Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today and continue this debate on accountability.
I also want to take this opportunity, as it is the first chance I have had to speak in the House after the election, to thank the constituents of York West for their overwhelming endorsement. It was an interesting election. I increased rather than decreased my vote and I want to thank my constituents for that. I am very proud of that fact. It is a great privilege to be a member of Parliament for the riding of York West. I intend to continue to be an effective member and a strong voice, even if it is in opposition, and to work with all colleagues in the House to ensure that our country continues to grow strong and move forward.
My constituents and I certainly welcome any initiative to improve accountability in the government. In fact, this new accountability act is nothing more than a continuation of the groundbreaking work done by my government, the previous Liberal government. It was the government of the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard that took the courageous step of appointing the independent Gomery commission, which acted very decisively to change the culture of government.
It was my government that reviewed the responsibilities and accountabilities of ministers, senior officials, public servants and employees of crown corporations and brought in a wide variety of concrete measures that were adopted to increase oversight in crown corporations and in audit functions, which have been strengthened across the board.
From his first day in office, our former prime minister reformed government in many ways so that everyone in the public service will be held to account. It was the Liberal government that re-established the office of the Comptroller General of Canada. It was the Liberal government that strengthened ethical guidelines for ministers and other public office holders and established an independent Ethics Commissioner. It was the Liberal government that introduced a new publicly posted recusal process for all members of cabinet, including the prime minister. It was the Liberal government that put forward legislation to encourage whistleblowers and to give them the protection they needed from reprisal.
In February 2004 our Liberal government put forward an action plan on democratic reform to strengthen the role of parliamentarians in many ways, including implementing a three line voting system to allow for more free votes in the House and referring more bills to House committees before second reading so that committees have greater influence in shaping government legislation. That was a very important move in order to allow all of us as parliamentarians to participate fully in making sure that legislation is created to reflect the views of Canadians.
We have also pushed for the establishment of a committee of parliamentarians on national security.
It was the Liberal government that strengthened audit practices in the public sector through a comprehensive initiative that included the policy on internal audit and an initiative to strengthen and further professionalize the internal audit function throughout all of government through higher professional standards, recruitment of additional skilled professionals, training, and assessment.
As we go through all this process, we must recognize that our civil servants who work for the Government of Canada are some of the best in the world. We should be very proud of them and their commitment not only to us but to Canadians in general.
In 2004 the Liberal government delivered on a commitment to proactive disclosure. Since 2004, all travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, their political staff and other senior government officials have been posted online on a quarterly basis. That is accountability, without question, when all of those expenses are posted for anybody in Canada or abroad to see what kinds of expenses are being incurred and whether taxpayers' money is being spent appropriately. When we talk about accountability, I think those were huge steps forward.
Government contracts worth more than $10,000 are now disclosed publicly and posted online, another act of the Liberal Government of Canada.
My government embraced transparency in key appointments.
Through the government's action plan for democratic reform, parliamentary committees were empowered to review the appointments of the heads of crown corporations.
My government brought increased transparency to the selection of Supreme Court justices. It made a lot of changes when talking about transparency.
In March 2004, while I was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and along with a lot of my other colleagues in cabinet, I introduced fundamental reforms to the appointment process for Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada members. These reforms improved the processes to ensure the quality and effectiveness of decisions made by the IRB and responded to the increasingly complex environment of the board, as did many other reforms made by my other cabinet colleagues in their portfolios.
Under the new process, the chairperson of the IRB is fully accountable for the selection and quality of the IRB decision makers. The new independent, transparent and merit-based selection process ensures that only the highest quality candidates are considered for appointment in that particular portfolio. The qualifications of candidates are measured against a new strengthened standard of competence to ensure that skills, abilities and personal suitability are the basis for appointments. I hope that continues under the new Conservative government.
My government also committed to expanding access to information. The Access to Information Act was extended to 10 key crown corporations that were previously exempt. It also presented a discussion paper to Parliament which proposed, among other measures, that the Access to Information Act be expanded to several federal institutions that are currently exempt.
My government was the first to seriously limit both individual and corporate political contributions as well as third party election spending. Bill C-24 was enacted in June 2003 and came into effect on January 1, 2004, representing the most significant reform to Canada's electoral and campaign finance laws since 1974. It affected contribution limits, those eligible to make contributions, public funding of political parties, spending limits for nomination contestants, and disclosure of financial information by riding associations, nomination contestants and leadership candidates.
I am pleased with most of the content of the legislation before us as it is a continuation of the Liberal government's 10 years of work on this file to increase full accountability and transparency in government. I do, however, have some concerns about the proposed bill, specifically regarding what is missing from it.
The bill does not strengthen the access to information regulations as I had hoped it would and I hope that there will be amendments to do just that. I am also troubled that the legislation before us restricts individual contributions to political parties and does nothing to reduce third party election spending. It is an area that still needs work to be done and I would expect that we would work together on amendments to ensure that it gets done.
This legislation would actually strengthen the third party influence in Canadian democracy and it seems like a deliberate exclusion. I would certainly hope that it is not the case. I also understand that there will be some amendments coming forth from the government regarding the lobbyist portion as it is already creating problems for people.
Canadians must have faith in the integrity of government and in the people who administer it. My government worked very hard to be accountable to the citizens of this great country. I am committed to support measures, as many of us are in the House, to enhance our prior work of building accountability, transparency and the public trust.
I look forward to being part of this discussion and debate.