Mr. Speaker, that was an interesting exchange. I was a little surprised by it, because the motion we are debating today is a reflection of the recommendations of the Information Commissioner in a draft Access to Information Act that he presented at the request of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which I am also a member of and happen to chair.
The committee was very supportive of these recommendations when the Information Commissioner brought them to the committee. I am a little surprised by the exchange and the discussion that now comes to the House, but I guess that is the nature of this place. Certainly in terms of stakeholder groups and discussions, there will be ample opportunity for that discussion to take place.
The discussion of course is taking place here in the House today, but the discussion will also be broad-ranging and stakeholders from many different sectors will have their chance to discuss this very subject, this supply day motion being part of the broader discussion about a revised Access to Information Act. The Conservative Party intends to make this part of our accountability act, which we as the government will be introducing after the next federal election. This new Access to Information Act will be a part of that accountability act.
It is very obvious that the Information Commissioner speaks with great authority on this subject. I do not think that the draft legislation he brought forward was something that just came out of his head with ideas of how it should work. I think it was the result of years and years of doing his job as access to information commissioner and his experience in the courts in trying to pry out of this government information that rightfully belonged to the public. We know that the Liberal government did everything it could to withhold that information. The government tried in every way that it could to avoid releasing the information the public wanted, although under the current act the public is allowed to have that information.
I think it was an excellent piece of work that the Information Commissioner did and then brought to the committee. I certainly support it. I was absolutely delighted when my leader and my party adopted that draft Access to Information Act, made it part of their accountability package and promised to include it in one of the first pieces of legislation that our party would bring to Parliament to pass.
Of course, when we look back at the whole sponsorship scandal and the Gomery inquiry, I must say that I do not think there is anything any party or any government can do to prevent someone who is determined to steal taxpayers' money from doing it. As for someone who goes to great lengths to create a way to do it, all the rules in the world cannot stop someone like that. If people have that ethical standard and are willing to do that, they do not pay any attention to the rules. Their only focus is on how they hide what they are doing from the public and the authorities. We certainly saw a lot of that during the sponsorship scandal and the Gomery inquiry.
Certainly everyone in this House, everyone on our committee and I think most Canadians realize that the Access to Information Act is long overdue for an overhaul. We have been talking about it in this place for a number of years.
I heard one of the members talk about the John Bryden bill which passed through the House. It did not pass unanimously but I think only one person voted against it at the time. However the government did nothing with it and has not moved on it. Worse than that, the justice minister brought a discussion paper to the access to information committee and, in spite of the rhetoric we heard about the commitment to include Crown corporations in a new bill and a number of reforms that were badly needed for Liberal cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Liberals have done nothing to move that forward.
In the draft discussion paper that the justice minister brought to committee it in fact made government more secretive. It certainly did not meet the criteria of the Bryden bill and it fell far short of the recommended act that the Access to Information Commissioner created and brought to the committee. It is pretty clear, in spite of what we have been through in the last couple of years with the sponsorship scandal, that the government has no desire to make government more transparent and more accountable, which has been proven by the actions of the Prime Minister and the government.
While we hear promises of how the Liberals will solve this and never let another sponsorship scandal happen again, just a couple of weeks ago we heard that the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs issued a contract with specific instructions that there be no paper trail on the contract. Therefore, any kind of a reformed Access to Information Act could not follow the paper trail or follow the money under that contract. This comes from a government that says it is dedicated to making government more accountable and transparent. It is simply a game. As we have seen so many times, it is just not believable and no Canadian would believe it.
These deathbed conversions on any number of issues, including tax reduction and reform of the institution of government itself, are simply empty election rhetorics designed to fool Canadians as to what the government's agenda really is. I would warn all Canadians to discount that kind of talk. I think if they look at what the government is actually doing they can only come to one conclusion.
I want to talk about our plans to reform government, to make government more accountable, to deal with the issues that came up in the Gomery report and the promises the government has been making for 12 years and has done nothing to fulfill them.
A couple of weeks ago, my leader, the leader of the official opposition, announced his accountability act and it includes much more than just a reform of the Access to Information Act, which is certainly a key part of it, but it also addresses in great detail political donations to candidates and political parties. That was part of the sponsorship scandal because much of the hundreds of millions of dollars that were taken ended up funding the Liberal Party in an election campaign, if not two election campaigns.
Election financing is an important part of this. We would ban corporate and union donations while limiting personal donations to $1,000. We would ban ministers and their staff and senior public workers from lobbying government for five years. We would give more power to the Lobbyist Registrar, the Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner and the Auditor General, all officers of Parliament.
It is pretty clear that the Liberal Party used the sponsorship program for not only unethical purposes, but criminal purposes as well, if I might say so. Judge Gomery made that pretty clear in his report.
Our objective would be to end the influence of big money going to political parties for elections and we would crack down on the lobbying culture that the current Prime Minister was very much a part of. His relationship with some lobbying firms is well-known and, quite frankly, needs more investigation. However Judge Gomery did not have a mandate to do that.
I have always believed that government, no matter which level of government we are talking about, is there to serve Canadians and, with a few exceptions, Canadians should be able to find out how their government is serving them and where their money is being spent, which has not been the history of the present government. Judging by the justice minister's proposal, that will not happen in the future. If the Liberals are re-elected, they intend to tighten up that information, thereby making it less accessible to Canadian taxpayers and the people who elect us to this place.
As I said in my opening remarks, simply changing the rules is not the only thing that needs to be done. If people do not have ethical standards, simply changing the rules will not solve the problem. The only way to solve the problem is to change the people who govern and elect people of a higher ethical standard, people who do not have the culture of entitlement that we have seen for so long across the floor.
The way lobbyists work, in my view, is pretty distasteful. I think of the latest episode involving David Dingwall, the head of the Canadian Mint. At the same time as he was in this very lucrative job of running the Mint and receiving a salary of more than $200,000 a year, he was collecting huge lobbyist fees to lobby the government, a government to which he belonged not too long ago, for a contract for a friend. The whole thing has a real smell to it and I think most Canadians do not find that acceptable. I think most Canadians would support our proposal to reform the way lobbyists work and how long they have to be out of government or out of the bureaucracy before they can engage in that kind of activity. That is an important part of the Conservative accountability act as well.
Part of the reform on the lobbyist side would give the Lobbyist Registrar more power and more ability to enforce the rules and to act on findings. In the latest cases we have heard about, the Lobbyist Registrar should have known what was going on and should have had the power to stop it, instead of helplessly sitting by and letting it happen. That is also an important provision.
We would also make substantial changes to the financing of political parties. I do not think it is appropriate for people seeking to be members of Parliament to accept huge donations from anonymous people. It makes people very suspicious, and with good reason. It leads to the creation of some of these huge trust funds that are held by members of Parliament and they are not required to disclose where the funds came from. Those members who currently have those trust funds should account for them, make it public where they came from and show how much they have. I think that as well is a good move.
Another controversial issue under this transparency act, which the Prime Minister promised to resolve when he was campaigning to be prime minister but one he has done nothing about, is the appointment of people to various positions that serve government and the country. It should be easy to understand that these officers of Parliament, the Ethics Commissioner, the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the Registrar of Lobbyists, serve Parliament not the government and, therefore, should not be appointed by the Prime Minister.
Parliament should have a process to select these individuals and Parliament should be able to vote on the appointment of these people. I cannot understand any argument that would have it otherwise because these particular individuals are serving us as parliamentarians and are working for Parliament. Even if we do not get into a discussion about some of the other appointments, for example judges, perhaps there is an argument to be made on either side, but certainly the officers of Parliament should be hired by Parliament to serve Parliament.
Another issue with which I think Canadians are having a problem, these days in particular but for a very long time, is the whole issue of the hundreds of millions of dollars the government spends on polling and advertising. The advertising side was an integral part of the Gomery report on the sponsorship scandal. However the way governments poll and the millions of dollars they spend on polling is a huge issue because most prime ministers and most leaders discount opinion polls when they do not get the results they were looking for and then swear by them when they do get the results they were looking for. In my opinion and I think in the opinion of most Canadians these polls are very manipulative and can sway voters substantially one way or the other. I think that is what we are seeing right now in the lead up to the election that is coming very soon. We need to reform that part of it.
The last issue is that there is a need to change the way in which governments issue contracts for government services. The way in which the government chooses the same companies time and time again for single source or even bid contracts has long been an issue in my part of the country, in western Canada. I am thinking of the recent controversy over the contract to move Canada's armed forces personnel and the RCMP.
We would certainly need some changes there. I think that all of us agree that the whistleblower legislation before the House is inadequate. We need to make some real changes and provide some real protection for whistleblowers and certainly that would help prevent this Gomery thing as well.
Finally, our proposal to give more stronger powers to the Auditor General to investigate and to audit departments is absolutely crucial to where we want to go. While our access to information reform package is what we are debating today and is extremely important, I think it fits into a package of broader reforms that will make this place transparent and accountable.