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House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.

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A message from Her Excellency the Governor General transmitting estimates of the sums required for the service of Canada for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007, was presented by the President of the Treasury Board and read by the Speaker to the House.

Main Estimates, 2006-07Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be here today and to have transmitted to you the message of the Deputy of the Governor General.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1), I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association respecting its participation at the parliamentary seminar on Africa, Partnership Beyond 2005: The Role of Parliamentarians in Implementing the NEPAD Commitments, in London, U.K., October 19 to October 22, 2005.

Memorial Cross ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-226, An Act to provide for the issuance of the Memorial Cross as a memento of personal loss.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg for supporting and seconding the bill. I also want to thank Lieutenant Pat Jessop and Mr. Tom Waters very much for their support of the bill.

What the bill would do is that when a soldier, air force or a navy personnel, or someone within our armed forces, dies in the line of duty, we issue the Memorial Cross or the Silver Cross to the mother or to the wife of that soldier.

What happens if a woman is killed in the line of duty? Her husband and her father would not have received the Silver Cross because it is based strictly on the fact that a woman, either the wife or the mother, would receive it.

We believe that it is time to modernize this medal and also present it to husbands and fathers. We believe that they grieve equally. We believe it is time to modernize this.

I do remind the House that this is something that nobody wishes to receive. In the end a person would have had to have lost a child in the service of his or her country. I believe it would show honour, sacrifice and dignity to all members of the family if husbands and wives, fathers and mothers equally received the Silver Cross in honour of their loved one's sacrifice to our glorious country.

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

Citizenship and ImmigrationPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I again stand in the House and have the duty to submit a petition on behalf of many people in Canada who stand in solidarity with undocumented workers being deported. I will continue to file petitions on their behalf until a just and humane solution is found to this issue.

Copyright ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to present a petition on behalf of hundreds of Canadians across the country with respect to the Copyright Act. The petitioners wish to properly recognize the careful balance between the rights of creators and the rights of the public, including viewers, readers and listeners.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to ensure generally that users are recognized as interested parties and are meaningfully consulted while proposed changes are made to the Copyright Act and to ensure, in particular, that any changes at least preserve all existing users' rights.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

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

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

moved that Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, for seconding this landmark piece of legislation.

On January 23, Canadians elected a new government because they wanted change. Canadians said loudly and clearly that they wanted an open, honest and accountable government. They want their taxpayer dollars spent wisely and well.

I am proud of the efforts of my Treasury Board colleagues; my cabinet and caucus colleagues; the government House leader; my hard-working parliamentary secretary, the member for Nepean—Carleton; the many public servants across government led by Susan Cartwright; and the policy specialists and legal drafters who worked so hard to get the bill prepared for Parliament. I am also very proud of the leadership that the Prime Minister took in making big commitments and delivering to Canadians.

I am equally proud to see the bill go forward for second reading as the first item of business after the throne speech. The federal accountability act is about moving from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. It is about making everyone in government more accountable to Canadians.

It has been said before by my leader, the Prime Minister, and I will say it again. As Conservatives we believe in public service, both in the ideal and in the institution. As Conservatives we believe in entrepreneurship and free spirit and we celebrate the critical role that the private sector and the profit oriented business play in the generation of wealth in the country.

However we also understand that our success as a nation depends on the critical role that must be played by government, especially by our national government. We need an effective federal government that is capable of getting things done for ordinary working Canadians and their families.

The goal of the federal accountability act is to improve the level of trust that Canadians have in their government and in their elected officials. We know that we have a long way to go to rebuild the public trust that was so egregiously violated by a slew of scandals that culminated in the Gomery commission.

A recent poll measured the level of trust that Canadians have in different professions. I am not surprised that at the top of the list were firefighters, nurses and farmers but politicians placed dead last right behind used car salesmen. We need to make real and concrete actions to address this problem head on and I believe that relationships are based on trust, and the federal accountability act is about rebuilding that trust.

Our government, the Prime Minister and me personally, believe and recognize that a strong and effective government requires strong and effective public servants. Already our government has brought a new approach to its relationships with the public service and it all starts with respect. Let me be clear that neither the Prime Minister nor any member of this caucus have blamed public servants for the political scandals that engulfed the previous administration.

The plan we are putting in place today for the Federal Accountability Act is comprised of several important components. We want to reform the financing of political parties, strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner, toughen the Lobbyists Registration Act and provide real protection for whistleblowers.

My colleague, the hon. parliamentary secretary, has worked hard on this. As members of Parliament from the national capital region, we are well aware of our public servants' need to be protected when they report certain situations.

We want to strengthen the access to information legislation and the power of the Auditor General. This is all very important.

These supports for whistleblowers are particularly important, and this is not to blame public servants. As we have seen far too often, members on the other side do. Because no public servant--

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Derek Lee

Get out of here. Stick to the issue.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

It happened three times. Three times when I spoke on the federal accountability act, three Liberal members got up and blamed the public service. The blame game is over when it comes to our public service. I say for members opposite that no public servants woke up one day and dreamed of and decided how they would funnel money to the Liberal Party in Quebec. Those were political actors, not bureaucratic actors. No public servant had an interest in that. Those were political scandals. They were not bureaucratic scandals.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Derek Lee

You don't know what you're talking about. Go back to Queen's Park.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

It is very clear that the Liberals still do not get it. One of the members from Kitchener, one of the members from Scarborough and the member from Markham got up in this place and were bashing public servants, and I can tell members that workers in the capital are noticing that.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

Why do they not like public servants?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

What have they got against public servants?

I am looking forward to members opposite having a chance to speak on this legislation because Canadians know where we stand on accountability and they want to know where the Liberals stand too.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope those members will get a chance to speak. It is very interesting.

In drafting this important piece of legislation, we were very mindful of two important factors. First, we did not want to establish more red tape, more bureaucracy and add to the increasingly significant web of rules. Many of the new offices created in our bill simply replaced or strengthened the independence of existing ones, while many of the new rules are more simple, straightforward and, we hope, more effective.

Second, the government does not want a bill that stifles innovation, nor do we want to create a culture in the public service that is overly risk-averse. In running an enterprise with a budget approaching one-quarter of a trillion dollars, we must always recognize that human beings are not infallible. It is true in business, it is true in the voluntary sector, and it is equally true in government.

I want to say how fortunate we are in this country to have an Auditor General like Sheila Fraser. The Auditor General is a national hero.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I should say for the record that I believe it was the member for Winnipeg Centre who started the clapping.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The Auditor General is a national--

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I wonder if members of the official opposition could keep in mind that we have a question and comment period after speeches so that they can make their remarks at that time. Perhaps we could listen to the hon. minister and not engage in this sort of form of barracking that we pledged ourselves not to do at the beginning of this Parliament.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

The Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, has uncovered some of the most egregious violations of financial mismanagement this country has ever seen. Canadians are very lucky to have her on the job, working hard for them.

We want to strengthen the new powers vested in the Auditor General to enable her to inquire into the use of funds that individuals and organizations receive from the federal government.

We will be legally required to subject contribution programs to ongoing corporate review. We will also establish an independent blue-ribbon panel to identify barriers to accessing grants and contributions programs. That is very important.

There are a lot of methods about election financing. We believe that money should not have the ear of government, and the federal accountability act will help take government out of the hands of the big corporations and the big unions and give it back to ordinary Canadians. Our act will limit donations to $1,000 a year. It will ban contributions by corporations, unions and organizations.

I believe the primary concern of our debate on this subject should be what we can do to increase the transparency of the political process so that Canadians can feel more confident in the integrity of our democratic system.

The changes I discussed about whistleblower protection are real. The men and women of the public service deliver important programs and services each and every day, services that touch the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. A key component in our legislation provides real protection for whistleblowers. Public servants who expose criminal wrongdoing and wasteful spending should have the full confidence that they will not face reprisals for standing up and doing what is right.

Allan Cutler spoke up and helped expose the Liberal sponsorship scandal and he lost his job. This type of action is wrong. This type of action will no longer be tolerated by the Government of Canada. The government will provide real protection for whistleblowers by giving an independent officer of Parliament the power to stand up and protect those who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

Bill C-11, which was passed by the previous Parliament, was inadequate, insufficient and light. Federal public servants told the parliamentary secretary and they told me that they wanted real protection, not someone within the executive branch but someone who was more independent to stand up to fight for them. Bill C-11 was going downhill fast in the previous Parliament and it was only at the last minute that the previous government caved in to some modest demands. We are giving a real voice to those who wanted stronger whistleblower protection. All public servants should congratulate and thank the parliamentary secretary, the member for Nepean—Carleton, for those efforts.

The level of trust Canadians have in their government is directly related to the degree to which they feel there is equitable access to decision makers in government. To help maintain the trust of Canadians in government, it is important to know that lobbying is done in an ethical way.

We believe that two principles are important in this regard. First, people should not get rich bouncing between government and lobbying jobs and, second, lobbyists should not be allowed to charge success fees, whereby they get paid only if they deliver the policy change or the grant their clients want. That is why our government will extend the ban on lobbying activities to five years for former ministers, their aides and senior public servants. We will also ban success fees.

Plus, we will create a new commissioner of lobbying with the power to investigate violations and enforce the rules. Our proposal is to take this out of the executive branch, out of the Treasury Board, and make this commissioner an officer of the House so that all Canadians will know that this commissioner has genuine independence from government.

We also want to deal with some changes to the access to information laws. Canadians deserve better access to government information. The Government of Canada belongs to the people and the government should not unnecessarily obstruct access to information. We are absolutely committed to making government more open while balancing legitimate concerns for personal privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security.

We will change access to information legislation to promote a culture of increased openness and accessibility. Our reforms will extend this law to include seven crown corporations, seven agents of Parliament, and three foundations with $1 billion budgets created under federal statute, organizations like the CBC, Canada Post and the Privacy Commissioner's office. We remember our friend Radwanski and the Radwanski affair in the previous government. These reforms will go further than any government has gone in Canadian history.

We also want to take additional steps to further reform the access law, in collaboration with parliamentarians, Canadians and stakeholders. I have had the privilege of meeting on a number of occasions with John Reid, the Information Commissioner. I look forward to receiving his advice and his input and seeing if he can help strengthen our bill and if he can contribute to the draft bill and discussion paper. We look forward to working with him. He is a champion for access to information and Canadians should consider themselves lucky to have him on the job. We will ask Parliament to consider even more reforms and will report back with additional measures.

There is another important issue I would like to raise before concluding. Our goal, our commitment, simply put, is to make government more accountable. As I said at the outset, government also needs to be effective and efficient, not bogged down in a web of rules that prevents individuals, organizations and even small businesses from doing business with the federal government and prevents public servants from doing their jobs effectively.

The message of the web of rules created in haste by the previous government has been heard. For example, I heard a story from the Auditor General who told me of a charity, a non-profit group, that received a $5,000 grant and now has to complete a 75 page contribution agreement. That is 75 pages for a $5,000 grant; we would probably have to spend $10,000 to administer a $5,000 grant. No charity should have to go through 75 pages of rules, regulations and red tape.

We want strong and effective measures of accountability, but this should be based on what is good value for the taxpayers and what is fair and reasonable for all involved. We hope to come back in short order to deal with that.

I also talked to a small businessman who has 13 employees and who bid on government work. The good news is that he won. He sharpened his pencil and put in a low bid with the one confidence that he at least could expect to get paid in short order by the federal government for the work his firm did.

Six months of invoice passing, contacting the government eight times looking for payment, and he still does not have his payment. Because of the web of rules put in by the previous government, this small business person simply cannot afford to do business with the Government of Canada any longer. We want to strengthen this and fix that problem for small business people and for the hard-working public service. We will be making an announcement in short order to address this challenge.

The changes I have highlighted today focus on fixing problems, on rewarding merit, on achieving value for money, and on building more honest and more effective government. To instill confidence, the government must be open and it must be more accountable. It must ensure that Canadians and parliamentarians have the right controls in place and it must provide them with the information they need to judge its performance.

Confidence is all about trust and the trust we place in our elected officials and public service employees to act in the best interests of Canadians. That trust must be earned every day and it starts with making government more accountable.

The measures I have highlighted today signal a dramatic change in how federal politics and the federal government will work in this country. When the Prime Minister made this announcement, he said that this will change how business is done in Ottawa forever. I agree. We would all like to see speedy passage of this important piece of legislation.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board. I listened carefully to his speech. I will ask him a question about the last part of it, in which he encouraged the members of the House to pass this bill without delay.

I know that the Government of Canada has been considering the idea of enacting legislation on transparency, responsibility and accountability for several years. I will come back to this a bit later. A voluminous bill comprising approximately 317 clauses has just been tabled.

I hope that the minister will give the legislative committee he plans to create all the time it needs to undertake a suitably rigorous examination of this important bill. The Bloc Québécois has no intention of using stalling tactics to delay passing this bill. My comment is in no way meant to delay the process. The Bloc also wants a bill to be passed, but we want it to be effective and efficient, and we want it to meet expectations.

Will the President of the Treasury Board give the House of Commons legislative committee sufficient time to study the bill rigorously, to hear as many witnesses as necessary to improve it and to ensure that it meets the requirements exactly?