I would like to underscore the work done by the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord, who is also the Bloc’s deputy leader in the House of Commons, and her former colleague, the late Benoît Sauvageau, who was a friend, a professional colleague, and a man who made a real contribution to the work of this legislative committee.
Despite the genuine effort that the members of the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party put into Bill C-2, the Conservatives called it in French the Loi fédérale sur l'imputabilité. This is prime example, I think, of a government in such a hurry to prove that it is doing something that it has made an elementary mistake. In English it is possible to say the Federal Accountability Act, but anyone with the least knowledge of French should know that in this language it would be the Loi fédérale sur la responsabilité.
I should add that it was Mr. Sauvageau, the hon. member for Repentigny at the time, who moved an amendment to the bill to correct the French title. Although I thanked him at the time, I would like to thank him again posthumously.
This is an ideal example, I think, which shows, first, that the Conservative government has no understanding at all of accountability when it comes to being responsible, and second, that this government’s discourse is basically dishonest.
For example, the parliamentary secretary to the President of Treasury Board just delivered a speech in which he repeated ad nauseam that the Liberals want to get illegal donations and that by amending the Canada Elections Act, the Conservatives are ensuring that registration fees for political conventions will not be included in the definition of a contribution. He claimed as well that only the Liberals interpret the existing law in this way. So they are being dishonest in this regard.
People who are listening to the work of the House on television but cannot easily get the Canada Elections Act will think it really is illegal to claim registration fees for a party convention as a political donation for which a receipt should be issued for a possible tax credit.
What the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board failed to mention is that, since being appointed the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada over 10 years ago if I am not mistaken, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley has interpreted section 404.1 of the Canada Elections Act to include registration fees for political conventions.
Consequently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board is trying to mislead Canadians by claiming that it was the Liberals who misinterpreted the law in an attempt to have taxpayers foot the bill, which is not true.
The Chief Electoral Officer interprets the statute. He decides whether or not the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP, the former Progressive Conservative Party, the former Reform Party and the former Canadian Alliance acted appropriately and within the law with regard to reporting convention fees.
The parliamentary secretary is trying to distort the debate. The Conservative government knew that the Canada Elections Act requires a political party to disclose the registration fees for its conventions to the Chief Electoral Officer. Then why did it not do so and why did it hide these registration fees? Today we learned that these fees totalled $2 million. This party hid the $2 million from the Chief Electoral Officer and it is now under investigation. If he really wanted to speak honestly, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board should have mentioned it in this House
When we, Liberals and Bloquistes, put questions on the interpretation of section 404.1 to the chief electoral officer and to political party officials, everyone unanimously agreed that the interpretation of the chief electoral officer was the correct one. Convention fees should be considered political contributions and, therefore, they should be declared by the party to the chief electoral officer. The government is omitting to mention this in the House in order to create a false impression in the minds of Canadians.
When the Senate, because of the dishonest behaviour of that party, makes the law very clear on this issue, what does the government do? It wants to reject the Senate's amendment, while claiming that the Senate has dragged its feet, has engaged in filibustering, etc. This same government does not want to tell Canadians that the quality work accomplished by the Senate has made the government realize that some fifty amendments were necessary to correct the legislation, otherwise its own bill would not make sense in a number of areas.
Here is a little reminder of the facts. The Senate heard over 140 witnesses during 98 hours of hearings. It came to the conclusion that the accountability bill was seriously flawed, and that amendments to this legislation were required to live up to the commitment made by the minority Conservative government. Of course, a number of amendments were made. Some are accepted by the government today, but others are not, which explains why the Conservatives are attempting to make their gimmickry retroactively legal. Hiding political donations of $2 million from the chief electoral officer is indeed engaging in gimmickry.
If this government were honest and thePresident of the Treasury Board were an honest man, he would admit it in this House.
The Speaker of the House has already ruled, saying that if the person were honest, he would do something. So it is parliamentary. I said it, if the President of the Treasury Board were an honest man, an honest person, he would say that it is not true that this government wants to shed light on the federal government’s work. It is not true. If it were true, certain amendments that the Bloc and the Liberals tried to make as part of the House legislative committee—for example, to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act—would not have been blocked by the Conservative members, with the support of the NDP. Still the Senate was able to adopt them.
So I return to my subject. Concerning political financing, the Senate suggest setting the limit on political party donations at $2,000 a year. This decision was made because the government was not able to demonstrate that the current limits undermined electoral procedure at the federal or provincial level, where the limits, when there are any, are much higher than those proposed in Bill C-2.
Second, donations made to political parties play an important role in our democratic system. Limiting them too strictly might affect the participation of small parties in political life. Furthermore, limiting the amount of these donations too strictly reduces the resources which political parties must have to fulfil their legitimate role in debates in Canada, and this leaves more room for third parties that wish to influence the debates. This is interesting. The Prime Minister, who was formerly, I think, the CEO or president of some federation, of an NGO, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for third parties to be allowed to advertise and spend during a federal election campaign, claiming that the limits the former government had put in the Canada Elections Act on spending by third parties during an election campaign were unconstitutional.
It is interesting because this Prime Minister has still not disclosed who the donors to his own party leadership race were. He still has not disclosed who the donors were to the federation which he led before returning to politics. It is interesting for a Prime Minister and a party that pride themselves on wanting to ensure accountability and transparency. But they are hiding things.
With regard to access to information and privacy, the Senate and the senators are proposing to remove the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of the Access to Information Act so that the board can stand up to international competition better when representing Canadian farmers. Here again, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board is claiming that the Liberals are supporting an amendment that will remove the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this act because they have something to hide. He knows that this is completely untrue.
The Canadian Wheat Board represents Canadian farmers on the international stage against competitors from other countries. Obviously, these competitors would love to have commercial, scientific and other information that helps the Canadian Wheat Board represent Canadian farmers effectively.
Wanting to remove the board does not mean hiding something from Canadian farmers. It means protecting Canadian farmers who want the board to sell their products on the international market.
I would also like to address the issue of better protection for personal information on donors to the National Arts Centre. The members of the House of Commons legislative committee in charge of reviewing Bill C-2 had understood—at least the Bloc and Liberal members had understood—that some donors to the National Arts Centre wanted their identities to remain confidential. That is their choice.
Artists may also donate their time and talent or charge much less than the regular market rate. But they do not want potential clients to know that they donated their time or gave a concert for no charge or for half price for charitable reasons or because they want to promote a certain type of music or activity. They do not want this information made public. A potential client could say the artists billed only so much and that it will therefore pay them only a given amount.
The Senate brought into place many excellent amendments. It pains me to see the government continually talk about how the senators have attempted to block the legislation, that the senators do not want to see transparency, that the senators do not want to see accountability and that Liberals, the official opposition, also do not want to see it. Nothing is further from the truth.
Let us look at it. It was a Liberal government that adopted whistleblower protection legislation, Bill C-11. It was never brought into effect by the current government. There were witnesses who came before us who said they would like to see that legislation enacted immediately. I remember Mr. Sauvageau and the member for Rivière-du-Nord asked that the government proclaim it and bring it into force immediately while we had the opportunity to study and work properly on Bill C-2. The government refused.
We then attempted to bring amendments here. Here are some of the amendments the Liberal members tried to bring forward and the government, with the aid of the NDP, blocked: one, to provide a reverse onus so that any administrative or disciplinary measure taken within a year of a disclosure would be deemed to be a reprisal unless the employer showed otherwise; two, extend the time limit to file a reprisal complaint to one year instead of the 60 days that the Conservative government proposed and is now trying to bring back; and three, remove the $10,000 limit on awards for pain and suffering and increase the amount for legal advice from $1,500 to $25,000.
Those are reinforcements that we attempted to bring forward and the Conservatives and the NDP blocked them, yet they say they are for protecting public servants who divulge wrongdoing on the part of government.