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House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-2.

Topics

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

The answer, Mr. Speaker, is yes.

More seriously, I thank my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Actually, I did not talk much about the returning officers in my speech because I talked about the Bloc’s victories and we had many. Still I should have mentioned that we in the Bloc submitted to the appropriate committee an amendment to the Elections Act on the appointment of returning officers. It was to have returning officers appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer.

At the time, we told the Liberals we were sure that some Liberals would be competent enough to stay if returning officers were appointed according to their competence rather than their allegiance. So we did not understand why they so stubbornly refused. For us, competence should take precedence over political allegiance. I think this is the message that the Conservatives understood.

As for the prompt enforcement of this amendment in an upcoming election, I will reassure my colleague. The Chief Electoral Officer has been awaiting this possibility for so long that he has put in place all the structures with a view to proceeding very quickly—he has confirmed this to us—with the appointment of returning officers by means of competitions. Probably many returning officers in place today will be able to continue their work. I cannot guess the percentages, but there will surely be a good number.

There are some competent people among them who did a good job in the last election or in earlier ones. They will be able to apply for the position and take part in the competition, and they will be able to keep their positions by showing their competence. As for the incompetents appointed only because they had been members of a party, not ours, for a long time, they will keep themselves busy with a pastime other than working in the service of our democracy.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

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

First, Mr. Speaker, I must acknowledge the energetic and colossal work that my colleague from Repentigny has done in committee, the rigour he has shown in all of his work, and the fine intelligence he has invested in it. For that he must most certainly be thanked.

I must also thank our colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, who has done her work under extremely difficult conditions, given that there was a lot of pressure to make the process go fast, indeed too fast. Having participated in this committee, I can confirm that the relentless pace did not leave time to receive the witnesses with the seriousness that they deserved.

They provided us with some very thorough documents and made presentations to us that were extremely refined and intelligent, and we did not have time to ask them all of the questions we should have, questions that would have enabled us to formulate a good bill.

The proof that this bill was deserving of improvement is that a lot of amendments were made, to the point that I wonder if we did not set some records.

Most fortunately, some of those amendments represented an improvement, such as the abolition of the $1,000 reward for whistleblowers. Otherwise we would have transformed whistleblowers into informers, and that was unacceptable.

Without question, the amendment with which I am most pleased is the one recommending the five-year review. For indeed, we performed this work so quickly and under such difficult conditions that the bill is going to be imperfect. We will truly need to have it reviewed in a few years. With use, all of its inconsistencies will become clear.

I would therefore like to ask my colleague from Repentigny whether he thinks that this committee worked too fast or at the proper pace.

I know that the committee sometimes sat for 45 hours a week, which is totally abnormal. In any case, I had never seen such a thing in nine years of work here on Parliament Hill.

Can my colleague confirm that the work was carried out in a serious manner? Is that work going to produce a proper bill? Furthermore, will it not be desirable to make certain amendments in a few months?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

June 21st, 2006 / 7 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question, which will perhaps give me an opportunity to correct some perceptions that are very soon going to be expressed in this House. When it came time to work on Bill C-2, every political party exhibited the best will in the world and wanted to make a positive contribution.

Strangely, and this is the first time in 13 years that I have seen a committee like that one, all parties agreed with Bill C-2 in principle, and it was the most litigious committee I have ever had to work on. Why? Because from the outset, the sword of Damocles was hung over our heads, when we were told that we had to pass this bill post haste. We could have passed Bill C-11 to create a safety net for whistleblowers and taken the time we needed. Taking the time we need does not mean using stalling tactics.

When we began consideration of the bill, the government got into bed with another political party to ensure that rather than sitting for normal committee times, or even double time, which we wanted to do at the outset, the committee would have to increase its time significantly. The situation was such that we could not get any research documents, or documents prepared by the library, to enable us to do our job conscientiously. Then we were told that if we did not finish by June 21, we were going to sit after that; if we did not finish after that, we were going to sit through the night. It was threat after threat, because, it seems, they had heard enough about it. I am eager to see how speedily they will be wanting to consider the access to information bill.

Nonetheless, working under extremely difficult circumstances, we tried to do it carefully and seriously. Today, as a result, we have a bill that is acceptable, if imperfect. Very fortunately, we were able to pass an amendment about reviewing the act after five years. If there are parts that have been forgotten or that might not be consistent with the objectives of the act, because of the speed with which we had to consider this bill, we will be able to rectify them then.

The working conditions and the circumstances of that consideration, however, were not normal. We should have had the time to consider this bill conscientiously.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have a final opportunity to address Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, on behalf of the NDP caucus.

First, I would ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is there unanimous consent for the member to split his time with the member for Ottawa Centre?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share some views from the New Democratic Party. At the outset, our party is proud to support Bill C-2 and I am proud to have played an active role in getting the bill to this point of time in the first session of the 39th Parliament.

So much that is embodied in the bill finds its origins and can be found in the very ethics package that the NDP was proudly promoting at the fall of the 38th Parliament. This package was put together by our former leader, the former member from Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent.

The NDP found it very easy to relate to Bill C-2 and support the many initiatives. Parts of the bill read almost verbatim of the NDP election campaign platform on accountability and transparency measures. It is only natural that our party would support the bill. We are proud that we were able to in our view improve the bill as well.

Our party was eager to support speedy passage of the bill. The NDP was very concerned that, if the bill lost momentum and dragged on into the fall or possibly even into next spring, its likelihood for success would diminish as the time went by. That is the very nature of this place, that competing interests prevail sometimes.

The committee improved Bill C-2 in very significant ways. The committee achieved roughly 20 amendments to the bill, some of them were huge. I can speak proudly that the public appointments commission, which will exist as a result of Bill C-2, will put an end to patronage as we know it in Ottawa today, the unbridled patronage that used to dominate and so offended Canadians. That alone would have been justification for the NDP's support for the bill. I am happy to say it is only one element.

I will limit my remarks to a few points. I need to clear up some misconceptions that have arisen and some that have been promoted by other parties.

First, I find it humorous that I am being accused of being too close to the Conservative Party in this matter. No one has a monopoly on good ideas. When good ideas arise, people gravitate to them. I spent much of my career being red-baited as being too left wing in the labour movement. They called me a commie. Now I am being blue-baited. They are accusing me of being a Tory. I cannot seem to win in this regard.

I am a fiercely proud social democratic. I am a trade unionist and I am an NDP member of Parliament. I will compare my left wing credentials with anyone who may wish to challenge them. Another thing, I am a fiercely proud Canadian nationalist. Unabashedly, and I say this with great pride, I believe that what we have done today with Bill C-2 is the greatest possible thing we could do to advance the cause of national unity in this 39th Parliament.

The weakest link that Canadian federalism has is to be corrupt, not trustworthy, of maladministration. All those things play into the hands of the enemy of Canadian federalism. If we want to be champions of Canadian federalism, we have to put forward a face of federalism of which we can be proud. That means erasing the stain that was put on the good face of Canada by the last administration. I believe, in my heart, that we are doing something right for Canada when we advance transparency and accountability.

The other misinformation I have to correct is this. The Liberal Party has put out a press release saying that I personally voted down its anti-floor crossing amendment. This is an absolute fabrication and untruth. I want to state it very clearly here today. What happened was the Liberal anti-floor crossing amendment was ruled out of order. The Liberals did not vote for their own floor-crossing amendment because it was ruled out of order.

If we could possibly clarify that, then the Liberals may stop saying this around the country. If the Liberals will stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them.

In terms of election financing, the Liberals and the Bloc voted down a corrective measures put forward by the NDP to stop the atrocity of shaking down school children for their lunch money and trying to circumvent the election financing laws by laundering money through children's bank accounts. We had a perfectly viable proposal at the committee, which would have ended this practice forever. The Liberals and the Bloc voted that down. I invite anybody on either side of the House to challenge that.

The NDP thought it brought forward meaningful amendments in election financing. There are changes in Bill C-2 that we support. Lowering the annual donation limits to a reasonable amount, will take big money out of politics. There should be no corporate donations. There should be no union donations. There should only be donations from individuals. With a limit of $1,000, we believe no one will be able to buy an election any more. That in itself is something of which I am proud. That stand-alone item would have had me voting in favour of Bill C-2.

There are six or seven individual items in Bill C-2 that by themselves would have earned my support and vote. It seems only natural to me that we would enthusiastically support the whole package.

Some of the other opposition parties are sensitive, and I do not blame them. Every page of Bill C-2 reads like a condemnation of the past practices of the Liberal Party of Canada for the past 13 years. I do not blame them for being sensitive about that.

It is true that the first session of the 39th Parliament had to be dedicated to ensuring that no political party could exploit and abuse the public trust the way the last administration did. It was necessary work. It was like pulling a tooth. It is good we are getting it out of the way fast, like ripping off a band-aid. We want to do this quickly and get it over with so we can move on with the other important work and challenges facing our country.

One of the other things I am very proud we managed to get done was on the lobbyist registration. It has always bothered people that peddling influence by insiders in Ottawa has corrupted and jeopardized democracy in that certain people have undue influence because of who they know. That will not be allowed any more.

We have seen what lobbying has done to the United States. It has virtually ground Capitol Hill to a halt in many ways. Nothing happens without satisfying the hordes of lobbyists. We are not going to allow that to happen here. If we are on that slippery slope, I believe we have taken important measures to clean that up, to preclude the influence peddlers having undue influence in Ottawa. I think we can celebrate that move on behalf of Canadians.

I know I do not have much time and I will not dwell on this for long, but I read an interesting speech recently. A few years ago there were only 20 federal countries in the world. Federalism is the most difficult form of government to hold together. People do not realize how rare and difficult it is. At that time, 3 of those 20 federalist states were blowing themselves to pieces through corruption, maladministration and internal strife. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Canada were the three countries at risk, as mentioned in the international journal I read.

We know what happened to the Soviet Union. We know what happened to Yugoslavia. To hold this precious effort, this initiative we call Canada together, we need to operate at the highest possible ethical standards in order to earn and keep the confidence of all the disparate parts of this federation. The string that holds all these pearls together into one wonderful entity called Canada is always very vulnerable. It is very fragile and needs to be nurtured.

The enemies of transparency and accountability are the enemies of the Canadian union, in my view. It raises this whole issue to a much higher plane. We are doing something noble as we pass Bill C-2 and I am proud to be associated with it.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I found it interesting to listen to my colleague who, like me, sat on the legislative committee responsible for Bill C-2.

I have two comments and one question for him. He said that the Liberal members and the two Bloc members on the committee voted against the NDP amendment to establish a minimum age for making legal monetary donations to political parties. The NDP amendment stipulated that the legal limit of $1,000 for a donation made by a child would apply to any child, even a newborn, up to the age of 14. However, Elections Canada would consider the donation to have been made by the parent, which would then limit the amount a parent could donate. After the child turned 14, the donation would be considered to have been made by the child. The amendment would have changed nothing. It would still have allowed children to make donations legally.

A Liberal amendment, however—mine in fact—would have set the minimum age for making donations at 18. I was disappointed that my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and government members voted against this amendment.

I would like to discuss another issue. I am very interested in what the member for Winnipeg Centre has to say about this. He proposed an amendment—which the Liberals supported—to assign criteria, a mandate and powers to the Public Appointments Commission. The Liberals thought this an excellent amendment. The government's Bill C-2 included neither mandate nor powers. It simply said that the governor in council could direct the Public Appointments Commission to appoint a commissioner.

The committee—Liberal, Conservative, Bloc and NDP members alike—supported this motion. What does the member for Winnipeg Centre think of the Prime Minister's statement that despite the adoption of this motion, he will not appoint anyone to this position?

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will use what little time I have to explain the other election financing piece the Liberals and the Bloc voted against. It dealt with these huge Liberal leadership loans, which are more like corporate donations. If they are not paid back in 18 months, they are treated as donations. A $100,000 loan becomes a $100,000 donation, which is illegal. In fact, if it is not repayable, they can forgive it.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

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

They continue to allow it.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can hardly hear myself think with the catcalling from my colleague. She is being so rude in not giving me the floor. I used a lot of restraint to not shriek at her, such was my outrage. Now she will not be quiet.

The other misinformation is this. The Liberals actually defended the status quo of election financing currently when they defeated the attempt we made if minors wanted to participated in the political process. If my 14 year old wanted to donate $50 to my election campaign, that would be fine, but that amount would be deducted from the donation limit of the parent or guardian. This would not preclude participation of youth, because we all have a youth wing in our political party. The Liberal amendment was that no one under 18 years old could make any donations. I do not think that was wise, so I did not support it.

What I do ask the Liberal Party to do is stop this campaign of misinformation about how I voted regarding its floor-crossing amendment. No one voted for its floor-crossing amendment. No one was allowed to vote for it. If my floor-crossing amendment was ruled out of order and the Liberals' was allowed to stand, I would have voted for theirs because it would have been the only one on which we would have been allowed to vote.

I hope that helps to set the record straight. I hope they can perhaps issue a second press release to correct the deliberate misinformation of the last one.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members of the committee for working on this bill and providing Canadians with a bill which we can all be proud of. It is a large bill. There might be some kinks in the bill to work out as we move along, but because of the amendments that were put forward, the witnesses who came forward, and the debate that we had at committee, we have a bill that we can be proud of.

Certainly some people have concerns with some things in the bill. That is fair with a bill this size. There are things in the bill that we will want to keep an eye on and make sure that, as was pointed out by other members, there is not unintended consequence.

I want to start my remarks with a quote:

When they find themselves in the midst of wrongdoing, those with a vivid sense of right and wrong have feelings of remorse. On the other hand, the defining characteristic of corruption is that feelings of remorse have been lost, replaced by the impulse to deny, perpetuate and cover up. The Liberal Party is losing its sense of remorse.

That was said before the last election by my predecessor, Mr. Broadbent. It deserves applause because it was insightful. He was distinguishing between those who understand when they have done wrong and do something about it and those who do not. He was identifying the concerns about ethics and accountability. What did he do? He proposed something. That is what we did on the bill in committee and it is what we are doing as we speak right now. We are proposing a better way. Mr. Broadbent proposed an ethics package which dealt with many of the concerns we all had at the time.

The first concern he had was about floor crossing as was just mentioned. He believed, as I believe and many Canadians believe, that if a member crosses the floor and is vaulted into cabinet, perhaps the member should go to the Canadian people and see what they think about it. It is a pretty democratic idea. We hope that will come to fruition one day. In fact the good people of Manitoba will have that type of law in place soon. They will not have to deal with floor crossing.

The second part of Mr. Broadbent's ethics package was to have fixed election dates. I am pleased that we will have fixed election dates soon. That was a smart thing for the government to introduce.

The third thing he put forward was transparent leadership contests. This is still a concern. In committee we said that we wanted to make sure that these outlandish, ridiculous, opulent, unaccountable leadership contests did not take place. In the last Liberal leadership contest, the former prime minister who was running for leader at the time had $12 million in the kitty. That is a little over the top. The $2.7 million that was spent for the present Prime Minister on his leadership may be a little more than is necessary.

Mr. Broadbent was proposing to have transparent leadership contests. The money trail would be followed. We would see from where it was coming. There would be some oversight. It would be regulated. We do not want to see influence being pedalled because the leader of one political party one day might become our prime minister the next. The process deserves accountability. It deserves a window of access to information.

The fourth thing that Mr. Broadbent proposed in the ethics package was electoral reform. We are still fighting for that and will continue to do so. We proposed a model which was very sensible and reasonable. The Law Reform Commission studied it and believes it to be a sensible model. We will carry on with that.

The fifth proposal was to end the unregulated lobbying that was going on because it was way out of hand. We saw what was happening. I will give an example, and we still have not heard the final details. It was the sale of Petro-Canada. It was interesting to follow the money on that one. It was the biggest sell-off of a Canadian asset. The New Democratic Party believes Petro-Canada should have been transformed into a crown corporation to deal with renewable energy, but alas, it was sold off. If we follow the money to see who was involved in selling it off, it is a very interesting story of influence and lobbying.

Look at what happened on the satellite radio file. Initially the cabinet believed that certain satellite radio companies should not have a licence. The lobbyists got to members of the cabinet and turned it around and there were contingency fees all around.

We saw that with the previous government. We have heard the entitlement to entitlements quote. I think that was exacted by my predecessor, Mr. Broadbent, in committee as a matter of fact. We believe that the unregulated lobbying had to end and Bill C-2 deals with it.

We still have a concern that someone who is lobbying government can get contracts. We will continue to keep an eye on it. What is really important is that the regulations for lobbyists have been strengthened. Contingency fees will be banned to get the money out of this really spurious kind of business. There are good, credible people who do credible lobbying in this town and they were being sideswiped by the people who were making money in, I believe, an ill-gotten way.

The sixth thing Mr. Broadbent had proposed was ethical appointments. I am delighted that because of the hard work of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, the committee adopted an amendment to the bill. We finally have a process that will ensure there will be ethical appointments with oversight. That is no small gain. That is absolutely huge.

We only have to go back to 1867 and Sir John A. Macdonald, or to the 1984 election and the statement, “You had an option, sir”. We know this has been a problem for every single administration in Canadian history. We have seen people being appointed based on their party card, not on their merit card. I am hopeful that will finally end.

The last one was on access to information. I am glad to see there were some gains made. At the beginning of the debate on the bill there were some concerns that we would not have changes to the Access to Information Act. There are amendments. There is more to do and that work will be taken up in the fall.

To paraphrase what my colleague from Winnipeg Centre said, the oxygen of democracy is the access to information in the work we do here. If we are unable to hold the government to account by accessing the information through ministries, crown corporations and agencies, then we will have difficulty doing the job which citizens have sent us to this place to do, and that is to hold the government to account.

Those were the seven points of Mr. Broadbent's and our party's platform, our ethical package. When I look at Bill C-2, we are there in many ways, but there is more work to do for sure. I have already mentioned the need to deal with floor crossing. We need electoral reform. We need a little more work on access to information. The transparent leadership question still needs to be tweaked. We have come a long way.

We have been able to deal with the question of holding government to account and the accountability of government to Parliament and Parliament to government. We need to take into consideration the accountability to citizens. That is what electoral reform is all about. That is the next stage. That is the next area of reform. Our work is not finished. We will have to focus on that.

I was very delighted to see the changes to the whistleblower legislation. It has been referenced by members of the other parties that Bill C-11 was fine if we just put it in place. As someone who was in contact and worked with many whistleblowers in this town, I can say that it was not fine. The oversight was a board that had over 8,000 cases presented to it in a year. It took over 18 months to hear cases. We needed to have a parallel stream. We have it with the tribunal. The fact that Bill C-11 was there was not good enough for the people I worked with.

We have improved the whistleblower legislation. We and other members of the committee we able to make sure there was no reward for whistleblowers. I thought that was anti-ethical. In fact, it is not ethical to provide cash for people to do the right thing. Every single whistleblower that I know was clear about this, they did not want to be rewarded in cash for doing the right thing.

I will end my comments by thanking everyone in the committee for their hard work. We need to be proud of this work and to carry on with our work to be accountable to Canadians through electoral reform.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that there are a lot of provisions in this bill that are meritorious. The two that I find have the most value are the accountability of deputy ministers and some of the provisions dealing with lobbyist registration.

Everyone is talking about accountability but when I study the bill and when I read what preceded the bill, I do not think it really deals with institutional accountability.

When the federal accountability act, which is what the bill is called, was being debated, we were taking major steps backward in this House. We saw the Prime Minister appoint his campaign co-chair to the Senate and appointed him as the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He is spending $50 million a day and he is accountable to absolutely no one. We have seen the revisiting of a previous practice of the Prime Minister assuming control and appointing the committee chairs. We have seen a major step backward in the whole issue of free votes.

What is the member's position with respect to the whole issue of institutional accountability? I think that this bill does not address it in any way, shape or form.

Federal Accountability ActGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my comments, there is more work to be done.

Clearly what we have heard from many learned people on public policy is that we can bring in bills and we can enact legislation, but unless there are good men and women working day to day to make sure those things are enforced, they are not worth much. I do not take issue with the member about the need for more work to be done in certain areas.

This place needs to do more work on looking at the books and looking at the estimates process.

Let us go back to the genesis of Bill C-2 and the ethics package that my predecessor put forward. It was the sponsorship scandal and some other areas that were of concern, such as lobbying, et cetera. With respect to oversight in Parliament, we should be taking more time, paying more attention and shining more light on the money before it is spent. When the estimates go through this place, it should not be done in a day. We should take more time and put them under the microscope. It is done in other jurisdictions.

It would mean having more resources for committees. We need to make sure that the people on those committees have more time to serve on the committees. The appointments need to be for longer periods. One way to do that is through electoral reform. The people who are in the third that we are proposing who are elected from the so-called list would be able to spend more time on committee work. A concern of people who have evaluated public policy for many years is that people do not spend enough time on committees.

Maybe we need to have a subcommittee of finance to look at the estimate process and take more time. It was not that long ago that it was a committee of the whole that looked at the estimates. I am not suggesting we go back to that practice, but that we spend more time at the front end examining every single line item that is being proposed. In the past, if we had caught some of the things such as what we saw with the sponsorship scandal, we would all be better off.

Those are some ideas for the future.

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7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

One minute for both the question and the answer.

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7:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, there has been a lot of talk these days about who is dancing with whom and who is sleeping with whom. Canadians could be forgiven for thinking we are running a soap opera here rather than the House of Commons.

I would like the member to comment on what took place in the environment committee this afternoon. He watched the accountability break down in the government. I brought a motion forward which was in order and was judged by the Speaker of the House to be in order. The ruling Conservative Party decided that it was out of order, and ruled over its own chair and then was somehow mystically joined by the Liberals, who decided that even though the motion was in order and everything was quite legal and right, for political purposes, they were going to overrule it and side with the government against their own committee chair.

I wonder if he could recount how this fits in with a government trying to be more accountable and an opposition party pretending to actually be in opposition.

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7:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member has five seconds in which to answer.

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7:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, very quickly, simply elect more New Democrats and they will see the change.

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7:30 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add a few comments to the third reading debate on Bill C-2, the federal accountability act. I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell.

Let me begin by thanking the President of the Treasury Board, the member for Ottawa West--Nepean, and his parliamentary secretary, the member for Nepean--Carleton, and in fact the whole legislative committee for its hard work on this bill. The collaboration of all members has made this a better bill. All parties in this House have worked toward this.

As we have come through the report stage into this third reading debate, it seems that members from every party are claiming victory in some way or another. That is a good sign. It shows that the process is working as it should.

As well, I would like to take a moment to thank my constituents who have given me the opportunity to be here to speak on their behalf. Of course I would like to think I am here because of my boyish good looks and sparkling personality, but my wife assures me that is not the case. I know I am here at the pleasure of my constituents. I take that responsibility very seriously. I will do my best to serve them well. In fact, one opportunity to do so is to support this good piece of legislation.

Like a lot of members in this House, as I went door to door and talked to people on the street during the last campaign and the campaign before that, I sensed a large degree of cynicism about and even distrust of politicians. We of course have seen the polls showing that politicians are the least trusted of any occupational group, and it does not look like the numbers are getting any better in the more recent polls.

In fact, sometimes the people I talked to on the doorsteps would say that we are all the same or that we are only in it for what we can get, although each one of us here will claim that we are not in it for what we can get. In fact, I think we would probably all agree that we do not know of any colleagues of ours, whether they are on this side of the House or in opposition, who are here for what they can get.

It is very clear that Canadians expect more from us: not just to do good but also to be good. In fact, they sent that message loud and clear on January 23. They said they wanted an accountable government, one that they can trust with their hard-earned dollars and one that works effectively and efficiently on their behalf. I believe this federal accountability act delivers on our commitment to do just that.

During the campaign we said from time to time, and probably more often than the Liberals liked, that we needed to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability and, really, what we are talking about here is changing the culture.

This is an interesting concept, because there is no real agreement on how to define culture. Some define it in a historical way, saying that culture is the social traditions that are passed from generation to generation. Others view it in a behavioural way, saying that it is shared or learned human behaviour. Others view it in a normative way, saying that it is the ideals or the values that a particular group of people have. Some view it as a mental thing, as the ideas or habits that we have as people that distinguish us from animals. Or maybe it is a symbolic thing.

I like to think of culture as having three components. It is what people think. It is what people do. It is what people produce.

So if we were talking about a culture of entitlement, what we would think is that we were entitled or, as a more famous person has said, “entitled to our entitlements”. What would we do in that culture? I guess we would do whatever it takes to obtain those entitlements, even if from time to time those things were wrong. What would we produce? We would produce programs or legislation, even well-intentioned programs that at least occasionally were motivated by self-interest.

But if we in this place lived within a culture of accountability, then we would think and believe that we are answerable to Canadians. What we would do is act honestly, ethically and honourably. We would produce programs and legislation that have as their motivation the best interests of Canadians.

We are here about accountability. Most of us who grew up in a loving but firm family understood what accountability was. I do not think my parents ever used that word with me. I think I understood it. I think it was composed of four different things. They made the rules clear for me. Then they removed some of the opportunities to break those rules. They then monitored my behaviour. Then they provided a little correction from time to time if I ever needed it.

Really, that is what we are talking about here with the accountability act. We are making sure that the rules are clear. In some cases, we are changing the rules. We are strengthening the rules. We are strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner. Canadians expect elected representatives and public office holders to make decisions in the public interest without any consideration of personal gain. The Ethics Commissioner helps us do that.

In fact, Bill C-2 will combine the positions of the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer to create a new conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, with powers to fine violators and consider public complaints. We are going to make sure the rules are clear.

We are going to clean up the procurement of government contracts. I think all of us in this place believe that the Government of Canada's purchasing practices should be free of political interference and conducted fairly so that all companies, regardless of size and location, have the opportunity to compete for government work. We are going to make sure that the rules are clear on procurement. We are going to develop a code of conduct for procurement that will apply both to suppliers and to public servants.

We are going to clean up government polling and advertising. As we know, the government uses public opinion research and advertising to listen to and communicate with Canadians. I think that is a good thing most of the time, but recent political scandals regarding sponsorship and advertising have raised some legitimate concerns about the transparency, the fairness and the value for money of the procurement process in these areas. Bill C-2 introduces measures that ensure value for money and preclude these contracts from being used for partisan reasons or political benefit.

We are going to remove or at least reduce the opportunities for these rules to be broken. We are going to reform the financing of political parties. We believe that money should not have the ear of government but that Canadians should.

The federal accountability act will help take government out of the hands of big corporations and big unions and give it back to ordinary Canadians. The act is going to limit individual donations to $1,000 a year, ban contributions by corporations, unions and organizations, and prohibit cash donations of more than $20. We are going to ban secret political donations to political candidates.

We are going to toughen the Lobbyists Registration Act. I think everyone in the House would agree that people should not get rich bouncing between government and lobbying jobs. Lobbyists should not be allowed to charge what they call success fees, where they only get paid if they deliver the policy change their clients want. The government is now getting rid of these fees and is extending the ban on lobbying activities to five years for former ministers, their aides and senior public servants.

We are going to ensure truth in budgeting. We are going to create a new parliamentary budget officer to support members of Parliament and parliamentary committees with independent analysis on economic and fiscal issues.

The government will make qualified government appointments. This will be a welcome thing, as all of us here know.

Of course the government will monitor whether these rules actually are kept. Also, we are going to make it harder to hide. We are going to strengthen access to information legislation. Canadians deserve better access to government information. The Government of Canada belongs to the people of Canada. It should not unnecessarily obstruct access to information. There are good things in the bill in this regard.

The government is going to strengthen the power of the Auditor General. Canadians deserve to know their hard-earned tax dollars are spent. The Auditor General needs the power to follow the money in order to make sure that it is spent properly and wisely.

Occasionally from time to time we need correction. The government is creating a director of public prosecutions. It will have the independence to pursue prosecutions under federal law and will report publicly to Canadians on its performance.

The government wants to move from a culture of entitlement to a culture of accountability. The measures contained in Bill C-2 signal a dramatic change, a paradigm shift, so to speak, in how federal politics and government will work in this country.

As we change how we think, what we do and what we produce, we can provide Canadians with the open, honest, trustworthy government they deserve, a government that acts responsibly, rewards integrity and demonstrates clear accountability. By making everyone more accountable, the federal accountability act will help restore Canadians' trust in their government and make government work better for all.

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7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member opposite that the act contains certain good points, but I also see some points that are not as good.

What I see in the House is that the act is saying one thing and what is being done in Ottawa is totally the opposite. We have seen the Prime Minister take control of the committees of Parliament. Any concept of a free vote has been thrown out the window.

However, one of the most grievous situations is the appointment of the Prime Minister's campaign co-chair to the Senate right after the election. Subsequently, the very same person was appointed Minister of Public Works and Government Services, in effect making that person unaccountable to anyone.

He is not accountable to Parliament, he is not accountable to me and he is not accountable to you, Mr. Speaker, and yet he is spending $50 million a day. It totally violates anyone's concept of accountability. I have two very specific questions for the member across. First, given that there are about 35 million people in Canada and given that this person was the campaign co-chair, would that not be a patronage appointment? Second, why is it that this so-called accountability act would not have within it some provision that would end this spectacle?

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7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it a little strange that the member from the Liberal Party would question some of the activities of this government as they relate to accountability. Certainly the record of members on the other side is not one that they should be very proud of. In fact, I think Canadians have sent that message very clearly.

One of the principles of this bill in regard to appointments is that people should be well qualified for the positions they hold. They should be there because they know what they are doing and are responsible and all of those things. In fact, as for the appointments the Prime Minister has made, I believe he has made them in the best interests of Canadians. He put in well qualified people able to represent all citizens in the cities of this country and all Canadians all across this country. That is a good thing.

Throughout this bill it is very clear to Canadians, at least those I have talked to, that this is as we have said: a set of the most sweeping changes to our system of ethics, how we do government, and how we view our work here. Canadians have seen that. I think they will welcome this.

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7:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for a very cogent and concise overview of Bill C-2, the federal accountability act.

I would also like to take this opportunity on behalf of the citizens of Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale to thank the committee for all the hard work it did on this bill.

I knocked on a lot of doors through the last two elections. I heard a lot of concern about the years and years of mismanagement and corruption. People really wanted us to get the work done to bring accountability to the House.

I heard concerns from the opposite side about the timeframe of this legislation. When I reflect on it, I see that 70 witnesses were called by the committee and 100 hours were taken up. The draft legislation was in the hands of the opposition for weeks.

I want to ask my colleague if he feels that there was enough time taken in order for the legislation to reach a place where it is going to be effective, because Canadians do want us to bring accountability through this legislation, and whether he feels that the witnesses were listened to in committee.

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7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I was not on that committee but I believe that it, like all committees, was master of its own destiny. In fact, I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons say that early on in the process the committee passed a motion that it would do whatever was required to carry out due diligence with this piece of legislation, that it would take all the time that was necessary. In fact, the committee reached the conclusion that it had done all of their good work and brought it to us here today.

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7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for splitting his time with me.

I would like to speak to the House about Bill C-2, the federal accountability act. I am very pleased to show my support for this piece of legislation. Accountability is a fundamental principle of our democratic system and this bill will dramatically change how the government conducts itself.

We are honouring our commitments, clearly stated in our election campaign and in the throne speech, to ensure a sound and honest government. It is time to restore Canadians' trust in their government.

The need to restore this trust is an important element in the provisions of the bill. These provisions, which I will address in my speech here today, will strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner

I would first like to thank the Prime Minister for making this matter a real priority. Our government does more than just talk about its priorities; it pursues them relentlessly and spares no effort in getting the work done. As you know, many hours were devoted to this bill in committee.

I would also like to congratulate the President of the Treasury Board for the results of this important work, bringing the Prime Minister's vision to fruition.

In the time allotted to me today, I cannot possibly address all of the worthy reforms and initiatives in the bill. I know that many of my hon. colleagues have spoken to, or will speak to these issues. The focus of my remarks is on the bill's proposal to create a new conflict of interest act, an act that would create a stronger conflict of interest and ethics regime to be administered by a conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.

As hon. members know, we made seven clear commitments on how to strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner. I will just reiterate them quickly.

We must give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators. We must prevent the Ethics Commissioner from being overruled by the Prime Minister on whether violations have occurred. We must enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law. We must close the loopholes that allow ministers to vote on matters connected with their business interests. We must end venetian blind trusts. We must allow the public, not just politicians to make complaints to the commissioner, and we must make part time or non-remunerated ministerial advisors subject to the ethics regime.

Bill C-2 clearly shows that we have honoured every one of these seven commitments. The new conflict of interest and ethics regime will guarantee that elected representatives and public office holders carry out their official duties and manage their personal affairs so as to avoid conflict of interest. Here is how we have honoured our commitments to Canadians.

First, we have given the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner the power to impose monetary penalties on people who violate the act. Sections 52 to 62 of the proposed Conflict of Interest Act set out a detailed regime of penalties that the commissioner can impose on public office holders who violate the provisions of the act. The maximum penalty is $500, and the commissioner is to determine the exact amount based on criteria set out in the act. These penalties may be recovered in the Federal Court, and they must be made public, which is not the case in many other similar regimes.

Second, the act clearly says that the commissioner's decisions as to whether or not the act was contravened may not be overturned. Section 47 clearly states that no one may alter the commissioner's report. When the commissioner imposes a penalty, it may not be appealed in court and the prime minister may not overturn the commissioner's decision.

Third, the act enshrines into law the substantive and administrative regime found in the current Conflict of Interest and Post-employment Code for public office holders. The act refocuses the regime as a true conflict of interest regime similar to the approach used in most provinces.

The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner would also be mandated to provide advice and support the Prime Minister on ethical matters beyond conflict of interest.

Fourth, the proposed act was designed to clarify the obligation that ministers not vote on matters connected with their business interests. Section 21 requires all public office holders to recuse themselves from any decision, debate or vote in respect of which they would be in a conflict of interest.

Section 30 gives the commissioner a broad power to determine any measures that might be required to ensure that the public office holder is in compliance with these and other requirements of the act.

Subsection 6(2) of the act expressly prohibits a minister or a parliamentary secretary from debating or voting in the House of Commons on questions that would place them in a conflict of interest. This provision is an essential element of the conflict of interest regime and is based on a similar provision found in the code for members of the House of Commons.

We are pleased that this provision has been reinstated after it was deleted in committee by an opposition motion. This restores the integrity of the conflict of interest regime.

Section 27 of the new act, which honours the fifth of our commitments regarding the ethics regime, expressly prohibits the use of blind management agreements, sometimes called “Venetian blind trusts”. Consequently, as this section states, the only way to divest controlled assets is to sell them in an arm's-length transaction or place them in a true blind trust that meets the requirements set out in the bill.

As for the sixth commitment, the new law provides for a means whereby the commissioner may receive complaints from members of the public. Subclause 44(4) states that the commissioner may consider information from the public that is brought to his or her attention by any parliamentarian. In addition, the law now permits MPs and senators to file complaints against any of the 3,600 public office holders, and not just the ministers and parliamentary secretaries as is the case under the existing Parliament of Canada Act. In addition to these changes, clause 45 of the bill gives the commissioner the explicit authority to examine a matter on his or her own initiative, an authority currently not in place. These changes considerably improve the ability of the commissioner to act on credible information and to ensure that public office holders comply with conflict of interest provisions set out in the law.

Finally, the seventh ethics regime commitment has been fulfilled by expanding the definition of public office holders covered by the regime to include ministerial advisors.

Ministerial advisors are those who occupy a position in the office of a minister or a minister of state and who provide policy, program or financial advice, whether or not the advice is provided on a full time or part time basis, and regardless whether the person is remunerated or not.

As part of the action plan, the government has also committed to increase public transparency about the numerous ministerial appointments to advisory bodies who may be unpaid and working part time, and who are not public office holders for the purposes of the act.

I could continue to speak about the considerable and very important changes that we presented in order to strengthen the conflicts of interest and ethics regime. These changes have produced a regime that is autonomous, better focussed and more transparent, somewhat like our government.

I am honoured to speak to these points at the third reading of Bill C-2. On their own, these reforms warrant our support for this bill. However, I would like to remind the hon. members that they form part of a number of much more significant measures designed to restore confidence in the government. The other components of the federal accountability bill also deserve our support and I ask my honourable colleagues to carry out their responsibilities and support this bill that will make government more accountable to the Canadians who elected all members to serve them.

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7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to this bill.

I, like other members who have spoken before me this evening, want to thank the 12 members of the committee who put so much time, energy and effort into reviewing this bill. Like other members, there are provisions in this bill I find very positive. The lobbyist registration and the accountability of deputy ministers before Parliament are major steps for this Parliament and certainly I support them.

However, I believe there will be negative outcomes from the bill. A lot of these additional officers of Parliament that are being created amounts to Parliament outsourcing its fundamental job to hold the executive to account.

Tonight I want to spend my few minutes just speaking about accountability in its broadest sense and how perhaps we as an institution are losing sight of this very important concept.

It is my position that this bill, although very beneficial and containing a lot of good provisions, a lot of steps forward which have been very adequately addressed by other members tonight, really has very little, if anything, to do with institutional accountability here in Parliament. In actual fact, what has happened over the last number of years is that we have taken what I consider some fairly major steps backwards.

I should point out before I go any further that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ajax--Pickering.

As all members know, the Canadian Parliament is governed by three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. The executive gets its authority of course from the Governor General, who appoints the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament. That leader appoints the executive. The executive is accountable to Parliament, and of course Parliament is accountable to the Canadian people.

The members of the executive are parliamentarians also, and our job is to provide authority, approve legislation, approve appropriations on the one hand, and hold the government to account. That is our fundamental job in this assembly.

Over the years, there has been a major imbalance between the executive and Parliament. We can see that with the control right now. It did not start with the present Prime Minister. This has been going on and it has been added to by successive prime ministers over the last number of years.

Right now I believe that the Privy Council Office, the Prime Minister's Office, and the Department of Finance have thousands and thousands of employees, experts and researchers. We in Parliament, I believe at last count, have approximately 80 researchers working for us. There is a tremendous imbalance in what is going on here in Ottawa.

The executive branch has gotten stronger over the years and the legislative branch has gotten weaker, and it cries out for reform. There has been much talk about it over the years, much written about it, but very little done about it. There has been the odd step forward taken, but in the last three or four months we have taken some fairly major steps backwards.

The bill is referred to in this assembly as the federal accountability act, but it really has nothing to do with institutional accountability. My position is that it falsely expropriates the term accountability.

I refer members of Parliament to the work of Mr. Justice Gomery. This was a very extensive report with four volumes. The title of it is “Restoring Accountability”. Mr. Justice Gomery and his commission make 19 recommendations. We would expect to see a number of them in this so-called federal accountability act. Other than three or four, we do not see anything.

Mr. Justice Gomery talked about strengthening committees, about providing more resources for parliamentarians and about major changes to the public accounts committee. None of that is even mentioned in the federal accountability act. Mr. Justice Gomery talked about the accountability of deputy ministers, which was codified in the federal accountability act, but everything else he said was basically ignored.

What we have seen over the last four months has been some major steps backward with regard to the problem of institutional accountability in Parliament. I do not want anyone to interpret this as having started with the present Prime Minister, because it did not. This has been going on for decades. Every successive prime minister who came to Ottawa wanted to consolidate total, absolute and utter power in the Office of the Prime Minister.

What I have seen here in the last five months I find very grievous. The first thing the Prime Minister did before anything else was to put his campaign co-chair, who spent two months working on his campaign, in the Senate. Two or three days after that he made him the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. The previous speaker did not see anything wrong with that and said that it was not a patronage appointment. I do not think anyone in Canada would agree with that. It is a blatant patronage appointment.

I am not suggesting for a minute that is the first time that has happened in the Senate. However, the Prime Minister made him the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, a minister who spends $50 million each and every day and is not accountable to anyone in this institution. I cannot ask him a question for two reasons: first, he is not here; and second, I do not even know what he looks like. I am a member of Parliament who was sent to Ottawa on behalf of the people of Charlottetown, and we have a minister walking around Ottawa spending $50 million a day in taxpayer money and I do not even know what the fellow looks like. That is accountability.

Another major step backward was the appointment of the committee chairs. This was done by a previous prime minister. Parliamentarians came together and one of the leaders of the charge was the present Prime Minister who spoke against and voted against the practice. What was the first thing he did when he became Prime Minister? He appointed not all the chairs but the ones who were government members, which I believe are about 17 of the 22 committees. Members of Parliament issued press releases saying that they had accepted the Prime Minister's appointment to chair such and such a committee. That was a major step backward.

In the campaign literature distributed by the Prime Minister he talked about free votes on everything other than the throne speech, the budget and supply items, which, of course, has all been changed. There are no free votes at all. They are free votes other than the budget, supply and priorities of government.

We have seen some major steps backward in this whole concept of institutional accountability, which I find very troubling.

I hearken back to the four volumes of Mr. Justice Gomery's report. He made certain recommendations that are not being followed. If we are talking about accountability, this is a dishonest debate. It has to do with some good things but it has very little to do with institutional accountability in Parliament.