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House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendments.

Topics

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Repentigny with a short answer.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I think that they ignored the people who would be governed by Bill C-2. Furthermore, they focused on partisan rationale in order to punish the Liberals as quickly as possible.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-2. In my view, the only reason why Bill C-2 is being considered so speedily is that corruption had to be stopped once and for all and a little honour brought to this House.

The Bloc Québécois members may say that they worked very hard, after the 2004 election, and even before, to bring to light all the corruption that led to the sponsorship scandal.

When the motions on Bill C-2 were considered in committee—I understand that there were a lot of motions that they did not agree with but that was not the case for all the motions—they lined up with the Liberal Party whom they had so often denounced in the House of Commons.

There were at least four or five motions that they should have agreed with. But they did not agree with any of them. The member says that he voted for several of them. Well there were certainly some good motions brought forward by the NDP, particularly given that the member for Repentigny said that they were NDP motions.

I think this is a beginning. The Liberals are complaining about the fact that Bill C-2 has been given speedy consideration.

I recall that during the time of the Liberal government—I am sure that the Bloc member will agree with me—there was no more debate in the House of Commons. That was our colleague Mr. Boudria. It was all the rage: between 2000 and 2004, there was closure on every bill. It was a majority government, and it gagged the House of Commons more than 80 times to close off democratic debate in this House.

In the case of Bill C-2, some people have said that it was because of the Liberals. That is not it. The reason is that in the last few years this was all we ever heard about; we even had an election on this issue. What was happening became so obvious that even the Bloc was asking the Liberals questions. The Liberals wanted to be in power and they wanted to have an election. My colleague from Repentigny says that this is true. It is true that it had got to that point.

Ultimately, what we want is to put things in place to prevent this happening again, not just for the Liberal Party, but for any political party.

For example, we know that on the road from Montreal to Quebec or Rivière-du-Loup, the speed limit is 100 kph. But there still have to be laws to prevent people from speeding. The same thing applies to Bill C-2. They are drifting back into it. They do not seem to have learned their lesson. After everything that has happened, there has been an election, all of it has been swept clean, and now we are still hearing about problems.

Take the member who is standing for the leadership of the Liberal Party, for example. He accepted money from an 11-year-old child for his leadership campaign. Unbelievable. It is as if they had not learned their lesson.

Bill C-2 is not perfect. No bill is ever perfect. I have never seen a bill in the House of Commons that was perfect. If we could create perfect bills, we could close the House of Commons down for a few years.

This is the one constant variable here.

I am pleased to have been able to move the amendment to give the Commissioner of Official Languages the same rights as the Auditor General of Canada has.

I have indeed had good discussions with my Bloc colleague, the member for Repentigny, on that subject. We agreed that I would move the amendment. It is important for the Official Languages Commissioner to be treated in the same way as the Auditor General. The people who file complaints must not become the issue. The commissioner is capable of doing her job. She is an officer of the House of Commons and she does a very good job. I would like to congratulate her on all the years she has held this office.

The Conservatives have not made arrangements to replace her, something I criticize them for. It is already June 20, and the House of Commons will be adjourning for the summer shortly. The fact that she has not been replaced shows once again what little respect the Conservatives have for the official languages.

It will have taken two months for us to get a parliamentary secretary for official languages. Now it seems we will not even have an official languages commissioner before the fall. I can only say that the government’s position is most regrettable. We criticize the government for some of the things it does, and we will continue to do so.

Bill C-2 represented an opportunity to try, finally, to stop the corruption and prevent things like this from happening.

The member for the riding of Malpeque in Prince Edward Island—I think—said that to ban corporate donations was an affront to democracy.

I do not think there is one Canadian in this country who believes that this undermines our democracy. Ordinary people remember very well how many times votes have been bought. Some put pressure on members of Parliament and political parties. It was as if the money arrived through a pipeline connected right to the Alberta oil wells, and was given to certain political parties. That was an injustice. Now the injustice will be rectified. All people will be equal. You will have to work to receive money.

Furthermore, I will propose the following. We should perhaps ensure that the government invests more money in elections so that democracy is even more readily accessible. That would give people the opportunity to run for a seat in this Parliament without being obliged to ask big corporations for money. Parliament and the government could permit this sort of openness. In this way, Canadians could participate in democracy and elections without being compelled to make friends with big corporations or attend dinners at $5,000 a table.

In my riding, where lobster is fished, we serve lobster, and I assure you it makes a fine dish, but none of those dishes sells for $5,000. For example, to participate in the Liberal convention—I will correct myself if I am wrong—the cost is $950. That is expensive. The brochures that will be handed out at the convention will also be expensive, no? There you have another way of outsmarting the system to obtain money destined for the coffers of a political party. Instead, a certain amount should be obtained to cover the costs of the convention.

Here is another example. A man with a lot of money decided to give a political party a chance through his 11-year-old son, who took money from his piggybank to give it to someone who wanted to run for the party leadership. This has become really ridiculous. It is as if the parties had never learned their lesson. And the only way of resolving this problem is to pass a bill to stop them. I am not just talking about the Liberals. Whether it is the Conservative Party, the NDP or the Bloc Québécois, it makes no difference. Now I would like to see this sort of bill passed, because then these abuses would stop. Sometimes we need laws to stop abusers.

Because of all these abuses, we have lost some good programs here in Canada. The sponsorship program was a good program. I recall that during the Canada Day celebrations in Bathurst and Campbellton, we got $500,000 to tell the whole country the Canada Games would be held in Bathurst. Today we have lost that program. It was the same thing with the transitional funds. As I said this morning, we lost those programs because of the abuses of the former government.

I want Bill C-2 to finally put an end to these abuses.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the hon. member. He is very enthusiastic and has taken the opportunity to make a broader statement about Bill C-2, not with regard specifically to any particular point of concern on the group other than for the official languages, with which I tend to agree.

It is interesting that he also mentioned the bill would end the corruption of the government. When a party is in government, all the bureaucracy, every department and everybody who works for the Government of Canada, is part of the government. Without the context, when people talk about party, they mean government. When they talk about government, it is not just some MPs and the cabinet, it is also all of the bureaucracy.

As the member will know, charges have been laid and the RCMP is still considering other charges. However, there has been no charges of corruption against anybody in a political party. That is still ongoing.

It appears that Motion No. 14, with regard to the exemptions under the Access to Information Act, still allows the Official Languages Commissioner to refuse to give information, but it also allows the Privacy Commissioner and the Access to Information Commissioner to have an exception. Is that his understanding of that motion?

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that nobody from the Liberal Party was charged. Maybe some should be charged. We have to remember that the Liberal Party had to return $1.4 million that went into its party coffers. How did it get there? How can that be legal? If somebody wants to do their job, maybe there are a few in the Liberal Party who will go to jail. I hope it happens. It will be justice for the people.

I come to back to the Auditor General, the Privacy Commissioner and the Access to Information Commissioner. They have said they feel good about giving information. When we read paragraph (2) of proposed section 16.1, it says:

However, the head of a government institution referred to in paragraph (1)(c) or (d) shall not refuse under subsection (1)...under the authority of the head of the government institution once the investigation or audit and all related proceedings, if any, are finally concluded.

They have agreed to give the information. The other individual did not feel comfortable about giving the information for the protection of the citizen and the protection of people who gave the information to the commissioner. We really believe they are supported by that.

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4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, of the $500,000 that the riding of Acadie—Bathurst was happy to get, it did not know that Chuck Guité was keeping $50,000, Lafleur Communications was keeping $50,000, and an advertising firm was keeping some too.

If it was so important to protect and clean up, why did the New Democratic Party oppose the immediate implementation of Bill C-11, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act?

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I was not on the committee on that. It is probably the one we will have to do when we come back in the fall. One thing we will see to for sure is we can now stop corruption in our country and in our Parliament.

The whistleblower protection act is coming forward and it will be interesting to have it. People would then be able to report wrongdoings, and that would come before the public.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak with respect to this group of amendments and the bill generally. The member for the NDP, who preceded me, makes a very good point when he reminds the House of the progression toward the crafting of and the approval of the open government act. It was the draft act produced by Commissioner John Reid, at the request of the House over a year ago, and submitted in the early fall of last year. It came before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which endorsed it, and that is extremely important, with support from, I think, all parties in the House.

That was moving us toward an expert based, record based experiential amendment of the act, which we have had the experience of working on now for over 23 years in the House and through the Commissioner of Information.

There has been a great deal of discussion over all of this time with respect to how the act is working or is not working, how the public service is reacting to the requirements of the act and whether it seems to be an aggravation to people to disclose information easier kept secret. That is not what we want and that is not what it is intended to do. The intent of the act is that information held publicly, with some exceptions, is public information and should be available.

One of the interesting things about access to information is it not only enriches our democracy by allowing Canadians to know what is being done with their money, and I think all members of the House understand that, subject to some reasonable exemptions. It causes the public bureaucracy to work more efficiently as well. If bureaucrats are required to make available this information on an ongoing basis, then they have to clean up their record keeping. One would hope it would lead to a regular process of simply posting information as a matter of course without citizens having to ask for it.

We learn about the unintended consequences sometimes of these acts and they need to be amended from time to time. Commissioner Reid performed a very worthy service in providing the open government act for consideration by the House. As I mentioned, it was endorsed by the committee.

Then in line with that endorsement, the Conservative Party in the last election made it part of its election campaign to include the open government act, as presented by Mr. Reid and endorsed by the committee, in the accountability act. It would be its first piece of legislation should it be elected. I think that conformed to the will of the House and the expectations of the public.

We are disappointed, as well as the other opposition parties, that the whole act did not appear and we are taking another course. We will be very interested and directly engaged in that discussion in the fall when the opportunity, through another committee, comes to bring up to date the legislation.

Not only have we had this process through the information commissioner and the House committee, but, in a very interesting way, this case come before the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has endorsed the general concepts of access to information, that there should not be permanent exclusions that do not have exemptions. They would be time limited and there would be some discretionary exemption. In applying this discretion, one should look to exemptions such as personal information, third party information and commercial information. There should be an opportunity for the commissioner to apply some discretion to ensure that there is no injury being caused by that exemption. I suppose the flip side of that, is if there is some injury caused, is there an overriding public interest that should be exercised in favour of disclosure.

The injury test, the discretion of the commissioner, public interest override and to avoid permanent exclusions which allow no discretions to be applied are important principles. Those are interesting aspects which we will have to come to in the fall. We were disappointed they were not in here.

Another interesting issue came about as a result of finding out that one of the leadership candidates for the Liberal Party had received donations from children who were under the age of majority. I think they were 11 or 12 years old. I have very little knowledge of any of the money that is donated to my campaigns. As a matter of practice I usually do not look. I do not want to be directly associated with knowledge of that. It may well be that all members of this House have unknowingly received contributions at some time from persons who are underage.

My colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce--Lachine put forward an amendment at committee that would have made it improper for anyone who had not reached the age of 18, the voting age, to make political donations. It is unfortunate that it did not pass at committee but it is something we should think about in the future. I do not think any of us would want to be given money in the name of minors, which does not actually come from their own funds.

Looking at the motions in Group No. 2, the official opposition will be supporting most of them. We know that two have been withdrawn but we are having a little difficulty with Motion No. 14 which was put forward by the NDP member.

We need to consider in this House whether there is a substantive difference between the Auditor General and an audit, and any other official of Parliament, such as the parliamentary commissioner. They all provide somewhat similar roles. They receive concerns from the public. They can initiate their own investigations. They perform audits, whether it is compliance with the Official Languages Act, the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Treasury Board directives or other auditing and accounting rules of government.

I am not quite sure of the distinction that is being made by separating out the Auditor General from the others. I gather that the mover of the motion is concerned about the absolute exclusion given to the papers produced in the process of an audit that would apply to the Auditor General for disclosure, that it simply not be permanent and that it be made discretionary but after the audit is complete, as with the other officers of Parliament. I think we may want to hear a little more debate on that one.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with most of the remarks my colleague from Quadra made about his experience on the committee. It did transpire in the way he remembers it.

However, to complete some of the comments he made, I think it would be fair to say that more than one attempt was made to correct this idea that some people would seek to circumvent the donation limits of the Canada Elections Act by laundering money through, not just a child's bank account, but anybody's bank account, which would be against the law.

It would be fair to expand on that issue to include the fact that the NDP also had an idea, which was voted down by the Liberals. We were not totally against having minors take part in politics by making a modest donation, but that the donation should be deducted from the donation limit of the parent or guardian. We felt that that was a better approach simply because the approach the Liberals put forward did not really speak to the fact that it would be wrong to use anyone's bank account to circumvent the Canada Elections Act and there are already controls in the act to preclude that. People are breaking the law if they do, whether they are minors or of legal age.

What we are trying to avoid is children being exploited but not preclude children from participating. If they were 14 or 15 years old and wanted to join the Liberal Party of Canada, and chose to donate $50 to the campaign fund of my friend from Quadra, I see no harm in that as long as it is not used as a way to exceed the donation limits. Would that be fair to say?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the comments made by the member for Winnipeg Centre. The NDP did put forward an interesting amendment that would have required donations from someone underage to be included in the parent's donation. We had difficulty with the amendment because with the limits being $1,000 several children or two parents could be giving donations and the underage children could potentially exhaust their parents' ability to donate. We would not want to get into one of these kinds of tussles.

While young people should be encouraged to take part in political parties, which is what our parliamentary system is based on, the complications around the donation seem sufficient enough for us to say that cutting donations off at the voting age would be the simplest way to plug the hole.

I do agree with my friend from Winnipeg Centre that it is against the law to launder money through anybody, whether they are a friend, a spouse, a child or anyone else. Donations are to be made in the name of the person they actually come from and any act otherwise would be improper. We should be looking for ways to ensure that loophole is closed down and we make it a clean cut off at 18, the voting age, which would be logical. We could avoid mistakenly receiving donations in someone's name who we do not know personally or someone who was given money by someone else to donate.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that anyone, whether they be an information officer, an officer of the House or any Canadian for that matter, who becomes aware of an offence under the laws of Canada has an obligation to report that offence notwithstanding anything that might be in this bill.

I wonder if the member is aware of this Criminal Code provision with regard to offences under the act.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly any knowledge of criminal activity would have to be disclosed, and members of Parliament, above all, should ensure that any knowledge of illegal or otherwise improper donations should be made available and disclosed to the proper authorities.

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4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak about the Group No. 2 amendments on access to information.

I will give an example of what new access to information rules could be.

What I am going to say might not seem entirely appropriate at first, but the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place as we go along. It is entirely the kind of problem related to the passage of Bill C-2 and the fact that there is a lack of a broad approach to create a modernized and strengthened Access to Information Act.

As I said earlier and have also said outside the House, the Conservative government is not really interested in modernizing and strengthening the Access to Information Act.

For several years and on a number of occasions, the Bloc Québécois has complained about this act which did not enable us to get enough information about several scandals that occurred over the last few years.

The one that is most talked about, of course, is the sponsorship scandal, just as the ensuing Gomery commission is much discussed.

People have pretty much forgotten the scandal surrounding a major audiovisual production company in Montreal called Cinar Films. Some people remember a bit. Cinar Films was using front men to hide the origins of its scriptwriters.

A government program provided tax credits when scriptwriters were Quebeckers or Canadians. Cinar Films hid the real names of its scriptwriters, most of whom were Americans, used the names of other scriptwriters instead, and pocketed the money from the tax credits.

As I said, they were not Quebeckers or Canadians but always foreigners. In this way, Cinar Films obtained major tax credits worth tens of millions of dollars. On a number of occasions, the Bloc Québécois denounced and deplored the fact that the previous government refused to disclose relevant information. The Access to Information Act, as currently constituted, would not make it possible to get at this information and would not shed light on these matters.

More recently, we were unable to learn the reasons why the Minister of Justice had decided not to prosecute Cinar Films and its founders for copyright violation, when there was an RCMP report recommending the opposite. It will be clear why the Bloc is questioning the Access to Information Act, and why it wants to see amendments or new provisions that might have been included in Bill C-2 and were not.

We would have liked Bill C-2 to include provision for getting information about Cinar Films, for example. We would have liked to get information from the justice department to learn why it had not initiated proceedings when the RCMP recommended that it do so. We are also wondering, even today, whether this government intends to make these amendments in a different bill, and quickly, so that the public can have access to this information. This is not in Bill C-2.

Because this is an issue, does the new government, the new justice minister, intend to bring a criminal prosecution against Cinar Films, as the RCMP recommended? Now that we have changed justice ministers and governments, this is something that might be considered.

This makes it clear that this has everything to do with an access to information act, it has everything to do with amendments that could have been made to Bill C-2. Unfortunately, this government is doing things too fast, too quickly; it is bulldozing this through. As I said earlier, it is setting a record. I think that this is the bill that will have been passed the fastest after going through each of the stages.

We are not talking about bills that are fast tracked through on the same day. This is the first time we have seen a bill get passed this fast, and heard so many witnesses in so little time, and sat for so many hours in a day and so many hours in a single week.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has hardly met at all, itself. I think that it sat for a total of five hours during this session, meaning since the last election.

We therefore really do not see how this government thinks it will enact any real access to information regulations, a real access to information act. We are just making cosmetic changes to an act that is called the Accountability Act, but that is ultimately missing one big piece: a revised Access to Information Act and a transparency act. Accountability is all well and good, but if there is no transparency along with it, it cannot get very far, it cannot really serve its purpose. There is nothing to give an act like that its full force and momentum.

I will say again that the time spent getting this bill passed will truly be a record. I do not believe that this is in the best interests of the people of Quebec and of Canada. Rather, I am of the opinion that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing well.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised some interesting points about allegations or information related to criminal activity. Of course it is not the Minister of Justice who lays charges. They are matters that would be referred to the RCMP. However, I get her point.

The member seems somewhat concerned about the Access to Information Act and maybe with regard to the Information Officer, Mr. Reid, who has been very vocal about the abandonment of the recommendations that he made, notwithstanding that his term had been extended. The Conservative Party itself made the motion to have this person in the position because the Conservatives trusted him. I am curious as to whether the committee has a good explanation as to why the concerns of Mr. Reid were ultimately rejected by the government.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful to my colleague for this question, but I must tell him that what is now going on in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is distressing. It is distressing for the public, because what they are seeing there is not committee members who genuinely want to work, to bring forward a genuine access to information act.

Yesterday, for example, we had one of the rare meetings that have been held since the last election, and all the stops were pulled out, particularly by the Conservative Party members, to ensure that we did not adopt a work plan that would have allowed us to ask the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to come before us with an access to information bill.

Could anyone imagine the Conservative members throwing up roadblocks to prevent their Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada from bringing us, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, an access to information bill? Is this not the biggest and best evidence that the Conservative government has made only cosmetic changes in Bill C-2, but does not want a genuine, modernized, strengthened access to information act?

This makes the partisan motives behind C-2 even plainer. Certainly it has a few small good points, and so it is a step in the right direction, and so, will we vote for it? Bill C-2 is still also a partisan bill, and what it does is throw up roadblocks for the Liberal leadership race. It also coincides with an opportunistic, partisan reason, so that they can go into the next election campaign, which may happen sooner than later, this being a minority government, with an accountability bill, and can tell their voters to look at this lovely little Accountability Act. Except that this bill does not contain the important part: the transparency component, the access to information component. And so this bill will not have all the teeth it should, in order for the people of Quebec and of Canada to feel comfortable in a democratic country.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her excellent presentation on access to information.

Personally, I find that this aspect is seriously lacking in the bill before us. You and I are often present in this House—perhaps you are obliged to be here more than me. The typical response of the governing party, particularly the cabinet, always begins with “As everyone knows, the Liberal Party did nothing for the past 13 years”. Their answers often end there. They have one line that they repeat endlessly.

The fact that the Access to Information Act is not at issue will serve as a shield for this government later on. I believe it is extremely important to continue to exert pressure in order to ensure that the government understands the importance of this component.

Does my colleague consider the Access to Information Act as an essential tool in the exercise of democracy? I do not really understand how the government has failed to grasp the importance of this and of including it in the legislation.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert may give a brief reply.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, my reply will indeed be very brief. My hon. colleague from Papineau is entirely correct. It is tiresome to hear, every minute of every day, that the Liberal Party did nothing for 13 years, but that they, the Conservatives, are taking action. It is equally tiresome and deplorable that in the case of a real Access to Information Act, this is not true. They are not taking any action.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Gatineau, the Museum of Science and Technology.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak at report stage of Bill C-2 and to discuss the second group of motions.

There are several amendments which have been withdrawn, but there are a number of amendments of which we are in favour, including my motion, Motion No. 13, and Motion No. 20 which was tabled by a member of the Liberal caucus, the member for Malpeque. I am not going to speak to the motion that the member for Malpeque tabled. He will do that himself.

I will briefly state that my amendment, for which I believe I have the consent of the four parties which are represented in this House, would ensure that clarity is brought to the issue of which subsidiaries are to come under access to information with the amendments that have been brought forth. It was clearly the will of members of the committee, and I believe it will prove to be the will of the House, that it should only be wholly owned subsidiaries of an institution or an agency that are deemed to be government institutions that should come under the various access to information provisions.

Athough it may seem to some members to be a little off topic, but I do not believe it is, I would like to talk about the actual objectives of Bill C-2 as claimed by the government, as compared to the legislation that we actually see before us.

There are a whole series of clauses in Bill C-2 that the government brought forth. In some cases the committee members in their wisdom successfully amended them or removed them entirely to ensure that the objective of true accountability, transparency and independent oversight was in fact achieved through the bill .

Unfortunately, we did not always succeed, neither the four Liberal members, nor the two Bloc members, and in some cases, surprise, surprise, the one NDP member.

We were successful in one area which is terribly important to our parliamentary and constitutional democracy. That is the principle that has existed for some 400 or 500 years, if not a little longer, on constitutional autonomy of the House or of Parliament and of its members.

Unfortunately, Bill C-2 in its original form would have subjugated the constitutional autonomy of the House and of its members to the judiciary. We have a clear parliamentary democracy and a Constitution that states there is such a thing as constitutional autonomy of the House and that the courts are not the proper place to determine the conduct of the House. It is up to the House and its internal mechanisms and internal rules to deal with how the House proceeds to deal with matters of importance and how it will regulate the conduct and behaviour of members of Parliament.

We, the Liberal members, brought forth a whole series of amendments in order to ensure that the constitutional autonomy of the House and its members was not impeded or diminished. Happily, we were able to see those amendments go through. I am quite pleased about that. I hope that 307 other members in this House are also pleased. If they are not pleased, I would suggest they might want to do a bit of reading on the history of constitutional autonomy, what it actually means and the implications if legislation actually diminishes that.

Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have?

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

You have five minutes.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

I have five minutes. It will be quite difficult for me to cram all of my--

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I bet you can do it in two minutes.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

The President of the Treasury Board is too kind and too flattering, but I am sure that as he gets to know me better he will understand that I always have thoughts and they are usually quite well founded on a variety of issues.

In this case, I simply wish to share as many of my thoughts as I can as they pertain to Bill C-2 at report stage because, after all, that is what we are here to discuss this evening.

I would like to come back to the issue of the parliamentary constitutional autonomy of the House and its members. For those members, both on the committee who actually voted on the amendments that the Liberals had brought forth, and those members who did not have the privilege of sitting on the special legislative committee that dealt with Bill C-2 and who do not understand what is so important about that, I would strongly encourage them to call our parliamentary counsel and law clerk, Rob Walsh, and his able staff. They could probably quite easily, off the tops of their heads, give an entire course on the issue and why it was so important to protect. If there is one thing that we have done right with Bill C-2, that is definitely one.

We also did a couple of other things right, contrary to the Prime Minister's pique when his nomination of Mr. Gwyn Morgan to what was going to become the public appointments commission was not approved by the committee. In his childish pique, which is unfortunate to mention, but it really was, the Prime Minister said that in that case he would not be nominating anyone else.

Luckily, the committee, in its wisdom, thought that it was important to actually ensure that the public appointments commission existed, that there was a process for appointment, and that the actual mandate and authority of that public appointments commission was clarified through the statutes. Therefore, amendments, some of which came from the Liberals and others from the other parties in opposition, the NDP, actually went forth.

I hope that we will be successful in having those amendments remain in Bill C-2. When Bill C-2 ultimately goes to the Senate, is carried at third reading, receives royal assent and comes into force, the Prime Minister at that time, whomsoever he or she may be, as I do not take that as a foregone conclusion, in his or her wisdom, will make appointments to the public appointments commission and will ensure that there is that kind of independent oversight when it comes to political appointments.

It was not always pleasant working on the committee. Contrary to what some in the House have said, there were many witnesses who stated that they were not pleased with the limited time they were provided to prepare for their appearance and the amount of time they were provided for their actual appearance. They indeed expressed to the committee verbally and in some cases in writing a desire to come back to appear a second time. Unfortunately, that was not the will of the majority of the committee, although it was the will of the Liberal members.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was going to ask my hon. colleague if I could bring her a cup of tea or coffee or if there was any cleaning or light housekeeping that I might be able to do for her? Seeing as she thinks I am a busboy, perhaps I could be of some service to her in the context as a member of the House, but I do not see her taking me up on that offer.

I will however speak about some of the comments she made. Most of what she said is in fact accurate about her recollection of how the committee developed amendments. We are particularly proud that the public appointments commission has not only been reinserted into the bill and survived the government's intentions, but in fact was expanded, broadened, and strengthened to where it is a true comprehensive regime that should result in an end to patronage as we know it today.

One of the biggest irritants to Canadians, other than out and out corruption I suppose, was this feeling that political patronage appointments were used to reward cronies in Ottawa. Let us face it, that has been the past practice for the better part of a hundred years. But just because it is a tradition does not mean it should be maintained. Perhaps we can announce an end to an era with the passage of this clause in this bill.

I would say that even if it were the only clause in Bill C-2, it would be worthy of our support because it is a fundamental sea change. It is a cultural shift because not only did previous governments, and I will not say only the past Liberal government, used to reward their cronies and their political friends through patronage appointments but they also used the appointments process to impregnate agencies and institutions in the public service with like-minded people, with people of their political stripe. It gave them eternal life because even after they were unelected as a government, they would live on and their ideology would live on in those agencies and institutions.

If nothing else, I think my colleague would agree. I enjoyed working with her on this committee. I will be the first to say I admire her and have a great deal of respect for the contributions she made to the committee, but she will have to admit that this is worthy of celebration. This should not be just a sort of backhanded recognition that we did something at the committee of worth. We did something great at that committee with the public appointments commission and I was proud to be the one who moved the amendment.