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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was debate.

Last in Parliament May 2004, as Conservative MP for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2000, with 41% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canadian Firearms Control Program September 24th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I will make my remarks short because I know other people want to speak and private members' business is sort of a sacred time and people want to get on.

I want just to say that despite the cost overruns of the firearms registry, and I do agree that something went badly wrong, I can tell the member opposite and the person moving this motion that this is one MP that still very much supports the program.

Very quickly, Mr. Speaker, the member should put in context what the registry does. What the registry does is it tracks long guns which are capable of killing not only animals at a distance but capable of killing people at a distance.

Since September 11 the security situation has so drastically changed that we need to control and destroy long guns that exist in society that are not being used by proper gun owners, by registered gun owners. Because the one thing that we do not want to see in international affairs particularly in countries like Iraq, we do not want to see terrorists acquire guns that can kill people at distances.

Right now what is happening over there is that basically the firearms that are in circulation in the Middle East and in other areas of terrorism across the world are automatic weapons that are only effective at close range. It changes everything for those American soldiers in Iraq if those American soldiers can be killed at 100 yards, 300 yards or 500 yards. The type of weapons that the registry is designed to collect and destroy are long guns that pose an enormous threat to the stability in the world if they get out of North America.

So, Mr. Speaker, there are other reasons why the gun registry is very important but at the very least, everyone in this House and particularly those members of the opposition who are constantly saying that we should support the Americans well, I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, we should certainly support the Americans by putting all the controls on the distribution and black market collection of long guns. And with this gun registry that we have here in Canada, at least we will know that if long guns suddenly turn up in places like Iraq, they will not be coming from Canada.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

Madam Speaker, I am sensitive to the remarks the member made and there is a certain element of partisanship there. And this is a partisan place and there is nothing wrong with that.

I would still like to pursue the comment that I made earlier because I had not realized that this section was here. We are now at third reading and we can do very little to change the bill that is before us. But I point out to him that excluded from the purview of the ethics commissioner is a lieutenant-governor, officers and staff of the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament. That latter is an echo of the exclusion that exists in the Access to Information Act. He will agree that there are many of us who feel that the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament should be under the Access to Information Act and then coming back to the judiciary again.

To me, Madam Speaker, it is a no-brainer. It is a cliché, I am sorry, I take it back, Madam Speaker, it is a terrible cliché. But nevertheless, I do not see how a lieutenant-governor or the officers of the Library of Parliament or this House or the judiciary could be adversely affected because they had some kind of oversight from this place by an officer of Parliament on their standards of behaviour.

And I come back to the judiciary. We are all so darn afraid of saying anything about the judiciary as though judges were some kind of gods. They may be gods in their own mind but they are human. They do make mistakes and they can be in conflicts of interest. And as I said earlier, it is true that we hear in our constituency offices of judges who have problems and those judges are unreachable.

I would ask the member, should we not be considering deeply how we can get a mechanism going where we can extend the reach of good behaviour to these other areas that appear to be untouchable?

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

Madam Speaker, in my remarks a little earlier I gave my own government a little too much credit, which will interest the member opposite who just spoke. I alluded to the fact that I thought the act governed judges under the Judges Act and that they would be under the purview of the ethics commissioner. In fact I misread the clause. The judges are exempt from this legislation and from the purview of the ethics commissioner, but I would say the reason I made the mistake is that it made so much logic to have judges under the scrutiny of the ethics commissioner.

I would ask the member opposite, would he join me in making representations to the Senate that it considers this particular clause and bring judges under the purview of the ethics commissioner? I remind the member that in Canada as opposed to the United States the judiciary is under Parliament. It is created by an act of Parliament. It is in my view fitting and proper for the behaviour of judges to be subject to the same type of scrutiny as the behaviour of the other high officials cited in this legislation.

I wonder if the member opposite would comment on what turns out in my mind to be an accidental but very good idea.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, simply put, the creation of a Senate ethics commissioner is an enormous step forward. As I said in my own remarks, it was an enormous step forward to bringing judges under the purview of an ethics commissioner.

Let me emphasize that it is so important to look forward and not to look back. Yes, it has been a long time coming. We should have done this years back but we do not condemn legislation because it did not come two, three or four years ago.

I remind the member that it was four years ago that I had before the House a bill to reform the Access to Information Act. I have to remind the member that he was one of the key members of the opposition who ensured that the bill would be defeated.

We have to be all on the same side on this issue. We want transparency. We want accountability. We want good behaviour. I hope the member this time around on this bill, especially as it is a government bill and not merely the bill of a backbench MP who is trying to bring transparency and accountability to all of government, while seeing that it is a good government bill I hope the member will support it.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I think the member will agree, however, that when it comes to the bureaucracy and the way they comport themselves, this really should be covered by the public service code of conduct.

The public service code of conduct, the House should know, thanks to the President of the Treasury Board, has been overhauled and has been implemented. I would agree that it is long overdue.

However this is not to take away from the member's point. It is extremely important that members of Parliament and senators be models for the public service. I might add that it is not just a matter of being a model. It is also very necessary to have high level transparency because it is very difficult to do the things that the member described, which essentially is to give out contracts as a form of favour, when that type of deed is going to become public knowledge.

We have a balance there. We must have the transparency that allows the deed to appear before the public, before the media, and we must have the model established by the members of Parliament and the government. I believe we are moving in that direction very strongly, not just because of this legislation, not just because of Bill C-34, but I refer the House to legislation we have already passed and that is the political financing bill.

What that did is that separated, as best we could, this time around at any rate, the receipt of money from corporations vis-à-vis the perception of those corporations that would be receiving favours.

That is the way we have to go. It is not so much what may be done wrong so much as how things are perceived. I really do believe that belatedly, absolutely belatedly, I would agree that it should have been done years ago. As someone who has been campaigning for opening up the Access to Information Act, this is of course very close to my heart.

However, in the last year or so, I think the government has moved significantly forward with legislation that improves accountability, that sets benchmarks of good behaviour. I hope Bill C-34 will pass the House within the next couple of months and I think we will all be the better for it.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

And the Commissioner of Official Languages, as one of my colleagues pointed out.

There is another aspect of the bill that I find most fascinating and which I would also like to draw the attention of the House to. It goes back to section 72.06 that describes public office holders. Basically what this section does is it deals with the reach of the ethics commissioner in probing and monitoring the conduct of public office holders. That has to be married in the bill with another section that gives the opportunity to members of Parliament to submit a request to the ethics commissioner to investigate public officer holders and those listed under section 72.06.

Well, lo and behold, as we look down through here we see minister of the Crown, various public servants, a lieutenant governor, officers and staff of the Senate and so forth. What we find is included in those individuals whose behaviour is to be monitored by the ethics commissioner is a judge who receives a salary under the Judges Act. I think this is an enormous forward step because we do know that the judiciary has been almost completely exempt from any kind of scrutiny, other than that done in camera essentially by the judicial council.

While we have anecdotal information from time to time that judges under the Judges Act may not be conducting themselves with the kind of probity and good behaviour that we would expect of any public office holder, as far as I know other than the judicial council there is no way to bring that type of behaviour to account. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I have had complaints in my constituency office about the behaviour of judges before the court who, at least according to the people who have made the complaint, have not done due diligence on the files before them or have behaved in some manner that would ordinarily cast some, shall we say, concern about the conduct and the even-handedness or the competence, shall we say, with which these judges have been handling the cases before them.

The difficulty is that when we get a complaint like that from a constituent, under the law now there is nothing we can do about it, other than write to the judicial council and of course we never hear back. The joy of this legislation is that now that we have the judges under the purview of the ethics commissioner, a member of Parliament responding to a complaint from a constituent, or responding I would hope to several complaints from constituents because we would not want to make this a trivial thing, can actually take it to the ethics commissioner and ask him to investigate and report.

I would say that this is an enormous forward step because one of the unfortunate things particularly as we have debated other issues pertaining to the judiciary in the House in this last little while, the reality is that there has been little movement in a century toward modernizing the judiciary, making it transparent in the same way as other government institutions have been moving forward in that fashion.

Finally, I would like to emphasize for those who may be watching this debate that Bill C-34, while it does bring parliamentarians and members of the Senate under the purview of the ethics commissioner, it still leaves latitude to members of the House of Commons, and members of the Senate because there is the creation of a Senate ethics commissioner as well, but it does still give the power of members of the House and members of the other place the opportunity to draw up some kind of code of conduct that reflects adequately the way in which we want to be seen by the public and the way in which, even more importantly, we want to see ourselves.

I think it is important, at least at this stage, that we have legislation that respects the need for MPs and senators to be masters in their own houses and to set rules of behaviour. These rules of behaviour will be overseen by the ethics commissioner who will report to a committee of the House.

I think we still have the next step to go. That next step is to set some kind of series of benchmarks that the public can understand with respect to the behaviour of members of Parliament.

Finally, I should add that a very important aspect of the bill is the creation of a Senate ethics commissioner. The senators live in a slightly different world than elected representatives in the sense that they are appointed. The reality is if members of Parliament deport themselves in a manner that is reprehensible, the voters know exactly what to do with them and they can be voted out of office.

This is not the case for senators because they are of course appointed for life, up until the age of 75. Nevertheless it is very important that they have a set of rules that they can create themselves. Right now the rules that govern the behaviour of senators, particularly the possibility of a conflict of interest, are antiquated. They are in the Parliament of Canada Act. They need to be overhauled.

I am confident that when a Senate ethics commissioner is appointed, with the agreement of the Senate we will see a series of rules set up by my colleagues in the other place that will ensure that there will be great confidence in the integrity of the Senate and as much confidence in the integrity of the Senate as I like to think there is in members of the House.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

If I may say so, Mr. Speaker, in 15 minutes in this place you could actually describe the entire Constitution, so I am very delighted to have that much time to dwell on a few points that I had commenced at the beginning before question period.

In my earlier remarks I was alluding to the fact that I was actually praising the legislation for having defined public office holders so there was no ambiguity that ministers of the Crown and their exempt staff were covered by this legislation, whereas we note that under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act there is ambiguity and they are not legislatively covered, although the government has taken steps to make sure that this type of information from that type of individual is available.

Having said that, I have to sound a negative note. I always regret to criticize a government bill in any way naturally, but I do note in this legislation that they have struck the ethics counsellor from schedule I in the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and they have not replaced the ethics commissioner in that schedule I.

Schedule I, Mr. Speaker, as you well know, defines what government institutions are governed by the Access to Information Act. The Access to Information Act guarantees that Canadians have a right to get certain operational information and transparency related information from these various government institutions that are listed under schedule I. So indeed it is a disappointment to see the ethics commissioner is not listed under schedule I even though the ethics counsellor, his predecessor, was.

I think the rationale is that this new ethics commissioner as described in Bill C-34 is to be seen in the same context as an officer of Parliament as the Information Commissioner as the Privacy Commissioner. Mr. Speaker, I do note that these other officers of Parliament are not under the Access to Information Act. I would suggest to you that what needs to happen is that all officers of Parliament have to come under the Access to Information Act. It should be done with alacrity, not just for the ethics commissioner but for the Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner.

Parliament of Canada Act September 22nd, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to an aspect of this legislation that might be otherwise overlooked. It is a very important aspect of the legislation and one that I, because of my particular interests I suppose, am especially qualified to comment on, or at least I am the one most likely to notice and that is because of my interest in issues pertaining to access to information and privacy.

I draw the attention of the House to section 72.06(a) and (b). This section of the act describes the functions of the ethics commissioner in relation to public office holders. What we have in this section is a definition of public office holder that includes a minister of the Crown, a minister of state or a parliamentary secretary, which is fine, and in (b) even more significantly a person, other than a public servant, who works on behalf of a minister of the Crown or a minister of state.

Members of the House will recall that about a year ago there was quite a controversy involving the expense accounts of an exempt staff member of one of the ministers. The Treasury Board had ruled that the exempt staff of ministers were not public office holders. This was a fairly longstanding definition, or interpretation I should say.

Actually I have the Treasury Board analysis. It was actually a guideline, guideline 78 that was released in March 2001. It advised with respect to section 3(j) of the Privacy Act that ministers and their exempt staff are not deemed to be officers and employees of government institutions and as such are not covered by section 3.

When ministers take office they certainly have staff that are provided to them by the bureaucracy, by the public service, but they also have a certain number of employees who are their direct aids that act as intermediaries between the minister and the bureaucracy, sometimes as intermediaries with the media. Sometimes they also look after some of the ministers' politically partisan activities.

The problem is that as a result of this interpretation, this type of individual was not covered by the Access to Information Act. This exploded into something of a controversy when it was discovered, quite to everyone's surprise, that access to information requests made to this type of staff of ministers were being denied and were being denied as a result of this guideline set out by Treasury Board.

What is so interesting about the section I alluded to in Bill C-34 is the good news is that the government has acted on that controversy. We already knew that the government had acted on that controversy because after the hearings before the public accounts committee, even though it became very clear as a result of the testimony that this was a valid interpretation that ministers' staff were not covered by the Access to Information Act, there was a directive issued, I believe by the Prime Minister's office, to ministers to exercise their discretion and endeavour to ensure that type of information was released.

Thus we have the news of the day now where the staff of certain other ministers are receiving a certain amount of media coverage because of--I do not know how to describe it--elaborate spending, shall we say. I do not want to suggest excessive because I do not want to make a judgment, but we have seen in the news a number of expense account stories. That arises directly out of the public accounts activities and the questions raised about ministerial exempt staff.

As I say, the really good news is that obviously in Bill C-34 the government has received the message from the backbench, has received the message from the public accounts committee and has actually put into this legislation that a public office holder is indeed a minister, as indeed are the staff that the ministers hire. That is good news.

It means that the ethics commissioner will be part of a package of transparency that looks at not just how people spend money in departments, but how they deport themselves. I think it is a very good thing that the government has seen fit to put that actually in the legislation.

Supply September 16th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Yesterday I raised a point of privilege in the House and Hansard made an error that I would like to see corrected on the record.

In citing a justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the audio record will reveal that I cited it as Mr. Justice LaForme. In Hansard it is the wrong name. I hope the record will be corrected. It is a pity because I thought it was an important point of privilege and I would certainly want the record to be exact.

Supply September 16th, 2003

Mr. Speaker, in the Halpern case in 2001 before the Ontario Superior Court, the court then cited the modernization of benefits act, C-23, and the definition of marriage as a heterosexual union that was put into that legislation in the year 2000. The court dismissed that definition as the preamble of the legislation, which incidentally it was not, it was part of the body of the legislation. Nevertheless it dismissed that definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others on the justification that it was not really meant to be a legislative definition, it was merely a clarification.

Had that judge read the debates in Hansard he would surely have come to another conclusion.

The question for the member is, if the courts can change the law without paying any attention to the debates of Parliament, is there any point in Parliament having debates at all?