Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take the floor on this bill which in French was initially called the “projet de loi sur l'imputabilité”. In response to a suggestion by the Bloc Québécois, the French title will be changed to “projet de loi sur la responsabilité”, as it should be in correct French. One must underscore the spirit of cooperation that the Bloc has tried to show with respect to the study of this bill, as well as the government’s response in agreeing to change the title. This is of course a minor element relative to the whole situation, but all the same it was important for this to be done.
Let us remember why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. First, ethics was central to the last election campaign, the result of which was the ouster from power of a corrupt government. Quebeckers especially were victims of that government.
The Gomery commission inquiry and its various results have shown that not only was there an attempt to misappropriate public money for personal purposes, but even an attempt—unfortunately, successful—to use that money to influence the choice made by Quebeckers about their future. We saw this during the referendum campaign, and then by the system set up by the Quebec section of the Liberal Party of Canada. The people’s judgment was very clear and very blunt, and it was absolutely necessary to find ways to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
In that sense, as regards the principle of the bill, it seems to us appropriate that this bill should be tabled to try to correct the situation. Appropriate action must be taken to arrive at satisfactory ethical rules which can restore to elected officials the image that they deserve. They have been chosen by the people to represent their fellow citizens, to do their work honestly, and in democratic debate, to decide on the best choices to be made for our society. That is the rule that was broken by the Liberal government, particularly in Quebec. The present bill will correct this situation.
The Bloc Québécois has participated intensively in the Gomery commission. It has made recommendations which now have to be implemented. The Bloc is the only party that has prepared a report containing dozens of recommendations which it wanted to see implemented. Some of these are in the bill. So we will ensure that these recommendations are followed up and make it to the final stage.
Also, this is a very lengthy bill. It is large and ambitious. It aims to correct various elements of a system that was highly defective. The government will have to agree not to go full steam ahead with the passage of this bill, for time will be needed to give it very serious study. Good intentions notwithstanding, it does contain various shortcomings which deserve to be rectified, shortcomings related not to its principle, but rather to the way of doing things. Certain elements will have to be changed to ensure we obtain the result we want, and not the opposite.
The Bloc Québécois is particularly pleased with the points taken from the proposals that it made in the House, in many cases repeatedly. The first has to do with Elections Canada appointing returning officers on the basis of merit. The current practice in Canada is archaic. It is a remnant of the days when partisanship was maybe a normal part of the process. But the partisan appointment of returning officers is no longer acceptable nowadays.
We have seen incongruous situations arise in which appointed people who did not have the skills for the job could simply tell the chief electoral officer of Canada to get lost because he was not the person who had appointed them but rather the governor in council. So they could just tell the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada that it was none of his business if they did things the way that they thought they should be done and that he did not have the power to dismiss them because it was the cabinet that had appointed them—a cabinet that took a partisan approach.
This will be set right by the bill before us now. I have been a member of this House for about a dozen years and have seen the Bloc Québécois take up this matter over and over. The first few times, the Liberals—who were in power then with a majority government—had a really arrogant attitude and simply brushed this project aside. They said that they controlled the appointments, and things would stay just the way they were. This situation will be corrected by the bill before us now.
The Bloc Québécois has made a positive contribution that will ultimately improve the democratic process in Quebec and Canada. We should all be happy about that. When the process is implemented in its entirety, people will be appointed. They will be competent people, and that will help them carry out their duties better. This is one of the positive aspects of this bill and one of the reasons why we support it in principle.
Another important point is the independence of the registrar of lobbyists. The Bloc has already made representations in this regard. The bill contains some satisfactory points that improve the situation.
As regards the act respecting the financing of political parties, as Quebeckers, we react by saying, “Finally”. In 1976, 30 years ago, the Parti Québécois was in power for the first time. René Lévesque, a man of integrity, put in place a system which is today one of the rules of the game in Canada. Furthermore, this was one of his primary concerns. At the end of his two terms, this was the act he was proudest of. It must not be forgotten that, in the past 30 years, we have seen a whole range of behaviour in Parliament and among political parties in Canada. People have accepted cheques for inordinate amounts. These cheques from various companies and banks skewed the democratic process. Obviously those who donated $50,000 or $100,000 could expect the government to pay greater attention to them than to individuals without such financial means.
Today, this bill is coming full circle and ensures that corporations will not play a part in financing. This is therefore a huge step and it is what the Bloc Québécois proposed ages ago. I recall that the member representing the region of Sorel-Tracy in this House proposed a bill to this effect in the months following the creation of the Bloc Québécois. Today, we will see the result in the form of a bill, and this is a good thing.
The Bloc, however, regrets that reform of the Access to Information Act has been postponed till later. The government could have gone ahead much more quickly. At present, all it is doing is introducing a bill prepared by the Information Commissioner. This is only a draft bill and it will take some time for the process to be completed. This is somewhat contrary to the position of the government, which claimed to have priorities and to carry through with them. There is already a flaw in the system. The people deserved better than this.
The Bloc will examine the bill closely, as is our practice. We have identified certain shortcomings that will have to be corrected during clause by clause study of the bill and in the light of testimony before the committee.
For example, the bill promotes a culture of unhealthy informing by proposing to give whistleblowers financial awards. In good faith, the government has allowed honest whistleblowers to be compensated. However, the pendulum has swung to create a climate of unhealthy whistleblowing. This must be rectified so that compensation does not become the goal and lead to false accusations and pointless investigations. In my opinion, the focus should be on developing among public servants a spirit of doing their job well. When they see unacceptable behaviour, they can report it but without compensation. The bill will have to be corrected, because it is headed in the wrong direction. I hope that people will testify in committee and make suggestions or propose other solutions to improve the bill and have it corrected. Attention must be paid to the witnesses, on this and many other points. In the end, the bill that is passed will have to correspond to the initial objective. It cannot be adopted in haste or under pressure. Let us take the time to listen to those who have an opinion on the matter.
Another element deserves careful study. The bill proposes a public appointments commission within the portfolio of the Prime Minister. It will oversee the appointment selection process.
We have seen that before. Under the previous government, the Ethics Commissioner reported to the Prime Minister. This made him both judge and judged. The Prime Minister would ask him to investigate him or his ministers; ultimately, it was not a very objective process.
We have managed to get that changed, but now the Conservative government is coming up with a similar process for appointments. The whole process should be at much greater arm's length from the government. Also, the public appointments commission should be able to answer to the House of Commons without putting itself in a conflict of interest situation, so as to satisfy the appearance of justice and transparency necessary for the legislation to produce the desired effect.
The bill proposes that the new parliamentary budget officer report to the Library of Parliament and provides for exceptions, denying the officer access to certain information. The Bloc's 2005-06 election platform, however, proposed the establishment of an independent organization tied to the Standing Committee on Finance, whose mandate would be to make realistic financial forecasts which would be periodically reviewed.
The difference is that the organization proposed in the legislation will have its hands tied. When it will want to gather information to document an issue and shed sufficient light on a given situation, it will not be able to, because it will not have enough independence, given that is will be reporting to the Library of Parliament.
This will have to be looked at in greater detail, and the government really should examine the proposed amendments of the Bloc, as well as those of other parties, as the case may be, and the results of committee consultations on the matter.
This bill proposes that the Access to Information Act apply to three of the nine foundations, leaving six that will not be covered. Consideration will have to be given to extending the list, so that as few as possible of the foundations are excluded. This would prevent problems from arising in a year or so with foundations that might have been forgotten and would be protected.
With appropriate consideration and amendments, this piece of legislation should withstand the test of time. It is imperative that it be given sound basis right away and to ensure that is will address as much as possible all that we want it to.
This bill also poses the threat of blocking democratic debate. Let me explain. The citizen complaint process that has been developed is a problem. Citizens will be able to go to their member of Parliament to describe the situation they wish to report and ask that its relevancy be assessed. In turn, the MP will go to the appropriate commissioner and try to secure a commitment that the matter will actually be looked into. However, under this bill, from the moment that a member has taken this step, he or she would no longer be allowed to discuss the matter. If I understand the enactment correctly, this would limit democratic debate, prevent the member from raising the issue in the House during oral question period and in statements, even statements made outside the House. That needs to be corrected, so that the citizens' right to complain can be exercised without gagging members, whose democratic mandate is to convey the will of their constituents. I think that imposing such a restriction on the members' ability to speak would not serve government accountability well.
It is obvious that many amendments will have to be made to this bill. For example, the proposed changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act do not address e-mail correspondence. In this 21st century, we receive a great many e-mails containing a wealth of relevant information, and this type of communication ought to be addressed. Legislation is not designed for last year's reality, but today's and that of years to come. It is therefore important to make changes in that regard.
In addition, lobbyists continue to benefit from a number of loopholes. E-mail correspondence is not addressed. There is also the issue of political party financing. A cap has yet to be set with respect to leadership races. There is such a race underway within the Liberal Party of Canada. The framework of leadership races has to be tightened.
We have seen excessive spending in the past. Such excessive spending was carried out both by the party that was in power at the time and by the one currently in power.
In both instances, this restriction, and the fact that we could not—