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House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was goods.

Topics

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to apply the results of the vote just taken to the motion presently before the House.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #10

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the yeas have it.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

And five or more members having risen:

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to apply the results of the vote just taken to the motion presently before the House.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent to proceed this way?

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #11

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Complaint of Alleged Theft—Speaker's RulingPrivilegeGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley on February 3, 2009, concerning an RCMP investigation into charges of embezzlement and theft of funds which he believes have damaged his credibility and, thus, his capacity to fulfill his duties as a member of Parliament.

I would like thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley for having raised this serious matter, as well as the hon. chief government whip, the hon. member for Windsor West and the hon. member for Halifax West for their comments.

In raising this question of privilege, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley noted that he was first made aware of accusations against him by a journalist who contacted him after having obtained a copy of an RCMP report through an access to information request, a copy of which the member has kindly provided to the Chair.

He stressed that had the journalist in question not chosen to share the report with the member, he would not have had the opportunity to defend himself.

The hon. member went on to explain that much of the information in this report had been redacted or removed from the report, including the names of those who asked the RCMP to investigate and the exact nature of the allegations. This led him to conclude: “—so I do not know exactly what the charges are.”

Despite these specific omissions, the hon. member pointed out that his own name could be identified at the end of the document and that the document also stated that the allegations were brought forward by members of the Conservative Party of Canada. As well, the report noted a sum of $30,000.

From these clues, the member inferred that what was at issue was the transfer of funds, also in the amount of $30,000, between what was then his riding association and campaign accounts. It was thus presumably these financial transactions that were the basis of the allegation of embezzlement filed with the RCMP in September 2008.

In his submission, the hon. member took great care to stress that it was the riding association and the campaign team that necessarily executed these transfers, acting independently of the hon. member himself, and that the people involved “...followed the letter and spirit of the law, along with Elections Canada regulations”.

The hon. member contends that the report, despite stating that the matter warrants no further investigation, is ambiguous in its conclusion and so still has the potential to cast doubt on his credibility and honesty and thus prevent him from effectively fulfilling his duties as a member of Parliament.

The hon. Chief Government Whip, in his reply, stated that the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley made reference to party members rather than any specific member of Parliament and that the member’s submission was tantamount to a personal statement and not a question of privilege.

The hon. members for Windsor West and Halifax West were supportive of the concerns expressed by the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. The hon. member for Windsor West noted how unfounded allegations of this nature can affect the public perception of an individual and the individual’s contribution to public life in Canada, while the hon. member for Halifax West underscored the danger of false accusations.

The Chair is of course entirely sympathetic to the plight of the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. However, in adjudicating questions of privilege of this kind, the Speaker is bound to assess whether or not the member's ability to fulfill his parliamentary functions effectively has been undermined.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, on pages 91 to 95, goes on at some length to stress the importance in this type of situation of establishing a link to parliamentary duties.

Two examples are useful to illustrate the importance of this linkage. In a 1978 ruling, Mr. Speaker Jerome rejected a claim by a member that a civil suit launched against him when he repeated on a radio talk show statements first made in committee was calculated to obstruct him in the performance of his parliamentary duties. The Speaker, in ruling that he could find no prima facie case of privilege, stated at page 5411 of Debates on May 15, 1978, that:

It seems quite clear that this matter has caused the member certain difficulties in the performance of his duties as a member of parliament, but I have trouble in accepting the argument that these difficulties constitute obstruction or harassment in the narrow sense in which one must construe the privilege of freedom from molestation—

In the second example, which dates from 1994, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, pages 94 and 95, states that a member:

...claimed he was being intimidated by the media and had received blackmail threats as a result of media reports concerning the authenticity of the Member's academic credentials. In finding that there was no prima facie question of privilege, the Speaker stated: “Threats of blackmail or intimidation of a Member of Parliament should never be taken lightly. When such occurs, the very essence of free speech is undermined. Without the guarantee of freedom of speech, no Member of Parliament can do his duty as is expected... While the Chair does not in any way make light of the specifics that have been raised...I cannot, however, say that he has sufficiently demonstrated that a case of intimidation exists such that his ability to function as a member of Parliament has been impeded.

The following quotation from pages 91-92 summarizes the view taken by successive Speakers:

...rulings have focussed on whether or not the parliamentary duties of the Member were directly involved. While frequently noting that Members raising such matters might have legitimate complaints, Speakers have regularly concluded that Members have not been prevented from performing their parliamentary duties.

As the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley pointed out, the document had been severely edited, to remove the names of all the individuals involved, except for his own name which still appears in the document’s file name at the end of the report. It was this that allowed the journalist to identify the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley as the object of the criminal complaint. Had his name not appeared in the document’s file name, his identity might arguably have been protected.

Having reviewed the report in question, it is apparent to the Chair that the authors of the report were no more meticulous, not to say incredibly careless, than those who edited the document to comply with the usual practices in access to information requests.

The report contradicts itself repeatedly, first stating that there are “insufficient grounds or cause to warrant launching an investigation”, then referring to “the outcome of the investigation”, then going further to refer to the possibility of reopening the said investigation and then returning full circle to state that “no investigation will be occurring”.

The redactors of the report who prepared it for release under access to information took pains to delete the names of the complainant or complainants, but left the name of the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley in the filename at the end of the document. Such apparent carelessness and the confusion that can result are no doubt just cause for concern. In fairness, it should be pointed out that on February 4, 2009, as can be seen on page 342 of Hansard, the Minister of Public Safety advised the House that the RCMP had confirmed that “this file was closed” and that “...Conservative Party officials have also made it clear that they do not believe that the hon. member in question, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, did anything wrong”.

However, without minimizing the seriousness of the complaint or dismissing the gravity of the situation raised by the hon. member, it is difficult for the Chair to determine, given the nature of what has occurred that the member is unable to carry out his parliamentary duties as a result. Accordingly, the Chair must conclude that there is no prima facie question of privilege.

This does not take away from the potential reverberating effects of this case. By raising the matter in the House as he did, the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley forcefully defended himself from these allegations, explaining that the facts show no hint of any wrongdoing whatsoever on his part.

His complaint is legitimate and he is correct when he laments that “The report is here forever. It is not going to go away” and when he spoke about the integral nature of trust and credibility to our work as members of Parliament.

Once again, I would like to thank the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, An Act respecting not-for-profit corporations and certain other corporations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Not-for-profit Corporations ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to speak on Bill C-4. I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill in principle—until there is evidence to the contrary, let me assure you.

The Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act, as it stood before, was what you might call a bit behind the times. The time had come to modernize it. Introduction of this bill is a step in the right direction.

The new legislation will, of course, take into consideration the financial means and the size of the organization with respect to the implementation of its administrative mechanisms. The intent is to provide the organization with a more flexible framework for presentation of its financial statements, and also for setting up its bylaws. The intent also is to considerably improve the efficiency and transparency of the process of incorporation of not-for-profit corporations.

The system of letters patent will be replaced by an as-of-right system of incorporation, thus greatly facilitating the process. As well, the credibility of not-for-profit corporations in the public eye will be enhanced.

This bill will be referred to a committee. It will, however, perhaps become necessary to hold broader consultations, above and beyond the simple parliamentary committee framework with experts attending. We may also have to involve community organizations.

Let us examine the context per se of the creation of the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. The present act comes under the Canada Corporations Act. The types of corporations governed by part II of the Canada Corporations Act include—as we know—corporations that are not-for-profit, but religious, charitable, political or mutualist in character, as well as others.

In recent years, many people have voiced concerns about the obsolete nature of the Canada Corporations Act, and the fact that its provisions no longer meet the requirements of the not-for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector of today. A number of stakeholders therefore called for the act to be reformed and improvements made to the framework that regulates that sector.

Around July 2000, Industry Canada produced a consultation paper entitled “Reform of the Canada Corporations Act: The Federal Not-for-Profit Framework Law”. This led to the introduction of a bill that was first known as Bill C-21, which was introduced on November 14, 2004, by the Liberal government, but never made it past second reading.

On June 13, 2008, during the 39th Parliament, it was the Conservative government that introduced Bill C-62, but as we all know, an election was called, an election that I would describe as not only hasty, but even premature. When Parliament resumed on December 3, 2008, a similar bill was introduced by the Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism). Once again, because the House was prorogued, it was put off indefinitely.

Finally, in January 2009, Bill C-4 was introduced.

This bill has very clear objectives. It proposes a new Canada not-for-profit corporations act that would establish a more modern and transparent framework for such organizations. The operational framework for not-for-profit corporations would be much more similar to corporate governance under the Canada Business Corporations Act.

In more concrete terms, this bill will simplify the incorporation of not-for-profit corporations. It will also clarify the rights and responsibilities of boards and establish defences for officers and directors in the event of liability. It will also provide members with increased rights to participate in the governance of their corporation. Furthermore, it will establish a better mechanism for oversight of the corporation's accounts.

This bill seems to be relatively complex for some. It is divided into 20 parts in order to establish a new framework for not-for-profit organizations. The first thing, of course, is to identify the purpose of the bill, which is to incorporate corporations without share capital so that they may exercise their activities.

There is a definition of soliciting corporation. This term, of course, means any corporation that solicits public funding as well as any corporation that receives public donations or government grants.

The second part points out that the current letters patent system is being replaced with an as-of-right system.The director, after receiving and reviewing the required documents, can immediately issue a certificate of incorporation.

It also sets out the capacity of a corporation as a natural person. This section will have to be further developed because surely the related legal aspects and responsibilities are implied. Madam Speaker, we are both responsible for our actions. And so an organization will obviously be responsible for its actions, which will simultaneously protect the director, the board, the president and directors.

Of course, this would require that organizations keep accounting ledgers as well as a list of members and directors and make these documents available to members while still protecting privacy.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I am not going to go into detail about each of the 20 parts of this bill, but I must tell you that I was an accountant in another life. If I was not auditing, I was examining accounting ledgers, and if I was not doing that, I was preparing financial statements.

Unfortunately, I often found that certain organizations were led and controlled and that basically only one person participated in the organization. One person could solicit funds, collect them, use them and, unfortunately, sometimes use them for activities other than those that appeared in the charter at the time.

That needs to be mentioned.

We have to modernize the act so that similar situations do not arise again. Naturally, it gives them permission to borrow, to issue debt obligations and to invest as they wish. There are several technical aspects with respect to issuing debt obligations and the use of trust indentures. It outlines the role of the trustee if an organization were to be placed in receivership.

This bill also requires organizations to have at least one director or at least three in the case of a corporation that solicits funds. I am wondering about the element of responsibility. Sometimes I wonder how the act can state that there will be at least one director. That means that some organizations will have only one director. Does that also mean that there will be only one member? As I was explaining earlier, I am familiar with such cases. At least with this bill, if soliciting is involved, there must be three directors. Thus, public money donated by individuals has at least a chance of being used appropriately.

There is also a set of bylaws. The members must fulfill certain conditions. Thus, the bylaws set out the type of voting and the related voting rights. The voting procedure, the bylaws governing how members are to hold meetings, the calling of a meeting and quorum are all set out in the bill.

Another part talks about financial statements. It states that the organization must make available to its members the financial statements and any report submitted by its public accountant. It requires soliciting corporations to file a copy of their financial statements and public accountant's report with the director, who in turn makes them available to the public.

A multitude of non-profit organizations never submitted their financial statements, not even to members. With this bill, at least, the financial statements prepared by the public accountants will be forwarded to the corporation's director, who in turn will make them available to the public. That is a very important element.

The level of financial review required will be determined by the organization's revenues. For low-revenue organizations, a public accountant will conduct a review and submit a report. For medium-revenue organizations, if the board of directors so authorizes, the public accountant will review and report once again. For high-revenue organizations, the financial statements will have to be accompanied by an audit report. Here again, the reports will have to be submitted to the director of corporations, as I said earlier, and made available to the public.

The bill also refers to fundamental changes to what I will not call the charter, because that will no longer exist, but the organization of the not-for-profit corporation.

The bill includes provisions pertaining to proceedings to liquidate or dissolve a corporation. It also lists the powers a court can confer on an inspector who investigates a complaint filed by an interested person.

The bill contains provisions on offences. It also brings things up to date by allowing not-for-profit organizations to communicate with their members electronically. This bill therefore modernizes the legislation and allows for electronic equipment. That is something I wanted to mention.

Of course, there will be a three-year transition period for organizations to which part II of the Canada Corporations Act applies, which will now be recognized as corporations under the new legislation. There are some very important issues concerning this new bill, such as the fact that there is no classification system for NPOs in the Canada Corporations Act. Bill C-4 also does not include a classification system.

In the government's view, the new act does not need a classification system because the framework is permissive and flexible. Permissive can sometimes have a negative connotation. Nevertheless, this is a situation that exists within the new legislation because it is permissive and flexible and of course allows organizations to choose how to implement the relevant provisions. The accent is instead on the adoption of a set of rules intended to guide them in the conduct of their business, rather than imposing a system of rules they would be required to adhere to.

The fundamental concept underlying a classification system is that the corporations would be treated differently. Some would find themselves with more rules imposed on them by the State than others. As proposed here, most corporations would be treated in the same way and could enact various levels of regulation according to their requirements and the specific wishes of their members.

However, the opposite is true, according to the national charities and not-for-profit law section of the Canadian Bar Association. They feel that not including a general classification system is a major flaw in this bill. There is indeed a considerable difference between, for example, a charitable or benevolent organization and a mutualist one, which I will explain.

I am being told that I have two minutes left, so I will move along rapidly. Let us take the mutualist organizations. The resources of these organizations are directed toward the membership, whereas the resources of charitable organizations are directed toward an object, which may be very specific individuals other than the members. The act has provision for this. In these organizations, the money is not supposed to be used for the membership, but in some it may be, depending on the characteristics of the members and the object and vocation of the organization.

I am getting the sign that my time is very nearly up, but I would like to caution my colleagues with respect to one important aspect of this bill.

As far as respecting the jurisdiction of Quebec is concerned, at the present time section 154 of the Canada Corporations Act stipulates that the federal minister may grant a charter to a corporation if it carries on objects of a national, patriotic, religious, philanthropic, charitable, scientific, artistic, social, professional or sporting character, or the like.

It would appear, however, that clause 4 of the proposed legislation would not oblige the not-for-profit corporations to stipulate in their by-laws the object they intend to pursue.

It could happen that the objects chosen and determined by the corporation encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. There therefore needs to be provision for that situation in the act so that federal corporations do not encroach upon provincial areas of jurisdiction.

Let us therefore return this bill to the committee and carry out a thorough study of all the—