Madam Speaker, I will be brief on this particular debate. My good friend from Acadie—Bathurst has a private member's bill which I know he is champing at the bit to get on the floor of the House and legitimately so because it is a relevant bill that deals with the employment insurance issue.
On Bill C-34, I have a lot of respect for the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. He speaks from the heart. The issues he put forward with respect to the democratic deficiency and certainly with respect to ethics in the House were very appropriate.
Madam Speaker, as you and I and other members of the House know, one of the worst things we have to deal with as members of Parliament is the impression that we have in the community. I think we are our own worst enemies. Too often people will approach us and say “The House is dysfunctional. The democracy that we have is dysfunctional. In most cases members of Parliament are there for all the wrong reasons. They are selfish and they are crooked”.
That cuts me to the core. Quite frankly I consider myself to be a very honest person, someone who has been a public servant and who has represented not only my community but my constituency for well over 20 years.
When people tell me this of other members, they always say “but that does not mean you; this is about other people that we see in the House of Commons”. It hurts and I know that we are our own worst enemies.
We have to put in place not only legislation that we have to deal with but also consider the ethics bill that we are talking about today. We as members of Parliament must be seen to be as pure as the driven snow. In our own operations we have to recognize that we have to set a higher example, a better example not only of our own selves in the House but certainly of our colleagues in the House, so that people will respect us more as politicians than they have in the past.
I sit on the procedure and House affairs committee and I look forward to having this piece of legislation referred to it. I have had the opportunity to deal with the ethics package and to debate the issue of the ethics commissioner over the past number of months. I can assure the House that provincial jurisdictions are far ahead of the federal jurisdiction.
My own jurisdiction of Manitoba had the opportunity to deal with the issue of an ethics commissioner. I assure the House that just having the rules in place is absolutely vital. It is not so much even for the public to say that there are some rules to gauge and see what politicians are following but it is a preventative measure also for the members of the jurisdictions. It is easy for us to get wrapped up in our own lives and not see the shades of grey between the black and white of ethics.
What I see as part of the job function of the ethics commissioner here is as a preventative action for members of Parliament. When we have some difficulty as to where we are heading in our own lives with our own investments and our own constituencies, we now have somebody to go to and ask whether or not we are on the right track. None of us has all the answers. Anyone here who thinks he or she has all the answers obviously would be much better than the opposition side or for that matter even the Prime Minister because even he does not have all the answers. It is good to be able to share and ask other people what it is we should or should not be doing.
There are two issues. One which I could not get over is the squeamish acceptance by the government at committee when we talked about spousal disclosure with respect to the ethics bill. The regulations will be drawn up. As part of the regulations it should be required that not only should the member of Parliament disclose his or her assets but we are saying that in order to make this up front and to make it totally transparent and believable, spousal disclosure has to accompany that of the member. That is just open, honest common sense.
Every other jurisdiction has it but the Liberal members had some difficulty with that. They thought perhaps there should be a backdoor way of getting around the regulations or the ethics. I do not see it that way.
In another life I had the requirement to disclose and declare what my assets and interests were. My spouse and also my dependants at that point in time were part of that declaration also.
It is only fair that we look seriously at that spousal disclosure when we go to the regulation. I think we finally convinced the Liberals that they should be seen to be above that and go with spousal disclosure.
The other thing is the ethics commissioner. I am absolutely astounded that it took the Prime Minister 10 years to embrace the idea of ethics. In his original red book of 1993, it talked about open government, open Parliament and open ethics. Now, 10 years later, when he is leaving, when he has his foot out the door and the door is about to hit him on the way out, he has embraced this wonderful concept of ethics. I do not know why it was not necessary for the last 10 years that he follow his own rules, that in fact he be more ethical in his position as Prime Minister, but I guess sometimes it is better late than never.
One of the things with the ethics commissioner, as part of the jurisdictions we talked to, is that the individual, he or she, must have the respect of either the legislature or the Parliament. It is difficult to have that individual give us advice, as members, when we do not have respect for him or her, or vice versa.
In order to achieve that, not only do we need to have, and should have, all the leaders of every party in the House to be part of that process of appointment, I honestly believe that the House must have a very serious part in that process of appointment. We must have the ability to vote, not unlike what we do with the Speaker. When every Parliament is opened, we have the opportunity to put forward the name of an individual who we believe will best represent our rights in the House. I think it is necessary that we do the same thing with the ethics commissioner.
Should it be 50 plus 1? We have had that argument. We have that argument in referendums all the time, I think. Quite frankly, I believe it should be more than that. I think it should be more than simple majority. In fact I would love to see unanimity but we will never get that. However I would hate to see just simply the majority government of the day being able to tell me who my ethics counsellor or commissioner will be. There should be more than just simple majority. Perhaps two-thirds or three-quarters. Let us pick a number. However I think we can do that at committee.
I do not want to take up any more time at this point but I will take up a substantial amount of time at the committee when this bill comes forward. I can assure all hon. members that when it comes back to the House it will be in a much better fashion, with some changes made to it. I know we can do it with the help of the government in the committee.