Mr. Speaker, I congratulate you on your re-election to the chair.
I would again like to thank the citizens of St. Albert for having re-elected me for the fifth time, and I appreciate very much their support.
I am pleased to support the government's new FAA, the federal accountability act, which has been introduced. As has been said many times, this is great legislation that will set back the concept of people helping themselves to the government's cash with impunity, hopefully by many years. The notion that governments have to be accountable to Parliament, that Parliament and the government have to be accountable to the people and that they have an obligation to act with honesty and integrity should be taken for granted. Unfortunately, we have had to entrench it in law to ensure that everybody who is in government, or who may come into government or who has been in government gets the message that we have to act with honesty and integrity.
We also have to think about why this bill has been required. We all know what happened with the sponsorship program under the previous government. The Auditor General reported in February of 2004, with a tremendous jolt to the nation, that there was large-scale corruption in our government, that $100 million had been lost and that every rule in the book had been broken. We found out during the investigation that it had been ongoing for years and that the people responsible for ensuring the rules were adhered to were turning a blind eye.
It had tentacles leading right into the Prime Minister's office. Many of the questions were never answered as to exactly what was the culpability of senior ministers and the prime minister, under whose personal directive this program was being managed. His chief of staff, who as we all know appeared as a witness before the public accounts committee and the Gomery inquiry, admitted that he had hands-on administration of this program too. The former minister of public works, Mr. Alfonso Gagliano, had hands-on management of this program, as did his chief of staff, Jean-Marc Bard, and it went on and on. People who should have been, by the rules, barred from being involved in the daily administration of the program were actively involved. I do not know if we ever will know the real story of the particular involvement by these senior public officials, but the result of it has been the new accountability act to ensure that it does not happen again.
It is pointed out in the Gomery report that government reports to Parliament. The public accounts committee, which I chaired at the time, was conducting a full-blown investigation into the sponsorship program, from February until May of 2004, at which time it was cut short by the prime minister of the day who dissolved Parliament and called an election. This is why we told Canadians that we believed in a parliamentary cycle of four years, to ensure that prime ministers of the day could not pull the plug and dissolve Parliament to avoid their embarrassment.
When a public accounts committee, or any other committee for that matter, or Parliament itself is involved in holding the government accountable, it is very archaic for the government of the day to say, “Everyone go home and leave us alone”. That belongs in the middle ages, in the evolution of Parliament back in the 1400s, 1500s and 1600s in the U.K., where the king could dissolve Parliament at will every time they asked an embarrassing question. Surely it does not belong in our hopefully mature democracy in Canada.
That investigation, which was truncated, was followed by the Gomery inquiry. We had a four-volume report from Mr. Justice Gomery, which talked, among many things, about the role of Parliament.
I am looking at the volume “Restoring Accountability” and his recommendations. He talks a great deal about parliamentary oversight in a democracy and our responsibility as members of Parliament to hold government accountable. It is unfortunate that, while he waxed eloquent on many areas of Parliament, his recommendations contained nothing about Parliament, as an institution, being required to be stronger in order that Parliament can oversee government, get the facts and figures and demand answers to ensure that honesty and integrity is the order of the day.
I look at Mr. Justice Gomery's recommendations and the majority of them seem to be that the government should do something.
For example, recommendation 2 on page 199 says, “The Government should adopt legislation to entrench into law a Public Service Charter.”
Recommendation 4 says, “--the Government should modify its policies and publications to explicitly acknowledge and declare that Deputy Ministers and senior public servants who have statutory responsibility...”.
Recommendation 5 says, “The Government should establish a formal process by which a Minister is able to overrule a Deputy Minister...” and so on.
Much of that has been included in the federal accountability act, but I would have thought that Mr. Justice Gomery, after waxing eloquent on the role of Parliament in a democracy, would have had some greater recommendations to strengthen this institution to ensure that we as parliamentarians fulfill our responsibilities.
I want to talk a bit about other countries and the problems they have with parliamentary oversight. There is now an organization, which I chair, called GOPAC, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. It is aptly named because while we have had and may still have corruption in our country, it pales in comparison to what happens elsewhere. I believe many of the undeveloped countries are undeveloped because of grand corruption by governments. They are not held accountable by the institution of parliament.
The whole philosophy of GOPAC is an organization of parliamentarians committed to improving the institution of parliament, to strengthen parliament, to ensure that it does really act as institution of oversight for governments rather than being a lapdog of government, in the pocket of government, to ensure that government gets what it wants, and no doubt parliamentarians get well paid along the way. If we could stop corruption in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America, for example, we would find that their prosperity would rise.
We spend $60 billion a year collectively from the developed world into the undeveloped world in foreign aid and yet we do not seem to see much improvement, mostly because of corruption.
The president of the World Bank, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, has now talked about how corruption is a major agenda of his presidency and how he would like to and is tackling corruption through the World Bank.
GOPAC wants to work with parliamentarians to ensure that parliamentarians who are speaking out against corruption, not just in Canada but elsewhere around the world, can do so knowing that they have a greater opportunity to do so without recrimination. There are some parliamentarians around the world whose lives are on the line, or who have disappeared or who have been found murdered because they spoke out against corruption. Parliamentarians need to know that they have support from their colleagues around the world. We want to provide that support.
We also want to provide education to parliamentarians. When we are elected to this job, nobody tells us how to do our job. Therefore, we need to understand the institution to which we have been elected. We need to know the rules and we need to know that our job is oversight of government, not to be cheerleaders of government, not to oppose it at every turn but, as an institution, to hold government accountable.
The third issue deals with what we call leadership for results. Far too many parliamentary organizations travel, but they really do not accomplish very much. We would like to see GOPAC be an organization that actually achieves things. Our Latin American chapter is working with the Organization of American States to implement the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. There is the African Convention Against Corruption and the UN Convention Against Corruption. We would like to see these adopted.
The accountability bill being proposed today would ensure that we hopefully would never fall into the pit of corruption that has destroyed the prosperity and the economies of so many countries around the world and that we continue to be a beacon of prosperity and governance around the world.