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House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill, which deals with loans, financing and accountability.

To begin, it is important for us to go back to first principles and to look at what accountability is.

Early in its mandate, the Conservative government introduced the so-called Federal Accountability Act, but the bill had very little to do with true accountability. During our speeches I and my colleagues asked government members to define accountability in a general context. Nobody from the government could actually give a definition of what accountability is.

I will paraphrase an expert on this in Canada, Henry McCandless. Mr. McCandless was an assistant deputy minister in the Officer of the Auditor General. He is a very learned person. He wrote a seminal work on public accountability. Mr. McCandless would say that public accountability is the obligation on the part of elected officials, senior public office holders and senior public servants to explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, what it will cost, who will benefit and who will pay.

It would be sensible if the government were to put forth an accountability act that enshrined those principles for all public office holders. If we were to enshrine a true public accountability act, which could be fairly simple, the onus and the line of responsibility from those of us who are elected to those who are unelected members of the public service could be well defined. Most important, the public, the people who pay our salaries and fund this House, the taxpayers, are the individuals who would know very clearly what they could expect from all of us. It would be a liberating thing on the part of the government to introduce a bill such as that.

In defining accountability in this way, we could tell the public exactly what we were doing, why we were doing it, when we were doing it, who would pay for it and what it would cost. Members of the public, the taxpayers, could see when we did or did not do something. The line of responsibility and accountability would be there for all to see. What we were doing would be there for all to see. There would be nothing opaque about it. This is what should have happened with the Federal Accountability Act.

Rather than liberating the House, elected officials and the public service, the new Federal Accountability Act, which has nothing to do with public accountability, has added layer upon layer of responsibility and reporting. It has introduced levels of administration into the system of how the federal government works to such an extent that it is restricting the ability of the public service and the House and its members to work properly.

Why would anybody do this, some would ask. It could be a couple of things. One would be a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding of what public accountability is. I would say that would be a less likely excuse. Rather, it is an effort to try to undermine the ability to have a strong central government in Canada.

This falls into a larger objective of the Prime Minister, who is a follower of Leo Strauss, an American political philosopher from the early 1900s. Many Canadians will not know that the Prime Minister is a follower of Professor Strauss in terms of his ideology and philosophy. It is the same ideology and philosophy followed by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, as well as the former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

It is important for people to understand that. In understanding what Professor Strauss was articulating is to understand what the Prime Minister is trying to do. It is to understand why we are not seeing the accountability that we ought to see. Instead we are seeing a truncating, restriction and weakening of the federal government.

Professor Strauss believed that the best form of governance is when a very small number of people are predestined and to lead. Professor Strauss believed that was the best form of government and that small group of people could then tell everybody beneath them what to do, what to say and when to say it. Does that sound familiar? It is happening today in the Conservative government. It is a tragedy for all members, but most important, it is a tragedy for Canadian citizens.

However, I feel very sad for the members across the way who cannot do what they need to do to represent their constituents. They are told by the Prime Minister's Office, the half a dozen or so people around the Prime Minister who direct what is happening in the Government of Canada. They tell cabinet ministers what to do and what to say. They tell backbench MPs what to do, what to say and when to say it. As a result, the ability of individual MPs in the government to articulate what their constituents want is severely restricted.

This is very interesting because it flies in the face of the roots of the Conservative Party, which is the Reform Party. The Reform Party believed in something that was very different. It believed in the power of democracy. It believed in the power of the people. It believed that we could generate the best ideas from our populace and, as elected officials, bring those ideas to the floor of the House and represent the will of the people, the ideas of the people, for the betterment of our citizens. That is what the Reform Party stood for. Yet, what we have seen is a metamorphosis, a 180-degree change.

People do not wonder why our current Prime Minister left during his first term in office. He left because his views were diametrically opposed to that of the then leader, Preston Manning, who believed, as a populist, that the power of the people should be brought to the floor of the House.

When our current Prime Minister was elected, he, true to form, did what he said he was going to do. So, in a way, I guess, democracy exercised itself. But I think that many of our citizens do not really understand that. They do not really understand that the current view of our current Prime Minister is diametrically opposed to what the roots of the Reform Party were, which was to have and build our country from the grassroots, from our people, that the power of the people, the wisdom of the people, could be exercised in this House. That is a far cry from what we are seeing today.

In fact, Professor Ned Franks and Professor Donald Savoie, the chair of governance in Canada, have made some very strong statements. They have said that MPs are nobodies on the Hill. That is a play on the term that then Prime Minister Trudeau said years ago, that MPs were nobodies 50-feet off the Hill.

Now, Professor Franks and Professor Savoie have both said that the power of the individual MP, within the context of this House, has so been undermined by the central form of government, the Straussian philosophy, that it has completely changed the complexion of what we believe is a democracy in our country. We have a nominal democracy, and that is really a shame, because what the Prime Minister should be doing is enabling his members of Parliament to bring the best ideas to the floor of this House so that they can represent their constituents.

Disagreement in this House cannot be looked on as some form of weakness on the part of a leader, or on the part of a prime minister, or on the part of anybody in this House. Rather, differences of opinion merely reflect the differences of opinion that we have in our country. Our country is not a homogenous state. Our people are not homogenous. We have a heterogeneous populace with a wide array of ideas that should and ought to be brought to this House.

All of us understand, of course, the importance of a prime minister being able to say to the public, “These are the things that I want to do; these are the things that my party stands for; and these are the things we are going to do”.

It is all well and true to have those as confidence motions. That is fine. But beyond those things that are true confidence motions, they are a very small bundle of policy ideas. Beyond that, members of Parliament should be able to express the wishes and the desires of their citizens in this House, even if it means being different from what the majority of their own party wants. There is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, many of the great ideas that we have seen in the world actually met with significant and sometimes violent resistance when they were put forward. Those have come to pass with time and history to be seen as wise ideas, but at the time that they were initially put forward, people sometimes opposed them strongly, or sometimes violently.

We have an opportunity, and certainly the Prime Minister has an opportunity, to change that. He has an opportunity to liberate our House, to liberate the members in his own caucus, to bring the best ideas to the forefront of our nation, and apply them for the betterment of our citizens.

What we are seeing now in this House bears little resemblance to the needs of the Canadian public. Most of us, and certainly all of us in my caucus, have many ideas as all party members do, but we are trying desperately in my party to bring those ideas to the forefront, to work with the government and offer those solutions that are not only important for our constituents in opposition but, I dare to say, they are important also to the constituents of members across the way.

No party has a hammerlock on good or bad ideas and there are fine ideas on all sides of this House. What the government and the Prime Minister should be doing if they were wise, would be to work with members from across party lines to put ideas forward for the public good. That is not what we are seeing. We are seeing a Prime Minister who is poisoned by partisanship and poisoned by the desire to have control. He is behaving as a control freak, if I can say that, and behaving in a way that is not in the public interest.

Take a look at what is happening in committees. Directives have come down to committee chairs and members of the government in those committees to filibuster. We get paid by taxpayers to serve the public. If the public were to take a look at what is happening in many committees today, they would be shocked and appalled. Witnesses come to those committees from across our land with good ideas and yet what they see--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary is rising on a point of order?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, as reticent as I was to interrupt my hon. colleague whose speeches I always enjoy listening to, I find it once again a common occurrence with the hon. member that the relevance of the topic seems to be lacking from the presentation. I know we are here to discuss Bill C-29 and I am wondering whether the hon. member could perhaps get back on topic. It would make his final comments much more enjoyable.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would perhaps remind the hon. member that we are at third reading stage of Bill C-29, so if he could bring his remarks as closely as possible to the bill, recognizing that it is at third reading, I think the House would appreciate that.

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. The relation between what I am talking about and the ties to accountability really does relate to this bill which is about loans, financing and accountability.

The reason why I am bringing this up is because it is quite heartbreaking, and I lamented that fact in the government's introduction of what it claimed was accountability, which is in the bill, that the accountability really does not have anything to do with true accountability.

I am trying to explain where that comes from going backward in time and backward to the origins and roots of why we are seeing the government not put bills forward with true accountability. Instead, it is putting bills forward that actually restrict and impede the ability of members in the House and the public service to work.

I want to get back to that principle and tie it in with my hon. friend, something that I know affects him and affects all of us. It is the issue of how these changes that the government has been implementing affect the public service. All of us are very privileged to work with public servants. They are some of the finest public servants found in the world. They are honourable, decent, honest, hard-working, and intelligent individuals. Members across all parties would agree that it has been a pure pleasure and a joy to work with them. We admire them for the work that they do, much of it completely unheralded.

Unfortunately, the government is actually undermining the public service, marginalizing it and not listening to it. We cannot have a strong democracy without a strong public service. Internationally, when we are dealing with developing countries, we say that one of the things that a developing country has to achieve is a strong public service. We try to help out. We could do more. But in our own House, we are actually undermining our public service and I will give a couple of examples.

A previous Liberal prime minister introduced the office of the science adviser to the Prime Minister's Office. This was a wise move because all of us here have, in some form, been involved in science, and many of my colleagues have some excellent ideas of the work in this area. We lament the fact that the government not only let go the science adviser, Dr. Arthur Carty, one of the finest scientists in our country, but also removed the entire office of the science adviser to the prime minister.

This is in a place where science and research should have a much greater play in driving public policy. If we get the science and the facts right, they enable us to connect science and facts with some of the best researchers that we have here in Canada and around the world. If we connect that to the creation and building of strong public policy, then what we have is the strongest public policy that we could possibly have in our nation for the best interests of our citizens.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hate to interrupt my hon. colleague's presentation, but I am wondering, since we were talking about the relevance of Bill C-29 and in trying to get back to the topic of the bill we are supposed to be discussing, is the member trying to suggest that the science adviser, in some way, shape or form, has loaned the candidate some money? I just do not see the relevance. I cannot quite connect the dots, quite frankly, between what the member is speaking about and the bill we are supposed to be debating.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you could assure me that the member will continue with his final comments and be specific to Bill C-29, the bill we are supposed to be debating here.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Maybe it would help if I read the citation on relevance at third reading, which is from Marleau and Montpetit at page 533:

Debate on third reading is designed to review the legislative measure in its final form and is strictly confined to the contents of the bill.

The hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has about three minutes left so he could follow the good advice from the parliamentary handbook for the remaining minutes that he has.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, we know that Bill C-29 is certainly aimed at dealing with how campaigns are financed and the borrowing of money. I would like to talk about that in the final moments of my speech.

All of us know very well and support the notion of ensuring that we have a situation where big money and deep pockets cannot affect public legislation and the production of legislation that we have in our country. It is something that all of us support.

In fact, we are thankful that in our country, unlike our friends south of the border and many of our citizens are aware of this, we do have limits on what we can actually spend in terms of an election, determined by the size of our ridings and the number of constituents that we have. We also have limits on what we can actually receive and what people can donate.

The problem is that the government has gone so far to one side on this particular issue that it is actually impeding the ability of ordinary citizens to donate moneys in a democratic environment and to provide financial resources that are required for people to run for public office.

That is not healthy in a democracy. Individual citizens must have the ability to fund, in a reasonable way, people who have chosen to put their lives on the line to run for public office. Unfortunately, what has happened with respect to the government and this bill, and previous bills attached to it, is that the restrictions that have been placed have nothing really to do at all with the ability of trying to remove any kind of influence with respect to money and the development of legislation.

I have been in this House almost 15 years and I have yet to see one case in this House of anybody from any political party somehow profiteering from being in this House and using moneys that they have received to change or affect legislation in the public interest. I have never seen that, and I would venture to say that nobody else in the House here has ever seen it either.

The reason for that is that we already have good checks and balances. We already have, thankfully, good restrictions on the connection between campaign finances and the ability of individuals who are running for office to receive those moneys, and I hope that continues.

In closing, I can only warn and implore the government that if it goes too far in this way, it is doing nothing that deals with public accountability. It is actually restricting a fundamental right of individuals to fund people who are running for public office and restricting the ability of individuals who want to run for public office to do so.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague for giving it the old college try and trying to get back on point, even though he missed it by a few miles. I have a question for the hon. member.

One of the reasons the bill has been brought forward for debate in the House is the fact that, as my hon. colleague rightly pointed out, we want to get away from the situation where big money and wealthy individuals can influence government or candidates.

In the most recent Liberal leadership campaign, we saw where one individual contributed, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates. We have also seen the situation most recently where some of the Liberal leadership candidates have not repaid their loans on time.

Currently, repayment terms are 18 months and that expired in early June. The legislation before the House would give candidates three years in which to repay loans, three years from either the polling day or the completion of the leadership campaign.

I would simply ask my hon. colleague two questions. First, does he agree that by restricting the ability for wealthy individuals to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates, which, under the current legislation, could subsequently be written off, would be a good thing? Second, does he not agree that the three year repayment terms would make it more amenable for candidates and members to repay those loans?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that we already have a situation where deep pockets cannot affect legislation. We have a situation where deep pockets cannot affect and control those who run and are successful in achieving public office. That is the principle of the matter that I think most fair-minded Canadians would adhere to.

Therefore, what the government is doing has nothing to do with trying to prevent deep pockets from affecting electoral success or government legislation down the line because the ultimate intent of providing those kinds of funds would be to have control over the person or persons who are elected.

The fact is that this is a picayune document that is intended to go after or imperil and penalize those in my party who have chosen, bravely, to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. That is what this is all about. Anybody who can see this bill for what it is would know very clearly that it is nothing more than a callous and cynical political exercise that has nothing to do with true accountability or the removal of any kind of influence peddling on government legislation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons refer to this assumed 18 month period for repayment of a loan. However, I must tell the House that I have read the statute. I have been an MP for about 20 years now and, with as much respect as I can cram into this, the parliamentary secretary is deluding himself and misleading the House and Canadians if he is saying that the current legislation requires loans in leadership contests to be repaid in 18 months.

The legislation refers to claims against the candidate that have to be made and paid within 18 months and there is a very clear provision that exempts loans from that class of financial translations for which there is a written agreement to pay within a period of time that extends out beyond the 18 months.

It is really unfair that a person who stands in the House as a parliamentary secretary representing the government, and I have heard other colleagues of his say this, would suggest that somehow the leadership loans that he referred to were not paid on time, when it is an illusion created by the Conservative members and misleads all of us.

Would the member care to relate those remarks to Bill C-29 that we are debating now?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In recognition of the fact that we are having a dialogue between two members of the same party, I would appreciate if the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca kept his comments short to allow other questions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I could not improve upon the comments of my colleague. He is truly an expert in this and I bow to his--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. The hon. for Cape Breton—Canso will also take into account the admonition that I just gave so it should be short.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker.

I very much enjoyed my colleague's comments, especially the ones specifically directed to this bill. They were well articulated.

As a caucus, our leader is committed and focused on increasing the number of women who come into this place, especially the ones who come in under our banner. Our leader has made that commitment to the Canadian people.

What I have heard from some women in my caucus, colleagues who have much more experience than I federally, is that they believe the bill would further handcuff them by not allowing them to borrow from family. The only place one can borrow money is from a bank, which they believe would further handcuff them and restrict their ability to get into politics at the federal level.

Does my colleague believe that this could in fact go against where we are trying to go as a party to increase the number of women in the House?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an intriguing question. As a basic principle of what my colleague gave, we do not want to be in a situation where we impede high quality candidates from being able to run for public office.

I am a big fan for merit and I think people who come here are chosen by the public on the basis of merit, not on any particular personal characteristic they have outside of that. The best person in terms of the qualities of intelligence, compassion and skills that they possess should be able to come to this House.

However, what should not be a restriction is the amount of money that one has in one's pocket. One of the things all of us are very proud of is the fact that in our country someone from any socio-economic background can run for public office. That is not the case south of the border where, generally speaking, one needs to be rich to run in an election in the United States. In Canada, thankfully, which is something I am so proud of as a Canadian, someone from any walk of life can run, become elected and even become prime minister and it is not based on the amount of money one has in one's pocket.

If the government, as an outcome of this bill, restricts the ability of those with modest means to run, then we cannot allow that to happen. Every Canadian, regardless of the amount of money they have, should be able to run for public office in our great nation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, accountability with respect to loans. I think the title, “accountability with respect to loans”, is something that is important to remind the House.

New Democrats will be supporting this legislation. I want to acknowledge the very good work that has been done by the member for Winnipeg Centre who, back in the early days of 2006 when the Conservative government introduced Bill C-2, the accountability act, attempted to have what we see in this bill as well as some other accountability measures introduced into that particular piece of legislation. At the time, however, the Conservative government did not see fit to include it.

However, some things have happened in the House over the last two years and the Conservatives now realize how important it is to talk about accountability with respect to political loans.

I want to put this a little bit into context. The former member from Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, had put together a package back in 2005 called, “Cleaning Up Politics: Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”. In a preamble to the document, he said:

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 replaced by the impulse to deny, perpetuate and cover-up. The Liberal party is losing its sense of remorse.

That was in the context of 2005 when we were in the midst of the ad scandal and the Gomery inquiry. The context has changed somewhat in that the Liberals are now in opposition.

He went on in the preliminary introduction on this under the heading, “Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”, to say:

Canadians are demanding changes in ethics and in accountability. They want a strong Canada resting on strong, ethically based institutions. They want honesty, fairness and transparency to be the rule, not the exception in political life.

In the context of the legislation before us, the legislation attempts, whether the attempt is real or unintended, to stop efforts to circumvent the very good rules that are currently in place in the Canada Elections Act to limit the amount of money that individuals can donate to a particular candidate.

Bill C-29 attempts to stop that circumvention of those rules by closing the loopholes that allowed businesses to loan money to political candidates and sometimes after a period of time those loans were forgiven.

I have heard members in the House talk about the fact that this legislation would damage women's opportunities to run for electoral office. I would argue that most women and men in this country want to ensure we are all playing by the same rules and part of those rules state that we do not get to circumvent the Canada Elections Act just because we happen to have a bunch of wealthy business people in our backyard, not that there is anything wrong with wealthy business people but we do not all have access to that kind of capital.

I would argue that Bill C-29 would level the playing field so that all candidates who run for either a nomination, leadership or political office, are all guided by the exact same rules. By closing this loophole to prevent candidates from either loaning themselves money or having businesses loan them money is a very good loophole to close.

We have had many instances in the House. I want to reference one example, in particular, by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville when he was a Liberal and his business donated nearly $240,000 to his riding association.

By any measure, any of us who could actually loan ourselves $240,000 or have a business friend loan our campaign $240,000 and not have to account for it in the normal process just does not seem fair, reasonable, transparent or ethical.

I applaud the Conservative government for bringing forward this legislation, again, based on the very good work that the member for Winnipeg Centre did in the past.

There are a couple of problems with the bill. The member for Winnipeg Centre has already talked about them, but it is important to highlight them.

One is that the bill is not retroactive and does not deal with the problems from previous loans that were made, like the Mississauga—Streetsville case that I talked about. Also, the bill would not be implemented until six months after it receives royal assent. In our current minority situation we could have an election at any time, so we would like to see that gap closed far more quickly.

One of the other problems we have talked about is with respect to accountability and ethics. I want to quote from a press release from July 5, 2006, issued by the member for Winnipeg Centre. He was talking about the fact that there was no age limitation. He was “urging senators to ignore Liberal appeals to amend the Federal Accountability Act by raising the age requirement for political donations to 18 years”.

In his release, he said:

This is not only a bad idea. It is a transparent attempt to divert attention away from the more serious problem with our election financing rules. We have seen Liberal leadership loans that look more like donations and the continued corporate sponsorship of leadership candidates.

The problem is not the age of donors so much as the source of the dough. It's already against the law to circumvent the donation limits by laundering money through someone else's bank account, whether that person is your grandson or your grandmother. The age issue is a red herring.

He went on to talk about the fact that he attempted to severely restrict political loans under the Federal Accountability Act. He said that “the current legislation is so vague it is evolving with every interpretation”. As only the member for Winnipeg Centre can say it, he said:

Those leadership loans are the equivalent of big money hijacking democracy. There's no collateral required, no repayment schedule registered, and the whole thing can be forgiven. How is that any different from a massive donation or corporate sponsorship?

The member for Winnipeg Centre clearly laid out some of the problems with the existing legislation and the attempts made in Bill C-29 to close those loopholes.

I also want to talk a bit more about changes in ethics and accountability. Again, because the bill is premised on the language around accountability with respect to loans, I think there are broader issues around accountability and ethics. We would welcome further changes to make sure that political candidates and political parties are all operating on the same level playing field that Canadians say is so important.

Ed Broadbent, the previous member for Ottawa Centre, made a number of suggestions in 2005. At that time, we thought we had agreement from the Liberal Party to move forward with some of those suggestions. However, as we were going into a process that would have had some broad public input across the country, the Liberal government of the day backed out of that agreement. I still think some of those proposals are relevant today.

Ethics and accountability cover every action of an elected representative. We are elected to this place as either an independent member or a member of a particular political party. We have a responsibility to our voters to fulfill our obligations. We run under a particular political banner. Should members choose to cross the floor, we feel strongly that any such members should resign and run for their new political party.

Under “Democratic Accountability for MPs”, Ed Broadbent said:

Democratic accountability should mean no MP can ignore his/her voters and wheel and deal for personal gain: MPs should not be permitted to ignore their voters' wishes, change parties, cross the floor, and become a member of another party without first resigning their seats and running in a by-election.

Wherever we can, we must put an end to backroom opportunism in politics.

In the context of political loans, I would say that many people would view them as backroom opportunism in politics. Bill C-29 would provide us with an opportunity to close that backroom door so that all Canadians who choose to run for office play by the same rules.

Comments have been made back and forth on the floor about transparent leadership contests. Under “Transparent Leadership Contests”, Mr. Broadbent said that we should:

Set spending limits and transparency conditions on leadership contests within political parties: Parties are largely financed by the taxpayer and the same principles pertinent to the public good should apply to the internal affairs of parties as they do to electoral competition between parties.

Canada has laws and regulations regulating the financing of general elections. There are limits and there is transparency.

Canadians want to see limits and transparency. They want to know where candidates get their money. They want to know that the same rules apply to all candidates. That should include leadership contests.

With regard to electoral reform, we are one of the few western democracies left with a first past the post system. Many members have spoken about this in the House.

I heard a member on the opposite side talk about increasing the ability of women to participate in the electoral process. There have been many studies done on systems of proportional representation. They consistently have found that in a system of proportional representation the participation of women in the electoral process increases.

Again, we have a minority Parliament. There is a government in place that talks about accountability. If we want to be accountable to Canadian citizens, we need to ensure that the representation in the House reflects the population. Therefore, we need to increase the participation of women in the House.

I am very proud to be a New Democrat. When we were elected in 2006, 41% of our party was women. New Democrats are very proud to run on that record. If each and every party in the House brought that same philosophy forward, we would make far better policy decisions.

Under “Electoral Reform”, Mr. Broadbent said:

--A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system. There is a serious imbalance in the House of Commons in gender, ethnic, ideological, and regional voting preferences. Our present system does not reflect Canadian voters' intentions. Fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. Most other commonwealth countries have already moved in that direction.

A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system. In Canada every vote should matter. Ninety percent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa.

As we amend the Canada Elections Act and closely examine some of the other factors that influence how candidates become members of Parliament, I would urge the House to consider reviewing a system of proportional representation as well, to make the system more open, transparent and accountable.

As for “Ending Unregulated Lobbying”, as Mr. Broadbent said, in talking about accountability and transparency, unregulated lobbying is one factor that many Canadians feel very uncomfortable with. Unregulated lobbying is an elitist kind of approach to getting in the back door of government. Mr. Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre, said:

Unregulated lobbying and political cronyism must end: We need tougher laws requiring disclosure of fees and expenditures of lobbyists. We also need to make illegal the acceptance of contingency or profit-based fees. The government must initiate reforms with tough sanctions applicable to wrongdoing in the public sector.

Of course, he wrote this paper in 2005 when there was a different government.

With regard to ethical appointments, again we want openness and transparency. There has been a lot of controversy in the House over some of the appointments, but Mr. Broadbent called for ethical government appointments. He said:

--Unfair and unethical patronage practice must stop in the appointment of thousands of officials to federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown Corporations. The New Democratic Party proposes that the government develop skills and competence-related criteria for all government appointments, that these criteria be publicly released and that committees scrutinize appointments.

Again, in the name of openness, transparency and accountability, I am sure Canadians would welcome a less patronage-driven appointment process so that Canadians would truly feel that they were getting the best possible person in each and every one of those jobs.

In reference to access to information, in the last two years we have seen even less access to information than we saw under the previous Liberal government. If Canadians do not have the right to know how decisions are being made and what kinds of factors influence them, it puts into question the government's claim of wanting a transparent, open and accountable government.

With regard to access to information, again, I know that the member for Winnipeg Centre has pushed for more open access to information. I know that many members of Parliament have had difficulties in getting information. We have had to complain to the Information Commissioner because information has been unreasonably delayed and denied. We have had to take that further step.

If members of Parliament have so much trouble getting information out of the government, can we imagine what it is like for the general public?

Mr. Broadbent spoke about access to information. Again, in his case he was referring to the previous Liberal government, but we have only seen it getting worse. He said:

The government is backtracking on reforms leading to greater public access to information.

He then listed a number of ways to open up access to information, which included: extending the act to crown corporations and agencies previously excluded; making ministers of the Crown, their exempt staffers and officers of Parliament subject to the act; bringing cabinet confidences under the act; improving public access to government records pertaining to third party contracts and public opinion polling; requiring government records that are more than 30 years old to be automatically opened; and so on. There are a number of other elements that he outlined in his paper.

Although we welcome Bill C-29 and it moves forward toward making sure that we do have a level playing field, the New Democratic Party and I look forward to legislation that continues on that path of accountability around the Canada Elections Act.

I would like to close by saying that in recent years we have seen a drop in voter turnout. One of the things that turns voters off, that turns Canadian citizens off from participating in the democratic process, is that they do not feel their government or their elected representatives are truly representing them here. Every effort we can make to say to Canadians that we are engaged in an open, transparent and accountable process must be applauded.

In conclusion, New Democrats will be supporting Bill C-29. We welcome this as a step forward in that accountable process so we can assure Canadian citizens that all people who are engaged in the electoral process are on a level playing field. We look forward to further legislation that supports this end.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I recognize the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for a very short question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I would just first point out that retroactivity was not an option in this bill because it would be a violation of the charter.

My quick question would be this. How important does the member feel it is that this legislation be given royal assent prior to the next federal election?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that this piece of legislation needs royal assent before the next election.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When we return to the study of Bill C-29, there will be nine minutes left for questions and comments with the hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan.

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-513, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (foreign military mission), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice to this debate.

As the House knows, this is a government that is firmly committed to the principles of accountability, transparency and openness. We recognize the important role that Parliament plays in upholding these principles.

Parliamentarians, representing Canadians from coast to coast, form the fundamental building blocks of our democracy, which is why, from day one, the government recognized the value and importance of engaging the House.

Through rigorous debates and informed discussions, we have demonstrated our belief in Parliament's relevance. We have shown time and time again that we are committed to strengthening the role the House plays in decisions affecting Canada and Canadians.

However, the government is not prepared to support Bill C-513.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, has already eloquently outlined the many negative implications that the bill would have on the relationship between government and the Parliament of Canada in important areas related to national defence and to our ability to act effectively and rapidly in Canada's interest abroad.

My colleague reminded us of the dangers that the bill would pose to the Crown's prerogative in vital areas of foreign policy and defence. He reminded us that the bill would severely diminish Canada's standing as a reliable ally. He reminded us that the bill would severely compromise Canada's capacity to play a leadership role on the world stage.

Perhaps none of this should surprise us. The Bloc is not in the business of putting Canada first. In contrast to the Bloc, which seems to try everything possible to weaken Canada, our government does everything possible to strengthen Canada. That is why we oppose the bill.

In addition to the countless glaring problems with the bill, which my colleague outlined during the first hour of debate, I will use this opportunity to discuss the technical flaws that plague the bill. In this respect. I wish to speak to three key technical problems.

First, Bill C-513 would require the Minister of National Defence to table the declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons and would require the minister to table the declaration to place the Canadian military on active service for a foreign mission, which might include an offensive facet.

In requiring a declaration of intention to place Canadian Forces on active services, the proposed legislation fails to recognize that an order in council already exists that places all deployed Canadian Forces personnel on active service.

By virtue of OIC, PS.1989-583, April 6, 1989, the regular force component of the Canadian Forces is already on active service in Canada and abroad and reserve armed forces serving abroad are on active service. Moreover, the Canadian Forces, its components, units, elements and members can be deployed internationally without being placed on active service. They can be placed on active service without being deployed abroad.

Indeed, the placement of Canadian Forces members on active service has consequences, though upon discipline and the Canadian Forces' ability to retain a member at the conclusion of their service engagement.

For the benefit of the member opposite, it may be helpful to explain what it means for a member of the Canadian Forces to be on active service.

Placing a Canadian Forces member on active service merely allows the Canadian Forces to retain members in the service, if required, and allows service tribunals to impose more severe sentences in respect of some service offences.

The second technical flaw in my colleague's bill is that she fails to define clearly what she means by an offensive facet. The reference “offensive facets” implicitly suggests that offensive and defensive facets can be easily distinguished. One again, the member opposite has it wrong. Bill C-513 has it wrong. To distinguish between offensive and defensive facets of a mission is artificial, meaningless and misleading.

In the complex security environment of the 21st century, to describe the military's role as either offensive or defensive is an unfortunate oversimplification.

While the Bloc member may prefer to divide the world into simple dichotomies, French/ English, separatist/federalist, some things defy strict categories. The role of the military in a mission is not always subject to quick and easy classification as offensive or defensive. The issue is not black or white. All Canadian Forces missions are conducted pursuant to a national defence mandate. Offensive actions may be required while in a defensive role.

The third technical shortcoming of the bill pertains to its failures to include a provision on what would happen if Parliament was not in session, what happen if Parliament had been prorogued and what would happen if Parliament had been dissolved for an election.

In any of these cases, there would be a clear delay in order to secure the kind of authorization for which the bill calls. Such deals for a vital emergency military deployment could be disastrous. It is not difficult to imagine the challenges that would have resulted had Bill C-513 been in place in the summer of 2006, when Canada took action to rescue people in southern Lebanon. Would the member's bill require Parliament to have passed a motion to deploy troops to this rescue operate?

Oftentimes in the course of a rescue mission, soldiers may have to resort to the use of protective fire. When this happens, do the forces in this rescue operation still play a defensive role, Or have their efforts become offensive?

When Canadians elect a government, they entrust the government with an exclusive right to deploy our armed forces. To support the bill would be to undermine that trust. The current framework and system by which decisions are taken to deploy forces abroad is not broken. Bill C-513 would take a well-functioning arrangement and would break it.

Canada's Parliament has a long and distinguished history of considering our military deployments. We take these deployments seriously and Parliament's views are sought. We have held debates to ensure that Parliament is kept fully abreast of the actions of the Canadian Forces as they seek to bring peace and order in conflict situations. Whether 50 years ago, when Canadians were deployed to the Suez as part of the United Nations Emergency Force, or today in Afghanistan, Parliament's views have been heard and have been respected by our government.

In conclusion, while we appreciate the principle behind the legislation, serious and fundamental technical flaws mar Bill C-513. In addition to the technical flaws that mar the bill, the proposed legislation fails to recognize existing levels of parliamentary oversight. It fails to appreciate the importance of the government's authority to act quickly and decisively. In so doing, it fails Canadians.

The famed English philosopher, Edmund Burke once stated, that, “Parliament is a deliberate assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole”. I could not agree more. Here in this chamber we consider the business of all of Canada. As Canada's elected representatives, we carefully deliberate on every issue that will shape our collective future.

Today, we are continuing to build on a legacy that stretches back to the earliest days of our nation. I am proud to be a member of this government, a government that recognizes and honours this heritage. At all times, we have worked hard to advance the principles of accountability, transparency and openness.

However, we cannot support the bill. In attempting to fix a problem that, frankly, does not exist, it would risk undermining our government's very ability to carry out Canada's foreign and defence policy.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-513.

In summary, this proposed enactment will amend the National Defence Act so when a foreign military mission include or might include an offensive facet, the minister must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of the intention to place our Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.

The bill was introduced by my colleague from Ahuntsic with the best of intentions, a desire to include Canadians in one of the most important decisions that we, as elected officials, can make: the decision to call the Canadian Forces into action.

My riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is home to thousands of serving members, veterans and military families. They are the ones who bear the responsibility of carrying out the mission set out by the government. They do a tremendous job, and we all applaud their professionalism, their dedication and their courage.

A couple of weeks ago we had an opportunity to travel down to Bridgewater for a support the troops rally. Bridgewater is about an hour outside of Halifax. General Rick Hillier, the Minister of National Defence and a number of members of Parliament, including my colleagues from Cape Breton—Canso, Halifax West, Sydney—Victoria and Willowdale came down for the event. We were proud to stand with our Canadian Forces, with General Hillier, with the Minister of National Defence and with the many people who showed their support for the work they did.

My hearts goes out to the families and friends of Canadians who were lost during military service. They are the ones who feel first-hand the impact of choices made by government with regard to the deployment of troops.

For me, it hit home, on March 2, 2006, in a very personal way. In returning home from Ottawa that Friday morning, when I arrived in Halifax, we received word that Corporal Paul Davis had been killed in Afghanistan, one of the first Canadians to be killed in Afghanistan. His father Jim is a great friend of mine, and Jim and Sharon showed great courage through that whole time. They have continue to support the troops and insist that Paul's death was not in vain.

Listening to the concerns and feelings that Canadians have about the choices we make is very important. It is our job as MPs. We have been elected to represent our constituents.

With the best of intentions, I still do not feel that we can support the bill. I cannot support it and I will tell the House why.

The bill would require the Minister of National Defence to table a motion in the House to approve the deployment of troops overseas. If Parliament were in session, such a motion would be debated on the next sitting day of the House for three hours and then put to a vote. If introduced on a Friday, this would mean the vote would be delayed until the following Monday, again, that is precious time. Even worse, if Parliament were to be adjourned, prorogued or dissolved, it would be recalled within five days for debate and vote.

In terms of rapid response, a week can be a lifetime. Waiting for five days is sometimes simply not an option when we are talking about protecting innocent lives and doing the work that needs to be done. Canadians are justifiably proud of our DART team, which responds to humanitarian crises around the world in an astoundingly short period of time.

Although the bill specifies that in order to be put to Parliament, the mission would have to include an “offensive facet”, that term is poorly defined. I am concerned the bill could unintentionally affect our humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

I am also concerned that parliamentarians would be unable to make a fully informed decision on some occasions. Currently cabinet makes the decision whether to deploy Canadian troops. It has access to classified information that most members of Parliament do not, and I think that is important. Much of the information surrounding national security and defence, especially concerning military ops, alone or in cooperation with other countries is classified for the safety of military or other citizens abroad. We need to have access to all relevant information when making a decision of that magnitude.

I am concerned that the definitions in the bill are not complete. The bill specifies that it would only apply to foreign military missions containing an offensive facet, but the definitions of those terms are not clear. The nature of a mission may be different than originally thought when troops actually arrive on the ground or may change when it is in progress. These definitions do no reflect what actually happens in reality during a military mission and would be difficult to apply.

As we have seen in the case of the mission in Afghanistan, there was debate about whether to enter into the conflict. There was no debate in Parliament initially, but there have been two full debates since on the continuation of the mission and the role that the Canadian Forces play in Afghanistan.

There have also been many other debates on specific aspects of the mission as well as reports released by House of Commons committees. As we know, a special committee has now been set up to deal specifically with this mission.

Parliament does participate in these decisions by investigating the issues. There are important ways of bringing our constituents' voices forward, such as by studying these issues in committee and initiating debate in the House. I simply do not think it is practical or desirable to delay military missions that may require a quick and decisive start to be effective. I would suggest that guidelines for regular debate on continuing overseas military operations might be a better way to ensure that Parliament is getting sufficient input into these important decisions.

We could set a timeframe for a regular debate, for example, one or two years into a continuing mission, and mandate that there be a special joint committee of the House and Senate set up for any mission that lasts longer than a certain period of time. We could require that the appropriate ministers update the committee regularly on issues related to the mission.

Parliament has an important oversight role in terms of our military operations overseas. I think we all agree with that. I argued strongly that Parliament should debate the Afghanistan mission. Parliament has this oversight role and it is critical that we exercise it over Canada's military, but in my view, this bill just goes too far.

National Defence ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will speak very briefly. I had not planned to speak to this bill, but it has been interesting to hear the debate. It has been a very core issue in this Parliament about whether or not members of Parliament and Parliament as a whole are involved in Canadian missions overseas. The NDP has been supporting this bill in principle. I would point out that the vote we are going to have on this bill is about whether or not we support it in principle and we certainly do.

The issues that were just raised by the member are relevant. There may be things that need to be looked at in terms of changes to the bill about timing and notification of votes and so on. Those are issues that could be dealt with at a committee. One reason we send a bill to committee is to look at that kind of stuff. In terms of the principle that is being put forward by the member, it is very important that Parliament as a whole be very involved in making decisions about where Canadian troops go. When we call on people to serve their country, when we call on our armed forces to put themselves in very dangerous situations, I believe there should be a vote in Parliament. It should be something that is debated here.

Since I have been a member of Parliament, members have had to fight tooth and nail even to get debates to take place. We have made some progress. Originally when the mission in Afghanistan began under the Liberal government, it was actually a take note debate. That is all it was. There was no vote. We have moved beyond that now. At least we have had some votes in terms of the extension of the mission in Afghanistan. Those have been very important moments in the debate and the history of this session and this Parliament.

The bill before us is taking that principle of what happened in Afghanistan and saying that Parliament has a right to be informed, Parliament has a right to exercise its decision on behalf of our constituents. This is something that is very fundamental to democratic practice. It is very fundamental to our being here and representing our constituents.

From that point of view we believe that this bill in principle is something that should be supported. We look forward to it going to committee so that we can have a much more detailed debate about how the provisions of this bill would actually work. Some of the concerns and the issues can be addressed there. That would really be the proper thing to do. We will certainly be supporting this bill at second reading.