Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor. His explanation of the bill was both fair-minded and quite elegant. He did a good job explaining both the bill and also the rationale to hold parliamentarians to a higher standard because of the privileged position we hold in this House. The member has given me a few more minutes to address some other points. I am not going to explain what is in the bill, since he has done such a wonderful job already.
The bill does focus on some two dozen Criminal Code violations. These are all indictable offences, meaning they are serious crimes that members of this House or the other place would have to commit and be found guilty of in a court of law before a pension were revoked. That is an important part of this bill because it would take these decisions out of a political theatre and put them into a court of law where, because these are serious matters, those decisions should rest.
There is one aspect of the bill that I would like to address, and some points that I have heard in the first hour of debate and that have come up in discussions with colleagues here and elsewhere.
The first measure is that there remains in this bill some measure of partial retroactivity. Initially when I tabled this bill in June 2013, I suggested that convictions be retroactive from that date forward. In the committee, that was modified and the modification is acceptable so that the crime itself could have happened at any time before this bill, should it receive royal assent, came into effect, but the conviction would now have to happen on or after that date. Going forward, if this bill became law, it would still apply to malfeasance that occurred in the past. That is a good compromise, and I understand the reasons for that were dealing with potential court challenges. That was an amendment that I thought was wise and good.
This bill, after discussion over the last 20 months, does have and I hope it will have support from both sides of the House. When I first tabled the bill, I had suggested a floor of two years, that the maximum sentence be two or more years. However, upon consultation with members on both sides of the House at the first debate, I suggested that be moved to five years, within the Criminal Code and an indictable offence. In working with both sides of the House, trying to find a bill that would accomplish its objective—which, at the end of the day, was to penalize members who broke trust with taxpayers, members who through illegal activities misplaced or misused tax dollars—the bill was further refined in committee, with amendments I suggested in committee, to focus on violations like breach of trust, fraud, theft, and forgery, aspects that have to do directly with how we spend and use tax dollars in this place. Our role as legislators is to come here and decide on behalf of Canadians how tax dollars are going to be spent.
I will give one good example of why an across-the-board five-year threshold posed some challenge. I say this respectfully mostly for members in the official opposition who believe the bill has been weakened because of these changes. When we are at home in our riding, we drive around a lot. If we were to ever hit someone with our vehicle and kill him or her, the punishment is up to a five-year prison term. The point of this bill was never to capture someone or to have someone revoke or lose a pension through an error or momentary lapse of judgment; it was for deliberate theft of tax dollars.
To have an across-the-board blanket meant that a member in this House, because of a terrible accident, a tragedy and a crime but not something that was intentional, could very well be in a position of losing a parliamentary pension.
That is the rationale for focusing on the two dozen or so provisions in this bill that focus on infractions that deal directly with our duties as parliamentarians.
Recently a number of amendments have come forward from the official opposition that I must confess I disagree with. In fact, I actually thought it was the will of this House, as I was proposing these changes, to focus the scope of this bill on our actual duties. I can say that, because on December 10, 2013, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, when I suggested raising it to a threshold of five years, said:
However, as the member has already indicated, we would be looking and seeking amendments to change it to five years for a criminal offence and we have seen, I think, from the member, some willingness to compromise on that. That is welcome.
I went back through the debates we had in this House on this bill to be sure I understood the mood of the room. Member after member, from both sides, had suggested or debated or told this House that in fact we wanted to be careful, that we did not want to inappropriately strip a member of a pension for a violation that was not related to his or her duties. It was only as one of our colleagues found himself in violation of the Canada Elections Act that suddenly the debate became about widening it. This is a problem, because as we look at legislation, we have to be somewhat consistent in our approach.
I have correspondence from the Leader of the Opposition, who talks about our former colleague, Dean Del Mastro, who was found guilty of breaking the Canada Elections Act. The Leader of the Opposition said that this former member would have lost his whole pension under the restrictions of the Nova Scotia law, which states that any MLA convicted of a crime with a maximum sentence of five years or more in jail will lose the right to a full pension.
This is actually false, because this former member, while he was found guilty of a provision under the Canada Elections Act, was actually found guilty of a crime with a maximum penalty of one year. It did not reach the threshold, in my original bill, of two years. It does not reach the threshold of the penalty of the Nova Scotia law, nor did it ever reach the threshold of this bill, at five years. That is simply not true.
It is important, because the mood of this House was such that we wanted to focus on our duties as legislators and on the appropriation and disbursement of tax dollars.
Where are we? We have a bill today that has gone through several hours of debate, has gone through committee, and has had several changes to it proposed, which I think, by and large, have strengthened it.
I will not be supporting the amendments put forward by the official opposition, because I think they attempt to, at the last minute, the 11th hour, open this bill up in a manner that not even the Nova Scotia bill, which the NDP cites as the standard, does. In fact, they would endanger the likelihood of this bill passing the House, because it was both government members and opposition members who urged me throughout the process to be very focused in this bill and to go after penalties that are in line with our duties as parliamentarians.
Twenty months later, we have this bill before us, and I hope it will receive support on both sides of the House. I believe it will receive support on both sides of the House, and I urge members to support it so we can get it off to the Senate. I hope to see it become law before Parliament is dissolved in advance of the next election.