potential abuse, for corruption and for scandal.

We have seen examples time and time again over the last 12 years where there have been “scandals” perpetrated upon the Canadian public by the government. Whether it be the example of Shawinigate, the HRDC boondoggle or of course the sponsorship scandal, with which all Canadians are so familiar by now, I believe that if there had been an increased ability of Canadians and members of the opposition parties to receive that information through access to information requests, while it at the very least would have stopped some of the abuse, it would also have acted as a deterrent.

Members of the government would have had to--and future governments would have to--think twice before engaging in activities that might be considered either illegal or bordering on illegal, because they would have realized that members of the media, members of the Canadian public and members of the opposition would have the ability to request that information through ATI requests and receive that information in a timely fashion. It would act as a deterrent to future misuses of power. That is something all members should agree upon.

Right now we talk about the government's wish, in the words of the Prime Minister, to increase the ability of the government to increase the access to information. I can only say it has been my experience, in listening to the Prime Minister talk about more openness and more transparency or accountability in government, that once again it is only lip service. The Liberals seem to talk the talk but they never seem to walk the walk.

I point out that on a number of occasions, three that I know of, this very Prime Minister voted against increasing access to information legislation in the House. On the one hand he is saying that it is his commitment to increase the level of accountability and transparency of the government and put to an end things like the sponsorship scandal and other abuses of government power, but we have seen no evidence that the Prime Minister actually believes what he says, because he has voted against changes to the access to information legislation on at least three separate occasions. Not only is that contradictory, it is unconscionable.

The Prime Minister has a responsibility as the head of the government, as does any prime minister, to be responsible to the Canadian taxpayer and the public. Yet he has proven absolutely no such knowledge of his responsibility.

Even though the Liberals and the Prime Minister have talked about meaningful access to information reform, they have proven to continuously stall and delay important legislation to this very day. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they would do so.

Let us talk about other areas where access to information serves a useful purpose. I am not talking not about direct scandal and corruption. I am talking about the waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. The most glaring example of how an ATI request has brought to the light the abuse of these dollars is our national gun registry.

My colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, several years ago repeatedly made access to information requests about the cost of the national gun registry. It took a long time, but eventually he was able to uncover the massive waste of taxpayer dollars that have gone into this boondoggle called the national gun registry. Had he not had the ability to receive this information through ATI requests, even though it was deliberately slow walked by the government, the Canadian public perhaps even today would not have realized the massive cost overruns that the program has cost Canadian taxpayers. The program was originally thought to only cost $2 million. It has escalated to close to $2 billion now.

If there is no more glaring example of why ATI, access to information, requests are necessary to protect the Canadian public and its taxpayers that is it. How many more examples of abuse of taxpayer dollars could we find out about if we had proper ATI legislation today? The problem is we do not.

Many crown corporations are exempted from access to information requests right now. We have heard of abuses by heads of crown corporations, whether they be Canada Post or the Canadian Mint, but we have not yet had the ability to file a formal access to information request and receive information from the government about our questions. Why? Because the access to information legislation does not cover all crown corporations. It does not cover foundations which have billions of dollars of Canadian taxpayer money sitting there. Not even the Auditor General can find out what is happening in those foundations. That is a travesty and it should not be allowed to happen.

Clearly, if we were to increase the level of access to information requests to include crown corporations, foundations and basically every public function that deals with taxpayer dollars, democracy would be far better served.

We understand, as per the motion, that there should be exemptions, cabinet confidentiality is one example. However, we can make exemptions as the motion purports. What we need to do is come together on this, realize, understand and agree that without the ability for governments to provide information when requested to the media, to the opposition or, more important, to the Canadian public, we will not be serving those very people who have elected us to this place.

Therefore, I hope every member of this assembly will vote in favour of the motion to show the Canadian public that they understand the meaning of transparency, democracy and accountability.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, having been a member of the ad hoc John Bryden committee on access, I am very interested and supportive of a number of aspects. However, I would like to ask the member for clarification.

As he knows, in the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on the process for funding of officers of Parliament, there is some concern about the definition of officer of Parliament. The Speaker, the Clerk, the law clerk, counsel, et cetera also are officers of Parliament. For the edification and maybe information of the House and those watching, would the member care to qualify how we define officers of Parliament?