Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-2, which is very lengthy. It contains more than 317 sections, amends 43 existing acts and creates, if memory serves, two new ones.
First of all, I would like to say again that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill. Ethics were at the very heart of the last election campaign, which chased a corrupt government from power. Liberal Party government was replaced by Conservative Party government. Now it is up to the Conservatives to prove themselves.
We think, as well, that this bill picks up to some extent on certain aspects of the work of the Gomery commission. The Bloc Québécois was an active participant, of course, in the work of this commission. The Bloc made some recommendations, which should now be implemented.
I should also add a commentary. My colleague from Repentigny just did so. We want the government to review the title of this bill. We have to get beyond semantics. “Projet de loi sur l'imputabilité“ seems to us to be virtually a literal translation of Federal Accountability Act. If the Conservative government has any respect for the French name of this bill, it should take a serious look at the title and replace it with a much more accurate translation: loi sur la responsabilité. Pushing things to the extreme, one could maybe say “loi sur la responsabilisation“, because that is what this bill is really about. Insofar as we are concerned, I would like to announce right away that the Bloc Québécois will probably introduce an amendment so that we can speak henceforth of the “loi sur la responsabilité“.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois is pleased, of course, about certain things that have been part of its platform since 1993. I could pay tribute to the Bloc pioneers who sat here before the massive arrival of a strong contingent of Bloc members between 1990 and 1993. One of the Bloc’s traditional demands had to do with the process for appointing returning officers. There are some references to this in the bill.
I should repeat in the course of my comments that the Bloc Québécois feels that this bill needs improvement.
Certain things need to be corrected and improved. Even though particular sections pay lip service to some of the Bloc’s traditional demands, we think that much clearer commitments are needed from the government. I would like to speak now, in this regard, about the appointment of returning officers.
In the last Parliament, I tabled Bill C-312 on behalf of my party, which required that a competition be held, as provided for in section 2.1 of the Public Service Employment Act. This competition for the appointment of returning officers would replace the traditional process, which has been in place since about the beginning of this institution, whereby such appointment is a prerogative of the Governor in Council. Let us not mince words. Governor in Council means the prime minister’s office and the minister responsible. They are the ones who make the political appointments.
The Bloc Québécois is asking that returning officers be appointed following an open and transparent process. And the Bloc will see that this is reflected in this bill. So the positions will be advertised in the newspapers and anyone who thinks he or she has the necessary skills will be able to apply. Furthermore, a selection board would be formed to choose the ideal persons to occupy the positions of returning officer in the 308 electoral districts of Canada.
I sit on the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Elections Act provides that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada shall be accountable for management of the last election. As for the returning officers—this has been a traditional demand of Mr. Kingsley, who is also critical of the current process for appointing them—at present, the returning officers are friends of the government and persons who have worked in electoral organizations and are appointed through patronage.
Far be it from me to allege that the 308 returning officers are incompetent. However, one returning officer who is not competent to manage the democratic electoral process is one officer too many. We have seen some horror stories—and if there were consensus, I could recount them until midnight. So it is important to have competent people who are free of all political affiliation.
Bill C-2 does not provide for open competitions to select returning officers. I was just saying that the Bloc feels that this bill can be refined and that we will have to improve on it. The Bloc also believes it imperative to add provisions whereby returning officers can be chosen through an open and transparent process.
I would like to draw attention to something else. The bill speaks of the financing of political parties. Let us talk specifically about leadership races. There is at present a political party on this side of the House, namely the Liberal Party of Canada, which is in the midst of a leadership race and which will have to choose its leader by the end of the year. Unfortunately, this bill mentions no restriction as regards a cap to financing during a leadership race. The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that, in not preventing candidates for the leadership of political parties from contracting large personal loans, the bill will make it possible to circumvent the restrictions on individual contributions. If this is not given a framework and guidelines, it will encourage ill-advised persons to do indirectly what the bill does not permit them to do directly. I therefore announce to the government that the Bloc Québécois will want to ensure that this point is clarified.
We are prepared to study the problem. We do not wish to prevent candidates from taking personal loans, but we say that this should be overseen and should be part of a process, once again, that complies with the rules for financing political parties.
Another element is the whole question of following up on the Gomery Commission. The Bloc Québécois took an active part in the proceedings of the Gomery Commission, through our lawyer. Actually, we took an even more active part; we submitted recommendations at the request of Justice Gomery. So we, the Bloc Québécois, did not just have a passive role; we proposed recommendations.
I remind you that the Bloc Québécois was the only party to propose a report to Commissioner Gomery with recommendations for improving responsibility. You will understand, when I talk about improving responsibility, that I am referring to the faulty French title of the federal accountability act. But that was the goal of these recommendations. We, the Bloc, submitted 72 recommendations to Justice Gomery. Without repeating them all, I am going to give more or less the chapter headings or highlights.
One of the suggestions was about recovering the sponsorship money, which the member from Outremont qualified as “dirty”.
I put the question to the government: where do we stand in the process of recovering the dirty money? Has there been anything new since the Conservative government came to power on January 23?
Also, in our recommendations, we suggested giving more powers and resources to the officers of Parliament. For instance, we insisted a lot on intensifying the powers of the Auditor General. We also suggested some amendments to the Access to Information Act, the Lobbyists Registration Act and the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act .
By the way, the point of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is not solely, not all in fact, to provide $1,000 rewards for whistleblowers. Indeed the act does provide $1,000 rewards for whistleblowers. I believe my colleague from Repentigny made these comments in his speech; the Bloc Québécois is opposed to compensating whistleblowers.
It is one thing to protect whistleblowers; it is quite another to develop a whistleblower culture with monetary incentives. Whistleblowers, if they wish to do their job properly, will not find any motivation in the $1,000 cheque associated with it. They expect protection from the government and from the management of their department or agency, so that they are not silenced, dismissed or harassed.
Let us assume that the very large majority of public servants in Quebec and Canada, who work in the federal public service, are primarily competent and honest individuals who want to do their job honestly, but who do not accept abuses of the system.
Unfortunately they are often muzzled, implicitly or explicitly, because they do not have this protection.
We must avoid generalizations. There has been some wrongdoing by some public servants, but it is not the case that all public service employees are dishonest. We must avoid generalizations, and that applies to public servants as it does in any other area.
It will be recalled that Justice Gomery made a lengthy case for the accountability of every individual to be recognized throughout the hierarchy. The idea is if each person’s role is recognized, there will be no abuses of authority, no dirty tricks, no shenanigans, and that this, rather than whistleblowing, is how fraud will be controlled.
When a superior supervises the work done by a subordinate—excuse the expression—or a co-worker, and the superior’s superior supervises, and the superior’s superior’s superior supervises, we call this line of authority control. This will be much more effective than handing out $1,000 cheques to encourage whistleblowing.
There is another thing: the Bloc Québécois made formal recommendations, out of its 72 recommendations, dealing with making individuals appointed by the government more accountable. In addition, the Bloc Québécois platform made various recommendations to the same effect, which it identified as priorities.
Certainly I am running out of time and we could address various things, but I will simply remind you that we are pleased to see that some of the proposals made by the Bloc Québécois have been incorporated in Bill C-2. I spoke earlier about the merit-based appointment of returning officers by Elections Canada. I could talk about the independence of the lobbyists registry.
Lobbyists are a powerful force here in Ottawa. We need only look at how they lie in wait for a change in government to see how true this is: some lobbyists painted themselves one colour while members of the same lobbying firm painted themselves another colour. They want to be certain that they make everyone happy, they buy drinks all round, and they know that the key to success as a lobbyist is to be connected. We even have a Minister of Defence who is a former lobbyist, whose clients were very well known. That is an illustration of the important role lobbyists play.
The Bloc Québécois has been making another recommendation for several years: we see that the new Political Parties Financing Act is going to be very similar to Quebec’s legislation, by introducing corporate donations. And there is one more thing that the Bloc has traditionally called for: strengthening the powers of the Auditor General.
In conclusion, because I have less than a minute left, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill, which should be called, in French, Loi sur la responsabilité. As well, the Bloc Québécois will study the bill in depth and refuses to go along with any bulldozing.
It refuses to pass this bill, which has 317 clauses, with any undue haste. The Bloc Québécois will be making constructive proposals to improve this bill.