I am delighted to stand today, Mr. Speaker and colleagues from all parties, to address Bill C-2 at third reading.
First of all, as I said in our leading speech when the bill was first debated, we generally support the accountability act. In fact, in most areas of Bill C-2, it adds to and builds on a number of major issues that have been promoted by the Liberal government over the last 10 years. Of course, one of these was the most dramatic change in political financing in Canadian history, which was former Bill C-24 which passed and came into effect over two and a half years ago. Bill C-2 builds on it further and that is a good thing. We have to be careful in that area that we do not go too far and inhibit the free speech of Canadians, but generally that is certainly a continuation of something that the former Liberal government brought into effect.
The bill is also a continuation around the powers of independent officers of Parliament, such as the independent Ethics Commissioner brought in by the previous Liberal government who has served, I might say, with distinction.
The lobbyist registration rules are being tightened up in this bill and that is a good thing. I will speak in a moment of how they could be even better. That is something that progressed steadily over the last 10 years under the previous government. The bill also extends the powers of the Auditor General which I think all in the House believe is a good thing. We are very much in favour of the direction in which this bill is going.
I thank the member for Nepean--Carleton and the member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre for their remarks in support of the members of the committee, myself included, but I think it is important for all members of the House to understand something that the hon. member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre stressed. It is that members of the House are honourable, that public servants in Canada are honourable and that we need the requisite support of Canadians in believing that to have our democracy really work in a healthy way and not simply be looked at in a cynical way. I simply quote from Justice Gomery's first report, his fact finding report. He said at page 3:
Canadians should not forget that the vast majority of our public officials and politicians do their work honestly, diligently and effectively, and emerge from this inquiry free of any blame.
I do not say that to try to avoid the responsibility of the government at the time, of which I was a part, but I say it so that we keep this in balance and in perspective and that we do not sully our own reputations as public servants and politicians from all parties who, in the words of Mr. Justice Gomery, are honest, diligent and effective in their work. That is what we need to stress to Canadians, even while we find wrong, we admit fault and we put in new mechanisms to ensure that it will not happen again.
When we say that on this side of the House we support the general aims of the accountability act, it is a qualified support. We recognize that accountability is a work in progress. It has been going on for a long time. Often we hit bumps in the road. We learn some things; we do things better. I think there are many good steps forward in the bill. There are some things still to be done or things that could be corrected and we will be working to continually improve it, even while we support the bill.
Let me mention Motions Nos. 1, 3 and 6 which were passed this afternoon which relate to the autonomy and independence of the House of Commons and members of Parliament. We received testimony from the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel at the Bill C-2 legislative committee that there were a number of difficulties with the way the bill was drafted.
The most serious difficulty was one that was unconstitutional. That was the part of the bill that called for secret votes to approve officers of Parliament. As a committee we took that as being unconstitutional and inappropriate and we agreed to remove that. That was an excellent collaborative response to an extremely important bit of advice from the Law Clerk.
There were other aspects that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel expressed concerns about, not because they are unconstitutional, but because they were against the traditional autonomy and independence of the legislative branch from the judiciary and the executive branch. Of course the three branches of government in our country under our Constitution which adopts the British parliamentary system are immensely important to the strength of our democracy. While the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel said that it was possible for Parliament to counteract that or give away some of that autonomy, he felt it might weaken the strength of Parliament over time with respect to its independence and autonomy.
Motions Nos. 1, 3 and 6 were passed today quite constitutionally, but went against that advice. That is something members of the House on all sides will have to watch very carefully as we go forward to make sure that we are not eroding those essential three autonomous independent pillars of our democracy.
I would also like to comment briefly on the open government act. Over a year ago, a House of Commons committee invited the Information Commissioner to come up with recommendations for reform of the system after 23 years of experience with the Access to Information Act. The reforms are with respect to some of the basic principles of access to information.
One is that public information is owned by the public and should be accessible by the public. Another one is that exemptions carrying on from that should be limited. In the basic principles he brought forward in the open government act, not only should it be accessible and only have a few exemptions, but those exemptions should have to be discretionary and should have to pass an injury test, that even though they may be within the exceptions in the act, they do not cause injury to the person who might be protected, whether it is a private citizen, a commercial entity or another government. Even if there were injury, there would be a public interest override which is immensely important.
Those were in the open government act recommended by the Information Commissioner last fall. They were reviewed, debated and endorsed by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Then the Conservative Party, which was in opposition at the time, put that in black and white in its election platform, that the whole open government act would be included in the accountability act as the first act of a new Parliament if the Conservative Party formed government, but it has not included that. That is work for all of us to do to ensure in the fall when we further consider access to information that those important principles are enhanced.
The third area I would like to talk to briefly is the addition of new agencies of government to provide for greater accountability. I have no doubt these are well meaning but they do have the danger of adding new levels of bureaucracy and process to a system which needs air, needs light and needs to be fair. I think we all agree that the size of government is something we should be reducing and making more effective rather than simply adding to it to deal with another problem. Three of these areas deal with immensely important issues but there are institutions of government that could have taken on those mandates.
I speak first of all of the reprisal tribunal. That is fine but we do have the Canadian Industrial Relations Board which could have been asked to take on that role.
With respect to the nominations committee, there is very good legislation in the bill now which we support, but that could have been done by the Public Service Commission.
With respect to the director of public prosecutions, this country has one of the finest prosecution services federally and provincially than anywhere else in the world. To my knowledge, there has never been a suggestion, certainly in the modern history of Canada, that our federal prosecution service is not acting impartially within that special independent role of the Attorney General. The director of public prosecutions as a new entity is really not necessary. We could have improved the transparency around directions for an Attorney General and Minister of Justice but a new process was not necessary. That was certainly the way we looked at it.
I thank members on all sides of the House for their work at committee. It was a noble purpose, this bill. There were many things that were appropriate to begin with. There were many that could be strengthened and were strengthened by collaboration in committee. There are some aspects that still need to be addressed as this work in progress works to the benefit of all Canadians.