Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.
I would like to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your appointment.
We are faced with an opportunity today to change the way things are done in the federal government. The legislation before us does take some important steps in remedying the lack of accountability and transparency between Parliament and government. However, there are some measures lacking that would make Parliament and government more accountable to Canadians.
Prior to the election last November, Ed Broadbent and the NDP demanded changes in ethics and accountability. The New Democratic Party proposed the following set of ethical reforms.
First, we called for democratic accountability for MPs. This means that no MP would be able to ignore his or her voters by leaving the party that he or she ran for and crossing the floor to another party without first resigning their seat and running in a byelection. We must put an end to the political opportunism that accompanies the backroom dealing in floor crossing and the accompanying job offers for personal gain. This simple rule would help to restore a measure of trust that has been replaced by voter cynicism. It is unfortunate that this measure was not included in this accountability legislation. My party is committed to banning floor crossing and will continue to demand this accountability measure for Canadian voters.
Second, we believe that election dates must be fixed. The date should be every four years, unless a minority government is brought down because of non-confidence. The large majority of the world's democracies do not give the party in power the right to determine when to call an election. The prime minister and the ruling party use this measure to ensure that elections are called at a time that is most beneficial to their re-election bid. This is anti-democratic. Fixed election dates would add fairness and transparency around elections for Canadians.
The power of the prime minister to set election dates has other negative effects on the way our government operates. Much of the business of government stays on hold when the possibility of an election looms. The longer the period of uncertainty, the less that we are able to accomplish for the voters who sent us to Parliament. This measure was also not included in the accountability legislation.
Third, we called for spending limits and full disclosure on leadership contests. As Ed Broadbent pointed out, parties are not private clubs. The legislation does include a ban on all corporate and union donations, something with which this party agrees. However, while we have strict spending limits on election campaigns, candidates and local riding associations, the amount spent by those seeking to lead their parties is limitless. This is a major deficiency in accountability to the citizens of our country who finance our parties. Often a new leader of a party will become the Prime Minister of Canada before facing the general electorate. We deserve to know as much about how he or she arrived at the most powerful office in the country. This new legislation does not accomplish this and that is unfortunate. In a democracy, leaders of parties should not be chosen simply by the virtue of unlimited access to money.
Our fourth demand was electoral reform. In the recent Speech from the Throne the government committed to involving parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions. I am encouraged by this, but I am also aware that serious reform will take serious action. In Canada every vote should matter. Ninety per cent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified their original electoral system. However, this is the same electoral system that still exists in Canada.
Not only would we attain a House of Commons that numerically better reflects the way people vote, but with much better regional representation in all party caucuses we would more likely have better decisions and more thoughtful debates on regionally divisive and other important issues. In addition, empirical evidence drawn from other countries strongly suggests that women and minorities would be much better represented in the House of Commons.
I believe it is imperative for Canada to change its electoral system so that Canadians can receive what they voted for and have their elected officials work on their behalf in the most meaningful and positive way. I, for one, will welcome the day when the mindless exchanges in our question period cease to be the standard by which Canadians judge our national political behaviour. My party will continue to work to ensure that our present electoral system is improved, making us more accountable to Canadians.
Our fifth objective was the elimination of unregulated lobbying. While this new act toughens regulation of lobbyists, including “Ed's clause” to ban success fees, it falls short of ending the practice of awarding government contracts to firms that also lobby government. There is also nothing to stop anyone from going to work for a lobbyist; he or she is stopped only from being a registered lobbyist.
The sixth measure in the NDP ethics package was a change to the way government appointments are made. The New Democratic Party has proposed that the government develop skills and competence related criteria for all government appointments, that these criteria be publicly released, and that committees scrutinize appointments.
This new act does create a new process that would improve the way government appointments are made, including a new public appointments commissioner, whose own appointment is now called into question given his links to the government. However, this process for appointments is kept with the PMO and therefore is not independent. The unfair and unethical patronage practice of government appointments must end. The NDP would ensure that any Canadian who qualifies for these positions on boards, commissions and agencies would have equal access and thus again bring accountability to all Canadians.
Another objective was to ensure serious reform to access to information legislation. I am sad to say that access to information reform is limited in this act. While it is expanded to include seven officers of Parliament, seven crowns and three foundations, comprehensive and meaningful reform has not been included in the act but instead has been sent to committee as a draft bill and a discussion paper. Canada badly needs the improved Access to Information Act. Canadians want more access to information about their government. My party is committed to accomplishing these objectives.
My colleague from Winnipeg Centre has worked tirelessly on this matter over the last two sessions of Parliament. His proposed changes would lead to the real openness and transparency that Canadians want in Ottawa.
I would like to conclude by discussing the long awaited legislation to provide for the protection of persons who are involved in the disclosure of wrongdoing in the workplace. These workers provide support for the government's agenda and must be protected against retaliation when they honestly and openly raise concerns that are evident to them in the workplace. This is the only way for Canadians to become aware of any wrongdoing, either ethical or legal, in the government departments they support. These women and men have been waiting too long for this protection from their government.
This act allows for disclosures to be made directly to the commissioner, who would now have the authority to deal directly with complaints both from public servants and the public. The NDP supports the initiative to remove the process whereby allegations were made to a middle person before a complaint was brought to the commissioner.
We are concerned, however, that whistleblowers would not have the right to seek remedy through the court system even as a last resort and also that in cases of retaliation a whistleblower would be referred to a “tribunal” headed by judges who are appointed by the Prime Minister. However, we are confident that we can influence the necessary changes to this act so that it is truly accountable to all Canadians.