Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on her excellent work and her excellent presentation.
I will also take this opportunity to commend the excellent work done in committee by our colleague from Repentigny. He took the time and had the patience to try, for hours and hours, to make the government understand that it had to take all the time needed to do the job right. He had no shortage of either time or patience. He was even prepared to give of his time for the entire summer so that he could talk to the government members about how this accountability act has evolved.
The Bloc Québécois’ position has never varied: the ethics of this Parliament have to be changed, and the job has to be done right. That has always been the message delivered by the Bloc Québécois.
Our colleague from Repentigny has consistently delivered the same message and invited his colleagues to take the time that was needed to genuinely change the ethics of this administration, of this Parliament, and the way that the government of Canada operates, a government that, over the years, has set about evading virtually every law there is and making off with taxpayers’ assets as if they were its own.
That is rather like what was done in the case of this Bill C-2, which has been presented to this House. But the men and women listening to us, Mr. Speaker, have to try to understand how Parliament works.
Introducing a bill is all very well, but when a government is in a minority position, a bill that it brings forward has to be studied in committee and have the benefit of the improvements suggested by the opposition parties, who, you will have noticed, hold a majority of the seats in committees. In a minority government, it is the opposition parties that are in the majority in committees. The government must therefore take all parties’ positions into consideration, and not just enter into misalliances of convenience, as the New Democratic Party did, to try to push the bill through and get a few minor improvements, so the NDPers will be happy and, once again, a bill will be passed that will not solve the entire problem.
When we analyze a bill that is presented in Parliament, we have to know where it comes from. Where does this accountability act come from? It is the direct descendant of the sponsorship scandal. For everyone in this House, including the new members, the sponsorship scandal is the biggest scandal to have hit the federal government in its entire history. Those are the facts.
Today, the bill they are trying to ram through is the very foundation of the entire operation of the government of Canada. The scandal that struck the people of Quebec, and others, deserves the time it takes for us to be able to pass a bill that will guarantee to Quebeckers that no one will ever again try to buy their social conscience with their own money. That is what they tried to do. That is the tragedy of the sponsorship scandal: taking the public’s money and giving it to advertising agencies that handed it over to political parties. We want to do the right thing.
I encourage my colleagues in the Conservative Party, especially the new members, to take another look at the Gomery report, to re-read what the judge said and even the questions asked before the Gomery commission. The reality, ultimately, is that there was a culture of silence. The bill before us today will do nothing to stop that. The proof lies in what the Information Commissioner said.
During the last Parliament, I sat on the committee responsible for studying access to information and the duties of the other commissioners. The Information Commissioner said that there was, in fact, a culture of secrecy. There was no paper trail, no documents. That is why some of the guilty parties have not been punished: there was no documentation. People talked. Paul’s office talked with Pierre’s office. Somewhere, everyone talked with each other in Jean’s office. So Pierre, Jean and Jacques were all there. The problem is that there was no paper trail.
The Information Commissioner told us in regard to the accountability bill that we should watch out because it did not get to the heart of the problem at the Gomery commission and in the sponsorship scandal. Everything was done without documentation.
The accountability bill does not deal with this problem at all. The Bloc’s concerns are therefore very understandable.
In its election campaign, the Conservative Party said that when it arrived it would clean everything up and introduce a bill to prevent what had happened in the past from happening again.
I encourage my Conservative colleagues to read the recommendations in the Gomery report, which also said that this bill did not go far enough. The Conservative Party’s cure for the disease of corruption does not remedy anything because it does not prevent the culture of secrecy. The government will not keep any trail and public servants will be able to continue to communicate by telephone without having to put anything in writing. That is what happened in the sponsorship scandal: everything was done on the phone and nothing was in writing.
When the Information Commissioner received requests, whether from Mr. Justice Gomery or all the various departments, he could not find the documents that were requested. That is what Commissioner Reid still says today when he maintains that this bill does not change what is important, namely the fact that everything is based on access to information but only to the extent that the information is available.
So you will understand why our colleague from Repentigny went to such lengths to try to make the other parties, especially the Conservatives and the NDP, understand that they should not go so fast. Some very important things were criticized, and this bill does not change them.
The most important of these things is to require that the administration keep written records and keep all the documents about every issue, every program. This bill does not do that, as the Information Commissioner and others said. Access to information is not amended, so no information is available, and there is no requirement to keep any information.
A full-scale reform of the situation that gave rise to the sponsorship scandal is needed. Yet this is not what the Conservative Party is doing. The Conservative Party is playing politics. It has a minority government, and it had high hopes of quickly winning a majority, but this will not happen. Why? Because too many Conservative members do not realize that by going too fast, they are not fixing anything.
Obviously, no one could be against the principle of the bill, which is a step in the right direction. But this is not what the Conservatives promised during the election campaign. They promised to fix the problem.
Hon. members will no doubt understand why the position of the Bloc Québécois was clear, why our leader explained the Bloc's position. This bill will not fix the real problem that led to the bill: the sponsorship scandal.
As a result, if we pass this bill, there could be another sponsorship scandal or another scandal where public money is misappropriated for strictly partisan purposes, simply because the Access to Information Act has not been amended, because there are no requirements and because the guilty parties will not be penalized, as the Information Commissioner recommended. During the last Parliament, not ten years but just eight months ago, he tabled in our committee, at the committee's request, a bill to amend the Access to Information Act.
At the time, the Conservatives were in agreement; there was unanimity. The Information Commissioner had been asked to put forward legislation precisely to allow him, who has to field requests from all departments whenever a scandal like the sponsorship scandal breaks out, to provide all the information and to ensure that all pertinent documents are available. So, the commissioner put forward a bill himself. This was the first time that a bill prepared with his staff and legal counsel was put forward by a commissioner to tell us what was required.
However, in its accountability bill, this government totally ignores the Information Commissioner's recommendations, which were at the heart of it all.
Obviously, as you can understand, Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support this measure. It does not make things right, however, because the Conservatives said they were going to deal with programs like the one involved in the sponsorship scandal. It is obvious that this bill does not do that.
We will support this measure, which is a very small step for a government hoping to become a majority government very soon. Once again, Quebeckers will realize that this attempt at dealing with a problem is nothing but smoke and mirrors and, therefore, will continue to turn to the Bloc Québécois, and the hon. member for Repentigny among others, to defend their interests.