The House resumed from April 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today and continue this debate on accountability.
I also want to take this opportunity, as it is the first chance I have had to speak in the House after the election, to thank the constituents of York West for their overwhelming endorsement. It was an interesting election. I increased rather than decreased my vote and I want to thank my constituents for that. I am very proud of that fact. It is a great privilege to be a member of Parliament for the riding of York West. I intend to continue to be an effective member and a strong voice, even if it is in opposition, and to work with all colleagues in the House to ensure that our country continues to grow strong and move forward.
My constituents and I certainly welcome any initiative to improve accountability in the government. In fact, this new accountability act is nothing more than a continuation of the groundbreaking work done by my government, the previous Liberal government. It was the government of the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard that took the courageous step of appointing the independent Gomery commission, which acted very decisively to change the culture of government.
It was my government that reviewed the responsibilities and accountabilities of ministers, senior officials, public servants and employees of crown corporations and brought in a wide variety of concrete measures that were adopted to increase oversight in crown corporations and in audit functions, which have been strengthened across the board.
From his first day in office, our former prime minister reformed government in many ways so that everyone in the public service will be held to account. It was the Liberal government that re-established the office of the Comptroller General of Canada. It was the Liberal government that strengthened ethical guidelines for ministers and other public office holders and established an independent Ethics Commissioner. It was the Liberal government that introduced a new publicly posted recusal process for all members of cabinet, including the prime minister. It was the Liberal government that put forward legislation to encourage whistleblowers and to give them the protection they needed from reprisal.
In February 2004 our Liberal government put forward an action plan on democratic reform to strengthen the role of parliamentarians in many ways, including implementing a three line voting system to allow for more free votes in the House and referring more bills to House committees before second reading so that committees have greater influence in shaping government legislation. That was a very important move in order to allow all of us as parliamentarians to participate fully in making sure that legislation is created to reflect the views of Canadians.
We have also pushed for the establishment of a committee of parliamentarians on national security.
It was the Liberal government that strengthened audit practices in the public sector through a comprehensive initiative that included the policy on internal audit and an initiative to strengthen and further professionalize the internal audit function throughout all of government through higher professional standards, recruitment of additional skilled professionals, training, and assessment.
As we go through all this process, we must recognize that our civil servants who work for the Government of Canada are some of the best in the world. We should be very proud of them and their commitment not only to us but to Canadians in general.
In 2004 the Liberal government delivered on a commitment to proactive disclosure. Since 2004, all travel and hospitality expenses of ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, their political staff and other senior government officials have been posted online on a quarterly basis. That is accountability, without question, when all of those expenses are posted for anybody in Canada or abroad to see what kinds of expenses are being incurred and whether taxpayers' money is being spent appropriately. When we talk about accountability, I think those were huge steps forward.
Government contracts worth more than $10,000 are now disclosed publicly and posted online, another act of the Liberal Government of Canada.
My government embraced transparency in key appointments.
Through the government's action plan for democratic reform, parliamentary committees were empowered to review the appointments of the heads of crown corporations.
My government brought increased transparency to the selection of Supreme Court justices. It made a lot of changes when talking about transparency.
In March 2004, while I was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and along with a lot of my other colleagues in cabinet, I introduced fundamental reforms to the appointment process for Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada members. These reforms improved the processes to ensure the quality and effectiveness of decisions made by the IRB and responded to the increasingly complex environment of the board, as did many other reforms made by my other cabinet colleagues in their portfolios.
Under the new process, the chairperson of the IRB is fully accountable for the selection and quality of the IRB decision makers. The new independent, transparent and merit-based selection process ensures that only the highest quality candidates are considered for appointment in that particular portfolio. The qualifications of candidates are measured against a new strengthened standard of competence to ensure that skills, abilities and personal suitability are the basis for appointments. I hope that continues under the new Conservative government.
My government also committed to expanding access to information. The Access to Information Act was extended to 10 key crown corporations that were previously exempt. It also presented a discussion paper to Parliament which proposed, among other measures, that the Access to Information Act be expanded to several federal institutions that are currently exempt.
My government was the first to seriously limit both individual and corporate political contributions as well as third party election spending. Bill C-24 was enacted in June 2003 and came into effect on January 1, 2004, representing the most significant reform to Canada's electoral and campaign finance laws since 1974. It affected contribution limits, those eligible to make contributions, public funding of political parties, spending limits for nomination contestants, and disclosure of financial information by riding associations, nomination contestants and leadership candidates.
I am pleased with most of the content of the legislation before us as it is a continuation of the Liberal government's 10 years of work on this file to increase full accountability and transparency in government. I do, however, have some concerns about the proposed bill, specifically regarding what is missing from it.
The bill does not strengthen the access to information regulations as I had hoped it would and I hope that there will be amendments to do just that. I am also troubled that the legislation before us restricts individual contributions to political parties and does nothing to reduce third party election spending. It is an area that still needs work to be done and I would expect that we would work together on amendments to ensure that it gets done.
This legislation would actually strengthen the third party influence in Canadian democracy and it seems like a deliberate exclusion. I would certainly hope that it is not the case. I also understand that there will be some amendments coming forth from the government regarding the lobbyist portion as it is already creating problems for people.
Canadians must have faith in the integrity of government and in the people who administer it. My government worked very hard to be accountable to the citizens of this great country. I am committed to support measures, as many of us are in the House, to enhance our prior work of building accountability, transparency and the public trust.
I look forward to being part of this discussion and debate.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on the subject of this bill.
I would like to congratulate my colleague from Papineau, who seeks to correct the French title of the bill because the use of the word “imputabilité” is not correct in this context according to the Office québécois de la langue française. We should use the word "responsabilité" instead.
That said, my party and I expected a lot from this accountability bill, particularly with respect to the independent budget forecaster, referred to in the bill as the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and to the transparency of foundations. I will address these two points over the next few minutes. I find the bill very disappointing in many ways, including its wording, and especially in its treatment of these two issues.
With respect to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we expected that once the Conservatives came into power, they would have something substantial to offer. After all, they have been preaching for years in support of the Bloc Québécois' demands for transparent figures—real numbers—in, for example, budget and surplus forecasts. One need only study the mandate and powers of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to see that the position has no real power. So we are back to square one.
Allow me to offer a historical profile, since 1997-98, at least, of parliamentary activity regarding budget forecasts.
When the Liberals were in power, the Prime Minister, a former finance minister and an hon. member of this House, would present us every year with data that had no relation to reality. Every year he forecast zero surpluses, even though the surpluses accumulating from month to month indicated that we were heading for figures well above zero. So we were told nonsense for years and years, to the point that, starting in 1997-98, when we saw the Liberals presenting us with figures totally devoid of sense and contrary to reality, we in the Bloc Québécois decided to form a small team and do our own surplus projections.
Mr. Speaker, you have been in this House for years, and you were a witness to this: we managed to come up with surplus forecasts that were within 3% or 4% of the actual numbers. With a small team and a pocket calculator bought on sale for $2.98, we managed to make accurate forecasts which reflected the real situation. But year after year, this charade continued.
I was listening to my Liberal colleague earlier. I was totally flabbergasted to hear him speak of transparency, when the Liberals were in power for 13 years and showed no transparency at all.
We know what happened with the sponsorship scandal, but even with these forecasts, when the Liberals were making these meaningless forecasts, they were trampling on basic democratic principles. For the people to be able to form an opinion on the intelligence of a government, or its ability to meet their needs, they need to be presented with the real picture of public finances. Otherwise they will say, it may be true that the government does not have the resources to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged persons in society; to invest in social housing; or to reform the employment insurance program so that it does not exclude 60% of workers, as it now does thanks to the Liberals. But the figures were completely opposite to reality. There were forecast errors in the neighbourhood of 300%. And year after year, surpluses of $12 billion to $14 billion were accumulating. At fiscal year-end, there was no provision for the redistribution of this money, to help the most disadvantaged of society and to lighten the tax burden. What is more, these unexpected surpluses, these surpluses juggled and fiddled by the Liberals, were, in large part, allocated to paying down the debt.
The Bloc Québécois led a battle with the Conservatives at its side, and even with the cooperation, in the Standing Committee on Finance, of Mr. Penson, a veteran member who has left this House, and the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, who was a worthy representative of his party on that committee. That battle was to get an independent forecast office, one that would give us figures that looked right, that were meaningful, and that reflected the real situation.
They even supported two Bloc Québécois motions to create an independent office of budgetary estimates. They went so far as to introduce another motion spelling out the mandate of this office. They supported a second Bloc motion. This one proposed that, while we waited for this office to be set up, four independent forecasters should be hired, one per party, who would provide figures that made sense, rather than the far-fetched figures of the Liberal government.
In this bill, the position of parliamentary budget officer is an empty shell. This person reports to the Library of Parliament. He is not given the power to access essential information. We are not speaking here about the information on individual citizens held by the Canada Revenue Agency but about aggregate data. He does not have access, either, to information from the Department of Finance. This was exactly the problem that we faced. I thought that the Conservatives were going to improve the situation, but no, this bill does not make it any better.
The greatest obstacle we faced in getting accurate forecasts, even when we hired forecasters who were independent of the government, was access to information. Senior officials in the finance department told us that they did not have time to deal with this because they were tied up with other tasks, such as the budget. Or else they just cavalierly told us that we could not have this information because the minister did not permit them to provide it to forecasters. So that was the situation we faced.
Even when the new position of parliamentary budget officer is created, we will still have the same problem. How can the parliamentary budget officer arrive at accurate, sensible figures when he does not have access to this information?
In addition, the budget officer should report to Parliament. He should basically have the same powers—although perhaps not the same budget—as the Auditor General, that is to say, the ability to get all the information he needs to provide real figures to the people of Canada. The budget officer is not vested with this mandate. He will not have the tools he needs to provide us with forecasts. We will be obliged to continue making these forecasts ourselves every year and making them as accurate as possible, as the Bloc Québécois has always done.
At times I see a dichotomy between what the Conservative government says and the facts. We can see it in this bill, where transparency and compliance with the fundamental principles of democracy are not part of the game plan. We also noted it during oral question period yesterday and the day before, when we simply asked the Minister of Finance if it were true they had created five foundations before March 31 in which to deposit $1.3 billion in order to meet social housing, transportation and other needs. The minister did not deign to reply. Is that transparency? He told us to wait for the budget. But it has nothing to do with the upcoming budget. It concerns the previous budget, money allocated in the previous fiscal year. So there is a gap between what the government says and the facts of the matter.
I will cite a second example of the lack of transparency in the bill. It concerns the foundations. Why did the government resort to dirty tricks in its efforts to explain why it had decided to make only three foundations of nine subject to the Access to Information Act? The three foundations in question are the Canadian Millennium Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology. Why permit public scrutiny through the Access to Information Act of these three only and not the other six as well?
There is $2 billion in the coffers of the other six. Under this bill, they will continue to be outside public scrutiny and debate in the House. Parliamentarians will not be able to follow what is happening in these foundations because the government has decided to continue to hide them from public scrutiny.
I would like someone to explain why this bill does not apply to all of the foundations. Why keep $2 billion of taxpayers' money from vital public scrutiny? I am waiting for an answer from the government.
As I wait, I can assure this House that we will introduce amendments in order to improve this bill, which is disappointing in some respects.
Mr. Speaker, my belated congratulations to you on your election as Deputy Speaker of the House. As you are the senior statesman in this House, it is a well-deserved honour.
As this is my first formal speech in the House and I want to direct a significant portion of my time to the residents of Abbotsford, the people who elected me and trusted me to represent their interests in this chamber. I am honoured to have been chosen by them to reflect their values and aspirations in this 39th Parliament.
My roots are firmly planted in Abbotsford. For the past 24 years my wife, Annette, and I have raised a wonderful family, built a thriving law practice and nourished many very special friendships, and Abbotsford has become our home. It has blessed us much more than we could ever repay and for that we are truly grateful.
I follow a handful of others that have walked these halls and who have come from my community, for example, Alex Patterson, Robert Wenman, Ross Belsher and, of course, the person who preceded me in this position, the irrepressible Randy White. I particularly mention those individuals because each of them in their own way articulated the conservative values that have for decades sustained Abbotsford, values such as hard work, family, respect for the law, accountability, fairness and caring for others, values which my government warmly embraces.
Let me introduce all members to Abbotsford and in so doing I hope to tell them why my community strongly supports the federal accountability act. Abbotsford is nestled in the heart of the Fraser Valley of B.C., framed by the Fraser River on the one side and by the shadow of majestic Mount Baker on the other, just a stone's throw from Vancouver. It is governed by our 81 year old mayor, George Ferguson, who is completing his thirty-first year in office. Members heard me correctly, that is 31 years as mayor of our community.
Abbotsford is among the most dynamic communities in Canada. With the fastest growing economy in the country last year and the largest farm gate revenues in B.C, we are certainly the destination of choice for many Canadians. Abbotsford is also the home of three Canadian Idol finalists, a professional symphony, Olympic silver medallist Alana Kraus and Canada's most decorated Paralympic athlete, Eugene Reimer.
My city is also a community of volunteers distinguished by its generosity. In fact, Statistics Canada recently reported that when it comes to donating to charity, Abbotsford is, by far and away, the most generous community in the country. It will thus come as no surprise to members that I speak with pride about my community of Abbotsford.
Nevertheless, Abbotsford is not without its own challenges. As I mentioned earlier, farming continues to be the heart and soul of our community and remains our number one industry. Many of our farmers are now facing labour shortages during harvest season with no relief in sight. Other farmers in Abbotsford worry about unfair trade barriers abroad and the impact international trade pressures will have on their livelihoods.
Perhaps the most compelling story is the avian flu disaster which has devastated the poultry and egg industry in my community. We have borne the full brunt of that crisis. In fact, some of my constituents face the loss of their family farms due to the inadequate compensation payable under the CAIS program. These are all concerns which my community needs addressed and I know the government will address.
Abbotsford has other challenges as well. The problems of the big city also affect us. Criminal and gang activity is on the increase. Marijuana grow-ops and crystal meth labs have become more common. Homelessness, family breakups and substance abuse are no longer strangers in Abbotsford. And, of course, seniors and working families are finding it increasingly difficult to cope under the heavy burden of taxes from all levels of government.
That is exactly why I am filled with great optimism over what we, collectively, as the 39th Parliament of Canada, can achieve in this session. Our government's initial five point plan is focused on strengthening families across Canada and addressing many of the critical failings within our society.
Our child care policy will benefit all young children, not just the 16% who use institutional day care. Our wait times guarantee will strengthen our publicly funded health care system. We will impose mandatory minimum sentences on drug traffickers and violent and repeat offenders. A 1% and then a 2% reduction in the GST will provide relief for all Canadians, not just a select few. Finally, the very cornerstone of everything we hope to accomplish for Canadians, is the federal accountability act.
Those are the five major commitments, which we made during the last election, and our tabling of the federal accountability act moves us one step closer to fulfilling those commitments.
There is, however, one great challenge facing Abbotsford and all communities across this country, and that is the quality of our environment. It is in that context that I would like to relate to the House an event that has forever changed the character of my city. In so doing, I hope to provide a springboard for further discussions on accountability.
In 1997 a number of our residents caught wind of a proposal by Sumas Energy, a well-heeled power company, to construct a power plant immediately adjacent to our community. Conveniently it was to be built on the American side of the border. The plant would have spewed millions of tonnes of poisons into our sensitive air shed every year. The profits and the power would have gone to users south of the border, but almost all of the pollution would have been borne by Canadians.
Never before has my community rallied behind a cause as it did against SE2 power plant. People from all stations of life, from all faiths and from all political stripes put aside their differences and spoke out with one voice. Together we fought the proposal on both sides of the border. We were told that it was a battle we could not under any circumstances win, yet soldier on we did, suffering a number of setbacks along the way.
It was under the visionary leadership of people like John Vissers, Patricia Ross, Mary Reeves and thousands of others in our community and region that we took the battle to the National Energy Board and eventually to the Federal Court of Canada and amazingly, against all odds, we actually won. In the process we established new legal precedents in the area of environmental stewardship.
That struggle and that monumental victory for my city have come to define the character of my community, the city of Abbotsford.
Why do I give this snapshot glimpse into the life of my community? My purpose is twofold.
First, it is to highlight the fact that our successful struggle against SE2 reinforces the fact that there is very little, if anything, that can prevail against the power of people coming together in a common cause, putting aside their differences and focusing on building a better a community. It is my hope that others will take courage from our experience and apply it in their own communities.
My second purpose, however, is to challenge the members of the House to use Abbotsford's experience with SE2 to clean up not only our environment, but the ethical mess that was left behind by the previous government.
The residents of Abbotsford have become quite disillusioned with the culture of entitlement, which has paralyzed our federal government for over a decade. Corruption, scandal and mismanagement are certainly not Abbotsford's values and, quite frankly, I know they are not Canadian values. Without a clear ethical framework for those who work in, for and with government, Canada cannot be a leader among the nations of the world.
Sadly, over the last decade, Canada has achieved distinction not as a lighthouse for responsible government, but as an example of how even great democracies such as ours can be hijacked by the selfish and the greedy. That is why I can say with great confidence that the residents of Abbotsford strongly support the federal accountability act.
It will take great courage. It will involve significant political risks by all of us in the House, but those are risks that Canadians are asking us to take, and take them we will.
Our accountability legislation addresses everything from strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner to banning secret political donations, tougher lobbyist restrictions, truth in budgeting, protection of whistleblowers and so on.
Since 1993 the message from Abbotsford has always been the same. We wanted real change. It is my hope that, as with our battle against SE2, members of the House will set aside partisan differences and heed the call from ordinary Canadians to support the federal accountability act. My community demands it; Canadians demand it.
Mr. Speaker, I too rise today to speak to the accountability act that has been tabled in the House. All parliamentarians know that it is important for Canadians to keep their trust in elected public officials and the government that serves them.
The bill was tabled in the House a few weeks ago. Since then I have had the opportunity to review it, as have most of my colleagues. There are very many positive positions in the bill, and I welcome them, and there are provisions in the bill that simply serve as evidence of the overarching, in my view, duplicity of the government.
Others have spoken of the selective accountability of the bill and what is not in it. My efforts today will be to focus specifically on the accountability provisions as they relate to Canada's first nations and aboriginal peoples.
I have many concerns about the impact of the accountability act on first nations. First and foremost, the bill does not acknowledge the government to government relationship that exists between the Government of Canada and Canada's first nations. First nation governments will now be subjected both to audits from the Auditor General and access to information requests from the general public. Self-government first nations will be exempted, but given that only 2% of first nations have self-governing agreements, virtually all first nations will be singled out under the proposed legislation.
The bill will no doubt not apply to provincial or foreign governments that receive federal funds. First nations governments deserve nothing less than the same arrangement. If it were to do so, it would know that by applying the new rules to Canada's first nations, the government is entering into murky waters as to the constitutionality of such actions.
Equally important is the fact that the federal accountability act was introduced without any consultation whatsoever with first nation leadership or communities. The era of first nations being dictated to has long ended. The Conservative government, by implementing and introducing an act in this manner, has undone years upon years of nation building and intergovernmental relationships by dictating to first nations, as opposed to consulting with them and reaching a joint decision with which both groups can live. The actions of the government in this matter will surely only result in protests and resistance similar to those that we have seen when legislation in the past has been imposed upon them without consultation.
Had the government done its homework and consulted with first nations, it would have seen that Canada's first nations have taken the issue of accountability very seriously. For the past two years, the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations has been working in a consultative, cooperative and constructive manner with the Auditor General of Canada on strengthening its accountability to its people.
Specifically, the following actions have been taken or are ready to be implemented: the creation of an independent first nations ombudsperson and a first nations auditor general; and the development of an accountability for results action plan, initiated by the AFN in conjunction with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Treasury Board Secretariat. The implementation of the plan would see the development of financial management standards, certification of financial management processes, investments in management capacity and building capacity, improvements to the policy on transfer payments and many self-imposed accountability measures.
We have known from the Auditor General's report of 2002 that each first nation has been required to file 168 reports every year, about three a week. The proposed legislation just adds another layer to this review process.
The bill does not speak to the accountability of governments to first nations people. It does not speak or address the accountability of the federal government of the lack of results of social, economic and health progress of first nations peoples in their communities.
Mr. Speaker, you and I are both from Manitoba. Last evening there was a group of people from Manitoba in my office who are living in third world conditions with an outbreak of tuberculosis in their community. The outbreak of tuberculosis is doubling by the week, if not faster. The response by the government is that it needs to do an assessment of all those in the community to determine their health status. That is not accountability.
When we talk about accountability we have to speak about the accountability of the government to first nations. We have to speak about the Kelowna accord and how it will address housing, education and economic opportunities for first nations people. The Kelowna accord was arrived at by the 13 provincial and territorial leaders and the leadership of all of the aboriginal communities across the country from coast to coast to coast.
Instead of addressing the complexity of the accountability relationship between the Government of Canada and aboriginal peoples, Bill C-2 is a simplistic solution that will have little results for governments or for aboriginal peoples across the country. My great concern about this is that the bill is evidence that the government is still stuck in a colonial mentality, a mentality of a time long past where one imposes without consultation and one knows what is best for others without asking them.
I urge the government to go back, to review, to consult and to discuss so that first nations people can show the responsibility and accountability they have put in place to be accountable both to their own populations and to the Government of Canada. It is incumbent upon the Government of Canada to be accountable to them.
Mr. Speaker, I am obviously very pleased to rise today to speak on the subject of Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, because as my colleague, the member for Repentigny, said earlier, we are going to ask the government to change the actual title of the bill to “Loi sur la responsabilisation” in order to reflect the spirit and rules of the French language.
To start with, I want to say again that the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle. We believe that the bill is a necessary first step to restoring public confidence in federal institutions and also to instituting greater transparency in the management of public funds.
The reason we are discussing this bill today is that the previous Liberal Party government was covered in mud from the many cases of corruption, and in particular the sponsorship scandal. That scandal exposed the full scale of the contempt in which the former Liberal government held the nation of Quebec and its democratic institutions.
The people of Quebec decided to chase a corrupt government from power. We saw this in the recent election. Let us hope that the new Conservative minority government does not try to do the same things.
As a number of my colleagues have already said, I am pleased to see that several Bloc Québécois proposals were incorporated when Bill C-2 was drafted. One of those proposals relates to federal political party financing.
Since it was founded, the Bloc Québécois has always advocated that Ottawa's political party financing legislation be amended and modeled on the political party financing act enacted in Quebec in 1977 under the aegis of the Parti Québécois and Premier René Lévesque.
When the Parti Québécois government enacted the political party financing act, the new legislation was based on two principles: fairness and transparency. “Fairness” meant that the government wanted to promote equality of opportunity among the parties by giving them public funding, while the principle of transparency required that political parties and candidates account for their election financing and spending activities.
The Gomery commission and the sponsorship scandal returned the importance of processes for overseeing political party financing to centre stage in public opinion in Quebec and Canada. We are pleased to see that the new federal government is adopting the measures that the Bloc Québécois has long been proposing and we will support initiatives of that nature. We will nevertheless be making some recommendations in committee, of course.
There is another aspect I would like to mention. That is the whole process for appointing returning officers. For many years the Bloc Québécois has criticized the fact that the system made returning officers more accountable to the political party in power, to which they owed their appointment, than to the chief electoral officer. In Quebec, the majority of our returning officers were very often of Liberal allegiance, since the Liberals were in power.
That is why, in the 38th Parliament, my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord introduced Bill C-312 to have returning officers appointed on merit and to have those appointments supervised by Elections Canada.
Unfortunately, the accountability bill does not provide for open competitions to choose returning officers. We hope to correct this by proposing an amendment, for we believe that returning officers must be appointed through an open and transparent process, so that anyone who believes he or she has the necessary skills can apply for the job.
That being said, we have to question certain measures advanced in this bill, measures which in our view contain major shortcomings which will need to be corrected. For example, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act should not provide for $1,000 rewards for whistleblowers.
This could encourage an unhealthy culture of whistleblowing by proposing financial rewards for those who disclose wrongdoing, in addition to creating very unhealthy work atmospheres within the various operations. The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that the best way to support public servants who want to disclose wrongdoing in the public sector is to ensure that they are better protected by the government and by the management of their department or agency, so that they are not transferred, dismissed or harassed.
In this bill, I am also worried by everything to do with appointments of senior officials and heads of crown corporations. Certainly, this bill proposes a public appointments commission, but it would be controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office. It would be responsible in particular for overseeing the selection process for appointments. In my opinion, this process is inconsistent and lacks transparency, especially when we know that most appointments come from the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office. We feel that a formal appointment review process should be established, that the parliamentary committees must be central to that process, and above all that no appointment should be made against the advice of the committees.
We have similar concerns about the appointment of the new parliamentary budget officer. This officer will be responsible for forecasting the federal government’s budgetary revenues and expenditures. Here too, the mechanism lacks transparency and thoroughness because, under Bill C-2, the position will be within the Library of Parliament. The act even provides for exceptions that could prevent the budget officer from accessing certain information.
We know that the Liberals presented us in the past with budgetary estimates that were often far-fetched and contained considerable forecasting errors. As my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot already said, it would be better to have an independent agency attached to the Standing Committee on Finance which could provide the committee members with realistic, complete financial estimates that, most importantly, are periodically revised. The people of Quebec and Canada have a right to know how the taxes they pay to the government are managed.
I could elaborate on other aspects of the bill which, in my view, raise questions and are cause for concern. I am thinking, among other things, of the fact that certain foundations will continue to escape public scrutiny, that lobbyists will still have certain loopholes—because, after a year, they will be able to work for lobbying firms and brief lobbyists—or that the government has decided to delay the reforms to the Access to Information Act.
While on this subject, the Conservative Party promised to reform the Access to Information Act on many occasions during the last election campaign. In their platform, they made it clear that a Conservative government would implement the recommendations of the Information Commissioner on reforming the Access to Information Act. In reality, and like the Liberals, now that the Conservative Party is in power, it is much less interested in reforming the act and providing greater transparency. Like the previous governments, it prefers to limit or even escape the surveillance of the Information Commissioner.
In view of the complexity of this bill, the range and importance of the matters dealt with, and the shortcomings that must be corrected, our party believes that it is important to study the bill properly and thoroughly. There is no reason to rush. Let us take all the time we need in committee to make the amendments that are necessary to correct the shortcomings in this bill. In this way, we will get legislation that reduces the risk of abuse and corruption within the government and that restores the people’s confidence in our institutions and politicians. Politicians have a responsibility to defend the interests of all the citizens and respond to their needs.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate today in the debate on the accountability act, Bill C-2. I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak and to express some of the concerns of my constituents from Burnaby—Douglas on this important topic.
I think it is appropriate that this is the first bill before the House of Commons given the concerns many Canadians had about the corruption scandals of the previous Liberal government, but I am going to take a little more conciliatory attitude than some in the House. No government or party will be without its scandals. We all make mistakes. We are all human in this place and we make mistakes from time to time. I think the test for us is how we deal with those mistakes and what systems we put in place to handle them. I think that is what has been lacking recently.
I am glad this Parliament will have the opportunity at the beginning to take note of some of those important issues and to make some important changes, debate them and improve the legislation that is currently before us. Accountability and transparency are buzzwords that we often hear around here, but I think this legislation puts them squarely on the agenda of the House and gives everyone here the opportunity to make some progress toward both those important goals.
As an aside, I wanted to mention that this morning I came from a press conference that dealt with another issue of transparency and accountability, and that is the issue of security certificates in Canada. Right now, four people are being detained on security certificates here who do not know the charges against them and whose lawyers have not seen the evidence. The trials are held in secret. The detention goes on indefinitely. I think that is a real issue of accountability for our government.
This is a process that merits re-examination. The Conservatives, to their credit, made some proposals during the last campaign and said they were prepared to look at some changes. I think more needs to be done than what they have proposed, but we need to hold the government accountable for moving on those changes.
The security certificate process is something that has caused particular concern in the Arab and Muslim communities in Canada. Amnesty International has spoken out very directly about the flaws and the injustice of the process. I think it is one that we here in the House need to address without delay. I am proud to have a motion on the order paper that would call for the abolition or repeal of that section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
To go back to the bill at hand, there are some important changes in the legislation. I would like to mention a few of them. There are important changes on lobbying, including something that we in this corner of the House call “Ed's clause” in tribute to Ed Broadbent and the work he did on this issue, which would ban contingency or success based fees paid to lobbyists. It means that profit related to success based fees should be illegal to pay and those making them should be brought to court. It should also be illegal for a lobbyist to accept those kinds of payments and the penalties for doing it should be significant. I am glad that is included in this legislation.
There are also changes to ethics enforcement, to budgeting and to government appointments, although I would prefer that this did not remain in the Prime Minister's Office as it does. There are changes in regard to whistleblowing, although there is a concern, as was raised by the previous speaker, that the whistleblowing provisions of this legislation still include a cash reward, although it has been reduced significantly. I do not think that is an appropriate way to go.
I am sure that most public servants do not need to be rewarded for what they understand should be an integral part of their job. We are well served by public servants in Canada. They understand these important concerns about accountability, transparency and ethics in government. I think it is inappropriate to say they deserve or require some kind of cash reward for acting on those important understandings.
There is a lot in this bill about the internal workings of government, but there is very little about democratic accountability. I think that is the significant failure of this legislation. I am hoping that New Democrats will propose changes to improve that failure in this legislation but also that there will be other legislation before the House, either from private members or from the government, to address some of those things.
Those are the things I want to focus on this morning.
There are some things in the bill and there are some things not in the bill. In the bill there are bans on corporate and union donations, which I think is a good thing. There is an attempt to clean up the use of trust funds for election campaigns. That is a good thing. There are limits and rules set for gifts given to candidates. That is also a very good thing. However, there is a whole list of things that are not included in this legislation.
I think we are all aware that Ed Broadbent, the former member for Ottawa Centre, made some very clear and important recommendations in the last Parliament for what he said was an attempt to clean up politics. Those have been very instructive for me and for other members of the House.
First, I want to talk about the lack of floor crossing legislation in the bill. It is a serious failure and it was the first major accountability challenge of the new Conservative government. Sadly, I think most Canadians feel that the government failed miserably in that first challenge. The defection of the Minister of International Trade, the MP for Vancouver Kingsway, from the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party and to a cabinet position was extremely disappointing and has justly angered many people in Vancouver Kingsway.
Earlier my colleague from Nanaimo--Cowichan talked about the power of the people and that the vote is where people express their power in our system. To see the expression of the votes of the people of Vancouver Kingsway so early quickly and cavalierly disregarded shows a major flaw in our system.
Over 80% of the people In Vancouver Kingsway voted for a party other than the Conservative Party and now they have a member of Parliament who is a representative of that party. The member in question ran a very partisan election campaign. In fact, he was one of the most partisan of all Liberals in British Columbia and his attacks on the Conservative Party were direct, relentless and sometimes very personal, yet only days after the election he changed his stripes and announced he had decided to be a Conservative.
There is no wonder why right now in Vancouver Kingsway there is a de-election campaign. There is no wonder that protesters follow the minister wherever he goes in the Vancouver area to denounce this change that he has made. I can understand why people of Vancouver Kingsway are so disappointed in their member of Parliament. I was proud to stand with members of the de-election campaign recently at one of their demonstrations when the Prime Minister actually visited my constituency of Burnaby--Douglas.
There is no excuse for this. We could have been dealing with this now as part of Bill C-2. We need floor crossing legislation. We have a good example already on the books. My NDP colleague, the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore, has had a private member's bill on this issue for many years and it came to a vote in the House of Commons in the last Parliament. Unfortunately, it did not succeed but there were members of the current government who supported it at that time and I hope they will continue their support for that kind of legislation. We will have a chance to vote on it again in this Parliament. We are going to ensure that comes before the House at some point but it should be part of the legislation we are debating today.
My colleague's bill would require any MP who wishes to change parties to resign his or her seat, seek the nomination of the new party and run in a by-election or sit as an independent. These choices could have existed for the member for Vancouver Kingsway. He could have considered and could still consider any of those options and I would encourage him to do so. At this point I happen to think that he should resign and seek re-election, seek the nomination of his new-found party and put that to the test of the people of Vancouver Kingsway so they can be sure that their wishes are clearly represented by the person who represents them here.
Most of us here run as representatives of political parties, although there is one independent member of the House and that is a different circumstance. We function here in caucuses of political parties and we must honour the decisions of our constituents who pay attention to what we say on behalf of our political party, who pay attention to the platforms of our political parties and who make that part of their decision making process.
Again, the absence of this provision in Bill C-2 is a serious failure. It causes me great concern and I wonder about the government's interest in dealing with issues of democratic accountability when I see its absence.
Many other issues are not in this legislation, such as electoral reform. The New Democrats believe there should be a mixed proportional system where we maintain constituency representation but we ensure that the House better represents the overall voting pattern of Canadians, and that has not been the case of our House.
There are no spending limits or requirements for disclosure on party leadership contests. We have seen some incredibly big spending moments in leadership contests over the years from parties. It is particularly important when that person exercises the responsibilities of leadership, the discipline functions of his or her caucus and when often he or she is the person who becomes the prime minister. We need to ensure there are those limitations.
Those are some of the concerns I have but I have many more. I do look forward to questions from other members and to further discussions with my constituents on this important issue.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker of the House. I had not yet had the opportunity to do so. This is an honour bestowed by your colleagues.
Second, I would like to thank the voters of the riding of Terrebonne—Blainville for the affection and recognition they expressed when they re-elected me on January 23.
I am proud of this very positive result in my riding. Almost 60% of voters put their faith in the sovereignty of Quebec and showed that they were vigilant in the face of the charm offensive carried out by the current Prime Minister in Quebec. The voters in my riding quickly realized that the sole purpose of this public and political offensive was to hide the Conservative Prime Minister's true intention of imposing on Quebeckers his vision of, I quote, “a strong Canada”. Judging by the early months of his administration, Canada will soon be governed by laws and measures inspired by the Canadian and American right.
I have read the accountability bill—we will continue to use the word “responsabilité” in the French title. That choice of terminology was confirmed to the Prime Minister by Public Works and Government Services Canada's Translation Bureau. With the parliamentary experience he has acquired in recent years, the Prime Minister should, in my opinion, recognize the Bureau’s expertise. In the past, the Conservatives have always shown themselves to be timid when it came to the status of the official languages, in the House and in committee. They are still demonstrating their lukewarm feelings about that subject.
It is understandable that the use of the French language is a difficult subject for an anglophone, but the Prime Minister’s Office simply cannot, given the resources at its disposal, take this kind of dismissive attitude when it comes to using the correct French terminology.
And so Bill C-2 is the first to be debated in the House of Commons since the Conservatives came to power. It is time to act. This government was elected on January 23 of this year, and not until four months later did it introduce an omnibus bill. It is asking the opposition to cooperate, to facilitate passage of the bill sometime in June. Based on what has happened this morning, I have the impression that it is even wanting to speed things up.
The content of this bill is in contrast with the little throne speech that was read on April 4. The bill that has been submitted to us is a complex law that will amend a number of existing acts. It will therefore take a lot of time, probably months, to analyze it, study it and amend it.
Although the Conservative government says that it wants to pass this bill before the parliamentary summer recess at all costs, the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition parties, and the actors who are affected by the bill, must get to have their say. We must ensure that the members of this House vote on Bill C-2 only when the committee assigned the task of studying it has done its job and all stages in the consultation with the organizations and individuals affected have been completed and they have had time to be heard.
Today, I want to address just one part of this bill. That is the part relating to whistleblowers. I will then leave it to other colleagues to speak to the other aspects of Bill C-2.
Laudable efforts were made by the previous government, in Bill C-11. Unfortunately, that act was never proclaimed, because of the election call in November. This aspect is a major concern of the Professional Institute of the Public Service which, as we know, represents more than 50,000 federal employees.
It may take a lot of time to get a federal accountability act in place, and this will significantly delay the protection for which the Institute has been fighting for more than 15 years.
According to this institute, the government's argument to justify its strategy is that it does not want to implement the machinery of Bill C-11 so that a major review does not have to be carried out after Bill C-2 is passed. The fact of the matter is, however, that public service employees urgently need the disclosure and protection mechanisms provided in Bill C-11.
Hon. members might recall that, at various times during the Gomery hearings, the public witnessed numerous attempts by managers and deputy ministers to shift the blame for illegal actions committed as part of the famous sponsorship scandal to public service employees. Instead, the deputy ministers and managers should have admitted they were the ones who meddled and put pressure to circumvent existing administrative rules.
I jumped when I read, in section 53.1, that the Conservative government was considering paying financial awards to employees who make disclosures. What lack of respect for these men and women who devote themselves, with professionalism and integrity, to the daily operations of the federal government.
A major player we heard in December 2004, namely the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, told the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates that it did not advocate such rewards. In a survey on values and ethics conducted by the institute, respondents said they wanted a work environment where these values would be an integral part of the organizational structure. Instead of rewards, and I quote the report:
|| Leadership that visibly demonstrates and supports values and ethics beyond words, and holds people to account for unethical actions and behaviours was identified as the key to creating a trusting environment where employees can express their ethical concerns.
I want to congratulate the Professional Institute of the Public Service on this fine piece of work, a serious report, entitled PIPSC Membership Consultation on Workplace Values and Ethics. This final report was presented on February 28. Professionally done, it has shown us that ethics is a top concern among public service employees.
The report states that “organizational ethics is not a status or a state, but a sense of what is right and wrong embedded in organizational policies, practices and activities.” According to the Institute, which cites a report published by the OECD,
||encouraging ethical behaviour is not just about establishing a list of rules, a code or a level of certification to be attained. It is an ongoing management process that underpins the work of government; it is crucial to the functioning and the evolution of governance.
When asked to rate the ethical environment of their workplace, just over half, 51%, of responding members felt it was high, or very high and 16% felt the ethics in their workplace were either low or very low. These statistics reveal a lot about the importance of ethics.
Allow me to draw to your attention the issue of management. In its report, the Professional Institute of the Public Service says it is the managers who are not acting ethically. However, today we are considering a bill that asks federal public servants to become informers, to denounce others. Who should they denounce? Their managers? The deputy ministers? Deputy ministers who are incapable of enforcing the code of ethics?
In my opinion, the problem is neither the informers nor the thousand dollar reward that undermines the integrity of these public servants. The problem is systemic. It starts with deputy ministers and managers. The government must enforce the existing code of ethics for the federal public service because public servants themselves do.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for this very pertinent question.
In my speech, I wanted to demonstrate that, in the end, the burden of proof always rests upon the public servants and the employees.
However, in its report, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada raised an extremely important point, namely, that the code of ethics that currently applies to public service employees is unfortunately never discussed.
Enforcing the code is not a priority for managers and deputy ministers. There is no transparency in the management of the code in terms of ethical values. So, how can we expect an employee who receives an order from their manager or deputy minister, who in turn received an order from the minister to enforce a particular standard even if it is unlawful, to say anything?
In my opinion, the committee that studies this bill must go even further. The Ethics Commissioner will address the question of disclosures. Perhaps we could ask a high-level public administrator or the Clerk of the Privy Council to establish a policy for ministers, deputy ministers and managers alike.
As my colleague knows, for the past five years, I have been working very hard on the issue of psychological harassment. Every such case that I have looked at--the institute highlights this fact in the case of whistleblowers--involves a lower-level boss, a manager or a deputy minister who asked that a job be done.
I believe that greater attention must be paid to the integrity of managers.
Mr. Speaker, I will say straightaway that I think this is a good bill. This is a good time to discuss it, for all sorts of reasons which we all know and on which we can agree, regardless of our different political opinions.
It would be an illusion to think that a bill of this scope can be made perfect in a hurry. This bill necessarily contains certain weaknesses which I would like to illustrate in a certain way. I do not wish to blame those who designed it. However the legislative process, if properly conducted, can improve a text. That process includes discussion in Parliament and review in committee. I also believe there should be public sessions at which witnesses are invited to comment on this bill and its provisions. Also, if this bill is arriving at the right time, it is because we consider it necessary to do this at this time. So we would like to do the best that is possible.
Among other things, when I read this bill, I cannot help detecting signs of a certain partiality, a certain desire for vengeance or destruction aimed at another political party. During review of this bill, the government should be open-minded enough to accept the criticisms made to improve it. In any case, that is certainly that attitude that my party and myself will be taking, in our desire to improve the bill and see whether it does not go too far at times.
I will speak now of the title, as other francophones have done. Even here I seem to see a sign of a spirit of vengeance. When I first saw the title, I ran to check a dictionary. And indeed, my question was whether “imputabilité” was the appropriate term. It is dangerous to rely on the dictionary only. When we were children, we would do an exercise that involved looking up the definition of a word. We would find various terms describing it. Then we would look up the definition of those other terms, which in turn were described by various other terms. At some point we found ourselves back at the first word. So words are defined by other words. However, one should not refer to the dictionary as an authority for saying that word X has the meaning of word Y; it is clear that different words have different nuances. With the word “imputabilité”, when you impute something to someone, the nuance is generally pejorative.
I offer an example. Mr. Kagame’s visit to the country is in the news. Those who are against this visit and demonstrating their opposition “impute” to him the role of provoking the airplane accident that triggered the terrible genocide. He denies this and defends himself: he instead “imputes” this act to Hutu extremists. This shows the connotation of accusation that is carried in the French word “imputer”.
In addition, when we read the highlights of the accountability action plan, we see that imputability is not what is meant. It seems to me that the government is pointing the finger at the members of the former Liberal government and saying that now there will be an act to punish people who do not carry out their responsibilities properly. The government gave us a booklet that explains the action plan, and it is funny to see that, from the very start, it uses different French terminology:
|| Dans le cadre de la Loi fédérale sur l'imputabilité et du plan d'action qui s'y rattache, le gouvernement du Canada prévoit des mesures précises qui visent à accroître la responsabilisation, la transparence et la surveillance des activités gouvernementales.
The introduction to the document begins as follows:
|| La responsabilisation constitue la pierre d'angle du régime canadien de gouvernement responsable. Un régime rigoureux de responsabilisation est essentiel pour garantir au Parlement et à la population canadienne que le gouvernement du Canada—
Further on, the document states:
|| Une responsabilisation efficace suppose également que les gestionnaires des ressources publiques —
The text continues:
|| Dans une culture de responsabilisation, les rôles et responsabilités sont clairement définis, de sorte que les gens savent ce que l'on attend d'eux et qu'ils répondent de leur rendement, le bon rendement est dûment récompensé et il existe des conséquences immédiates lorsque les règles sont sciemment contournées.
These excerpts, which use the word “responsabilisation”, reflect an open-mindedness that I did not sense in either the title of the bill or certain other provisions.
Transparency and accountability will be upheld. Imputability will take care of itself, as it always does when rules are broken.
I found another interesting passage on page 30 of this explanatory guide. It says in French that the purpose was to “renforcer la vérification et la responsabilisation des ministères”. This supports the arguments made by authorities in these matters. Translators say that this term is incorrect, as does the Office de la langue française du Québec and certain utilizers of the language and French teachers. This term should therefore be corrected in the bill to give it the general character that it is meant to have.
I also noted that some provisions really need to be improved, or at least raise questions. In this respect, the Bloc finds itself in a good position. We do not aspire to form the Government of Canada. On the other hand, though, I always remind the House that the Bloc is not here just to “block”, contrary to what some people like to say. Like all my colleagues, I am happy to state over and over that I do not dislike either Canada or Canadians. As a matter of fact, I like Canada much more than any other country in the world. What I do detest, though, is the Canadian constitution from which we want to escape in order to create one on the basis of the sovereignty of the two great nations that make up Canada. In so doing, we will be more open to the other nations living here as well.
They want to impose a $1,000 limit on contributions. I feel compelled to compare the ways in which the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are financed. It is true that the Liberal Party received contributions from some very rich people. The Conservative Party, like the Bloc Québécois, I might add, is funded by ordinary citizens. This was also true of René Lévesque’s party. He had the advantage of being a great media star. It was easier for him, therefore, than it is for other, less well-known people. Even he, though, imposed a limit of $3,000. This corresponded at the time to about $5,000 in 2006.
Some contributors are prepared to give more. I might humbly say that, personally, I have been contributing more than $1,000 to political parties for a long time. I do so out of conviction, without ulterior purpose. And I know other people who do the same. The limit established in the bill seems to me specially chosen to upset the Liberals. There is a spirit of vengeance here that I do not like.
There is a bit of the same thing in the rewards for whistleblowers, even though this is not aimed directly at the Liberal Party. We respect whistleblowers. We feel that they really are acting in the public interest and have no personal reason for blowing the whistle on things they find unacceptable in the conduct of government affairs. So I have a lot of respect for these people. It is very important to protect them and provide legal support, as the bill does. Whistleblowers will be able to go to an independent commissioner, I think even anonymously. However, the idea of giving them a reward detracts a little from the respect that people might have for them.
The Conservative government will always have the honour of being the originator of this bill. But if we address the problem in a spirit of openness, the honour will go to all the political parties in this House.
How much time do I still have, Mr. Speaker?
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate today. Obviously when dealing with accountability and ethics, as we are doing here with Bill C-2, one cannot get too far without bringing into the debate the opinions and contributions of the former member for Ottawa Centre, the hon. Ed Broadbent.
I will say as my own personal historical footnote, that I am not only honoured to have been returned to this place by my fellow citizens in Hamilton Centre, but I am also sitting in what was Ed Broadbent's seat in the House. I also have the honour of being in his former office. I feel somewhat responsible to ensure as much as I can, and it will be totally and woefully inadequate, that I present the thoughts of Mr. Broadbent. It is important that they be part of this debate.
Mr. Speaker, you may be familiar with the document that was put out by Mr. Broadbent and the NDP caucus before the last election entitled, “Cleaning Up Politics: Demanding Changes in Ethics and Accountability”. In the front of the document Mr. Broadbent stated:
|| When they find themselves in the midst of wrongdoing those with a vivid sense of right and wrong have feelings of remorse. On the other hand the defining characteristic of corruption is that feelings of remorse have been lost, replaced by the impulse to deny, perpetuate and cover-up. The Liberal party is losing its sense of remorse.
Certainly the Liberals lost a lot more than that in the last election.
Let us understand that the reason this is here is the scandal coming out of the previous government, the Liberal Party. When the Liberals were given the trust of the Canadian people to govern this great nation, they betrayed that trust. They not only had their fingers in the cookie jar, they had both hands, both feet, body and all, and a whole host of other Liberal members were into the cookie jar with them. It was disgraceful. It is one of the most outrageous scandals this nation has seen arguably since the great railway scandal. It is that big.
Today in this minority House we are attempting collectively to do the best we can to bring in rules that will deal with those who are dishonest. Honest politicians, like honest citizens, do not really need the laws or enforcement of them. They know what the laws are and they abide by them. It is the dishonest ones that require rules and oversight. We do that through transparency and accountability. I must say that to some degree Bill C-2 gets us going in that direction.
Certainly there are good things in Bill C-2. We in the NDP would like to see some changes. Hopefully, there will be some improvements at the committee stage and we can make some amendments, but notwithstanding that, this is a good start. Unless there are major changes to it, the NDP caucus will support that good start. Make no mistake that there is a long way to go. I only have a few moments and I want to pick up on at least two issues not in the bill that we in the NDP believe have to find their way into legislation if we are truly going to deal with the issues coming out of the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
The issue of floor crossing is huge. In fact, Ed Broadbent made it number one in his recommendations. He made it number one before the last election, before any of us knew anything about what the member for Vancouver Kingsway was about to do.
Let me say something that needs to be said over and over. Let us understand exactly what happened. Historians are going to have their breath taken away by this. We sort of lose track a bit because we move on. People in Vancouver have not forgotten it, but for the rest of the country things go on. People will look back and will see that before the official count was in, before he had even packed up his campaign office, the member crossed the floor, took a cabinet position and had the audacity to say that he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart for his constituents, that he did it for them. Such sacrifice is beyond what any one person should be asked to give in the service of Canadians, but we are lucky that the hon. member saw fit to put his constituents ahead of the election process, a minor little detail.
What did Ed say about this? Certainly we know how the people of Vancouver Kingsway feel. If we listen to other members from my caucus who are in that area, those constituents are angry. We may not hear it every day in Ottawa but believe me, they are not taking this lying down.
There are an awful lot of people who gave money, who worked hard and gave up their weekends and vacations to help that member get elected. Why? Because they loved the member? Some probably did, but we can bet there were an awful lot of people who were there because they believed in the platform that was put forward.
Our system is very different from the American one. In large part the American Congress is almost like a large city council. My friend the former mayor of Toronto would know much about this in terms of the wheeling and dealing that happens. We do not get elected on the same kind of platform here. That is why it matters what party we belong to, because our platform is our party's platform. In the U.S. it is a lot looser. It is not unusual for Republicans and Democrats to have personal platforms in their material that is contrary to their party, or more consistent with the other party, but that is what works in their electoral area and so that is what they go with.
What did Ed Broadbent say about floor crossing, recognizing that this was before we saw the wishes of over 80% of the people in Vancouver Kingsway being ignored? He said:
|| Democratic accountability should mean no M.P. can ignore his/her voters and wheel and deal for personal gain: No MP should be permitted to ignore their voters' wishes, change parties, cross the floor, and become a member of another party without first resigning their seats and running in a by-election.
Some feel that is unfair and that it is a little too restrictive, but two weeks after the election? We are not saying that members are prisoners of their caucuses, if we approve the proposal put forward by Ed Broadbent and the NDP. We would say that for whatever reason, if a member feels the need to leave his or her caucus, the member would have that mechanism. The member could sit as an independent and finish the term and choose to do what he or she wanted to do after that.
We are not captives of our caucus. If caucus is doing or saying something or taking a position that members cannot live with or is not in the best interests of their constituents, then they may sit as independents. But if members want to make the big sacrifice that the member for Vancouver Kingsway did and go to cabinet and be forced to take another $60,000 or $70,000 a year, if that is their lot in life, then they have to go back to their constituents and get their okay. That is not unreasonable, not when we think about the implications. Let us look at this House, at one vote and how it matters. This is an area that needs serious consideration.
My time is rapidly winding down, but I also want to talk about another key area. This is very big. The fact is that there are still not the kinds of controls and transparency we need around party leadership races. As Ed Broadbent and the NDP said:
|| Set spending limits and transparency conditions on leadership contests within political parties: Parties are largely financed by the [taxpayer] and the same principles pertinent to the public good should apply to the internal affairs of parties as they do to electoral competition between parties.
That certainly is true when the person who wins that party leadership becomes the prime minister of Canada; it is not unreasonable for the House to say that the mechanism by which one can become the prime minister will have as much control, whether it is through a general election or whether it is done inside one's own party. The fact remains that there must be accountability. Money still plays far too big a role in Canadian politics. I like the idea that we are no longer allowing union or corporate contributions. In my opinion, the further we keep politicians away from money, the better the democracy we are going to have.
These are just a few of the areas that we believe need a lot more work. Certainly out of respect for the work that Mr. Broadbent did in this place and the commitment that our leader and the NDP caucus have around these issues, we are going to be on top of the bill. We are going to follow it very closely. We are going to push really hard. Hopefully members of other caucuses will be open to some of the amendments that we want to make because we want to improve this. We are here to get something done. We are here to make things better. Bill C-2 is a good start, but there is more to do and the NDP is ready to roll up its sleeves and get that work done.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for York South--Weston and I recognize the minor error. I would just say that from the viewpoint of Hamilton, when we thought Toronto, we thought the hon. member. I was pleased to have been in the municipal world when the hon. member was there.
The member raises some very good points. I do not think I am in any way avoiding the answer, but to step it out one, Justice Gomery made quite a number of recommendations as a result of his inquiry. Many of those affected the public accounts committee. I am pleased to say that I am back on that committee again. I am looking forward to the work that will go on there.
However, I would say to the hon. member that there were a number of things flowing from the inquiry that could also be in Bill C-2. I recall that for the actual public accounts committee itself, Justice Gomery said there should be more resources and more independence. The member will recall that there times when we wanted to get further legal advice; it was more a matter of having a staff assignment rather than a question of whether or not they could be unbiased, and I want to be very clear about that. It was a matter of having the resources, in other words, of having a staff lawyer assigned to the committee who would be with us and know the corporate history and the issues and be able to give us advice along the way. Because it was a very legal process we went through, in that it involved personal information, people's rights, et cetera.
There is another thing that the committee would have been given the power to do had Bill C-2 incorporated those recommendations. The committee would have been given the power to ensure that deputy ministers were held accountable for their legal responsibility. Right now in terms of transparency and accountability, the minister rolls in and says, “I make the policy decisions and the department is run by the deputy, so I really cannot answer that one because it is about the mechanics of the ministry”. The minister says to speak to the deputy.
Okay, so we bring in the deputy minister. He rolls in and we ask the deputy, who says he can speak to some of the mechanics of what happened, but that most of this relates back to the policy and he does not make policy decisions, that the minister does. The deputy says we need to ask the minister. I am not making this up. This is how it works and anybody who was on the committee watched this.
Then we get to the second and third tiers of the bureaucrats in trying to get at the answer, and of course when it is a political issue, they are not going to get involved if they do not have to because there is no win. But deputy ministers have a legal framework of responsibility and Justice Gomery was saying that it should extend to going to the public accounts committee and answering for all decisions made by the deputy or his or her staff with regard to all areas of legal responsibility. It would end the ability to have this merry-go-round whereby one person comes in and says it is not really his or her job, but to ask so-and-so. When so-and-so comes in, the answer is no, we have to go back to someone else. We can go around and around with this.
Had Bill C-2 incorporated this, we could--
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be taking part in this debate on Bill C-2, the federal accountability act. To start with, like a number of my colleagues, I will point out that the title of the bill is not correct in French, and that an amendment which should be unanimously agreed to by this House would make the French title of the bill the Loi sur la responsabilité.
Our spokesperson on this subject, the member for Repentigny, said at the beginning of his speech that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-2 in principle. Obviously, the entire question of ethics and good governance has been central to our debates in recent months, starting from the specific point when the Auditor General submitted her report on what is now commonly called the “sponsorship scandal”. In the last months of the session preceding the election, we therefore had ample opportunity to discuss all aspects of that scandal in this House.
I would remind the people listening that the Bloc Québécois did not wait for the Auditor General’s report. In our 2000 election platform, we had already identified the advertising agencies that had obviously benefited from the diversions of funds resulting in the sponsorship scandal. In recent months, we have spoken at length about the question of ethics.
The recent campaign was an opportunity, particularly for Quebeckers, to punish the Liberals for their negligence in managing public funds, and particularly for the fact that a portion of those public funds ended up in the coffers of the Liberal Party of Canada. And so Quebeckers punished the Liberal Party very severely: it now has 13 members in Quebec, when Mr. Trudeau once had 74 of the 75 members. This is an indication of the extent of the harm that this scandal caused in terms of public trust in the Liberal Party of Canada, but also to politicians as a class, unfortunately. It was therefore entirely appropriate that one of the first bills introduced by the minority Conservative government deals with ethics. I think that we are all very glad to see this.
The Bloc Québécois participated in the Gomery commission, and submitted a report that included 72 recommendations, some of which have been incorporated in Bill C-2. We are very pleased with this. On the other hand, there are things missing, gaps that we want to address over the course of the parliamentary process that will lead to passage of this bill. I would reiterate that the Bloc Québécois supports it in principle, for the very obvious reasons to which I have referred.
We are very pleased to see that returning officers will be appointed by Elections Canada based on merit, under Bill C-2. Of course, we would hope that, as in Quebec, returning officers will be selected after a public competition is held. We will have an opportunity to come back with this proposal and argue its merits to all of the members in this House.
Another thing we are pleased to see in Bill C-2 is that the Registrar of Lobbyists will be independent. It seems to us that it is extremely important that the person responsible for registering lobbyists be totally independent of the government and have the resources to do that job.
We know that the practice of lobbying is growing. I imagine that all our new colleagues who were elected in the last election of January 2006 must have been a little surprised to see the number of pressure groups who wanted to meet with members of Parliament to express their concerns to them and the solutions that they had to offer for the problems they identified.
I consider that it is absolutely proper, in a democracy, for hon. members to receive input from groups of lobbyists. However, we must avoid the excesses that we saw with the previous government.
For that reason, the independence of the registrar is important. Moreover, as in the case of the Ethics Commissioner, it is essential to ensure that the registrar has the resources to fulfill the mandate that the House has established.
Concerning the Act to regulate the funding of political parties, the Bloc is pleased to note that the suggestion from Quebec and from the Bloc Québécois has been included. That suggestion dealt with a prohibition on corporate donations. It has been part of the Quebec legislation from the very beginning. In reality it is a step forward to ensure that there is no blemish on the independent judgment of hon. members and parties. Personally, I do not believe that corporate donations could buy the consciences of some of our colleagues but they have created negative impressions among the public. Once those donations have been eliminated, the public image of all politicians should have a higher standing among the population.
There is a last element with which we agree and that we are pleased to see in Bill C-2. That is the strengthening of the powers of the Auditor General, in particular, the fact that in future she will be responsible for overseeing the administration of crown corporations. I recall that the Bloc Québécois had introduced a bill for that purpose. The government’s decision to adopt that measure is good news.
However, there are a number of elements that we do not agree with. As a result, I will take some time to analyze and comment on the bill. The amending of the Access to Information Act has been put off to a later date. A draft bill was introduced—if I may call it that—and yet we have been discussing amendments to the Access to Information Act for decades, to make it more accessible and to broaden its application. So it is not something new.
It is a shame that the Conservatives, who had promised—in fact, it is in their election platform—that the recommendations of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner concerning amendments to the Access to Information Act would be implemented, have now decided to put that off until later. They made a promise and the Bloc agreed with that approach. In spite of that, they have decided to delay, while the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, during the previous session, rejected a proposal by the then Minister of Justice who wanted to postpone any changes in order to further study the recommendations of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner. The committee, including the Conservative members, rejected that position and unanimously accepted the commissioner’s report as the basis for legislation. The committee also called on the government to introduce legislation without further delay.
It is amazing to see how the Conservatives are in a lot less of a hurry to give the media, the legislators and the public in general a means of gaining access to government information than they were when they sat on the opposition side. This is very strange.
As I pointed out at the beginning, during the study of this bill, the Bloc Québécois will want to improve the proposed legislation by adding the items I have just mentioned.
The Bloc has also identified some flaws, such as the idea of a financial reward to public servants who disclose wrongdoings. The Bloc recognizes that the strengthening of the law protects those who report questionable or dishonest practices. We believe that this is extremely important.
In closing, I will remind members that, with regard to the Access to Information Act, the bill proposes that only three of the nine foundations be subject to that act, and I did mention how unfortunate it was that the Conservative government did not keep its promise. This is very strange. Why these three foundations and not the other six? There is no logic to this decision.
As a political party that cares about democracy and the strengthening of democracy—and this is true for Canada as well as for Quebec—we will have an opportunity to bring forward amendments to this bill. I am convinced that all members will support the suggestions from the Bloc Québécois. They will aim at making the bill better and more complete, which has always been our goal as a constructive and vigilant opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.
I think we have all been able to see that the Conservatives in power do not have quite the sense of ethics and good governance that they had in opposition. This is a little disturbing, for we would have expected more consistency on the part of that party, even though, as I mentioned, the bill is a step in the right direction.
There have indeed been actions on the part of the government that are incompatible with sound ethics and good governance. The hon. member has just mentioned one. The appointment of Michael Fortier as senator so that he can be in Cabinet and represent the Montreal region is another. The fact that, two weeks after the election, the Minister of International Trade crossed from the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party is another major ethical issue.
In no way has the Ethics Commissioner cleared this affair. He has said that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians to tighten the law so as to avoid this type of situation. For what happened between the election on January 23, 2006 and the decision by the Minister of International Trade to move from the Liberals to the Conservatives? Probably a telephone call from the Prime Minister. If so, it was not the political environment that caused the Minister of International Trade to change his plans.
I always give the following example. When Lucien Bouchard, who was a Conservative, decided to go independent and found the Bloc Québécois, something fundamental in Canadian history happened, namely the rejection of the Meech Lake Accord. That was justification for leaving one party and creating the Bloc Québécois.
In the case of the Minister of International Trade, opportunism and his political career were probably the only criteria for his decision. In that sense, I am in complete agreement with the hon. member. One does not sense a political will on the part of the government to make a real change to ethics in this Parliament and this government. In my view, the weeks ahead will be very telling.
To close, I would mention that the Prime Minister’s relations with the media are also worrisome. The fact that the Access to Information Act is being brushed aside is consistent with his refusal to work with the media toward better publicizing the analysis and political directions of his government. This is prompting a great many questions and is inconsistent with Bill C-2.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-2, a very important bill.
First, I thank the member for Winnipeg Centre, who is our lead critic on this bill and on the question of ethics. He has done a brilliant job of focusing the debate on the issue before us.
We are very aware that this is a massive bill. It is a very weighty document, and it is a lot of material to go through. I think from the point of view of the public interest and public concern, it is very important that we focus on some of the key issues and ensure that this is actually followed through.
Just before the election, when the whole sponsorship scandal was in full flight and was raised every day in the House, I remember being in a coffee shop in East Vancouver getting a cup of tea when somebody came up to me and talked about the sponsorship scandal. The person looked at me and said, “Well, what do you expect. We don't expect any different”. That comment really struck me. It spoke to the deep level of cynicism, unfortunately, that people have about politics, the political process and this place. They shrug their shoulders. They do not expect anything different from the people in Ottawa, or anywhere else for that matter. I find this very disturbing.
The Liberal corruption and sponsorship scandal was an issue that was raised and very hotly debated in the House every day. However, it was also an issue that went so broad and deep that we all ended up suffering from, this growing cynicism about electoral politics and the political process. That is a very difficult thing to get at.
On the one hand, the bill sets out very strenuous rules about ethics, conduct, conflict and public interest. On the other hand, it is very hard to legislate ethics. Ethics comes from an environment. Unfortunately, we have become very used to an environment where, as Mr. Gomery himself said, the culture of entitlement was very prevalent in this place. That is what we are up against.
The bill is significant and it is an important document. The NDP will be examining it in great detail and we will be offering suggestions about how to make the bill a better instrument. However, it is also incumbent upon us, as members of Parliament, to think about our own personal conduct.
I am reminded of the speech that Mr. Broadbent made when he announced to the House that he was leaving Parliament after many decades of public service. He spoke about the dignity of members and the respect that we needed to have for each other and for this place, and the service we provide to our constituents. We cannot legislate that kind of thing. It comes from us in terms of how we conduct ourselves, and that is something for which we all bear responsibility.
Another thing I want to raise in a general sense around the bill is this. It always bothers me, when corruption scandals erupt and so much public attention is on them, as there should be, that the role of the civil service and civil servants gets dragged into them. It becomes something that is dishonourable.
The NDP have enormous respect for people in the civil service. I think people act in a very honourable way, yet they see all this stuff going on around them, the accusations, the wrongdoing, the cover-ups and the secrecy. Hundreds of thousands of people work for the public service, whether in Ottawa or in our local communities. They go out day after day on the front line and try their very best to do the right thing, and they do the right thing. They are the ones who provide the service, but they are also the ones who get a lot of the flak because of this culture of entitlement and cynicism.
It needs to be said by us all that we value the work of our public servants. We recognize the role they played in exposing the secrets that had been hidden within the government. It was a very bold thing to do and it took a lot of courage.
I want to thank and pay tribute to all of those civil servants in the public service who work so hard and provide the service to our constituents and the people of Canada. They are very honourable people and should be held up as a role model of what we should be doing as parliamentarians.
A lot has been said about this bill and a lot more will come. There are some aspects that are quite disturbing that are not covered. My riding is Vancouver East. The riding next door to me is Vancouver Kingsway. The day that the member for Vancouver Kingsway crossed the floor and became a member of the government my phone was ringing off the hook. There were e-mails instantly from people in my own riding, but also from Vancouver generally. These people felt so betrayed by what was done by that member.
I think that member has a difficult time showing his face in the city of Vancouver and attending any event. There is a fundamental feeling that the most basic form of accountability is to your voters. Bill C-2 does not deal with that. We have to ask the question as to why this bill, if it is about ethics and dealing with ethical practices, does not deal with this most fundamental question of honouring the vote of the people who elect us as members in this place?
I know that the member for Vancouver Kingsway has heard a lot from his constituents. I also want to lay it at the door of the Prime Minister. It was the Prime Minister who set up this arrangement just a few days after he spoke about the new government being the most transparent, the most accountable, and that he wanted to bring back the public trust. To me and to many people, it is quite incredible that within a few days of saying those words we would have this action take place, where the voters of Vancouver Kingsway had their trust betrayed by a member who crossed the floor and a Prime Minister who basically participated in that act.
There are other issues that we wish were included in the bill, including the issue of democratic electoral reform. Again, this gets at the question of accountability and ethics as it relates to election practices themselves, the way we conduct our elections and the way we are voted into office. I am very proud of the fact that we in the NDP have championed the issue of democratic electoral reform. We are not going to give up on that issue.
We are very concerned that there is nothing in this bill that deals with electoral reform. It is an issue that we will keep pressing with this government and with all parties because we believe there is a real public appetite to democratize our electoral system. When people vote, their vote should actually count. We want the House of Commons to reflect the way people are actually voting. This is something we will definitely keep pressing.
We are also concerned that Bill C-2 does not go far enough in terms of the limits that need to be placed on practices around lobbying. As the member for Winnipeg Centre outlined in his comments, we still see this going on. We see practices where the relationship with the government and lobbyists and people being appointed and favours being done is still there. It is still happening.
Although the bill does go some distance, we believe that it does not go far enough in limiting the way that lobbyists act. Canadians can expect to see amendments from the NDP when the bill goes to committee.
The same is true of the appointment process. Mr. Broadbent had put together a very good package to deal with appointments. While this bill contains some of those elements, it is still within the purview of the PMO and basically gives a veto to the PMO. We think that is something that needs to be further reviewed to ensure that there is clearly an independent process.
Finally, as many members have remarked, it is questionable as to why the government chose to leave out its access to information reform package that was promised. We all know that when there is an environment of secrecy, there is also an environment of corruption.
The promised package of reform on access to information, opening up information and providing access to people, is a fundamental part of the spirit of this bill. The fact that it is not here is really a contradiction to what the government has put forward. We are very concerned that it is not here and again we will be pressing that in committee to ensure that those questions are raised and that there is indeed a commitment to bring forward the reform for access to information.
We will be giving this close scrutiny in committee. It is a substantial bill. We need to ensure that it is actually followed through and that it does not fall or stall under its own weight, whether it is in the House or in the Senate. We believe that elements of this bill must go through and that we must work in the public interest to bring back public trust and confidence in what we do in this place.
Mr. Speaker, in talking about the accountability act I will go back through a bit of the history. During my term, which started in 2004, we called numerous witnesses. We realized that the previous legislation that had been proposed but which was never brought to the Commons, was flawed and had some serious problems. We had 17 months essentially of having people make representations as witnesses from the United States and all over Canada, people who essentially had been victimized as whistleblowers.
We had a tremendous amount of concurrence in terms of the understanding of the legislation that in a minority government forum all parties would have input. Indeed, several of the committee members are in the House today. Through that process, indeed, on the last day of Parliament in June 2005, the legislation actually concluded in Parliament and went forward.
Since we already have the legislation, which has gone through the process of having called witnesses and having spent a lot of time calling these people, why would this legislation not simply be passed and, if it needs strengthening in some form or another, then we could simply do it through other processes? We know a lot of work has already been done and that during the committee process there were certainly more members of opposition parties at that time than the government which, in effect, gave them a majority on that committee.
It seems strange that the parliamentary secretary would resort to attacking other kinds of things as opposed to simply answering the question. I did not think I had asked anything untoward. It was pretty clear in terms of this and it was a reasonable question to ask.
The second component glaringly and obviously missing from the legislation is third party financing. Most of the people with whom I have spoken can agree with the financing rules and with the general intent of the accountability act. I do not know anybody on our side who is trying to slow this down whatsoever. In fact, we are probably ready to send it to committee as soon as possible so let us do that.
In this case the question then looms: Could other nations have an influence on Canadian elections? It is very clear that there is a gap in the proposed legislation. If we want it to work and we are concerned about making it work then let us send it to committee where these kinds of things can be addressed and there are no tragic gaps that are in there now.
Yes, the legislation is necessary and timely but, in this case, I believe that with the good work of committee we can actually make it even better.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-2, introduced at the first session of the 39th Parliament. The bill is called the Federal Accountability Act.
First of all, I would like to remind that we would have preferred to see the government follow the recommendations of authorities such as the Office de la langue française who clearly declared that it would have been better to call that legislation the Loi sur la responsabilité in French. That would have been more in line with French usage and would have been a recognition of the recommendations of the Office.
I will limit my comments to four or five aspects of the bill. First, I would like to remind the House that this is relevant legislation. Bill C-2 is more relevant today than at any other moment in Canadian history. Why? Because the Gomery commission showed us how a government could divert public funds for partisan purposes and in the end prevent public money from being spent wisely.
The ad scam — a defining moment in Canada's history — has made Bill C-2 more relevant than ever. We must remember that, during the Gomery commission, the Bloc Québécois was the only party that presented a report with over 72 recommendations to ensure that what Canadians saw, learned and read in the last years could not happen again.
First of all, the Bloc was proposing, in its October 2005 report, to use all the means at our disposal to recover the money from the sponsorship program. Moreover, we had to give more power and resources to Parliament officials to ensure greater integrity and transparency.
Second, we asked for an amendment to the Access to Information Act. We know that, from one government to another, from one commitment to another, all governments refuse to acknowledge that the Access to Information Act must be amended in Canada. We have been debating this issue since 1987. Governments are passing the buck to one another. It is clear that the culture of secrecy is the policy of all the governments in Canada since the debate has been launched.
This government, like the previous ones, should concur with the arguments of the Information Commissioner and should start reforming the Access to Information Act. This would allow citizens to learn more about the use of public funds as well as about public policies, government plans and programs. Canadian taxpayers should be able to find out how their money is really used.
The Access to Information Act has many loopholes. Some government corporations and trusts are not covered by this act. Yet, as governments increasingly use foundations and trusts, it would be absolutely normal for taxpayers from Quebec and Canada to be able to find out how financial resources are used in foundations such as the Foundation for Sustainable Development, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation or other foundations.
We would therefore have expected that, with Bill C-2, this government would begin seriously reviewing and seriously considering the need to review the Access to Information Act.
Also, through its 72 recommendations, the Bloc Québécois was proposing to strengthen the accountability of the individuals appointed by the government.
The relevance of Bill C-2 seems obvious to us.
There are naturally a certain number of improvements to be made. Some of the important progress included in this bill comes from concrete recommendations and proposals made by the Bloc in the last few years.
Here is one for example: the appointment of returning officers. The Bloc Québécois put forward Bill C-312, which provided that returning officers would be appointed through a competitive process, as defined by the Public Service Employment Act. Bill C-312 from the Bloc could have certainly been included in Bill C-2. Of course, Bill C-2 says that returning officers will be appointed on the basis of merit by the Chief Electoral Officer, but we believe that we must go even further. We must use the Quebec Election Act as a model, whereby the appointment of returning officers has to be done through a competitive process.
Accordingly, I encourage the government to examine carefully Bill C-312, put forward by the Bloc, and to be guided by it.
Second, the bill addresses the independence of the registrar of lobbyists. We believe that this is a step in the right direction. However, we would have liked to see the range of activities covered broadened and the penalties directly associated with the infringement of this legislation toughened.
We must first broaden to the maximum the range of activities covered by the bill, then make sure that we extend the exclusion period in those activities, and finally, we must toughen the penalties. However, while this bill has some interesting proposals and is going in the right direction, we would like to see the government go a little further.
The third point that we have to look at is the Act respecting the financing of political parties. There will be a ban on corporate donations. We believe that this is the right road to take. In the last few years, the Bloc Québécois has played a major role as far as the Act respecting the financing of political parties and the reforms brought about in the House of Commons are concerned.
We believe that we have just come full circle and that, with regard to political financing, the measures taken by Canada will resemble more and more what is being done in Quebec and will imitate the models that were developed in Quebec. I am thinking, for example, about the ban on corporate donations. There is room for that, and the idea of limiting personal contributions to $1,000 is certainly another step in the right direction.
I want to get back to the Access to Information Act. For us, parliamentarians, for journalists and for all those who wish to have transparency in the government, the hope that the Conservatives created in the last election campaign should have found its way into the Access to Information Act. As I have said, in all the debates that have taken place in Canada since 1987, everyone agrees that the Access to Information Act needs to be reviewed and that the culture of secret within ministers' offices and departments has no place in a so-called democratic society. That act has to be amended so that the public can be better informed.
This does not apply only to this government, but to all governments.
We strongly support Bill C-2. However, we intend to bring forward amendments, including at committee stage.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. In this 39th Parliament, Bill C-2 could be extremely beneficial to Canadians and could prevent continuing corruption, both from the Liberals, as in the past and perhaps in the present as well
Several of the proposals for ethical measures that Ed Broadbent made public before the last election are found in the bill.
First, I would like to raise a point: I am disappointed that, in a country such as ours, a country that is officially bilingual, the Prime Minister has willfully chosen a bad translation of the word accountability. I will quote from the Journal de Montréal of April 25:
||—The Journal learned yesterday that the Prime Minister's Office has willingly rejected the recommendation of the federal Translation Bureau by entitling his bill “sur l'imputabilité”, a bad translation of the original English title. ... Yesterday a reliable source said that the Prime Minister disregarded the recommendation made by federal experts on official languages.
In proper French, the bill should be entitled “Loi fédérale sur la responsabilité”. The issue is highly political. As the critic for official languages, I find this attitude deplorable.
As for the reform of the Canada Elections Act, the bill sets a limit on campaign donations and bans all contributions by corporations and unions. It cleans up the use of funds held in trust during an election campaign and sets limits and rules with regard to gifts to candidates. However, it leaves aside certain key elements of the proposal made by Ed Broadbent, former member for Ottawa Centre, on ethics. There is nothing concerning fixed election dates, electoral reform and spending limits or transparency requirements for leadership campaigns. And it does not prohibit floor crossing, an issue which we think must be examined in the 39th Parliament.
With regard to floor crossing, I remember the member for Kings—Hants. As mentioned by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, when the member for Kings—Hants crossed the floor to join the Liberal Party, the Leader of the Opposition, the current Prime Minister, said that anyone who would change parties for 30 pieces of silver would make their government corrupt. Had the member for Vancouver Kingsway remained a Liberal, he would have had the salary of a regular MP. However, he crossed the floor and became minister. I do not think he would have changed parties to become a backbencher. I feel very strongly about this issue.
I will give a concrete example of the way people perceive those who represent them. There is a reason why the popularity of members of Parliament is at 14 per cent only. We are lower than anyone else in society. This is how we are perceived, and we deserve it, because of the things that are done in the House and within political parties. My colleagues will remember the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, Angela Vautour, who went from the NDP to the Progressive Conservative Party—that was its name then. I remember visiting her riding and meeting a lady who was over 75 years old and who said that she had been a Liberal all her life, that she had voted Liberal all her life and that she had never voted Conservative. She was not crazy. She was a very intelligent woman.
She knew that the candidate, Angela Vautour, was running for the New Democratic Party. So she decided to make a change and vote for the person in a party she could support. She could, we might say, test-drive the party to see what would happen. However, she was certainly not going to vote for the Conservative Party.
This woman from the Bouctouche region also said that she had contributed $300 to the election campaign. She considered it the greatest insult of all to have the member cross the floor of the House to join another political party, a party she would never have voted for.
This applies to all political parties. I am sure that here in Canada people who voted Conservative all their lives would never have voted Liberal. They did, however, decide to vote for a person. To change parties is to betray the confidence of Canadians and Quebeckers. If that were true we would not have seen what happened in Vancouver, with people demonstrating in front of the riding office of the member for Vancouver Kingsway.
This new government talks about cleaning up Parliament, being ethical, but it allows a member to be Liberal one day and Conservative the next and be paid as a minister. I have a problem with that.
It appears, it is true, that changing from Liberal to Conservative, makes no difference; they are the same thing. This is what the member for Vancouver Kingsway said the next day on the news. I agree with him on that. There is no difference.
Imagine someone elected democratically under the banner of one political party and who, the next day, gets into office because the Prime Minister or someone in his office or in cabinet called and told the person if he wanted they could offer him a ministerial position with a salary increase of $50,000 to $60,000. No problem. He accepts. When the member for Kings—Hants changed from Conservative to Liberal, the same Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, said the member had been bought for a quarter. In the other case, it was $60,000. That is why Canadians lose faith in politics and in us and I do not blame them.
The government is presenting a bill that we intend to support. We want to improve it. This bill is almost as thick as a brick. I could use it to build a house. It is a good thick bill. Just before the bill was presented, Michael Fortier was rushed into the Senate. Yet, when it was in opposition, his party was against Senate appointments. Nevertheless, he was appointed minister, while the same party had also said that nobody should become a minister without having first been elected by the public. We were given the excuse that Montreal needed to be represented by a minister. But Montreal had chosen not to elect a minister. It was Montreal's choice not to do so, as it was Toronto's choice. What the Conservatives did was not right.
Let us hope that, during the debates on this bill, the government will have the wisdom to change its attitude and to take concrete action to deal with all the things that are not right or ethical.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first full speech I have given in the House, so I want to recognize the constituents of Nanaimo--Cowichan for sending me back to the House for a second time.
I am pleased today to speak about the accountability bill. Bill C-2 is an important opportunity for parliamentarians to have a full debate around the importance of openness and transparency in government. Canadians have been calling for accountability in light of the shenanigans over the last couple of years. They want parliamentarians to be responsible to the Canadian public.
There are a couple of aspects of the proposed legislation to which I would like to specifically speak.
We have heard a great deal about democratic accountability for members of Parliament. We have heard a great deal of sound and fury around the Vancouver Kingsway member, who shortly after an election chose to go from one side of the House to the other. Whether it was the actual physical walking from one side of the House to the other, or whether it was the virtual crossing, does not matter. What matters is the fact that the member chose to run for one party and sit as a member of another. One would ask whether it would seem fair and reasonable for his constituents, who work and live there and who pay taxes, to have a say on that. I would encourage members to look at supporting an amendment that would ban floor crossing the House.
The second matter in the accountability bill that I specifically would like speak to is electoral reform. In the last sitting of the House, the former member for Ottawa Centre, Ed Broadbent, put forward a proposal to the government of the day, suggesting a format for parliamentarians and the public at large to consider electoral reform, specifically proportional representation. Five provinces in Canada are in various stages of considering proportional representation. This would seem like an opportune time for the House to consider demonstrating some leadership by examining in detail and with meaning electoral reform. I noticed there was a glancing mention in the throne speech around it, but I would encourage us to move quickly in implementing some steps toward having Parliament and the Canadian public engage in a dialogue and some planning around electoral reform.
Many Canadians no longer vote, and that is a major concern for us in the democratic process. It is important for Canadians to feel that their votes count. Canada is one of the few western democratic countries left that still relies on a first past the post system. The House is a good example where somebody can only have 35%, give or take, as a percentage of the vote and yet form government. Many Canadians do not feel this is an adequate representation of their vote. I would encourage the House to develop a strategy around electoral reform.
We often talk about accountability. Earlier today in the House we were talked about people from Garden Hill. The chief and some of his council are here today talking to parliamentarians about the fact that their community has been hit with a second outbreak of tuberculosis in two years. It took eight months to diagnose the first case. There has not been the kind of assistance they need to help them deal with this problem. They are pleading for parliamentarians to pay some attention to the desperate situation in their community.
One might wonder how that relates to accountability. It relates to accountability because one of the reasons for an outbreak of tuberculosis is due to poverty and inadequate housing. Numerous studies have been done in Canada which have talked about the dire conditions on many first nations reserves with respect to their housing situations, yet we still do not have an adequate remedy.
Just to refresh the memory of the House, in the Auditor General's report of April 2003 under Appendix A, she listed numerous studies which have been done that talk about the conditions in first nations communities and the recommendations that have been made to remedy that situation. This goes back in recent memory to 1983 and the special committee on Indian self-government, also known as the Penner report; in 1985, the task force on program review; in 1990, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs; in 1991, the Office of the Auditor General; in 1992, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs; in 1993, the Office of the Auditor General; in 1996, the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples; and in 1998, Gathering Strength: Canada's Aboriginal Action Plan.
A litany of Conservatives and Liberals have failed to act in a meaningful way on housing on reserve. Now for the people who live in that community there is the third world outbreak of tuberculosis which is directly attributable to lack of adequate housing. On top of that, only 4% of this community of 3,500 has running water.
We must go beyond talking about accountability in terms of making parliamentarians accountable for how money is spent. We must be accountable to the Canadian people to make sure that first nations and aboriginal peoples have access to clean water, access to safe, clean affordable housing and that they get the health care that is their right in this day and age.
When we are talking about accountability, I firmly believe we need to expand that conversation beyond talking about parliamentarians and how they spend their money.