Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in this House and represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to have the first speech in what might be the final session of this Parliament.
The debate we are having today is very telling. We in this House represent our partisan interests. We are a party-based system, so we are expected to come in wearing our partisan interests.
However, all of us, regardless of what party we are in, have a larger responsibility, in that we are parliamentarians. We are part of a system of democratic accountability that has been worked out in the Westminster tradition through centuries. Each one of the precedents that have been established in the various Westminster systems establishes a code of conduct that we are all supposed to be part of, which is that the overall obligation of Parliament is to represent the interests of the Canadian people in an accountable and fair manner.
However, what we have seen with the current government is a steady attack on the basic institutions that hold this Parliament to account. We are now moving to the stage where this Parliament has become very much a Potemkin democracy. Certainly we have debates and we have votes, but it is becoming more and more of a charade in which the powers of decision-making are being moved into the executive around the Prime Minister's Office through cabinet secrecies without accountability, and Canadians are left watching a spectacle in this House that is often a degradation of the very notion of parliamentary accountability.
We see that what has happened in this Parliament under the current majority government is a steady attack on the officers of Parliament. People back home need to understand that the role of the officers in Parliament is of non-partisan experts whose job is to hold parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and cabinet ministers to account. However, that runs counter to the Conservative notion of accountability, which is hold their enemies to account and use the levers and powers of government to go after their straw men and their perceived enemies.
All parliamentarians have to be engaged in ensuring that our parliamentary officers have the powers they need to ensure a functioning democracy. These officers include the ethics commissioner, the lobbying commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the access to information commissioner, Elections Canada, and official languages. As well, we have recently brought in a parliamentary budget office.
Let us look at the pattern under the current government before we get to this rather ridiculous bill that we are debating today.
Everyone remembers the absolutely vicious trashing of the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, whose credibility probably ranks him as one of the most respected public servants I have met in my public career and who was relentlessly attacked because he was not a toady for the Prime Minister's Office.
We see the attack on Elections Canada and the attempt to change the electoral laws to make it illegal for the Elections Canada officer to speak out about the basic rights Canadians have in a voting democracy. Certainly they had to pull back some of those amendments because they were so far over the line, but the attack from the Prime Minister's spokesman on the credibility of Elections Canada is once again moving us much further across this moral Rubicon that the Conservatives crossed many years ago.
We saw the gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act when they brought in recommendations that not a single witness supported or even talked about because they were so ridiculous. The gutting of the Conflict of Interest Act is so ridiculous that the Conservatives would now hold 250,000 civil servants to the same account as a parliamentary secretary. People working in a Service Canada call centre in Moose Jaw would now be under the ethics commissioner in the same way as a parliamentary secretary who is receiving money from lobbyists for fundraisers. They would be held to the same account. The Conservatives have watered down the act to make it virtually useless.
We see their use of government resources against charities, again their perceived enemies, by using the Income Tax Act to go after Oxfam and tell Oxfam, an internationally respected organization, that in the country of Canada it cannot declare that it is out to fight poverty.
We see the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, who always has a light bulb burning half bright with some of the motions that she has brought forward. She has now brought forward this motion that NGOs, which are health organizations and international groups, will have to announce what kind of international money and connections are backing them. This is not about going after backroom lobbyists or bureaucrats; it is about going after charities and NGOs.
I was looking at the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke's bill. The only bills similar to it anywhere in the world are in Belarus, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China. There is not a credible western democracy that would use its levers of government to go after NGOs, except the current government. We see with Bill C-520, which was rightly called a government witch hunt, that there is no legislation anywhere in the world that is even close to what is proposed here.
This is a fascinating bill, because it was so badly thought out and such an overreach that the Conservatives could not bring any witnesses to back it up. Even right-wing ideologues with tinfoil hats would not come forward to defend this ugly baby. The government did not want any witnesses, so it had to strip its own bill because the bill was so odious. Under this bill, a parliamentary secretary under investigation for receiving all kinds of money for lobbyists could demand an investigation of the lobbying commissioner. Again, the people who are supposed to be investigated are the ones who have the power to do the investigating.
This bill, which was called a witch hunt, is an attack on the credibility of independent parliamentary officers so that now they have to make declarations. There is not much left in this bill. This bill was so odious that, my God, the poor Conservatives had come in and squeeze all the ugly guts out. They were pale when having to deal with it because it was such a dumbed-down bill, but what they left in it was the obligation that if someone is working in the ethics office or wants to work for the Privacy Commissioner, that person has to make a declaration of all his or her political activity going back 10 years.