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

Topics

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would ask all hon. colleagues to allow the member to finish his statements in reply to the question.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Liberal Saint John, NB

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the report formed the basis for some of what has happened in the accountability act today. The member might want to check with the hon. member from Saskatoon.

The report talked about ethics counsellors, ethics commissioners and ethics reports coming directly to Parliament. The report talked about some wide sweeping changes that needed to occur, some of the difficulties within the lobbyist industry, and regulating lobbying in this country. The Government Relations Institute of Canada has worked very hard to ensure that there is a lot of integrity within the lobby industry. I think a lot of us would have acknowledged that this is a very important and integral part of public life in this country.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question with respect to an aspect of Bill C-2 that we have not discussed and that is the full and open declaration of leadership contests, both who the contributors are and any notion of a limit on how much someone can contribute to a leadership race. In some cases these can be a leadership race for the Prime Minister of Canada, but in any case hold important democratic positions. I wonder if he could give us his opinion on opening up some transparency on this much needed issue.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Zed Liberal Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member that transparency and openness are critical for leadership races. I note that members opposite, perhaps, have not always been as open and transparent about the expenses for leadership races that they might have incurred or who contributors might have been. The short answer is that I favour a full and open transparent disclosure for leadership races.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to address the government's first bill introduced in the 39th Parliament, Bill C-2, the federal accountability act. It is in the interests of all Canadians to ensure that the federal government is accountable. As an accountant by trade, the people of Don Valley East elected me as their federal representative because they wanted someone deeply concerned about transparency and accountability.

There are aspects in the proposed legislation that I and my colleagues in the Liberal Party will support because it builds on many of the initiatives launched by the previous federal Liberal governments between 1993 and 2006. For example, everyone knows that it was a Liberal government that first introduced the office of the Ethics Commissioner.

It was a Liberal government that fostered the development of this office to make the Ethics Commissioner independent from the Prime Minister's Office and instead, directly accountable to Parliament.

It was a Liberal government that established a separate Senate ethics commissioner, an office, by the way, that will be eliminated under this proposed legislation.

It was a Liberal government that first established clear guidelines for public office holders and it was a Liberal government that restored the Comptroller General's functions for each department and subsequently instituted an internal audit policy.

Bill C-2 does attempt to build on these very important reforms, but many of the proposals contained in the legislation are just simple extensions of existing legislation.

I will comment on electoral reform, for example. It was a Liberal government that first introduced Bill C-24, the first dramatic reform of political financing in Canadian history. It placed strict limits on the amount of money that private companies and trade unions could contribute to a party or candidate.

Through the same bill, it was a Liberal government that first introduced public funding for political parties, an innovation that made political parties far less reliant on corporate or union financing as a source of revenue.

In many instances, I see many of these extensions as nothing more than a lame attempt to exaggerate a situation that simply no longer exists. In other words, as one prominent academic recently observed, we see here many solutions in search of problems resolved long ago.

To be fair however, let us look at what the Conservatives promised Canadians in their election platform and what the legislation actually delivers. According to the document entitled “Stand up for Canada”, the Conservatives promised on page 12 that they will “allow members of the public, not just politicians, to make complaints to the Ethics Commissioner”. Unfortunately, I see no reference to public access in this proposed legislation which, in effect, denies voters the right to complain about their elected officials. It appears to me that “Stand up for Canada” just fell flat on its face.

Here is another broken promise. On the very same page of the Conservative platform, the plan would “make part time or non-remunerated ministerial advisers subject to the ethics code”. Again, there is absolutely no reference to this promise whatsoever in the legislation that we have before us. Canadians do indeed feel stood up by the Conservatives.

Although the Prime Minister has promised to apply strict new rules to the conduct of lobbyists, one of his first acts was to appoint a lobbyist as the Minister of National Defence. A lobbyist, I might add, who represented the top suppliers of military hardware to the federal government and members on the opposite side of the floor wonder what is wrong. The problem is that the defence minister will be in a conflict of interest on too many files and he will be forced to remove himself from critical discussions.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister says that he will no longer allow political staffers to immediately jump into the lobbying business so they can profit from contacts with their former employers. However, we know of at least three Conservative staffers, who worked for current ministers, who are now suddenly and miraculously in the private sector and lobbying their former bosses.

What about accountability? The Prime Minister has made it clear for years that he believes in an elected Senate. Yet the first thing he did when he arrived in Ottawa was to appoint his campaign manager to the Senate and then made him the Minister of Public Works. Shame. As a senator and a minister of one of the largest departments in the federal government, he does not have to face the House of Commons during question period. What kind of accountability is that?

Let us look again on page nine of the Conservative platform. It says, “A Conservative government will ensure that all officers of Parliament are appointed through consultation with all parties in the House of Commons, not just simply named by the Prime Minister”. What was the first thing the Prime Minister did? He arbitrarily appointed a loyal Reform Party member as head of federal appointments with absolutely no consultation with Parliament. This is a person who has already managed to offend Canadians of Caribbean and Asian descent by referring to them as nothing more than “lawless immigrants”. This is the type of irresponsible, redneck comments which are abhorrent to people who believe in pluralism and civil societies. It is a very offensive comment and the Prime Minister has decided to make this person the head of appointments.

The Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that he will stand up for his close friends and Conservative campaign workers, but the rest of Canadians no longer matter now that the election is over. It is precisely this kind of behaviour that fuels public mistrust of government institutions. If the Prime Minister is so concerned about accountability and transparency, why will he not disclose who donated to his leadership campaign? What does he have to hide?

In conclusion, my colleagues and I in the Liberal Party will be placing the legislation under close scrutiny in order to salvage genuine reforms. Canadians deserve better accountability and we in the Liberal Party will give it to them.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from across the way referred often to how the Liberal Party had brought about measures throughout the last 13 years regarding accountability, almost as if there were no need for any new measures on accountability. Was the sponsorship scandal perhaps a good reason for bringing about some new measures on accountability?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, when anyone says that accountability comes to an end when the context is not there, it is not fair. Basically nothing ends; it is an evolving process.

We put in many measures, and we will work with the government on those measures that will extend, for example, the lobbying law, which would ensure lobbyists including members who have been staffers of Conservative MPs are no longer in the lobbying business. It has to be equitable and it has to be egalitarian. In cases of third party advertising, we would like to know why the Prime Minister has not put that in the accountability legislation.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in the question that was put forward to my distinguished colleague from Don Valley East concerning the sponsorship scandal and the questions as to whether this legislation would be enough to cover lobbyists. I know the minister who was proposing the bill was himself a lobbyist in Ottawa, so I suspect he has a bit of experience in this.

However, without going further, it is interesting that while the sponsorship issue was brought forth for an inquiry, which the then prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, had the intestinal fortitude to bring forward, the same is not true of the performance of the minister who is now proposing this legislation, Bill C-2, when he was minister of social services.

We all remember the Accenture scandal in which a quarter billion dollars of taxpayer money went missing. It went down basically a funnel into some company that came out of Bermuda. Here we have an example from the parliamentary secretary and others suggesting that scandal only goes one way.

It is important for us to recognize that when it comes to transparency and openness, the minister who is proposing this legislation is in no position to do so. I would like to get a comment from the hon. member on this. Knowing the reputation of the member of Parliament, the Treasury Board minister, does she not find it ironic that the individual, who himself was cited several times by the auditor general of the province of Ontario, is now going to teach this Parliament, this House of Commons, a lesson on ethics?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was quite concerned about the fact that the President of the Treasury Board would be so sanctimonious in his presentation of the bill. The provincial auditor has constantly cited him for being negligent and responsible for scandals that took place, under his watch, in the ministry of community and social services. Instead of taking the blame for it, he was moved away.

However, we were very strong about our accountability and we brought in the Gomery inquiry despite the fact that it would not be politically wise. It is important to know that hypocrisy exists on the other side and the government members should not be so sanctimonious.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question for the member for Don Valley East is this. I am a bit confused. If the measures the Liberal government took over the last 13 years were so strong, why was there a need for change? Why was there a verdict by Canadians that accountability was something lacking in the past government? Does the member really believe that the measures in this accountability act will not foster a new spirit in Ottawa? The question that has been asked numerous times throughout the day to Liberal members is, will they support the accountability act?

Will she support the accountability act, one of the toughest pieces of ethical legislation that the House has ever seen?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, my comments are that the bill comes from a minister who himself was responsible for $500 million of boondoggle. He brings in an accountability act, which is very selective and does not have enough teeth. If it goes to committee and comes forth with definite changes in terms of third party advertising, without the hypocrisy of do as I say and not do as I do, we will be there to work with it.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the bill. I will be splitting my time with the member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

I do not know if one can continue to give maiden speeches every time one gets elected to the House of Commons. If that is possible, then this would be my maiden speech for this Parliament.

At the outset, I am pleased and proud to have the opportunity to once again be in the House of Commons. This is the fourth time that I have had the privilege of representing the people of Niagara Falls. I am very grateful to that community, which is also my home town. It includes the towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Together they comprise the riding that I have the honour to represent.

On this debate, which is about the democratic process and how we conduct ourselves, what a privilege it is for me to have grown up in that community and to now represent it in the House of Commons. As all members of Parliament know, because of our great democratic process in Canada, this is something we cannot take for granted and we must continue to earn the trust of the voters, the individuals who have sent us here.

I want to take this opportunity as well to reiterate something that the Prime Minister has said, and that is to congratulate Her Majesty The Queen on her 80th birthday. I was thinking about that recently. I have been able to count very easily the number of years that the Queen has been on the throne, since I was born a couple of weeks after she acceded to the throne in 1952. It was very clear to me whenever it was her silver anniversary, or the 40th anniversary and recently her 50th anniversary, because they mark milestones in my own life. As a public servant, as a lawyer and as a parliamentarian, I have always been very proud to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen, as our head of state, and I have been very proud and pleased all my life to count myself as one of her loyal subjects. I join with I believe all members of the House in congratulating her on her 80th birthday.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the bill, the federal accountability act. It is a major part of the Conservative government's platform. The new Government of Canada has indicated that it is something we believe this Parliament needs and deserves and it is what Canadians want. It will fundamentally change the way government operates by strengthening ethical rules and political institutions to ensure transparency and accountability to Canadians.

The objective of the bill is very clear. It will put in place the means to allow Canadians to once again place their trust in the Government of Canada.

Canada is a strong democracy. I point out to students who visit that this is one of the oldest democracies in the world. We think of Canada as such a young country and we sometimes forget that we are one of the oldest democracies. We could go right through that list. I think the United Nations has about 161 different countries and it is very difficult to come up with any country that has had a democracy longer than ours. Indeed, in constitutional discussions that took place in Parliament in the early 1990s, I used to say that perhaps we should have invited people from around the world to come and study the Canadian Constitution, or the British North America Act, now known as the Constitution Act. When people said to me that we should study other people's constitutions, I said it should be just the opposite. People should try to come to Canada to understand how we have governed ourselves so successfully.

However, there were serious problems that were unveiled by the Auditor General. I am always glad to get into the details of these things, but suffice it to say quite a mess was uncovered by the Auditor General and the subsequent Gomery commission. The federal accountability act is an important and essential component of restoring the trust that Canadians must have in their democratic institutions.

These democratic institutions cannot be taken for granted. We must continue to examine them to ensure we maintain the trust that Canadians place in us. We must start by reforming the process by which we are sitting in the House today, and that is the election process. The bill proposes a number of political financing reforms that would restore public confidence in the integrity of our system. These elements are very important. I have already had expressions of interest from outside this country after they heard what we were proposing to do.

What we are proposing is that only individuals can make political contributions; that those contributions be limited to $1,000; that cash donations over $20 be banned to dispel the negative images of brown envelopes being filled with cash and being passed around; require the disclosure of all large gifts to ensure the contributions, whether in money or in kind, are captured and accounted for; ban the receipt of gifts or trust funds that are meant to influence candidates or MPs so that no one has hidden or privileged access to power; and ban trust funds used for political purposes to keep soft money and secret donations out of politics.

Taken together, those reforms would help restore public trust in the electoral financing system in a number of ways. First, they would eliminate the undo influence of big institutional and secret contributors; second, they would bring the focus of the electoral system back on ordinary Canadians who are at the heart of our democracy; and third, they would provide an open and transparent political financing system through the elimination of loopholes and the setting of straightforward rules that are easy to follow and clear to enforce.

On the subject of eliminating undue influence, the bill would ensure that all candidates and indeed the parties are on a level playing field. It is fact that 99% of Canadians make donations to the political process of $1,000 or less. We are not eliminating people. We are keeping the large number of people who want to contribute in a meaningful way to the political system. By limiting those contributions to $1,000, ordinary Canadians would not be left to compete with wealthy donors to make their contributions count.

No longer will we allow corporations, unions and organizations to contribute to the political process in terms of donations. I think this is a step in the right direction. Elections are about individuals. They are not about corporations, unions or other organizations trying to influence the political system. The bill would eliminate the opportunities for undue influence and it would ensure that Canadians are be able to play on a level playing field.

Second, the bill promotes the democratic process. We have to keep in mind that it is our constituents who vote to bring us to Ottawa to represent them. The electoral system should reflect this primary democratic principle. Individuals and not corporations should be directly supporting the political process through their contributions and by tailoring limits to reflect the contribution patterns of the vast majority of Canadians it will require candidates and parties to strengthen their connection to the constituents whose trust they must earn and whose interest they intend to serve. Candidates, parties and MPs will need to reach out to the people who they want to represent and engage them in the political process rather than catering to a few.

Public trust and participation in the system will be difficult to maintain unless the system is open and transparent. Given some of the negative perceptions of our political institutions, it is important that Canadians are able to see that the political financing regime is comprised of a set of rules that are clear and easy to enforce, and that means closing the real and potential loopholes in the system, which, of course, is the third function of the federal accountability act.

I think this bill is a step in the right direction. As I said, there are even people outside the country who are looking with interest at what we are doing because they realize this is the way to go, this is the way to restore confidence in our political system. I am proud and pleased to be a part of that system and I am always pleased to be part of a process that will help to improve people's respect for our political institutions in Canada.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, on the larger issue of accountability, I want to ask the government House leader a question about the appointment of committee chairs.

This, as the government House leader is aware, is an institution of accountability. Our job here as members of the House of Commons is to hold the executive to account and we operate through 26 separate committees. The chair is supposedly appointed by the members of the committee to preside over the meetings and to provide direction but also to be the spokesman for every member of the committee as the government House leader is a representative of every constituent in Niagara Falls, including those who did not vote for him.

I will point out that this party was wrong. We allowed the executive, in our past, to appoint the committee chairs. However that was changed back in 2003 or 2002. One of the most active spokesmen who spoke very clearly on the issue was the Prime Minister who was totally against that and voted against it, like other people, including myself, and that was changed to the benefit of this House, and the chairman was the spokesman for the committee.

I am disappointed, as I believe are most people in this House, that the Prime Minister is now, despite what he said in the past, going to appoint the chairs. The chairs now are not the nominees of the committee members but the nominees of the Prime Minister.

Does this action by the Prime Minister comply with his vision of accountability in this institution?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the committee members themselves will be appointing the chair and the vice-chairs. There is no question about that.

One of the fascinating remarks made by the hon. member was when he referred to the fact that his government, or “our executive”, made a mistake in the way it went about appointing a committee chair. That is quite an admission. I guess I have seen some fascinating things over the years. Certainly the Liberal Party has a history of very heavy-handed tactics in committees. It has always surprised me and I believe it was unnecessary and, quite frankly, counterproductive.

I was a member when the first Canadian environmental protection act was introduced into this Parliament back in the eighties. I always remember how amazed a member of the New Democratic Party was when he suggested amendments to those of us who were on the Conservative side, when we were the government, and if they made sense we allowed them. He said that he had been here for a long time but had never had any amendments accepted because the former Liberal government had a policy that if amendments came from opposition members it would not accept them. He was quite taken, and it is part of the public record, and said that he had never in all his years as a member of Parliament had so many amendments. Why not? If members of Parliament, from whatever party, make amendments that make sense, I applaud and I welcome that.

When I was the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, I was a part of all the justice legislation from 1984 through 1993 and we accepted amendments from the Liberal Party. If they made sense they made the bill. I think that is the way committees should work. They should work on a consensus and they should work on democratic principles.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, accountability is the key word in this discussion but, unfortunately, when the Conservatives became government they threw that subject right out the window by appointing a person to the Senate, by taking a floor crosser and by putting some of their friends in prominent positions in various agencies throughout the country.

They also talked about accountability and fiscal responsibility. The Prime Minister is going to New Brunswick this weekend for a big fundraiser for the PC Party. He had said that the fundraiser was only for the PC Party of New Brunswick and not for the federal Conservatives. I just want to ask him, quite clearly, who will be paying for the Prime Minister's trip to New Brunswick, the taxpayers of Canada or the PC Party of New Brunswick?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think one of the things the hon. member should know and should remember is that this Prime Minister is absolutely committed to bringing back accountability, fairness and transparency in government. He has done more already than has been done in decades in this chamber in the pursuance of that goal.

I was very proud and pleased to see legislation like this being introduced that would bring back accountability, transparency and fairness. The rules that are set out in this are very clear and they will be followed by all members of this government. That sort of thing should be applauded in this chamber because that is what is fair and right.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion to refer a number of statutory reviews to committee. I move:

That the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee for the purposes of section 145 of the Anti-terrorism Act (2001) and that, pursuant to subsection 145(2) of that Act, the committee report no later than June 23, 2006;

that the Standing Committee on Finance be the committee for the purposes of section 89 of the Canada Revenue Agency Act;

that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage be the committee for the purposes of section 5.1 of the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Act;

that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee for the purposes of section 46.1 of An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and law enforcement);

that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be the committee for the purposes of section 343 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; and

that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology be the committee for the purposes of section 29 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent for the parliamentary secretary to move the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, this bill we are talking about is about changing the culture of politics. I want to begin by acknowledging that with the introduction of the federal accountability act both this House and the people of Canada are seeing at first hand the real and tangible steps that the Conservative Party of Canada is taking to clean up government in Ottawa and to return confidence both to Parliament and to the bureaucracy that runs government.

Such a bill is long overdue in view of the scandals, the corruption and the culture of entitlement that has permeated the Liberal Party and those well connected to it during the past 13 years. The federal accountability act represents our government's response to the Gomery inquiry, to years of wanton and unregulated excesses, to years of patronage appointments, to dealing with highly paid lobbyists who worked their trade in and around the halls and offices of Parliament Hill, and to the culture of political fundraising, which offers those with money access to government. The act now prohibits contributions from corporations and unions altogether and limits personal obligations and contributions to $1,000 so that big money no longer has the sole voice in Ottawa.

The federal accountability act is all about accountability for everyone, starting with the Prime Minister and extending to all parliamentarians and public sector employees, to those who receive government funding and to those who seek access to government officials and decision makers.

The act itself is lengthy and multi-faceted and affects some 28 other pieces of legislation. It is broader in scope than the recommendations of the Gomery inquiry, and while the act may amend scores of existing laws, its primary aim is to address the moral decay that has permeated every level of government.

Our government is unquestionably intent upon changing the culture of politics on Parliament Hill and ending the culture of entitlement that has existed under successive Liberal governments. This act will make this government work better for Canadians. It provides oversight, rules, restrictions and measures to ensure that public interest is preserved and individual opportunism curtailed, and that there is an administration that carries out the affairs of government in a way that is both transparent and accountable.

In the end, of course, only people of integrity and character can change the image the public has of politicians and those connected to them. The bottom line is that Canadians deserve to know that their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent and used wisely by those in government.

Part 1 of the bill deals with the conflict of interest and post-employment code for public office holders. Canadians rightfully expect their representatives and public office holders to make decisions in the public interest and without any consideration of personal gain and without taking advantage of information not available to the public. Public office holders must perform their duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest. The bill specifies in clause 4 that:

--a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person's private interests.

It restricts the office holder from making those kinds of decisions.

The act deals with recusal from voting or debating on matters that would place an office holder in conflict. Other provisions of the act deal with the issues of preferential treatment, insider information, influence peddling, fundraising, cash donations and the acceptance of gifts and advantages. This is clear and unambiguous language. It is language that demands a much higher standard for public office holders than has been the experience and the custom in Ottawa to this point.

These conflict of interest rules are not merely guidelines or recommendations, as compliance with part 1 of the act itself will be deemed a term and condition of a public officer holder's appointment for employment.

Most important, the legislation provides the rules of the road for those office holders who have assets, are competent and do want to contribute to our country and our society, but who want to do it in a way that preserves their integrity and honour. It prescribes the means that may be used to resolve conflicts, which in some cases may even require the disposal or divestment of the offending assets.

The federal accountability act would combine the position of ethics commissioner and Senate ethics officer and create a new conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. This newly appointed commissioner shall be an individual with judicial experience, either a former judge or an individual with federal or provincial board, commission or tribunal experience.

The commissioner will have the same power to enforce the attendance of witnesses, to compel them to give evidence under oath or affirmation and to produce documents as would a court of record in civil cases. All decisions of the commissioner must be made on the balance of probabilities, the same test utilized by judges in all civil cases. This is coupled with a reasonable opportunity for the public office holder to present his or her case.

These are very real powers and responsibilities entrusted with the commissioner. It is further evidence of the government's commitment to provide the new commissioner with the power and authority to get the job done.

The federal accountability act will expressly make government accountable to the people by affording the opportunity to a member of the general public the ability to bring forward, through a member of Parliament, information to the commissioner of an alleged contravention of the act by a public office holder.

The act also provides for the appointment of a parliamentary budget officer, with a mandate to provide objective analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation's finances and trends in the national economy.

Additionally, the government will also provide quarterly updates to its fiscal forecasts. There is now to be an independent analysis on economic and fiscal issues. Gone are the days of unanticipated surpluses used to buy votes with reckless spending. It is time to ensure that we have truth in budgeting.

Another area of change is in the creation of a director of public prosecutions. Part 3 of the act creates the office of the director of public prosecutions and allows this office to initiate and conduct wholly independent investigations and prosecutions, including the decision to lay charges unless the federal Attorney General publicly directs otherwise. The proposed office of director of public prosecutions reflects the best features of those offices that currently exist in British Columbia, Quebec and Nova Scotia as well as those found in several countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland.

The federal accountability act also includes a number of real and sincere protections for whistleblowers, something that is long overdue.

People who see problems within the government need to have the confidence and the knowledge that they can speak up without intimidation or fear of recrimination. Too often we have learned that whistleblowers have been punished by their superiors for speaking the truth and taking courageous stands against instances of corruption and abuse.

The public service of Canada is a multi-faceted institution staffed by professional, dedicated and highly skilled individuals. Its employees play a crucial role in support of the government's agenda and they are essential in delivering programs and services to our citizens. This government will foster and champion an environment in which its employees may honestly and openly raise the alarm and express concerns without fear or threat of reprisal.

The bill would give real protection for whistleblowers by creating the position of public sector integrity commissioner and by making this individual an agent of Parliament. It will also give the commissioner the authority to deal with complaints from whistleblowers who feel they have suffered reprisals for identifying potential wrongdoing.

We shall see the creation of an independent tribunal, composed of judges or former judges, with the power to order remedies and to discipline wrongdoers. The remedies available to the commissioner include: the right to permit the complainant to return to his or her duties; the right to pay compensation in lieu of reinstatement; to rescind any measure or action; to cover expenses and other financial losses as a direct result of the reprisal; to provide up to $10,000 for any pain and suffering; and to order disciplinary action against a perpetrator.

It is fair to suggest that the actions of a handful of public servants involved in the ad scam scandal have tainted the image of the public service for many Canadians. This element of the act will reinforce the non-partisan and professional excellence of the federal public service and return it to the place of honour and dignity it has historically enjoyed.

I am reminded of the recent words of the President of the Treasury Board when he stated, “Today is about putting the legacy of political scandal behind us and restoring Canadians' trust in government”.

The federal accountability act will change the culture of politics and it will move Ottawa from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability and responsibility, one that is accountable and responsible to all Canadians equally.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. member's comments and was reminded again about what I had asked the previous speaker with respect to the author of this particular legislation, admittedly drafted quite quickly. I understand the hon. member's comments with respect to finding problems with this Parliament in terms of the conduct of certain individuals but I believe the hon. member has an obligation to look at all aspects of previous wrongdoings and indeed the ones that were acted upon by the very minister who is proposing the legislation.

We heard from the auditor general for the Province of Ontario on three occasions, 1998, 1999 and again in 2000, where the auditor general of the province cited that there were irregularities with allowing a company to in fact go after welfare recipients and charge taxpayers up to $258 million, for which that minister was never held accountable.

The hon. member talked about balance of probabilities and the civil test. I am very interested in that because his party opposed this very thing in the Competition Act. It is easier to apprehend people using a civil model than a criminal model. If the member is looking to get people quickly is it possible that in this circumstance he could create injury where injury is of course not found?