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.


Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my dear colleague from Quebec for his comments and questions.

Of course, the hon. members on this side of the House wants to work with all House members, to ensure that this bill puts effective measures in place.

I would like to see this bill go to the committee in order to get the opinion of experts and members from each party, including the official opposition, the Bloc and the NDP.

It is very important to take the necessary time. The Canadian public was consulted during the 57 days of the election campaign. Our fundamental policy during the election campaign was obviously accountability and what can be done to clean up the federal government.

Other things were also important. Take, for example, Mr. Gomery's hard work, the work accomplished by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, and the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

My colleague from Nepean—Carleton said that members of the 38th Parliament worked for two years on bill C-11, An Act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings. Considerable work has already been accomplished, but it is important to take the time to work on this bill in committee.

Furthermore, I read that my New Democrat colleague from Winnipeg made a very good point in a newspaper, namely, that establishing these measures before our return to our ridings for the summer break would be appreciated by the Canadian public.

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10:30 a.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on the bill, which is such a weighty matter before the House in both substance and ideas. I have two central questions for the hon. member with respect to how his government intends to enact the bill.

First, in calling it the accountability act, one would imagine that accountability to voters would be of pre-eminence in the government's mind, that the sacred trust we hold in the act of voting in an election has some merit and meaning for the new government. Yet when I cast through the 317 clauses, I cannot find one that addresses the notion of floor-crossing, the notion of accountability to the constituents and voters, who cast their ballots, in that most sacred act. Could the minister comment on its noticeable absence? It seems to me that if one wants to be accountable and wants to present an accountability act to the Canadian people, who we all intend to serve in this place, why is that absent?

The second issue is around fiscal accounting. There is the creation of a number of officers, offices and positions within government. How much will this cost? How much has the government accounted for and put aside for the implementation of the act and what are the Canadian taxpayers expected to pay for its implementation?

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10:30 a.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to those individuals who change their political stripe, this was not part of the campaign document. It was not part of the federal accountability act that the now Prime Minister presented on November 4. There has been some debate in this place and in the country on the issue. I did see the then leader of the opposition appear on a CBC national town hall meeting saying that he did not support such a measure, so he certainly did not change his position.

I do not personally support such a measure. I think members of Parliament, hopefully on rare occasions, may come to a conclusion they could best serve their constituents. At the end of the day, they are accountable on election day, as we all are, for all choices that they make.

I know it was part of Mr. Broadbent's plan, and I have a great deal of respect for that individual. He is a man of great character. I did though remember, when he was leader of the NDP, that a fellow by the name of Robert Toupin crossed the floor to the New Democratic Party. He did not mind it back then when it happened to him. I just point that out for the benefit of the House.

With respect to how much the fiscal accounting will cost, the price of accountability is priceless. These measures hopefully will save money, not cost money.

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10:30 a.m.


Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the President of the Treasury Board. There were a couple of points I was a little confused about and perhaps he could clarify them.

I understand the Conservatives want to ensure that civil servants and parliamentarians, who later earn a living or a fortune as lobbyists, do not abuse their positions, but there are reasonable limits that can be put on that. We could argue whether five years for a sitting member of Parliament is right or not. However, why are there not the same kinds of limits for people who have previously worked in the offices of opposition members and who are now members of cabinet? What about members of Parliament who were on the opposition benches before, like Deborah Grey, and who are now lobbyists? What about John Reynolds who now uses the title of privy councillor, some culture of entitlement thing?

When we speak about ethics, I remember the opposition said that they were completely against trust funds. I read now that $3.5 million would have been transferred to trust funds, to be announced later by the governing party. Perhaps the President of the Treasury Board could explain that to us.

The President of the Treasury Board also mentioned the Gomery commission. When I sat on the public accounts committee, I heard Mr. Guité and other people talk about advertising contracts and the methods by which they were done in the Mulroney days. We, as a governing party, chose to look at those days when we were in power. Perhaps the governing party now will look at those days to see how advertising was managed under Mulroney.

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10:35 a.m.


John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, when there was a concern about Mr. Mulroney, the previous government undertook some investigations and ended up having to write a $1 million cheque to Mr. Mulroney and issue an apology because there was nothing there.

What happened is quite interesting. The Liberals had to write a cheque for $1 million that had been stolen from the Canadian people and funnelled to Liberal campaign and political operations.

The member asked about a certain individual. I know the member's government had to write a cheque to Mulroney for $1 million because there was nothing there, while we know there was something running afoul in the previous government.

The member opposite asked a question about lobbying. It was interesting to hear the member for Saint John make an interjection. He himself was a lobbyist. We are putting a five-year ban on those who worked in government. If the member opposite wants to extend that to opposition staffs, if he thinks it is so important, I would encourage him to make an amendment to the bill and include his own staff.

Let us make it retroactive for the Liberals who worked in the previous government, if the member opposite is saying the bill does not go far enough and we should regulate people who serve in opposition. We are not even proposing to regulate members of Parliament, only those who serve in the executive branch. If the member wants to take this to the legislative branch because he feels it is not going far enough, by all means he should bring forward amendments. However, if I were a betting man, I would suggest it will not happen.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise today to speak to the accountability bill before the House.

First, on behalf of the official opposition, we support the bill. In saying that, I would like to reflect on a number of points.

One is that many aspects of the bill are simply incremental to and build on the many accountability mechanisms that were put in place over the last 10 years by the former Liberal government. While we all believe that these important areas of public policy and trust constantly evolve to deal with new contexts and challenges, we see much of this act in that realm and we will work hard in the House and in committee to support the legislation. Where there are gaps, we will suggest amendments to fill them. Where there are technical deficiencies or ways that we can suggest it can be done better, we will propose those amendments. I hope all members of the House will come together in an appreciation of the public's insistence on high levels of trust and accountability in government, both in the public service and in the political realm.

With respect to that, I would like to quote from Mr. Justice Gomery in his fact finding report of November 2005. As we all take forward this important task of ensuring that issues of public governance are done in an accountable and forthright way, we should remember one his key conclusions:

Canadians should not forget that the vast majority of our public officials and politicians do their work honestly, diligently and effectively, and emerge from this inquiry free of any blame.

This was following perhaps the most comprehensive and lengthy inquiry in Canadian history. It certainly was comprehensive in terms of the amount of material covered, the number of witnesses called and the access to otherwise and previously inaccessible documentation such as cabinet minutes. We have the overwhelming vote of confidence by Justice Gomery in our public system, politicians and public service.

As we go ahead, I think we should keep that very closely in mind, particularly when we think about comments made in the House about the accountability act, such as those of the President of the Treasury Board, on April 11, when he said it was “the toughest piece of anti-corruption legislation ever tabled in Canadian history”. I am sure that is so, but what it suggests is the rising of the temperature in the House to have Canadians somehow believe that government in Canada, governance in Canada, is corrupt and that it is an Al Capone-type klepto state and we have to rush in and save the day, like those brave firefighters who are in town today talking to many of us. It is simply hyperbole

We definitely have to deal seriously with all these issues, as we have been, and constantly improve them, and we will work hard to ensure that is done. However, we should not go over the top. It is a disservice to our public service and it is a disservice to our democratic process to suggest that large numbers of politicians or public servants are corrupt. Justice Gomery did not find that.

Canadians, and all of us in the House, have a treasured governance in our country. Canada is highly democratic, it is efficient and it is respected around the world for its principles and its practices. While we can all make them better, we must remember the base that we are building on is a very high one.

This is a very large bill. It is omnibus legislation. It has been described by the President of the Treasury Board as highly comprehensive, and it is in terms of the broad scope that it covers. It could be probably in three or ten bills, but it is in one. As we go through our careful work in the House and in committee to consider improvements, gaps, amendments that might be necessary, we should remember that one of the features of omnibus legislation is that when we are trying to look at too much at once, things can slip through that may be unintended or may be unbalanced in the way they present themselves to a certain problem.

Particular care is needed in committee with expert assistance and with civil debate to make sure this legislation is the best it can be and that things are not overlooked.

The bill is a continuation in an incremental way of many of the things that were established by the last government. Mr. Justice Gomery's inquiry was one of the most important things done in modern history in terms of an inquiry into the activities of government.

I quote again from his November 2005 report as follows:

Let me also suggest that a system of government that would impose upon itself a searching inquiry by an independent commissioner, armed with the authority to compel the production of incriminating documentation from the public administration and able to subpoena witnesses from every level of society, with a far-reaching mandate to investigate and report on matters that could prove to be embarrassing to the Government itself, is proof that our democratic institutions are functioning well and objectively. There are very few countries in the world where an inquiry commissioner has the power to summon the sitting Prime Minister and his predecessor, to be examined under oath concerning their administration of public affairs and their involvement in what is publicly referred to as a scandalous affair. The fact that the Inquiry has been held demonstrates that in this country persons at even the highest levels of government are accountable for their actions, not only to Parliament but also to the citizenry.

That is an important thing for all of us to keep in mind. That is from the Gomery inquiry, one of the most searching in history, and it was implemented by the previous Liberal government.

Two years ago the previous Liberal government introduced the most sweeping, breathtaking in its scope, political finance reform legislation in the history of Canada, and I would suggest even in the experience of democratic parliamentary systems around the world. The legislation passed through the House. It reduced the ability of corporations, unions and other associations to donate to political action only $1,000 a year. It was absolutely breathtaking legislation. To go further as this bill would do and ban them altogether would be another significant incremental step, but going from an unlimited amount to $1,000 per corporation or per union was where the huge step was taken. We will debate and discuss the value of going the extra step of $1,000 and people will have different views on that. It is certainly not on the same scale as the breathtaking changes that were made in the Liberal political financing legislation.

I noticed in this large bill that while political finance has been addressed with respect to unions, corporations and other associations, it does not address third party advertising. We recall that the current Prime Minister was the head of a small but quite vocal organization called the National Citizens Coalition. Of course that was very litigious in its way to ensure that those types of groups which bear an eerie and dangerous similarity to the political action committees, the PACs, in the United States, and we know the election financing chicanery that goes on there. That absence bears a troubling resemblance to what goes on in the United States. I hope that during our discussions in the House and in committee we might address that absence.

The bill deals with lobbyists. It is a further step over the last 10 years of constant evolution of the Lobbyists Registration Act, the role of the Registrar of Lobbyists, the appearance before committees to discuss issues around lobbying. In many ways the suggestions regarding lobbyists in this bill are very helpful. They are certainly in step with everything the government has been working toward.

As was mentioned by my colleague previously, there is again an imbalance. Lobbyists have to be considered carefully. I take the President of the Treasury Board at his word when he says he wants to stop people from using positions of influence in the governance system--and we are not just talking about members of government, but in the governance system--to make money as lobbyists to get, I suppose, improper influence. We have to look at the balance of what is being suggested and see whether there may need to be some additions.

There are two glaring omissions in the lobbyist provisions of the bill. For example, one is that a former lobbyist of, say, the defence industry comes into government to a position of great influence over the major area of procurement that the government has, and is now the Minister of National Defence. We have to think that through carefully to see if there is something missing there. It is hard to imagine that person not having more potential at least for the appearance of improper influence than a previous minister of national defence now out of office, out of government and out of influence, I would suggest. We have to be careful.

The second gap is with respect to people in the former official opposition, now the government, who were senior people with influence. The chief of policy to the leader of the official opposition, now the Prime Minister, is a registered lobbyist and represents companies in the telecommunications industry, the transportation industry and the financial industry, all of which are very concerned and are pressing for legislative changes. We have to be careful that we meet the objective that is so eloquently espoused by members in government but perhaps not quite evident yet in the bill.

We are very pleased to see that whistleblowing legislation has been continued. Our previous government introduced this legislation. It was in committee. It was constantly being amended and improved. I think that is a very good thing, but we have to be careful as we create new and more officers of Parliament that we not simply take everything out of the public bureaucracy and put it into an independent commissioner. We cannot have a third force operating here. As we look at the whistleblowing legislation carefully with members of government we will have to make sure that we are not taking roles away from the public administration which must in the first instance work well, such as internal channels of communication and complaint.

The public administration has to be able to work using a broad range of information, all of which will not be evident to every single public servant who may well see wrongdoing where it does not exist because he or she is not aware of all of the facts. We have to have effective internal channels so as to build the protection for people who in good faith--and I appreciate that good faith is mentioned in the bill about 10 times and it is critical to whistleblowing legislation--go outside the system, outside the internal controls and do so in good faith. They should also do it with full information and we need internal channels to make sure that is done.

The reach of both the Financial Administration Act and the Auditor General's jurisdiction has been extended in this bill and I think that is a very good thing. It is something this party started after the Auditor General's report before the Gomery reports. I think that has been done to some extraordinary length, but we are seeing in this bill further expansion. We must be careful to ensure that the freedom of information or access to information requirements are properly circumscribed. so that journalistic freedom in the CBC for instance is not affected by the CBC being brought within this perimeter or trade secrets and other issues of confidentiality perhaps because they are under investigation not being brought directly into the public sphere.

We should understand that the previous Liberal government brought in wide-ranging automatic release of information around all contracts over $10,000 which must be posted online. All ministerial expenses must be posted online. This is a continuation of something that we started and which we think is important.

It is being suggested that the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate ethics officer be merged in the bill. There may well be issues of great efficiency, administrative flexibility and cost savings in that, but we have to hear from our colleagues in the other place. They had some very significant debate. I recall a debate where a particular concern was expressed by many Conservative members of the other place. We have to look to our colleagues there for advice on how that might offend their sense of the independence of the other place from the executive branch of government. We will have to look very carefully at that. We must not show disrespect in this House for the other place.

The code of conduct is being legislated. This is the code of conduct that was introduced by the Liberal government and then further enhanced by the Liberal government. It is now being put into legislation through Bill C-2. That is probably a good thing.

It was made even clearer that it was a good thing after the recent defection of a Liberal member of Parliament, the member for Vancouver Kingsway who moved into the cabinet of the Conservative government. While we have had debate previously in the House about floor crossing, it has not been in the context of such an immediate and dramatic change.

We need to have a careful look as we legislate the code of conduct and listen carefully to the independent Ethics Commissioner's review and commentary on that situation where he felt that the spirit, if not the letter, of the code of conduct was broken. He invited Parliament to consider how we might deal with that sort of situation in the future. Therefore, we should be seized of that in the House and in committee.

I want to talk a bit about the director of public prosecutions. There was some confusion in the then opposition ranks between the leader, now the Prime Minister, and the deputy leader, now the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the election campaign over what this office was to do, what role it could play in such things as the sponsorship issue. There seemed to be some confusion between them and now we see it in the bill. It sounds to be something a little different than what was suggested by the Prime Minister when he was electioneering.

Let us look at this carefully for a moment. We know the federal government has only a limited prosecutorial role in terms of the administration of criminal justice and the taking forward of prosecutions in this country. We will have to look very carefully at whether we need a whole further layer of bureaucracy called the department of the director of public prosecutions.

The bill is quite accurate and effective in the rules put around prosecution in the federal government and by the prosecution service as part of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General, or the Minister of Justice as Attorney General. It is quite useful to put in there two important things. In fact, they come almost word for word from the Crown Counsel Act in British Columbia with which I and some other members of this side are quite familiar.

It gets to the real nub of the issue, and that is to ensure that there is not even the appearance of political interference between the Attorney General who has a dual political role of being Minister of Justice into the prosecution decisions. The Attorney General is of course the chief law officer of the country and must have overall responsibility for prosecutions. To ensure that there is not even the appearance of improper influence it exists in the bill, and I think the wording is good. It comes from the B.C. act that the Attorney General can intervene on prosecution policy generally and on any individual prosecution, even to take it over but he must do it in writing, giving such instructions, and those must be gazetted, perhaps delayed until the end of a trial. I think that is a good provision.

Where I think we go too far, and which we must discuss, is whether that is unnecessary further bureaucracy. I have heard no concern expressed about the prosecution service within the Department of Justice, or frankly, the actions of the RCMP and working with them.

However, it is important to understand as well that in the sponsorship affair, and prosecutions continue, the federal prosecution service is not involved. It is the prosecution service of Quebec and it is the Sûreté, not the RCMP, which is doing the investigations and support.

In conclusion, the official opposition is very pleased to work hard with the government and with other opposition parties to make this act the best it can be. Let us get it to committee to hear experts. Let us fix it if there are things that can be done better. Let us add things if there are some gaps. Let us not add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and review to a public service that is already, in the Auditor General's words, very well regulated with a lot of rules. In the sponsorship case of course some rules were broken by some people, but as Justice Gomery said, very few.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make one very brief comment in response to his concerns about layers of bureaucracy and then I would pose a question to him.

First of all, he should know that this accountability act, which is the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history, will not create new layers of bureaucracy. Rather, it would use existing machinery and activate that machinery. For example, with respect to the director of public prosecutions, we are not going to create an entire new bureaucracy. We are going to carve out the existing infrastructure which is found within the Attorney General's Office. We are going to make it more independent.

We believe that throughout the sponsorship scandal there were not enough prosecutions under federal statutes of those parties who were involved in the scandal. The hon. member should know that we are not talking about creating new bureaucracy but rather creating a more independent machinery and activating a machinery that already exists.

Second, this law would create the most independent protection for whistleblowers that I know of. It would give an independent tribunal the ability to restore the whistleblower and discipline someone who has punished that whistleblower through the use of a tribunal of judges who would be comprised when needed. I wonder if he supports that independent role of order power for the commissioner's office in his tribunal in the narrow cases when whistleblowers need protection.

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11 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do and essential in any effective whistleblower legislation would be three things: first, an internal mechanism for complaint, concern and discussion, so that things can be handled if there are misunderstandings and they can be fixed quickly. Second, good faith is required and I think we all agree on that. We do not want people being mischievous intentionally or unintentionally, but it has to be in good faith. Third, we must have a commissioner, a tribunal, however it may be composed and we will be talking about what could be most efficient, that is independent of the administration that it is investigating. That is a base rule for independent officers of Parliament.

I would suggest that we will have to discuss very carefully, and I know the member who asked the question has some special expertise and interest in this, the question of offering rewards for whistleblowers. It strikes me as being somewhat antithetical to the idea of raising the ethical standards by paying people to snitch. Rewards are there sufficiently, so I look forward to discussing this and perhaps hearing some expert opinion on where that has been used elsewhere and whether it has been effective or not.

However, in terms of the first issue of further layers of bureaucracy, there are so many new offices. For example, a procurement office, when in fact the Auditor General said that there have been great increases in the improvement of that. She also said with respect to public polling and advertising in her October 2003 report: “For the most part, we found that the federal government was managing public opinion research in a transparent manner and with adequate controls”. So whether we need another office, that is fine, we will want to look at it carefully. There are about five or six new offices, new layers, which may be absolutely essential, but we would want to carefully discuss with the government their utility.

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11 a.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my learned colleague for his speech. My party has designated me its Indian and northern affairs critic. Since the President of the Treasury Board is present in the House I will also take this opportunity to put my question to the hon. member who has just spoken.

How will this bill apply to the first nations? It is an important matter for debate. We have been told this bill would apply to first nations and that all funds paid to first nations must be accounted for. Will that be the responsibility of the department that will verify if the funds are properly allocated and spent, in accordance with established criteria? Or, in the opinion of the hon. member, will the Auditor General be able to do internal audits among the first nations as she does in other locations?

If my colleague has examined or studied the bill in depth, I would ask him to answer that.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and if it was not out of an overabundance of respect for the member and the time that was passing, I would have addressed this in my opening remarks. I think it is an extremely important question.

The bill would extend the reach, as I mentioned, of the Auditor General into further crown corporations and trusts, as well as its application to first nations as a group that receives money in any way, contributions, grants or contracts from the federal government.

The member raises an extremely important point in that first nations are another order of government. They are constitutionalized. There are many first nations governance agreements across this country already, modern treaties. There are not enough and we hope there will be many more. First nations have a special status constitutionalized in our country that is being respected and relationships are being negotiated.

It will be extremely important, as we in committee and in the House of Commons look at this legislation, that we ensure we consult with and hear the views of first nations leaders to ensure that any intrusion into their governance rights is within their agreement and understanding, and is as minimal as possible, subject to the need to ensure that public funds are expended properly.

However, I observe that provincial governments are not included in the ambit of this bill. If I were a member of a first nation, I might properly ask the question: Why should we be brought within it when provincial governments are not? That might raise my level of concern.

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11:05 a.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member brings great credibility and integrity to the House. It seems to me that in the somewhat self-congratulatory tone that was taken in terms of the previous government's actions on accountability, we are having this debate because of the reprehensible actions of the previous government. We had scenes in Quebec that led Canadians to disparage the will and direction of the nation that were done on behalf of his party and it needs to be recognized in this debate.

I have a specific point with respect to this bill. It concerns the lobbyist aspect in which lobbyists are meant to note and keep track of meetings and phone calls, but omits one of the most common forms of communication in this place and others, which is e-mail through BlackBerries and other means. I wonder if the intention of the government is true to actually have some exposure and transparency in the way that lobbyists communicate with members in this place. Could he comment as to why something like e-mail has been left out of the mix?

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11:05 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will resist the temptation to answer on behalf of the President of the Treasury Board. That is a question that will be properly put in committee, first of all, to see which type of communication should be kept as a public record and what technology or what form of communication should be covered by the bill. It is certainly an important question in terms of achieving the effect of the bill when it is finally amended to address this issue in the most effective way.

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11:05 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, to speak on Bill C-2, the first legislation introduced in this 39th Parliament.

Before becoming a member of Parliament, I was a teacher—perhaps this is why I explain bills like a teacher. I would like to back up a little and see how Bill C-2 came to be, where it comes from and whether the Conservatives contemplated and produced it during the fifty or so days of the election campaign or whether the bill comes from a deeper source in our recent political history.

Ten years ago, in December 1996, in the report entitled “A Strong Foundation”—also known as the Tait report—the Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics recommended that:

—the Government and Parliament of Canada should adopt a statement of principles for public service, or a public service code...There must be means, consistent with public service values, for public servants to express concern about actions that are potentially illegal, unethical or inconsistent with public service values, and to have those concerns acted upon in a fair and impartial manner.

This report, submitted 10 years ago, led to a Treasury Board policy on the internal disclosure of information concerning wrongdoing in the workplace. Commonly called the policy on the internal disclosure of information, it was created five years ago on November 30, 2001. Things change very slowly.

Two years later in 2003, the government, acting through Treasury Board, developed the values and ethics code for the public service. It came into effect and is now part of the public service terms and conditions of employment. On September 15, 2003, in his first annual report for 2002-2003, the public service integrity officer recommended legislation applying to the entire federal public service, including Crown corporations, on the disclosure of wrongdoing.

Still in 2003, in its thirteen report called Study of the Disclosure of Wrongdoing (Whistleblowing), the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates recommended that the federal government pass legislation to facilitate disclosure.

In 2004, we were presented with Bill C-25, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. It died on the order paper when the House was dissolved in 2004. On October 8 of the same year, Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, was introduced. It was introduced in October 2004 and consideration in committee was finished by June 2005. The bill was considered in committee for nine months. This explains my request to the Treasury Board president that he take the time to study the bill.

There was a code of conduct under the previous government. There were rules, there was a bill, there was enough legislation to guarantee transparency, accountability and responsibility.

Before the Bloc Québécois lends its support to this bill, it is important to emphasize that in November 2003, the Auditor General said during her press conference and during her appearance before Mr. Justice Gomery, that the previous government had broken all the rules. It simply disregarded them. The new Conservative government must really understand this message: there is no point establishing cleaner, whiter, more visible guidelines when first and foremost it is a matter of observing the existing guidelines.

It is not just a matter of making new rules. That is the important message we got from the Auditor General.

In my opinion, this bill does not say enough about that. The existing rules have already been broken by the previous government.

The most important question for the public is: how can we ensure that the government will obey these new rules? The formula has been reviewed and improved. Many existing parameters were reviewed and improved. Nonetheless, what guarantee is there for our opposition party and the public that this government will obey these rules?

In her November 2003 report, and when she appeared before Justice Gomery, the Auditor General did not indicate that new rules were needed. She told us that the existing rules needed to be obeyed, as do any new rules. Before indicating that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle and the philosophy behind the bill, it is more important for us to indicate that the Bloc Québécois wants to go further to ensure that these rules, contrary to the existing ones, will be obeyed by the current government.

There is another equally important aspect. I endorse the comments, questions and concerns of my colleague from Papineau on the poor translation of the title of the accountability bill.

Allow me to read a few newspaper articles to say that the first amendment the Bloc will move in committee will be on the translation of the title of the accountability bill.

In an article by Michel Vastel it says:

No French or Quebec dictionary gives the word “imputabilité”, which is nothing more than a bad translation of the English word “accountability”. The Office de la langue française rejects this translation as well.

When we talk about politicians or public servants we say they must “account for their actions”, that they must “be accountable for their actions”, that they have a responsibility and that is “the obligation to be accountable for their actions given their role and responsibilities and to accept the consequences of their actions”.

This French definition was taken from the Trésor de la langue française. I will continue to read from the newspaper article:

That is what the Prime Minister is talking about when he says he wants to restore public confidence in the institutions.

He wants the politicians, public servants and agencies of the federal government to be accountable for their actions to the public. He wants to pass legislation on accountability (of officers, agencies and so forth of the federal government). He wants the latter to have to account for their actions to the public. He wants to establish accountability as a common practice of good government. He wants the politicians, public servants and so forth to be accountable for their actions to the public. We hope that federal writers and translators will replace the French term “ìmputabilité”, which is incorrect, with a correct French term in the bill introduced in the House of Commons.

I have here another, slightly more unsettling article, by Laurent Soumis if I am not mistaken, entitled:

[The name of the Prime Minister] deliberately chooses the wrong translation, “imputabilité”.

I quote:

[The first and last name of the Prime Minister] is bound and determined to speak franglais. Le Journal learned yesterday that the Prime Minister's Office deliberately disregarded the federal Translation Bureau's recommendation, and used the term “imputabilité”, which is an incorrect translation of the original English “accountability” in the title of the legislation.

Since 1934, the Bureau has been providing translation and revision services for federal departments and agencies, the House of Commons and the Senate and helping the government select just the right word.

The verdict is final. Use of the term “imputabilité” is to be avoided, the government site confirms.

Two ministers—the Minister of International Cooperation and Minister for La Francophonie and Official Languages, and the Minister Responsible for the Translation Bureau— are also quoted and should support this amendment. I believe that my Conservative colleagues should also support it.

Still, there are mainly two ministers involved, one of whom does not sit with us but in the other place, but he still has responsibilities. And so all of these people should immediately rally to this amendment, so that the French language is used coherently and accurately.

That being said, we will therefore be moving an amendment to change the title of the bill. I am certain that language professionals and people who like things to be called by their proper names will be pleased. I also venture to hope that the President of the Treasury Board will very quickly agree, so that newspaper articles, people who make speeches in the House and our very professional interpreters will be able to translate accountability as responsabilité.

I repeat, the Bloc supports the principle of the bill, but we want some time, not for delaying tactics, but to study this important legislation seriously and carefully.

I recall that it took over nine months and a number of committee meetings. The Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board was on the committee then; he knows that it did constructive work and that this took time.

The Bloc wants to hear the witnesses affected by this bill; we should at least hear the Auditor General in the committee. We should also hear the Chief Electoral Officer, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner—such is the new title—and other witnesses who may benefit from the bill. I am thinking of the public service unions, for example.

As I said, the Bloc wants time, not to stall, but to study this bill seriously and carefully.

Moving on, we can also say that we are pleased to see a number of proposals that the Bloc has been making for many years included in this bill. I will mention a few, but I will leave it to my colleagues who are going to speak after me to address some of them in greater depth.

I would cite the example of the appointment of returning officers by Elections Canada based on merit. This is something that the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for. My friend and colleague, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, even introduced a bill to that effect. The Liberals were in power and appointed the returning officers. We said then, as a joke, that there would surely be some Liberals left who had the skills to do the job of returning officer when merit appointments were brought in. There is no need to worry that they will disappear altogether. I am convinced that 10% to 12% of them will be appointed, as competent people. It is only the others that we want to remove so that we can have competent returning officers.

The independence of the registry of lobbyists is something the Bloc Québécois has long called for. We are pleased to see that request incorporated in the bill, imperfect as it is. The Political Parties Financing Act will be closer to Quebec’s act, with the prohibition on donations by businesses. The powers of the Auditor General will also be strengthened.

You will permit me a little self-congratulation here. In a bill in the previous Parliament, the Auditor General was given what she wanted. For four years she had been asking for the right to audit foundations, something she was systematically denied by the government in place. With Bill C-277, a private members’ bill which was included in the last Liberal budget, we allowed the Auditor General a greater role and enhanced powers. We cannot but support a further strengthening of the powers of the Auditor General.

However, there are a few deficiencies in the bill which we want to consider in committee. In our view, the bill encourages a culture of unhealthy informing by proposing rewards for whistleblowers.

When I was a child, I would read Lucky Luke, and written on the pictures I would see, “bounty hunters”. Do we want a culture in the federal government where workers, as well as being public servants, would have the job of bounty hunter? Where they look around to see if anyone is doing something wrong in the hope of supplementing their income? Crazy, you say? Well, there is worse still. At the moment a reward of $1,000 is being proposed. During the week off, we heard that this could be increased up to 30% of the amount recovered, as is done in the United States.

We do not want a culture of whistleblowing. We want a bill that will permit responsible public servants who witness wrongdoing to file a complaint and feel that they are protected. That does not mean creating a team of three or four persons who will go out of their way to search out inappropriate behaviour in order to make themselves a little money. I do not think that is the purpose of the bill, and I hope that is not the desire of the President of Treasury Board or his parliamentary secretary.

We shall again study the testimony we received concerning this aspect in the course of consideration of Bill C-11. At the time, the Conservatives were a little besotted with the idea of offering rewards to whistleblowers. But I believe I recall that all of the witnesses heard at that time told us that this was not a good message to be sending to the public service. We shall have witnesses to hear on this subject, and certainly some amendments to propose.

The bill proposes a public appointments commission within the Prime Minister’s portfolio, responsible notably for overseeing the appointment selection process. We recently saw who was appointed to this position. When we know that most appointments come from the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, when we know that it is the Prime Minister who appoints the person who is going to oversee these appointments, we think it is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The bill proposes that the new parliamentary budget officer report to the Library of Parliament; it also proposes some exceptions preventing the officer from having access to certain information. This is a request made many times by my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, who will have an opportunity to speak on the issue. We can only be partly happy with this appointment of the parliamentary budget officer. Too often, the Minister of Finance hid the overall figures from the population. He told us that we were probably going to have a balanced budget and he stored away billions of dollars about which the members could say nothing. We dare to hope that the appointment of this parliamentary budget officer will remove the veil of secrecy from this part where the surpluses awaited by the government were hidden from us.

The bill proposes that only three out of nine major foundations be covered by the Access to Information Act and by the new powers of the Auditor General. In committee, we are going to ask why they are talking about three major foundations, rather than nine. Is it for organizational, serious reasons? In our opinion, all the major foundations, which together have close to $10 billion in budget money, should be subject to the Access to Information Act.

In the proposed bill, lobbyists still benefit from numerous loopholes, notably e-mail communications. This will have to be checked and tightened. These are the questions we are going to put to the appropriate legislative committee.

We are going to study Part 1 of the bill respecting conflict of interest. The penalties it provides, so far, are not stiff enough to deter people from placing themselves in situations of conflict of interest. I will give other examples a little later, but suppose a lobbyist working for the government breached this part of the law; he would have the heavy fine of $500 to pay. A $500 penalty, for having broken the law to obtain a contract worth $200,000 does not look like enough of a deterrent to us. We will look at this in committee.

As for appointments of returning officers, the bill does not provide for open competitions. There should be better guidelines for the office of the director of public prosecutions. In principle, complaints to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner should go through the members' offices. I feel this poses a serious problem. The Conservatives refuse to budge on access to information. They are asking for a little more time to reform the Access to Information Act. We should understand each other. We want to look further at what is happening.

I mentioned lobbyists. I could close by talking about the Minister of Transport's communications director, who seemed to violate the spirit of this bill at least. But we will have the chance to talk about that again later.

In conclusion, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois—and I think I have been clear—I will say first that the bill should be referred to as the Loi sur la responsabilité in French during the discussions. We plan to make a number of amendments to the bill, but we support it in principle. After all, we cannot be against improved ethics and greater transparency. But we want the government to proceed with seriousness and rigour, two qualities the Bloc Québécois identifies with. I can assure my colleagues that I will cooperate fully with them in order to improve this bill at the legislative committee stage.

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11:25 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Repentigny for his remarks. I know that he is an expert and that, both in this House and in committee, he has worked very hard on this issue of accountability.

I have a question for him. I do not wish to debate definitions. In fact, I do not want to talk about that anymore, because there has been much debate about that over several years. The hon. member has acknowledged that whistleblowing legislation was discussed for at least two years. There has also been much talk about other issues for years and years. The Canadian people have had it with all this talk; they want action and results, because results are needed soon.

Will the hon. member support us in our efforts to implement these policies in a timely fashion, so that the bill can go through all stages, in committee, the House and the Senate, before the summer recess?

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11:30 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for referring to the accountability legislation. That could be a start.

If indeed Quebeckers and Canadians are tired of hearing about the bill, hence the need to proceed quickly, I would like to ask him this.

The election platform of the Conservative Party, on page 12, states that, “A Conservative government will... Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act”. Like every other member on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, Conservative members, who were in opposition at the time, rejected the former Liberal justice minister's proposal to examine the Access to Information Act some more. On November 3, 2005, the committee unanimously approved the legislation proposed by the commissioner and asked that the government make it into law as soon as possible.

Canadians are fed up with hearing about the access to information legislation. Why does the parliamentary secretary not intend to proceed as quickly on this legislation as a whole?

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11:30 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I followed very carefully the comments made by the hon. member and I respect his knowledge of the process and the way things are done around this place.

One of the recommendations mentioned by the member, which does not have a great deal of content associated with it, is the appointment of returning officers. I think we would all agree that when we are dealing with the machinery of government it is important there is balance and total transparency, not the least of which is anything that is associated with elections and the electoral process.

In order to have that transparency and total objectivity during the electoral process, the recommendation has been made that Mr. Kingsley, the returning officer, should make the appointments. What process is the member suggesting would be in keeping with the kind of responsibility that his party and the government wishes to have in the whole electoral process, that transparency?

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11:30 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. One of the shortcomings of the bill is that it does not give enough details about the process. We are scrapping the governor in council appointment process for returning officers and handing the responsibility for appointing them over to the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley—not to name any names. The process is not clearly defined in the bill.

I would humbly suggest that, for a long time now in Quebec, we have been operating according to a competition process that invites people to submit their applications. Thanks to a process established by Quebec's chief electoral officer—whose name I have forgotten, but Pierre-F. Côté held the position for many years—we have a totally impartial and non-partisan process. During a competition, after receiving several applications for each of the ridings and—I believe—testing the candidates, the chief electoral officer identifies the candidates who are most competent and capable of doing the job.

We think this is much better for the electoral process than governor in council appointments.

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11:30 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud, on behalf of the NDP caucus, to join the debate on Bill C-2.

Let me say at the outset that Bill C-2, if we do this right, could be the most significant piece of legislation that we undertake in this 39th Parliament and it could be of great benefit to all Canadians.

Let me also say that the NDP firmly believes in open government. We do not use the terms “transparency” and “accountability” as buzz words. We view these as basic tenets of the NDP doctrine, which is why we are bound and determined to make Bill C-2 work.

Let me begin by recognizing and paying tribute to a former leader of the NDP and a former member of parliament for the riding of Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, and the contribution he has made in this debate. I will not say that he crafted Bill C-2, that would be wrong, but I do believe it is fair to say that all the parties in the House have taken inspiration and guidance from the work that Ed Broadbent did in taking note of the state of affairs in Ottawa when he came back to Ottawa and realized that something was fundamentally wrong and that substantive change needed to be made. Ed Broadbent took it upon himself, as a project, to monitor, to analyze and to make recommendations that would lead to genuine accountability and transparency. For that, we owe him a great debt.

The idea of cleaning up of Ottawa, of changing the culture in Ottawa, is a massive undertaking. The public has to appreciate what a project this is. I have heard people say that it is like steering a supertanker to change the culture just one degree to the right or one degree to the left. I do not use those terms politically. I am saying one degree of change in the way we do things is a massive undertaking. Perhaps that is why we see that Bill C-2 is a massive tome. It contains over 270 pages. Some call it K2 because it is as big as a mountain.

It is also no coincidence that it makes a handy weapon with which to beat the Liberals. It is no coincidence that this is as much a weapon as it is anything else because on any page open the bill, it insults the Liberal Party of Canada because it reminds the Liberals of their shame as they sit isolated now on the sidelines watching others cleaning up the mess they created. I say that with no malice, and I will not use my 20 minutes to beat up the Liberals. I merely point that out to illustrate that the reason we have to dedicate the 39th Parliament to issues of corruption rather than moving forward with other issues that might advance the nation is because of the legacy we have been left, the mess we have been left to clean up after 13 years of abuse by the Liberal Party.

The President of the Treasury Board said that his main purpose was to improve the level of trust. That was the one thing I copied down from his remarks in introducing the bill. We stand committed to that same noble goal in improving the level of trust of Canadians. We want them to believe that we are doing honourable things with their money and with their trust, not abusing their trust, not breaking faith with the Canadian people. I will not stand for it. For that reason, we will not obstruct Bill C-2. We will do our best to make it the best bill it can possibly be.

I will now return to my original point that it is a massive undertaking. It is like steering a supertanker. However we cannot legislate some of these things. We cannot legislate morality or ethics or morals. Those are things we either have or we do not. We can create an environment that lends itself to better ethical behaviour. I would argue that one of the best ways to do that is by shining a light on those things. The access to information law, which I will talk about later, perhaps is the best way to encourage ethical behaviour the way that we want to see it.

Before I get into the substance of the bill, I would also caution that we will not tolerate anything in the bill that may be viewed as bashing or blaming civil servants or trying to say that the reason we are in such a quagmire of maladministration over the last 13 years is because of corruption in the civil service. We will not tolerate that.

We start from the basic premise that no well-meaning civil servant goes ahead and, as the Auditor General said, breaks all the rule, unless told to break all the rules by political masters. The corrective measures in Bill C-2 should not be viewed by any public civil servants as threatening or as a condemnation of the way that they have administered public funds. If anything, our objections are political, not toward civil service.

As I have mentioned, Bill C-2 makes a dandy weapon to beat up the Liberals with; it is heavy enough to do some real damage. It also acts as a perfect shield that the newly elected Conservative Party may use when, as we predict, in time, similar accusations will be made toward that party. The Conservatives can hold that up against the onslaught of criticisms about their track record as the years go on and say that they in fact have tried to correct these measures. It is really quite a gift to put together one document that serves as a weapon and as a shield.

We are suspect of it in certain ways. As much as we support and endorse the idea of introducing a bill that truly will address accountability and transparency, members cannot blame us for being a little suspect of it and a little jaded that there may be aspects of the bill that are more self-serving than altruistic in terms of their purpose. After 13 years of recent experience, no one can blame us for looking for ulterior motives, for perhaps secondary objectives that may be in the bill.

While we would support a bill that is designed to create an environment where the Liberals cannot operate, and that aspect, we feel, is a natural idea, we are also critical that it may in fact be that the bill has been crafted in such a way, massive as it is, that it is designed to fail, that in fact it is impossible to attack this level, these complex administrative issues all in one package, within the timeframe contemplated by the federal government. It may be an impossible task, in which case the document would be more valuable to the Conservative Party as an election platform than as a document that actually passes Parliament and gets implemented.

We will not allow that to happen. We will not play political games with this. Our goodwill is finite, it is limited and it has qualifiers on it. We are willing to cooperate on the condition that it is a sincere initiative and is not being used for some political objective above and beyond its stated purpose.

I will give members an example. We are not paranoid. We do not just invent these things. There are clauses in the bill that give us cause for concern, such as what could be viewed as a poison pill about the Senate ethics commissioner. We know that senators are going to dig their heels in on this. They are not going to accept this readily. Why would the government plant such an obvious obstacle in the way?

There are two possible reasons. One is that it will grind down to a halt there and be sent back here for the six month delay, which the Senate can don and which would coincide perfectly with an election call in the spring of 2007. Away we would go with no new bill and no new accountability measures, but the Conservative government could say that it tried sincerely and the opposition would not let the Conservatives do it. That is one possibility.

The other possibility is that if the government can cause enough upset and unruliness in the Senate, it is a natural segue, then, for the Conservatives to point to that unelected body, the other place, criticize it for its very nature and then argue for Senate reform, which we also do not necessarily disagree with.

The Liberals are in an untenable situation. They are truly boxed in as we go into the debate on Bill C-2, because their best argument when they stand up is to say that the government members are just as bad as they are, that members are just as corrupt as they have been for the last 13 years. That seems to be the only accusation they seem able to make. It would be funny if it were not so sad. The only real criticisms of any substance that they make is to find an isolated incident and try to compare it saying the government is just as bad as they are.

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11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

A pox on both their houses.

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11:35 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

As my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley says, a pox on both their houses.

If that is true, we are critical of both of them. That is no argument. The Liberal argument is no argument. The Liberals think we should leave the status quo because they were corrupt, so therefore the Conservatives should not change the rules because they are acting in a corrupt way too. The public wants better than that. That is no comfort whatsoever.

We will be raising several points as we go through this bill. We welcome the reformation of the Elections Act, but at the same time, as I said when I opened my remarks with a nod to the Hon. Ed Broadbent, the changes contemplated by the Conservative government fall well short of what we have been advocating over recent years.

First of all, as for lowering the contribution rate to $1,000, I cannot speak against that. That is like giving me a raise in pay because as MPs most of us donate a lot more than that per year to our political party. I will not complain about the $1,000. It is like a tax cut for me.

I will say, though, I am critical that the government failed to acknowledge the legitimate points that Mr. Broadbent was putting forward, such as fixed election dates and electoral reform, with a review of proportional representation.

This bill also does not do anything about spending limits for leadership contests, for instance.

Also, it does not do anything to ban floor crossing, which we are adamant needs to be addressed in this 39th Parliament.

On lobbyists, I think most of us are now prepared to accept that lobbyists bastardize democracy. We have seen what happens in the United States, where the lobbyists are running Capitol Hill.

Canadians demand sweeping reform of the regulations governing lobbyists. This particular bill, even though it does speak to the issue of the revolving door for lobbyists and sets stricter guidelines, will do nothing to end the practice of awarding government contracts to the very firms that also lobby government.

Lobbyists' firms enjoy an unnatural relationship with government. On the one hand they are being paid to beat down the doors of government and lobby it on various issues, as guns for hire as it were, but at the same time that same government is awarding government contracts to the lobbying firms, not their customers. This is an unnatural practice that is loaded with potential conflicts and problems.

Our experience to date cries out for reform in this area. I serve notice to the President of the Treasury Board that he can expect amendments to be put forward by the NDP in the area of lobbying.

On the appointments process, some would say the government has failed its first test in cleaning up the appointments process by appointing a well-known Conservative activist to chair the new appointments commission. Granted, it is a heck of a lot better than the status quo, where there was a desk in the PMO where the Liberals arbitrarily made appointments year after year based on a person's Liberal membership card being up to date.

We all want substantive change to the current practice. We are disappointed that we are off to a bad start. Maybe the government has made a mistake, but it has left itself open to criticism over its sincerity about cleaning up the appointments process. That does us all a disservice. If this were just clumsiness, then perhaps it could be fixed, but if it is an indication of something more sinister, if it is an indication that the government is not sincere about changing the appointments process at all, then we have a serious problem with it.

Thus, as much as we are enthusiastic about the opportunity and the potential of Bill C-2, our goodwill only extends so far. We will be the first to criticize its shortcomings on a point by point basis.

I should also point out on this whole appointments process that even though there will be a commission to review these appointments along the lines of what Ed Broadbent recommended, the whole process is still within the PMO. Along those lines, there will be a set of criteria and hopefully the appointments will be made and approved on the basis of merit as they apply to that set of criteria, but the whole process is still within the PMO, not truly independent but subject to veto or oversight.

The PMO is still running the appointments process and we all know that unbridled patronage reminds people of rum bottle politics. It just invokes bad memories of the 13 years of Liberal government that showed us how not to do it, that lost government the faith and the confidence of the Canadian people.

Let me speak briefly to the changes for the Auditor General. This act does in fact strengthen the powers of the Auditor General. The President of the Treasury Board was right to single out the confidence and the admiration we have for the Auditor General's office. Sometimes I think the Auditor General is really the only friend Canadians have watching out for their well-being.

I am very critical, though, on one matter. I will echo the comments of my Liberal colleague who criticized this, and I believe the Bloc did as well. First nations enjoy a unique status. There is no relationship like that between first nations and the federal government. The money that is transferred to first nations for their use is not federal government money being spent by others. It enjoys a different status altogether. It should not be viewed as another organization or agency that is spending the government's money. Therefore, the Auditor General should not have this additional auditing authority over first nations. Let me make that clear. I will speak in greater detail at committee. The NDP is vehemently opposed to this idea.

Let me now deal a little bit with what is not in the bill instead of what is in the bill. As I said, there is much in the bill that we can support. We will be supporting the bill to get it to committee.

The access to information provisions are so key and fundamental to accountability and transparency that it cannot be overstated. Access to information laws within Canada have been called “quasi-constitutional” by the Supreme Court of Canada. That is how fundamental the right to know is in this country.

Sunshine is such a powerful disinfectant, and freedom of information is the sunlight of Canadian politics. It was the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish under the Liberals all these years. Only access to information laws will in fact throw open the curtains and shine the light of day on the activities of government, so I cannot overstate how disappointed I am that access to information law, in its whole package, did not find its way into Bill C-2.

Actually, I should qualify that: I think there were strong access to information provisions in Bill C-2, but I think they were struck. I think the Conservatives lost their nerve and got cold feet. We all know what needs to be done. There are people on the Conservative benches with whom I have worked for five, six or seven years in developing what needs to be done in access to information. We had their full and enthusiastic support at every step of the way--at every step of the way except for implementing these changes now that they have the authority to do so.

This is why I am very critical that we do not have comprehensive access to information reform within Bill C-2, although I will acknowledge and recognize that more crown corporations will in fact be under access to information laws by virtue of this bill. Some foundations will, not all, and we all know the Liberals were squirreling away money for years in these foundations, billions and billions of dollars that we have had no access to or oversight of whatsoever. At least these will be subject to access to information.

We still have this bizarre anomaly that there are 246 crown agencies, institutions and corporations. With the addition of these seven generously offered by the President of the Treasury Board, we now are allowed to see the inner workings of about 50 of them. I am able to get access to information on the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, but I cannot get access to information on some massive crown corporations that have billions of dollars of Canadians' money to spend.

We want to spend a lot of time on this. I understand that the bill is going to committee. Sometimes this can be viewed as death by committee. I am running out of time, so I will curb my comments on that.

Let me summarize by saying that the NDP is deeply committed to the concept of open government. We welcome and celebrate this opportunity to be able to make some meaningful changes in the way government operates.

We need to restore the trust of the Canadian people. I share that point of view with the President of the Treasury Board. Nothing will restore the trust of the Canadian people more than the substantive changes, as we view them, in terms of how government operates. If we do nothing else in this 39th Parliament, I encourage my colleagues to make sure that we pass meaningful reform in this regard.

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11:55 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, the member for Winnipeg Centre stated in his comments that he felt that perhaps the Conservatives had an ulterior motive for introducing this massive piece of legislation that will finally bring accountability to government. He suggested that we may have built in our own poison pill to ensure its defeat so that the Conservative Party would then be able to go to the electorate and state that once again there is a need for a majority government because the opposition has defeated the bill.

I want to say to my hon. colleague that I believe he has probably been watching too many Oliver Stone movies because there is no conspiracy theory here. We definitely want the legislation to pass and we want it done quickly. The member mentioned that it would be a great gift for Canadians to have the bill pass before the summer recess, and I agree with that. I will be one of the members sitting on the legislative committee who will be trying to shepherd the bill to speedy passage through the House and ultimately through the Senate.

I can assure the member that there is no ulterior motive behind the introduction of this weighty bill. It is merely to try to put into effect a number of practices, procedures, guidelines and conditions that will prevent anything like the sponsorship scandal from ever happening again in government. I give the member my assurances and I am sure the assurances of every member of this side of the House.

My question, quite simply, for the member is with respect to his comments on floor crossing. He said that element was missing in the legislation and that the NDP firmly believe there should be no such thing as floor crossing. My question quite simply is in respect to a comment made earlier by the President of the Treasury Board. Will he simply confirm that under the stewardship and leadership of Ed Broadbent, Mr. Broadbent allowed someone by the name of Mr. Toupin to cross the floor into the NDP Party?

Will he simply confirm that it may be a little hypocritical to suggest now that the NDP is against floor crossing when under the stewardship of the former leader of the NDP, who they tout now as being the most ethical of all leaders, he allowed someone to cross the floor and sit with the NDP?

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11:55 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member really cannot blame the NDP for being suspect. We have just come through 13 years of what could be described as an abusive relationship when it comes to being misled about the true intent of bills and secondary objectives, Trojan horses if one will.

My point was not that the bill itself was a poison pill but that the poison pill is in the timing of the implementation. It is of more value on the doorsteps in an election campaign as a promise than is the nuisance of having it implemented and having to curb the activities of the operating government now in power.

Let us not kid ourselves. Members of the Conservative Party are no strangers to the hog trough in recent history either. We do not have to go very far back in history to find some pretty unsavoury practices by previous Conservative governments. It could well be that the elders of the Conservative Party are giving advice to the current Conservative government that maybe we really do not want open government.

My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst reminds me that the most corrupt government in Canadian history, as measured by the number of cabinet ministers led off to jail in handcuffs, was the Conservative government of Grant Devine.

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11:55 a.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for his speech.

The Accountability Act was brought in because of the Liberal corruption that went on in Quebec over a number of years and particularly because of the sponsorship program. Money was misappropriated to further assimilate Quebec. Let us hope that the Conservatives will not try to use this bill for the same purpose.

I have two questions for the hon. member in light of his remarks. He said that he had some concern about financing for political parties. I would like to know how he would suggest the bill be improved.

The issue of an informer culture has not been dealt with. The Bloc Québécois is opposed to including a section on informers in the bill. Protecting employees who disclose wrongdoing in the public service is one thing, but we are uncomfortable with the idea of compensating employees for doing so. I would like to hear my colleague's opinion on this.

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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we are not opposed to limiting the dollar value of contributions to $1,000 per person. We believe we are following the Quebec model of no contributions from business or unions at all. It should be that way and that is the way the Liberals should have done it when they first introduced it in 2003.

As for whistleblowing, I share my colleague's reservations about a reward for whistleblowers. In fact, we have talked about it in our caucus meeting and we are opposed to the idea. It is the wrong motivation if money is involved. Any compensation should be based on damages that the whistleblower may have suffered in terms of lost opportunity, et cetera, but not a reward. It is vigilantism. I do not think $1,000 will change anyone's mind. If they are reluctant to come forward because of fear for their job or something, a lousy $1,000 would not be enough to motivate them. It is the wrong thing to do. It is the American system and we do not like it.

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Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, you are doing an excellent job.

I enjoy working with the member on many items related to aboriginal affairs. I think we have the same view and enjoy fighting on those issues.

I would like the member to comment on accountability. Would that accountability include maintaining the Government of Canada's commitments, in particular historic commitments for things like the Kelowna accord and residential schools? In relation to the aspect of the Auditor General, which the member commented on in his speech, my view is that because of Kelowna and land claims we now have a new government-to-government relationship. Was there government-to-government consultation on that aspect of the bill?

The member made a point in his speech with which I agree 100%. The Liberals are isolated over here as the only opposition party. It is really shameful how the NDP and the Bloc have gone over to the Conservative side when there is nothing in the Conservative platform for cities, nothing for drug abuse, nothing for supporting students, nothing for homelessness, nothing for low income people or the social economy, social housing, the environment and women's issues. We may be isolated here but we will continue to stand up for those items. I am sorry for the people who supported the NDP and the Bloc because their members have crossed the floor to the Conservatives and are not standing up and fighting for the items that are missing from this platform. However we will continue to fight.

I would just like the member to answer the questions on those two major historic commitments of the government and the government-to-government consultation that he thinks may or may not have occurred in designing the item in the accountability act related to the Auditor General and the first nations.