Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-2, Federal Accountability Act.
First, I would like to take a moment to remember one of our colleagues who worked very hard in committee on this legislation, this past spring. He did serious work and he spent many hours on this issue. Of course, I am referring to my former colleague Benoît Sauvageau, the member for Repentigny, who sat on the committee and was in charge of this issue for the Bloc Québécois. I am convinced that, wherever he may be, he is listening to us right now. I feel it is my duty to properly present the positions that he defended in committee and that accurately reflect those of the Bloc Québécois on this issue.
I should reiterate the fact that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-2. However, I clearly remember the work done by the legislative committee that reviewed Bill C-2. The Bloc Québécois continues to deplore the fact that it would have been in our best interests to hear many more witnesses and to do serious work in committee. This does not necessarily mean that we wanted to unduly extend debates by resorting to systematic filibustering or some other means.
However, we deplored, particularly during the clause by clause review of the bill and also when the list of witnesses was made, the government's attempt to ram through this legislation. The NDP worked as an accomplice to that end. I am using the term “accomplice” because I am not allowed to use a stronger word. The member for Winnipeg Centre literally got into bed with the government regarding this issue. He was an accomplice of the government to help it pass this legislation quickly. Had it not been for that complicity, we would have had time to hold a debate and to have much more extensive discussions on this bill.
Why does the Bloc Québécois support this measure? Because it will increase government accountability and transparency. I will list some points, since this is a major piece of legislation not only in terms of the number of clauses in it, but also the number of acts targeted. I talked about this at other stages of the bill and, as I recall, it affects 21 different acts. So, it is indeed a major piece of legislation.
As we know, Bill C-2 entrenches in law a ministerial code of ethics. It puts an end to the favouritism that allowed ministerial staff to enter the public service with priority status over qualified public servants. It strengthens the powers of the Auditor General and the Ethics Commissioner. It creates a stricter operating framework for lobbyists and reduces the influence of money during election campaigns, leadership campaigns and nomination meetings. It also creates the position of director of public prosecutions, which strengthens the independence of the justice system.
We also supported Bill C-2 because it meets some of what I would call traditional Bloc Québécois demands. The Bloc Québécois has been making these demands since it was founded, and even since the arrival of the first parliamentarians who agreed to sit under the Bloc Québécois banner. As we all know, from 1990 to 1993, they were not a recognized party in Parliament and had to sit as independents.
Nevertheless, in the years since the first Bloc Québécois members of Parliament took their seats as sovereignist members—let us not forget—we have repeatedly—especially from 1993 to 1997, when we were the official opposition—asked for one thing in particular: that Elections Canada appoint its returning officers based on merit.
I see that the President of the Treasury Board is applauding. I would just like to tell him, through you, Mr. Speaker, how pleased I am to see that, in this bill, he has agreed to one of the Bloc Québécois' traditional demands aimed at depoliticizing the appointment of returning officers. After every election, we have all had our stories, our little black books, our horror stories, perhaps, about decisions made by incompetent returning officers in every one of our ridings. Such incompetence does not just harm one particular party, political organization or electoral organization. An incompetent returning officer has a negative impact on everyone, including all of the candidates.
I could speak on this point alone, and I have done so in the past. We have only to think of the returning officer who agrees to have someone who can neither read nor write serve as a polling clerk or some of the unsuitable polling stations. In my riding, in Saint-Laurent-de-l'Île d'Orléans, I once took Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, to see a hockey players' dressing room during the June 2004 election so that he could understand the problem there. In an arena in a municipality the size of Saint-Laurent-de-l'Île d'Orléans, the players' dressing room is not as large as the Canadiens' dressing room at the Bell Centre or the Maple Leafs' dressing room in Toronto. It is a very tight space where there were six polling divisions and where, from beside the polling booths, you could literally see who someone was voting for. I could tell many more horror stories like that one, but members might wonder what my point was. I will therefore simply congratulate the government on granting the request from the Bloc Québécois to use an open, transparent competition, where the best qualified person is appointed as the returning officer, from now on. This will put an end to political appointments where a good Conservative or Liberal organizer was appointed to the position.
In response to another traditional request from the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-2 will amend the political party financing legislation, which will now be much more like the legislation in Quebec. I forgot to mention a minute ago that appointing returning officers using an open, transparent process where the position is posted in the newspapers is exactly the system Quebec has had since 1977, I believe. This system works very well in Quebec, I would add. The bill before us was inspired by the political party financing legislation in Quebec, which is part of the political heritage of René Lévesque, who cleaned up election practices and election financing practices in Quebec. This is another interesting aspect of Bill C-2, which prohibits corporate donations and caps individual donations at a more reasonable level.
We know that the Senate has engaged in its own analysis of Bill C-2. Of course, in the Bloc Québécois, we have our own ideas about what purpose the Senate serves and we would support abolishing it outright. It is a totally pointless organization that exists only for the plum appointments that can be handed out. Whoever is in power appoints senators of his own persuasion. We should abolish the Senate outright.
However, we have to acknowledge that the two solitudes in Canada mean that we have not reached that point yet. While a majority of Quebeckers support abolishing the Senate, people in other provinces want a stronger Senate. That is probably the case for your fellow Manitobans, in your province of origin, Mr. Speaker. As a result, there can be no consensus on this question.
When I meet people on weekends, I tell them about what the Senate costs, and when we talk about how pointless it is, I also tell them that for us, the people of Quebec, the only way to get rid of the Senate is through sovereignty for Quebec. We will have nothing more to do with the Senate of Canada, just as we will have nothing more to do with the Governor General or the lieutenant governors of each of the provinces.
However, in the present system, the Senate has done its own analysis of Bill C-2 and has proposed the amendments that are now before us. We have to say that some of those amendments may be worth considering, but others are totally unacceptable. We have done a careful, serious and thorough analysis of the government’s position on the Senate amendments. As a result, I can add that the Bloc Québécois supports the government’s rejection of several of the Senate amendments, which in our opinion do not advance either ethics or transparency.
You know that a majority of the Senate is made up of Liberal Party members. The Liberals were in power for so long in the 20th century that they had time to literally pack the joint, as it were. So they are superior, in numbers, to the Conservative senators. Probably as a result of the majority being Liberal, the senators come back to us and tell us that they would like to keep their own Senate adviser. This is another anomaly of a two-chamber system. The Senate is apparently jealously guarding its constitutional prerogatives and does not want to share the same ethics adviser. It is suggesting an amendment to us: a puppet adviser who would be under the authority of a Senate committee, and who would in fact be about as effective as Howard Wilson, Prime Minister Chrétien’s ethics adviser, was.
Mr. Wilson has appeared as a witness at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. He is a nice young man. We have nothing against him personally, but Howard Wilson was a political adviser to Jean Chrétien rather than a real ethics adviser. In this regard, we agree with the government, which is getting ready to reject this amendment tabled by the Senate.
I would like to talk about a number of other amendments put forward by the Senate. Unfortunately, since there is not enough time, I cannot do that, but my colleagues probably have some comments to make about them.
The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that strengthening legislation and policies is ineffective if there is no real will by government members to change things. Justice Gomery said in his 23 recommendations that it is all well and good to have more effective control systems, but that the culture of entitlement needs to change in Ottawa. This was the culture that existed at the time in the Liberal Party. Having been in power for a long time, the Liberal Party practically thought it was the state incarnate. The Liberals were in charge of the public purse and could pretty much do what they wanted with it.
That is what happened during the sponsorship scandal. Justice Gomery told us that regardless of whether we have the most effective control mechanisms—and I am directing this to the Conservative Party—we have to change the culture here in Ottawa. The Bloc Québécois decided to give them a chance, but a number of signs, in how the Conservatives manage, concern us. We also know that as far as lobbying is concerned, the current Prime Minister tolerates what he was criticizing the Liberals for at the time. That is why the Bloc Québécois is saying that the Liberals and the Conservatives are six of one and half a dozen of the other. They are the same whether they are in opposition or in power.
On the other hand, the members of the Bloc Québécois have real power to ensure that people act responsibly. Do not forget that as elected members we are in charge of taxpayers' money above all and not our own money. We have to be accountable to our constituents. Taxpayers no longer feel like paying and they find they are paying a lot for the services they are getting.
We are aware of this at many levels of government management, be it municipal, school, provincial or federal. In mentioning school and municipal levels, far be it from me to claim that these local managers and elected representatives are not doing a good job. They do a great job. Still, those who pay school taxes and municipal taxes, in addition to federal and provincial income and other taxes are citizens and taxpayers. They are entitled to receive the services they pay for. This is why people are becoming increasingly critical. In the vast majority of cases, administrators at the school and municipal levels do an outstanding job with few resources, and all the needs and aging infrastructures.
Where we are critical of the current Prime Minister is that he allows into his immediate entourage certain people who may have links with lobbying or with firms which they have lobbied in the very recent past. I will give you some examples. The Minister of National Defence was a lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton from 1996 to February 2004. So, for nearly ten years, his clients included such companies as BAE Systems, General Dynamics, United Defense, Irvin Aerospace, Airbus and Bennett Environmental.
The Minister of National Defence manages a portfolio of extraordinary investments and we note that the Conservatives do not have any problems finding money for defence. During the months of May and June, they purchased military equipment worth $15 billion. In a month and a half, they went out and bought tanks, boats in Halifax, and vehicles and trucks at Valcartier. They also went to Toronto and the west. In all, they bought close to $15 billion worth of military equipment. When the time comes, though, to find money for support and protection programs for women, the disadvantaged, the homeless or for SCPI, they cannot come up with any money.
Mr. Speaker, you are letting me know that my time is up. I could have gone on speaking much longer. I am almost tempted to ask you for unanimous consent so that I can continue my speech until question period, but I am going to sit down.