I will get back to the debate on Bill C-2. I look forward to the intervention by the member from York. If she has any questions about challenging integrity, I am more than prepared to have that conversation.
I rise in this House to speak to Bill C-2, the bill to enact the federal accountability act.
I am delighted to speak in support of this bill, in part because this is the first bill introduced by a Conservative government in 13 years and also because this bill will make profound changes in the way the government does business.
Accountability is the fundamental tenet of our democratic system of government, but one that has been sadly lacking in recent times. As we have heard today, Bill C-2 would break down the barriers to an open and accountable government that have been allowed to take root in the federal system. I am proud and doubly pleased to support Bill C-2 because it sends a signal that the government is wasting precious little time in implementing the commitments identified in the Speech from the Throne.
Like all of our communications to Canadians, the Speech from the Throne was clear and it was direct. It confirmed the priorities of the Prime Minister that he set out during and after the election campaign, including our pledge to clean up government. The federal accountability act is the cornerstone for building a new culture in government, a culture of respect for taxpayers' dollars, respect for independent officers of Parliament and respect for institutions of government.
I want to congratulate the President of the Treasury Board for carrying out the Prime Minister’s vision by introducing a bill that contains at least 13 major reforms and 60 distinct initiatives.
These include measures to change the way in which political parties and candidates can be financed and by whom.
Bill C-2 would also tighten controls on lobbying and make the registrar of lobbyists an independent officer of Parliament with a stronger mandate and more resources to do the job.
It would give the elected members of the House a voice in the appointment of officers of Parliament and ensure that future appointments to government boards, commissions and agencies are based on merit, not politics or friendship.
People inside and outside government who expose wrongdoing would be afforded protection, including access to the courts and legal counsel. Information provided by whistleblowers would be made public, except where national or personal security may be affected.
As a result of this bill, the members of this House will get to have their say about the appointment of officers of Parliament and will also be able to ensure that the people appointed to government boards, commissions and agencies are appointed on merit, irrespective of their political ideologies or of whatever relationships they may have.
The powers and authority of the Auditor General and the Ethics Commissioner would be strengthened under the proposed legislation, as would the audit and accountability function within the departments.
I could do justice to each of these areas but in the time allotted today I am afraid I cannot speak beyond merely mentioning them. Rather than trying to address all aspects of the proposed legislation, Bill C-2, I will focus my remarks on those measures that relate directly to the mandate of the Department of Public Works and Government Services for which I am the parliamentary secretary to the minister.
As hon. members know, Public Works and Government Services Canada is a large department with many roles. One of its biggest and most important jobs is to act as the Government of Canada's main procurement arm. Public Works and Government Services manages more than $10 billion in procurement transactions every year, transactions that our government believes must be managed through processes that are fair, open and transparent. To that end, the federal accountability act would legislate these principles so that they are permanently embedded into federal procurement practices. This is just a step in cleaning up government.
I want to mention as well, in the spirit of good faith and, frankly, bipartisanship, that when the sponsorship program erupted the Department of Public Works was shaken to its core. All members of the House were scandalized, upset, frustrated and angry in expressing that anger that we experienced and we heard from our constituents through this House. It would be wrong of me, frankly, if I did not respect the hard work that was done by the member of Parliament for Kings—Hants when he was the minister of public works and the good work that he did in that department, and a former member of this House, Walt Lastewka, when he was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of public works, who did incredible work on behalf of the then Liberal government and on behalf of all Canadians in putting forward a comprehensive package of ideas of how to reform our procurement process.
As all members who have been on the government operations committee or who have come in contact with the Department of Public Works know, the procurement processes of the government have long been challenged and long been criticized. I do not think that reality will ever change because there are always people who are complaining about how government does its business. The fact is that this issue has been studied for a long time. The member for King--Hants did good work on this front, as did Walt Lastewka when he was a member of this House. We look forward to having Liberal members, when they come to the committee, work with us in a good faith effort to try to clean up the procurement process so we do not have the kind of scandals we have seen in the past.
Bill C-2 would also provide for the creation of the office of the procurement auditor to review the procurement practices across government on an ongoing basis to ensure fairness and transparency. When concerns or problems are identified, the procurement auditor would make recommendations on how the relevant department could improve its procurement practices. The office of procurement auditor would also provide a new avenue for addressing complaints from vendors. Exclusively, the office would be empowered to review complaints after contracts have been awarded for goods and services covered by the agreement on internal trade but which were below the monetary thresholds of the agreement, which are $25,000 for goods and $100,000 for services. The procurement auditor would also review complaints about the administration of contracts.
Finally, the office would establish and manage an alternative dispute resolution process for contract disputes.
I want to assure all hon. members of the House that the procurement auditor's mandate would not overlap or duplicate the mandates of other positions, such as the Canadian International Trade Tribunal or the Offices of the Auditor General or the Comptroller General. As well, to ensure the independence of this position, the procurement auditor would not report to the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services but directly to the minister. As part of this reporting arrangement, the procurement auditor would submit an annual report to be tabled in Parliament.
Another important element of the federal accountability act related to procurement is our commitment to develop a code of conduct that will clearly outline for employees and suppliers what is acceptable conduct when contracting with the Government of Canada. This code will consolidate a number of existing measures related to procurement fairness, openness and transparency into a comprehensive statement of expectations. Consultations will begin in the near future with a range of affected stakeholders with the goal of having the code of conduct in place by this coming fall.
The code will provide a clear statement of obligations of contractors when doing business with the Government of Canada. For example, it will reinforce existing prohibitions against paying, offering or accepting bribes and will require contractors to disclose all commissions and similar expenses paid in connection with the contract. Integrity provisions will be included in bid solicitation and contract documents to provide a clear statement of the existing obligations of contractors.
The federal accountability act also broadens the reach of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises. As the Minister recently announced, six new satellite offices for small and medium enterprises will be established in the four corners of Canada, so that businesses in all of the regions will be able to obtain support.
The staff in those new offices will ensure that small and medium enterprises have access to government contracts, as changes are made to federal procurement practices.
The government's commitment to reform the procurement process extends to all types of purchasing, including the procurement of advertising and public opinion research. Accordingly, the federal communications policy will be amended to ensure that the principles of openness, fairness and transparency are applied to all procurement of federal advertising and public opinion research. As well, our government will review the definition of advertising to ensure that it is properly distinguished from other related services, such as public relations or events management.
Bill C-2 would also make it mandatory that the results of all public opinion research commissioned by the Government of Canada be submitted in writing, that a copy be filed with the Librarian and Archivist of Canada and that contract information and executive summaries of completed projects be posted on the Internet.
Last but certainly not least, our government will appoint an independent adviser to review, assess and report on Government of Canada procurement practices and public opinion research. This review will include, but not be limited to, procurement issues raised in the Auditor General's report of November 2003.
That position will not be permanent. The independent adviser will be appointed only for a period of six months. However, he or she will provide Canadians with the assurance that the government is making the best use of the public funds spent on public opinion research contracts and that those contracts are not awarded or used for partisan or political purposes. The independent adviser will report to the Minister of PWGSC.
Of course, as is consistent with the spirit of accountability that has newly emerged in Ottawa, his or her findings will be made public.
Even on their own these reforms of procurement and public opinion research and advertising will make Bill C-2 worthy of our support. However I remind hon. members that they are part of a much larger package designed to restore trust in government. Every other element of the proposed federal accountability act is equally deserving of support.
All parties in the House have acknowledged the need to improve accountability in government. Now hon. members have the opportunity to put their words into action by voting in favour of Bill C-2, the federal accountability act.