Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his work on the committee.
On the question of Motion No. 1, I will bring to the House's attention exactly what this amendment does. It deals with the provisions around parliamentary secretaries and ministers of the Crown voting on matters in which they have a direct commercial or financial interest. The member has asked why we believe this should continue to be in the law. There are a couple of reasons, but the most obvious is that if a member of cabinet or a parliamentary secretary has a financial interest in a particular sector or industry, they should not be able to use their position in the House of Commons to further that interest.
We did hear some interesting and persuasive testimony to the contrary from the House legal clerk. He believed that it infringed upon members of Parliament and their parliamentary privileges. We, however, take a different point of view.
As initially proposed by the government, subclause 6(2) would have expressly prohibited a minister or a parliamentary secretary from debating or voting on a question “that would place him or her in a conflict of interest”. This provision is an essential element of the conflict of interest regime that we are attempting to codify in the accountability act. It is based in part on a similar provision found in the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, itself forming part of the Standing Orders of the House.
These provisions already exist in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and therefore we believe they should be codified directly into statutory law. That is what the accountability act sought to do in the first place. It was to take what were rules of the House and make them statutory law, codified in law so that they could be enforced more.
Absent such a provision, it would be open for a minister or a parliamentary secretary to vote even where to do so would be a conflict of interest and even where the conflict of interest and Ethics Commissioner had ordered him or her to refrain from voting. In other words, an individual could come into the House against the explicit instructions of the Ethics Commissioner and vote on an issue in which he or she had a direct financial interest.
In addition, absent such a ban, a minister or parliamentary secretary who did vote on a question that would put him or her in a conflict would not be subject to complaint, as no breach of the act would be made. In other words, they could stand in the House and vote on something that related directly to their personal financial interest and no member of the House would be in a position to file a complaint with the Ethics Commissioner because there would be no statutory prohibition on doing such.
That is the reason why we have introduced this amendment, Motion No. 1. We stand by it. We believe it is the right thing to do. We encourage all members of the House to support it.
Mr. Speaker, in looking at the amendments, Motions Nos. 6 and 7, it is curious that in Motion No. 6, which the government seeks to delete, we are deleting the requirement of the commissioner to table reports in both Houses of Parliament on such matters. I am certainly very curious as to why that would be thought to be appropriate. That is Motion No. 6.
Motion No. 7 adds further sweeping powers to those of the commissioner to exempt people who might otherwise be precluded from registering as lobbyists. I can only recall the words of the Prime Minister when declaring publicly that a volunteer member of his transition team would be caught by the proposed accountability act and that it would not be appropriate for that person to register as a lobbyist for five years. A great deal was made of that, whether that person was a sacrificial lamb or whatever, and it was said that this showed the toughness of the act.
However, Motion No. 7 seems to provide an exception for that type of situation. While I am not necessarily debating against that provision, I find it curious that after making such a matter of it in the public as a demonstration of the strictness of the act, an exemption then would be allowed by order of the commissioner. I find that quite strange.
Also, while I am on my feet in the matter of this debate, I might say more broadly that the Liberal amendment put forward to ensure that the restrictions against lobbying for the period of five years not simply be against ministerial staff, public office holders and their senior staff, but should also be for senior members with official positions in the opposition and their senior political or policy staff, for a period of five years, for the obvious purpose of ensuring that when there is a change of government, the opposition House leader, party leader, deputy leader, whip and their senior staff, with their party in government, also would be precluded from registering as lobbyists, whether it is for three years or five years, and we are still debating those terms.
It would seem only logical, if the government, which was the opposition, were truly serious and genuine about getting money out of politics in the sense of political influence, of not going into the lobbying business and making money out of contacts in government. If the government were genuine about that, I would think that it would have accepted the opposition amendment to make sure this was balanced.
After all, we must make sure that the revolving door between positions of political influence and the lobbying industry, of which the Prime Minister and the President of the Treasury Board have often spoken, is not a one way street. We must have balance in it. If the stated government objective is to be achieved, that balance is absolutely necessary.
Mr. Speaker, we are discussing Bill C-2, specifically the first group of amendments, which includes amendments 1, 2 to 4, 6, 7 and 9, if my memory serves me correctly. I will speak to these amendments.
As I begin, I will talk about the review of Bill C-2 and the problems we encountered. If I go off topic I am sure you will rein me back in.
Many amendments are being presented today at this stage because of how very quickly Bill C-2 was considered. We had very little time. I ordered a study from the library on similar bills, that is, bills with 300 or more clauses. I learned that the average duration of consideration of these bills since 1988 was roughly 200 days. We had more or less 40 days to review Bill C-2, which shows how hastily it was done. It is clear that a number of aspects of this bill should be improved; a number of witnesses pointed this out when they came before the committee.
Today, reading the proposed amendments, we recognize that this bill can and must be improved. It is also very important to remember what the Auditor General said about the sponsorship scandal, as our leader very eloquently pointed out during a scrum yesterday. The Auditor General's remarks have a direct bearing on this bill.
Before Mr. Justice Gomery and at a press conference, Ms. Fraser said that all the rules had been circumvented. The rules were in place, but they were circumvented. The fact that the government, through the Treasury Board president, is introducing an accountability bill is a good thing in itself. Reaffirming certain existing rules is a good thing in itself, but what is most important is whether the government will have the will to abide by these codes of conduct and these accountability rules that are before us today. Time will tell.
It is very important to remember that the rules were in place and were circumvented. Whether or not the rules set out in Bill C-2 are circumvented will depend solely on the government's will.
The government's will will very quickly become apparent as Bill C-2 is implemented.
The first motion, made by the President of the Treasury Board, reads as follows:
That Bill C-2, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 12 on page 6 with the following:
“No minister of the Crown, minister of state or parliamentary secretary shall, in his or her capacity as a member of the Senate or the House of Commons, debate or vote on a question that would place him or her in a conflict of interest”.
This was originally in the bill. The committee members defeated this clause and deleted it from the bill, but the Conservatives want to reintroduce this part. This is interesting, but I have this question: does the spirit of the act apply solely to ministers, ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries or does this part of the act also apply to government members, Conservative members?
I see that the President of the Treasury Board is present. What follows may be of interest to him and to the whip. It is useful to remember that last week, the member for Simcoe North introduced a Conservative bill asking the federal government to release funds for a feasibility study on a waterway in order to promote tourism. Strangely, when we visited his website, we noticed that this Conservative member owns the main hotel in this tourist area.
In fact, it was noted that his family has owned that facility for five generations, since 1884.
Will this standard be applied haphazardly or scrupulously? What will be permitted? If anyone is wondering to which member I am referring, it is the member for Simcoe North. He tabled a bill that would seem to involve a conflict of interest, at the very least.
If the Conservative party confirms that this respects the spirit of Bill C-2, that the ethics counsellor supports it and that everything is in order, we from the Bloc Québécois will reconsider our position and perhaps support the member. However, when a party purports to be cleaner than clean, purer than pure, and then, at the first opportunity, a member tables a bill that goes against the principle and spirit of Bill C-2, one might wonder how that bill will be applied in the future.
Speaking of the future, we have a problem with another amendment in the first block of amendments. Surely the President of the Treasury Board will be able to alleviate our concerns, which seem legitimate to me at this point. I am referring to Motion No. 4 regarding subsection 67(1) on page 33 of the bill—since we must compare like with like. The section now reads as follows:
Within five years after this Act receives royal assent, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act shall be undertaken by such committee—
The following amendment to subsection 67(1) has been proposed:
Within five years after the day on which this section comes into force—
Why change something that does not appear very important? Instead of saying that the act should be reviewed five years after receiving royal assent, this indicates five years after subsection 67(1) receives assent. Fortunately, we have meticulous, effective, attentive experts to point out minute details that may seem trivial, but that are very important in practice.
We always said that we supported the principle and philosophy of Bill C-2. We wanted to be in favour of more accountability and all those aspects of the legislation. However, no legislation is perfect. I defy the members of this House to show us perfect legislation. It was very important, therefore, to be able after five years to review not all of Bill C-2 but just the part on wrongdoing. That is why we wanted the committee to be able after five years to review what had worked well so that it could be established and continued, as was done with the Environmental Protection Act and several other pieces of legislation. If some aspects did not work so well, however, they could be re-assessed.
If amendment No. 4 passes, the government could say that Bill C-2 comes into force tomorrow morning, apart from subsection 67(1). It could decide to have this subsection come into force in four or five years. This would mean that the legislation would be reviewed only when the government wanted.
In committee—the Conservatives voted in favour of this amendment to review the act after five years—we were told that there might be some shortcomings and some things might have to be corrected. What is implied by this change? Maybe there is an explanation that can convince us. Why take correct wording, which appears in other legislation and says that the act will be reviewed in five years, and change it to say that the act will be reviewed five years after subsection 67(1) comes into force? What were they trying to say?
Usually, amendments are not introduced just for the fun of it. We have better things to do.
We ensure that amendments are introduced to correct or improve the bill. Sometimes, maybe, they are introduced to distract attention from certain gains that some think they made in committee. By a little word, a little sleight of hand, the gains are erased.
We cannot support amendments that would restrict the ability to review this legislation. We will ask questions until we get answers, in particular: what was the underlying intent of these changes?
Mr. Speaker, this is like the sequel to a movie, but a sort of watered-down and less interesting version.
We have been—how shall I put this—
An hon. member: Rushed along.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau: We have been rushed along—thank you—throughout our consideration of Bill C-2. All I could think of was the expression fast track, but I did not want to say it. So we have been rushed along, both the witnesses and the personnel who were directly or indirectly involved in the legislative committee on Bill C-2. We, the members, have been rushed along from beginning to end, including in the clause-by-clause study of Bill C-2. Furthermore, we have tried to show, insofar as possible, our good faith in moving the bill along constructively, but this was not always well perceived by the government party.
As far as the amendments are concerned, it is still more or less the same old thing. What is different, however, is that it is just like Canada, just like the House of Commons. So what we saw a little more of in camera in committee—even if it was televised, it was not so obvious to people—what the Conservative government has done, from the beginning, in the legislative committee on Bill C-2, it is pursuing this route again today, in the House of Commons, by tabling 30 last-minute amendments in a big rush.
I think it is only natural to ask questions. When we asked questions in committee, we were accused of bad faith. We are asking questions today, and we are accused of wanting to delay the procedure, or no one answers us.
A five-year review was planned further to enactment of the bill. We are told that, no, it is no longer after enactment of the bill, but after the section comes into force. Why? I would think this is a legitimate question. We cannot get an answer to this question, and this makes us people of bad faith.
For the member who just asked me the question, I would say that what is happening in the House of Commons is the same as what happened in the legislative committee on Bill C-2, but on a larger scale, and I think that the day that is beginning will continue like that, unfortunately.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to say a few words about the first group of amendments at this stage of Bill C-2. I note that the ruling has been made to delete some of the amendments and to allow others, then to cluster them into what seem to be logical groupings. I cannot find fault with the methodology here. They seem to be along the same themes. There is some logic and flow to the methodology.
I must begin by taking offence with some of the comments made by my colleague from the Bloc. If we are going to deal with Bill C-2 properly and do justice to it, we must begin from the same base level of information and, hopefully, from the same base level of truth and facts. I notice that my colleague never misses an opportunity to open his remarks with a certain sarcasm and even a certain level of insult to some of us who were on that committee. The member tries to imply or to lay some foundation that there was a prejudice toward him being able to do his job properly.
I think we should put it on the record that there was ample time for all the witnesses who wanted to be heard to be heard. In fact, the committee ran out of witnesses. The committee had dedicated hours left vacant as it were and regularly, habitually, members ran out of questions prior to the end of the questioning period allocated for the witnesses.
Anyone who implies that the compressed period of time that we used to study the bill was in fact a shortened period of time is simply misleading the public. It should be put on the record that we should begin this study with honesty and in a forthright fashion with all the facts.
Bill C-2 is all about transparency, ethics, et cetera. It would be unethical to imply that anyone was denied the right to do a proper and thorough job in the study of the bill.
Some of the amendments put forward in Group No. 1, as I say, the NDP finds no fault with their technical nature dealing with the conflict of interest act. As I say, we are going through it in a thematic way. The first topic as we come to it in Bill C-2 is dealing with the Conflict of Interest Code, to codify the code. This will move the code into the act to make it statutory in nature, rather than a guideline and expanding the application of the conflict of interest act to ministers of state who may find themselves in conflict as well.
The NDP does not oppose that. Our party finds that there have been ample examples in recent history, within the last Parliament certainly and possibly even this Parliament, where it would have been logical to have the application of the Conflict of Interest Code apply to a broader base, to more members.
It should be explained to members that there is great public interest in Bill C-2 and in the speedy passage of the bill. There is a method to our madness in trying to ensure that the bill gets through the House in this session of this Parliament. There are people who are opposed to some of the fundamental principles of the bill, especially the election financing section as we come to that later.
One of the political parties is claiming that this is some conspiracy to disadvantage them. Legislation is not crafted for the partisan interests of any one of the four political parties in the House of Commons. All of the political parties had their executive directors and president appear as witnesses before the committee. None raised the fact that they should get special privileges or that we should craft this legislation with the health and well-being of any one particular party in mind. We crafted the bill for everyone and we apply it equally, fairly and universally to everyone.
We should not delay the implementation of the bill to accommodate the greed of one political party. I say greed because the only problem it is running into is the fact that it charges $950 for delegate convention fees to its convention. That party would not have a problem if it was not trying to make money on its convention.
We in the NDP are also having a convention this fall. Our party's convention fees are $135. It is $95 if the person is an early bird. That party is the architect of its own problems, as usual.
I caution the Liberals that if they are considering conspiring with their Liberal-dominated Senate to delay, block, undermine or sabotage this bill, we will expose them in the House and outside the House. We will cry from the highest rooftops and condemn them for--
Mr. Speaker. we are dealing with the amendments. It is our first opportunity to deal with the amendments of Bill C-2 at report stage in the House of Commons. It is important to frame the context in which this debate will take place. There are enemies of this bill who are conspiring to undermine the implementation of this bill. That should be exposed with the same frankness as my colleague from the Bloc spoke of when he was trying to accuse the other parties of undermining his right to do a thorough job and study of this bill.
I do not think the Senate needs to take any longer than we did to deal with this bill. We rolled up our sleeves and did the grunt work, if I can speak plainly. We worked extra hours. We worked into the night. A week's worth of witnesses and a week's worth of committee stage should be all the Senate needs.
I am disappointed when I hear Liberal members of Parliament saying that we should be talking about this well into the fall, well into the winter. One Manitoba Liberal senator is saying that Christmastime and beyond is not unrealistic for the Senate to do a thorough analysis of this bill.
That is the kind of sabotage talk that we heard from the Bloc earlier on too, that we should still be hearing witnesses into the spring. That is crazy. We all know what needs to be done. It is not that tough. Honesty and ethics are not concepts on which we should have to start from scratch. We all know the difference between right and wrong.
There are some people who are so steeped in the tradition of unbridled patronage and rum bottle politics, learning at the feet of Allan J. and people like this. They just do not know anything else. There are some parties that cannot survive in a climate of transparency and accountability. They would strangle in that atmosphere. It is poisonous to them.
We are trying to create an atmosphere where ethical standards rule the day. We are trying to create an atmosphere where ethical standards dominate. There is a downside to the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption not only to flourish but to rule the day, to dominate. It is an end to that era.
This first set of amendments to the report stage of Bill C-2 is beginning to lay the foundation of a whole new era. It is like moving from the Mesozoic era to another era.
I am optimistic that we are going to hopefully get all this out of our systems early on, that we do not hear the cheap potshots from my colleague from the Bloc, and that we do not hear grandiose revisionist history from the Liberals.
I saw a press release put out by the Liberal Party in western Canada that said that the NDP voted down its recall amendments, its floor-crossing amendments. That is untrue. The floor crossing thing was ruled out of order. Nobody voted for it or against it because it was ruled out of order. It is a complete fabrication. It is an--
Mr. Speaker, I have two points with respect to the previous speaker's more general observations. One is general and the other is specific.
The bill was certainly rushed through committee stage. Almost every expert witness from different sectors cautioned us, as a committee, to take our time because it was complex and lengthy. It involved dozens of different statutes and it would have some dramatic impact in many of the opinions of witnesses. That was simply the evidence before us.
We moved at quite a pace. A number of witnesses were grouped together in time periods, which frustrated them in feeling they were being properly listened to and understood.
Therefore, I do not think there is any question that, while we moved quickly and effectively through most of the bill, many of the witnesses, including Arthur Kroeger, the dean of the senior public official community in Ottawa, thought it should take the committee all next fall to go through it properly.
The other issue the member raises is with respect to the crossing the floor amendment, which I introduced. He is absolutely right. The chair of the committee did rule it out of order. I then asked for a vote to overrule the chair so it could be considered. The NDP voted with the government against overruling the chair. That was in substance the same thing as voting against for the amendment.
I take no issue with the members being opposed to that amendment, but there was a vote against my motion to overrule the chair in his finding the amendment out of order. That was the sequence of events. However, we are here to debate the bill.
However, let us get on, go through clause by clause and have a good discussion on this and perhaps stop the more general speeches.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation, something the current Prime Minister and this party campaigned on persistently, day in and day out, through the election campaign, getting the support of Canadians from coast to coast to coast to clean up the slide in ethics we have seen in the federal government for a very long time, particularly in the previous 13 years.
What this Parliament had an opportunity to do, on the C-2 legislative committee, was work through a very large, comprehensive piece of legislation. I believe we dealt with over 280 individual amendments to the legislation. To be honest, I am quite shocked and saddened to hear some of the debate today. Something seems to happen in a democracy where everyone seems to be working on good faith and then all of a sudden, if they happen to lose debate on amendment or lose a point at committee, people turn around and start attacking the motives of other people rather than accepting that as the give and take of democratic society.
In the six years I have been a member of Parliament there have been three independent legislative committees. There was the Bill C-36 legislative committee, after September 11. There was the Bill C-38 legislative committee, dealing with same sex marriage. Now we had the Bill C-2 legislative committee, dealing with the federal accountability act. Of the three committees I have observed over my time, this committee really stood out as a model.
Last Wednesday night, when our committee finished going through the clause by clause section of the bill, there was an interesting moment. We went person by person around the table, four Liberals, two Bloc Québécois, one New Democrat, five Conservatives, and each of us took an opportunity to say what we thought of the committee. I did not hear anyone at the close of the committee say that it was a sham, or the witnesses were rushed, or we did not give due consideration or the minister did not do his job.
Six days ago everyone was very pleased with the way the process. People were pleased with the due diligence that the committee gave. In fact, throughout the course of this committee, we sat for 24 hours per week and the committee did a lot of heavy lifting. Through the course of that committee, I thought it was a model for how a minority Parliament could work. We will see how we go for the rest of today, going forward to the end of this week. However, the legislative committee was a model of how a minority Parliament could work within a smaller dynamic of a legislative committee because every party put forward amendments. Every party won some and every party lost some. That is how a democracy works.
All of a sudden we come back to the House for report stage and we hear people like the member for Vancouver Quadra and the Bloc Québécois say that this was rushed and people were not given their opportunity to put forward amendments and have thoughtful conversation. The truth is, as the member for Winnipeg Centre said, not one witness came before the committee and said that he or she needed to be rescheduled, or needed a week to think about this, or needed to regroup and talk to some lawyers and get specific legislative counsel on how to go forward with some ideas. Everything seemed to go forward very effectively. Members of the committee should be applauded, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, the member for Vancouver Quadra and the member for Winnipeg Centre.
As I have the opportunity, I tip my hat to my colleague from Nepean—Carleton, the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, for the great work he has done of this legislation.
Bill C-2 is an incredibly complicated bill. It corrects a lot of the things that Canadians have been complaining about in our parliamentary system for years. It gives more power to independent officers of Parliament. It gives more transparency and accountability for members of Parliament. It deals with the issues of lobbyists and accountability, campaign finance reform and important reforms to procurement, which is my area of responsibility as parliamentary secretary to public works. This is vast, complex, important legislation and all Canadians have been thrilled with the incredible work done by the member for Nepean—Carleton.
We are addressing now Group 1, Motions Nos. 1 to 3, 6, 7 and 9. Specifically I want to talk briefly about Motion No. 9.
Motion No. 9 is an amendment which would delete paragraphs 41.4 and 41.5 in clause 99 of Bill C-2 regarding the trust funds of MPs. These provisions allow a House of Commons committee to issue an opinion on whether an MP has breached the new trust fund rules, which will now be a criminal offence. No prosecution can begin until the committee has issued its opinion or at the very latest, before 30 sitting days. If a prosecution is later commenced, the prosecutor must give the committee's opinion to the trial judge who in turn must consider it in deciding whether the MP has committed the crime.
We moved this amendment for several important reasons. First and foremost, we believe these provisions are inconsistent with the fundamental principle underlying the director of public prosecutions provisions of Bill C-2, namely, the need to ensure that prosecutions are free from political interference both in appearance and in reality. By delaying the commencement of prosecutions and requiring the prosecutor to submit the committee's opinion as evidence in a criminal trial, these provisions contradict this key principle of prosecutorial independence.
Second, MPs accused of violating the new trust fund rules have the right to a fair trial. These provisions would compel a trial judge to consider the committee's opinion in determining whether an MP is guilty of a crime. This could force a judge to consider evidence that would otherwise be inadmissible in a criminal trial, thus potentially jeopardizing the fairness of an accused MP's trial.
Third, there is a relationship between Parliament and the courts. Requiring a judge to consider the committee's opinion in determining whether an MP is guilty of a crime would impinge on at least the perception of the court's impartiality and independence. The separation of powers between Parliament and the courts is integral to Canada's constitutional makeup and vital to upholding public confidence in our justice system.
It is for these three core principles that we are moving to delete proposed sections 41.4 and 41.5 from clause 99 with government Motion No. 9.
A number of my colleagues will be speaking to other clauses, but I would remind the House that Bill C-2, not only as a piece of legislation but the process that we have undertaken has demonstrated how this Parliament can work. We set up an independent legislative committee. Anybody who wanted to speak to the bill was allowed to speak to the bill. Amendments were allowed, and I think that 280 or 290 amendments came before the committee. Every party won some; every party lost some. This is an opportunity to demonstrate how this Parliament can work if we are all interested in the public good and not our own partisan political good. Bill C-2 will stand out as a real harbinger for good things to come for this Parliament if we maintain the faith.
Mr. Speaker, I want to make some general comments on the debate as a whole.
The speech by the parliamentary secretary was somewhat brief and basically characterized the amendments in this group as being general cleanup. I did not see it that way. As a matter of fact, Motion No. 5 which was deemed out of order raises some interesting questions about the thinking.
Among other things, report stage is meant to allow members of Parliament who are not on the committee to propose amendments and to debate some of the changes that have been made to a bill. They are members who have not had the opportunity to hear all of the witnesses and they may have a fair bit of work to do once they see the nature of the changes coming forward at report stage.
Notwithstanding that the bill was completed at committee last week, the amendments before us today were only put on the notice paper last night at 6 p.m. Of the original 30 amendments, only 24 remain. The amendments were not available to members until after midnight. Until yesterday there was only one report stage amendment relating to the Canadian Wheat Board on the notice paper. If there were only a couple of amendments, we might have been able to do this, but now we are faced with a vast array of amendments, most of them from the government itself.
If there are 20 amendments coming from the government on this bill, why have these been made at this late time? We are talking about the federal accountability bill and if openness and transparency are being encouraged by this bill, then the process we are going through right now does not support the concept of openness and transparency. Proposed subsection 41.4 was deleted in its totality yet this clause was strongly recommended by the House counsel at committee and was adopted by the committee. The government has turned around and put in Motion No. 9 to delete proposed subsection 41.4 in its totality.
Some answers need to be given as to the rationale behind the move the government has made. The House is probably entitled, if I may use that infamous word, to have an explanation from the government or the mover of the motion as to why certain changes have been made. It is interesting that there was absolutely no commentary whatsoever made on any individual motion in Group No. 1, in which there are seven amendments. This basically says that other members of the House are on their own.
The member for Winnipeg Centre has basically said that all the work has been done and everybody should simply accept it. We know that throughout the committee stage, the NDP member took his orders from the government. I am not sure why the member has not raised some of the questions that have been posed by other members about the raison d'être for some of these amendments. I am not sure if he was aware of them. He did not talk about these amendments in his speech. It was more about getting the debate over with.
I do not think there is anybody in this place who does not want to have this bill passed. Before the House starts in the morning, there is a prayer about making good laws and wise decisions. If there are elements within this bill which do not reflect the best counsel that has been made available to committee and the amendments that committee made with all of the benefit of that work, and the government summarily dismisses and deletes whole clauses, that requires some explanation. That is valid. That is not delay. That happens to be good parliamentary practice.
For the member to suggest that questions by any member in this place are somehow motivated by something other than trying to find out why the details are there and why we are trying to make good laws here raises a question about the member's motivation. I would leave it at that.
I am pleased that the minister has offered, and it has been approved by the House, to deal with Motion No. 4 on the five year review. It struck me that as we consider the bill as approved by the committee and reported to the House at report stage and then examine these motions, as we consider one motion and try to determine the effect of the change, and often the entire clause and the wording of the lines is repeated, we have to pick out the nuances. I think the Bloc member was trying to point out that it might be a change of only one word.
Motion No. 4 has to do with whether this matter will be in force from royal assent or from the day on which it is enacted or proclaimed. We had the same situation, as a parallel, with Bill C-11, the whistleblower legislation. In the last Parliament, after two or three years of work by all parties, the bill was passed at third reading and received royal assent. It is the law in the country but it is not in force today because it was never proclaimed by the government. We will find, as we get into further debate on this matter, that some amendments in Bill C-2 would amend Bill C-11, which has not yet been enacted. We will need to proclaim Bill C-11 from the last Parliament before Bill C-2 can be totally in force because it cannot amend a law that is not in force in Canada.
As was indicated by the member who just spoke, the bill has a lot of clauses and many of the amendments have been dealt with. We do know the government has the opportunity and the right, notwithstanding that the matter has been dealt with fully at committee, to make changes at report stage, which is a privilege not available to other ordinary members.
The government can decide to tell the committee that it does not agree with the committee and it can throw an entire clause out, which is what was done under Motion No. 9. I hope, as we move on to the other groupings, if the government intends to be open and transparent on the provisions of Bill C-2, that at least one speech will explain, at least in brief, the purpose, intent or the effect of each of the amendments being proposed in the groupings the Speaker gave us.
Group No. 1 consists of six motions that should have been commented on. If they are just clean up motions then we should have had representation that they were clean up or translation problems.
Group No. 2 consists of nine motions, Group No. 3 consists of six motions and Group No. 4 consists of three motions. It would help the debate along if the government would at least put on the record the nature, the intent and the effect of each of the motions it has posed. If there is not enough time in the 10 minutes available to the movers of those motions, I would be most happy to give unanimous consent to extend the speaking time of the government speaker so that at least the speaker would have two or three minutes on each motion to do a proper job and to be open and transparent in the discussion of Bill C-2.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to point out a couple of things for my hon. colleague in contravention to what he has suggested in his speech.
First, he made a comment that due to the lateness of the amendments submitted by the government it perhaps was putting hon. members, who had not had the opportunity to sit on the committee, at somewhat of a disadvantage since they did not really see any amendments until after midnight last night.
I would point out that of the 30 amendments submitted, 10 of them were by opposition parties. Therefore, for the member to suggest that it was only the government that was trying to hijack the democratic process by submitting amendments at the last moment is not quite correct.
Second, I also have to object to the suggestion made by my hon. friend that the government did not speak to these amendments. Although the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board was quite brief in his opening remarks, the President of the Treasury Board spoke to Motions Nos. 1, 3 and 6. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works just spoke in his address to Motion No. 9. I make reference now to Motion No. 7, which was mentioned earlier by one of my colleagues.
Although I am not objecting to the Speaker's ruling, I want to point out that Motions Nos. 5 and 7 were quite complementary because they dealt with the ability of a transition team member to appeal his or her decision to the commissioner of lobbying if in fact the decision was to restrict that transition member to the five year ban on lobbying.
On Motions Nos. 5 and 7, one dealt with the previous transition team and one with future transition teams. I am not sure exactly why the Speaker's ruling was to exclude one and allow the other but so be it.
Would my hon. colleague agree that, even though the Prime Minister has been quite clear and unequivocal in his statements that no member of a transition team of the government will be allowed to lobby the government for five years, this amendment, which would provide transition team members with the same recourse, the same right to appeal as any other public office holder, is equitable and fair?
Mr. Speaker, some things are prima facie and I would suspect that others would share that view, so maybe the answer is no.
In terms of the suggestion that there is a hijacking of the democratic process, I suppose the fact that the Liberals put in two amendments and the NDP, I believe, put in four, that leaves 24 for the government.
An hon. member: Five.
Mr. Paul Szabo: Okay, a substantial number.
The member should know that the government has the unique authorization to make amendments which are out of order for other members of Parliament. It is the minister's bill and he can make those amendments and basically tell the committee thanks but that he does not accept its position and that he will go another way.
I saw that happen in the bill on reproductive technologies where we saw a couple of clauses of the bill totally reversed. I am aware of that.
I do not subscribe to the hijack thing but I would suggest that although a series of speakers over the day may address every motion, I think it is incumbent on the mover of the motion to make a statement to the House at the beginning of the debate on the motion of the intent of the motion, such as, Motion No. 1 is clean up, no problem; Motion No. 2 is translation, no problem; and Motion No. 3 we do not agree with the committee and we have decided to delete that clause and here is another one because it is duplicative.
Those kinds of indications of the basis may help another speaker trying to participate in the democratic process to at least use those as a filter to consider their own commentary that they may have made without that knowledge.
As a courtesy to the openness and transparency of the debate, I ask that the mover of the motions make a quick summary on the ones that are clean up and on the ones that are not controversial and to sum up why it is making changes to others. If we do that I think all members of this place and Canadians as a whole will benefit from the debate.
Mr. Speaker, it was a privilege to serve with other members of Parliament on the committee studying Bill C-2, the accountability act. I think we did tremendous work on behalf of Canadians.
From the testimony we heard and from the work that was done, we had a thorough vetting of the issues related to accountability. We heard from a great number of witnesses and we worked in a way to move the bill forward. Members on all sides of the House sacrificed a great deal to see the bill through committee.
It is the number one priority of our government and it is something that was long overdue. Canadians were demanding more accountability from public office holders and from Parliament, more accountability in the way their tax dollars are spent and more transparency in the way we run our democratic process. This bill, at the end of the day, accomplishes all those things.
I want to speak to Motion No. 9, which is a serious motion and one I urge all members of the House to consider as it impacts on some very fundamental rights and issues relating even to members of Parliament.
Specifically, the changes brought in by adding two provisions, subclauses 41.4 and 41.5, to the new MP trust fund rules proposed for insertion into the Parliament of Canada Act raise serious legal policy issues regarding the independence of prosecutions from political interference, as well as serious Charter of Rights issues related to the ability to get a fair hearing. They also raise some concern with regard to the Constitution and the division of power. It is for those reasons that the government proposed reversing those amendments.
To be clear, I would urge all members of Parliament to consider this amendment very carefully. It is not a minor amendment like dotting an i or crossing a t.
The amendment in subclause 41.4 would require:
Any person...who has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed under section 41.1 shall...notify the Committee of the House of Commons designated to consider such matters.
This is the clause that prohibits members of Parliament from accepting benefits or income from a trust established by reason of their positions as members of Parliament, and from circumventing this rule.
The committee may then issue an opinion on the matter. The committee would study the facts of the situation and then issue an opinion on the matter. The new paragraph 41.4(4) provides that, in any prosecution of that offence, if there is a criminal prosecution of the offence, the prosecution shall “provide the judge with a copy of the opinion of the Committee”, which would be a committee of this House. It is important to note the exact wording, “and the judge shall consider the opinion in determining whether an offence was committed”.
Further, a similar process is proposed in the second amendment, subclause 41.5, for contraventions of subclause 41.3, and that authorizes the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to make orders regarding the treatment of MPs' trusts, with the same requirement as I outlined before in paragraph 41.4(4), that “the judge shall consider”--the committee's--“opinion in determining whether an offence was committed”.
Obviously it is pretty clear, even on the face of the wording, that these amendments raise serious legal policy and constitutional concerns.
First and foremost, the amendments are inconsistent and completely at odds with the fundamental principle underlying the new director of public prosecutions provisions contained in Bill C-2, the federal accountability act, namely, the need to ensure the independence of prosecutions from political interference. It is that perception of political interference, the whole idea that somehow politicians could influence a judicial outcome, that is the whole reason for the underpinnings of the move to the director of public prosecutions. It underlines a lot of what we have done in the federal accountability act.
Obviously I hope that all members of the House would agree with me that we should not have political interference in the judicial process. I think that is fairly basic. This amendment, as the bill currently stands, would provide for just such an interference.
Second, the amendments present a serious risk of violating the Canadian charter right to a fair trial of a member of Parliament charged with an offence. All of us as Canadians, and even those of us who are members of Parliament, are entitled to a fair trial under our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
By requiring a judge to consider a parliamentary committee's opinion on whether an MP has committed an offence, the amendments would preclude a judge from respecting the procedural safeguards mandated by the charter, for example, by requiring a criminal court to consider evidence that is otherwise inadmissible either as hearsay or as opinion evidence with respect to an MP's guilt or innocence and/or to consider prior incriminating testimony, including testimony that the committee may have compelled from the accused member of Parliament. To be clear, this has an impact on the charter rights of members of Parliament and would undermine the right under the charter to a fair trial if we allowed this to proceed as proposed.
Third and finally, the amendment appears to undermine the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently held and has often stated that this is a fundamental constitutional principle. In the House, we all know that there is a separation among the executive, the judicial and the legislative branches. It is essential to having a thriving democracy and fairness in our system that those divisions be kept sound. It is a basic constitutional principle.
In passing this as it is, it would impinge on at least the perception of judicial impartiality and judicial independence, another fundamental principle that flows from our Constitution. It is for these reasons that I ask all members to consider deleting proposed sections 41.4 and 41.5 from clause 99.
To sum up, the independence of the judiciary, the right for a member of Parliament to get a fair trial under our charter of rights, and the division and the separation of powers among the judicial, executive and legislative branches of our government are all pretty basic fundamental values that we all hold dear. I ask all members to consider that when we consider Motion No. 9.
I urge that the motion be adopted because otherwise we risk putting members of Parliament in a very serious situation with regard to their rights and we also undermine the independence of the judiciary in this country.
Mr. Speaker, as the second member of the committee representing my party, it is truly important to me to take the floor today on Bill C-2 and the amendments we were presented with very late yesterday evening.
I must also speak about the process of the committee. In more than 13 years in the House of Commons, I have never seen so hurried a process as in the committee studying the Accountability Act. I can also add that certain people are very unhappy at not having been able to testify before the committee. I have received many letters from many witnesses writing me to say that they wanted to testify to the committee, but it had been impossible for them to do so in so little time, impossible to draft a brief in 24 hours. And so, for all sorts of reasons, many individuals, groups and associations have been unable to come and testify before our committee, because of the enormous time limits imposed on them. As my Liberal colleague was saying earlier, certain groups were brought together, but they were given so little time. For example, five different groups had a total of 10 minutes to make their presentation. And they were keeping such a close eye on the stopwatch when we asked our questions that working under such conditions was terribly stressful. I had never seen that here.
As you know, this is a rather bulky bill: that is obvious. We were told at the Library that a bill of this size normally requires some 200 hours in committee, and we did the job in two weeks.
So I am very, very pleased that the President of the Treasury Board has withdrawn Motion No. 4. It must also be understood that this motion was strictly concerned with the ethics portion, which will have to be reviewed in five years. So I am very pleased that he has withdrawn it. I am certain that by the time five years are up we will have found a multitude of problems in this bill, because it will have been passed at top speed.
All the same, we have cooperated. We have contributed some important amendments, and all the political parties have cooperated. However I do not know why we were sent amendments at the last minute, again, yesterday evening. One might say it was to hurry us up. We have a number of them to examine, to study, and we are still working at top speed to get this bill passed at once.
That is deplorable, because we are supposed to be doing important, serious work, and we are going to do our best. At the same time, I note the size of this bill and I want to express my concerns regarding its eventual implementation. For in fact, we studied it so quickly that I fear we may encounter certain difficulties in applying this legislation.
In time, we may find that parts of this bill are not working because we may not have had enough time to study them thoroughly.
That said, I would like to discuss the two motions that the Bloc Québécois finds problematic. In Group No. 1, which includes Motions Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 9, Motions Nos. 6 and 9 are problematic. Let me explain why.
I will begin by reading Motion No. 6, which is on page 80 of the bill in clause 80, subsection 11.2.
Every report to Parliament made by the Commissioner shall be made by being transmitted to the Speaker of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling in those Houses.
This section would effectively remove our parliamentary rights.
Furthermore, in Motion No. 9, an entire paragraph, paragraph 41.4(1) is removed. It reads as follows:
Any person, including the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, who has reasonable grounds—
I will not read the whole thing to you, but at the end, once again, it states that this situation would never come before the House of Commons. It mentions judicial and parliamentary roles and says that we should not place ourselves in conflict of interest situations. Pardon me for saying so, but we were elected to the House of Commons to legislate with the full confidence of the population and we are here to make decisions.
We are not here just to hear ourselves talk. The committees are extremely important and the work they do is normally done apolitically, if I can use that expression, particularly in a situation where there is a question of ethics. I think that the members of this House are capable of setting politics aside and considering what may sometimes be a complex situation.
And then if we remove this subsection altogether, we are leaving ourselves open to lengthy, expensive legal proceedings when we could have gone through one of the committees of the House of Commons. We will decide which one. That committee could already assess the situation. That is what we are elected to do, we are here precisely to ensure that things are done properly. Let us first consider it in committee. If the committee believes that there are grounds for prosecution, it may make a recommendation. However, that recommendation would have no legal effect. It would be the opinion of a committee of the House of Commons. Then, if there is a prosecution, the judge will make his or her decision based not only on the opinion of a committee, but based on actual facts, because we too will have done an initial examination of them.
There cannot be one without the other, and neither interferes with the other; on the contrary. It is an opinion and the judge could ask for other people’s opinions. The judge could ask a committee to meet and could have private studies done. That will cost us even more money when we can very well, here, find the body that could examine such a situation.
This raises quite an important question. Mr. Walsh, who is the guardian of our rights as parliamentarians, testified before the committee. He made some extremely important recommendations. He told us that this section would interfere with our rights as parliamentarians and would take away rights that we now have. And so if we remove those sections, parliamentarians will have nothing more to say about the bill. We will no longer have any role to play in this House. In terms of ethics, it means that we parliamentarians are not intelligent enough to make recommendations.
In the past, we have proved that we were capable of doing serious work in committee and considering important matters, including these. There are actually still a lot of things in this bill. Ethics is not the only subject. There is the part about political party financing. I therefore think that we are having rights taken from us, and that is why, in our view, Motions Nos. 6 and 9 should not be before us.
Mr. Walsh did not make his recommendations on a whim; quite the contrary. He came to see us. In fact, we had to press the matter to get Mr. Walsh to sit on the committee, for three years, so that we could get to the bottom of things. The Conservatives did not want that. It was Mr. Walsh, when he came to the committee, who alerted us to it. He told us that he was the guardian of the rights of parliamentarians and the rights of this House. He warned us that we were going to be taking away fundamental rights of parliamentarians. We are doing that again. I very well recall that in committee we had voted against amendments of this nature because we thought that it made no sense to take away our rights as parliamentarians.
Today, with these two new motions, we are bringing something back before the House that we did not agree with in the first place.
Obviously, I would have liked the President of the Treasury Board to withdraw these two motions, so that we could have worked together and kept—and I do mean kept—our rights as parliamentarians and could have continued to do our work here, as responsible, elected individuals and honest people.
Mr. Speaker, I will say first, regarding my colleague’s concerns, that Mr. Walsh has no political affiliation. He is really the official responsible for our rights and is a lawyer. Yes, he was at the committee with a number of legal advisers who were there to help him.
To re-assure my hon. colleague, I will read subsection 41.4(4):
In any prosecution under section 41.1, the prosecutor shall provide the judge with a copy of the opinion of the Committee, and the judge shall consider the opinion in determining whether an offence was committed.
The judge shall consider. He is under no obligation. He determines whether or not an offence was committed. Personally, I do not see any problem with that.
The problem is that we are losing our rights as parliamentarians. The judge, though, is free. If we provide a report, it does not mean that the judge will not be free to decide whether or not an offence was committed. At this point, we get into the legal aspects of the legislation.
A committee is perfectly capable of studying a case and seeing whether there really is a problem. We are not lawyers; we are parliamentarians. As such, our first duty is to determine whether there is a case or situation in which ethics were broken, or a mistake was made, or someone intentionally did something that was unethical. When the committee reports, a copy is given to a judge. The judge decides, not us. We do a rough draft; we take a quick look at a situation. A committee can easily determine that no offence was committed. There is no need in that case to go before a judge.
This will be less expensive because it is part of our work as parliamentarians. If every time there is a possibility that something is unethical it has to go directly to a judge, there will be no end. A host of lawyers will get involved. We have to consider the cost of all that. We have to see things as a whole, and not just little parts of subsections.
I would like this section to remain in the bill so that parliamentarians can do their job and do it fully. There is no conflict between the two, quite the contrary. I think they are complementary. As I said earlier, I would like to keep this section in its entirety.
The same is true of Motion No. 6, which deprives us of our rights as parliamentarians. I am opposed to that.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a few brief comments with respect of subsection 41.4(4). In dealing with this issue about a possible prosecution where the committee has considered the matter, subsection 41.4(4) says, both in subsection 41.4(4) and in subsection 41.5(4), and the wording here is very important. Subsection 41.4(4) states:
In any prosecution under section 41.1, the prosecutor shall provide the judge with a copy of the opinion of the Committee, and the judge shall consider the opinion in determining whether an offence was committed.
There are two serious concerns I have with that subclause. First of all, the binding of the prosecutor's right to determine how he or she should conduct the prosecution by requiring a specific report to be tendered as evidence as to guilt or innocence.
The point that I would like to make is that this raises all kinds of questions under the Canada Evidence Act with respect to cross-examination on reports and the like. I think it introduces a very serious restriction on the prosecutor's ability to prosecute. It also may create difficulties for the prosecutor.
The other point, though, is a much more serious point. That is:
--the judge shall consider the opinion in determining whether an offence was committed.
The committee itself does not rely on formal rules of evidence. It may hear all types of evidence, whether it is hearsay, opinion, whether that is admissible under the strict rules of criminal law or not. The opinion then is created by the committee, probably in many respects in a way that does not respect the proper criminal law trial process.
Then the judge is compelled to consider what may be evidence that is not properly before him in any other context. The judge is required to consider the guilt or innocence of a person on less than satisfactory evidence.
Even if the subclause were to say that the prosecutor may tender the copy of the opinion or the judge may consider the opinion, I would think it would be highly irregular for a judge ever to consider that. If the evidence is relevant to the guilt or innocence of an accused, the prosecutor should be required to put that evidence into trial in accordance with the proper rules of evidence.
I would submit that there is a serious Charter of Rights and Freedoms problem in terms of a fair trial. Second, there is a serious problem in terms of requiring a judge, a judicial actor, to consider the report of the committee which performs a very different parliamentary function.
I have spoken to some of the other members here. I believe that there may be a solution in the works to this particular problem. I wanted to put my concerns on the record and perhaps the member from the Liberal Party would want to address this in a formal manner if that could be done.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the first group of motions, but I want to speak more in the general sense because I have some serious concerns with the bill overall.
To begin with, I congratulate the committee on its work. It worked extremely hard and did the best under very rushed circumstances. I personally think this was drafted as much for political purposes as it was for its accountability provisions.
I believe this to be an bad bill. It is an overreaction to accountability issues more so on the perception of what is happening out there rather than the reality. The intent of the bill is fine, but we need to be serious about this. I believe there would be some serious long term consequences to the political process in Canada as a result of the bill.
I will say one thing about the member for Winnipeg Centre. He has not hid the fact of using the financial provisions in the bill as an attack on the official opposition and the ability of that party to finance itself under its traditional method of financing. In quite a number of ways all parties had financed their parties the same way, with funding from companies and unions, and higher limits.
One of the presumptions in the bill seems to be that everyone is considered first and foremost a crook, whether they be in the bureaucracy or in politics and that in the bill we have operate by exclusion. I was opposed to my government's move to limit as much as it did the right of companies and unions to contribute to the political process. I think we are making a serious mistake in that regard.
Why should companies and unions be completely excluded from the political process? If we are to have a democracy and have it work well, then we want inclusion of everyone. It is not exactly where the money comes from when we have caps on the amount of money, be it $5,000 or whatever. It is how we account for the money spent in a transparent. That is the important issue. By these exclusions, I think we will hurt our over the long term.
I do not mind if unions contribute to the NDP. I think that is a good thing. I do not mind if the banks contribute to the Liberals and the Conservatives. It involves them in the political process and makes them responsible to that political process, as long as there is good accounting for how that spending is done. We do have spending limits for candidates during elections. We do have spending limits for national parties. Therefore, we have substantial controls in that way.
I raise that point because I am really concerned about the long term consequences on democracy in our country with the kind of exclusions put forth in Bill C-2.
In terms of some of the comments that have been raised by the member for Winnipeg Centre, I think there is an attempt to use the current leadership contest within the official opposition to bring in these measures quickly enough to hamper the ability of that party to have a good democratic convention to elect its leadership because the rules are being changed in midstream. Many of us, including me, will be affected because we already have financed the party in certain ways.
I have to ask, does anyone really think that adding those kinds of restrictions and making it more difficult for a leadership contest of one of the major parties in this country to take place will add to democracy in this nation? Will it really add to democracy? Is that what we are after? I do not think it will by putting those restrictions in midstream.
Politics and leadership are all about the debate of ideas. Political parties are supposed to be all about the debate of ideas and policies that can be put forward. We can differ in terms of those ideas but political parties have to have the ability to finance themselves, yes, in an open and transparent fashion. There were problems in the past and I am not denying that. In fact, I do not believe that I receive any money from companies or unions.
I am concerned about the process as we go down this road in 10 or 20 years. The Liberals happen to be in a leadership contest right now, but other parties eventually will be as well. We have to be concerned about the future of our democracy with some of the proposals that are in this bill.
I have made my points on unions and corporations. One thing that is glaringly not in the bill is the whole issue of third party financing. There is some and I worry about what I see happening in the United States. I do not want to see funding of advertising during election campaigns and the kind of attack ads and negative advertising that occur in the United States happen in this country. I do not want to see that happen in Canada, but with third party financing being allowed the way it is, I think we might get into that. That worries me and I raise that as a concern.
The other general concern I have is on the whole issue of accountability within government itself. What happened in terms of what brought about the Gomery inquiry should not have happened, I agree. However, I believe, and this is strictly a personal comment, that if one is in business, one has to risk some money. If one is going to have efficiency in terms of a business and its operations, one has to risk some money in order to gain efficiency. If there are problems, charges will be laid and people will be dealt with.
I am concerned about going down the road the way the government is going. The Liberal government I will admit was going the same way previously and I think that was wrong too. I believe we are spending a lot of money on auditors and accountants in first considering everybody that moves to be a crook. We are spending $3 to chase $1 instead of spending the money efficiently in terms of the projects and programs that mean something to people. I am concerned about that.
Departments now are looking at how to get results for how one thinks. Some departments are actually hiring consultants because of their concern about whether they will be able to account for how that money was spent in terms of that thought process. That is not going to make efficient government.
I lay out those few points because I think they have to be said. I am concerned about the direction in which this bill is going. I am concerned about its impact on the political process. I am concerned about its impact on the ability of government to be an efficient machine in terms of getting the job done for the people of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to talk to Bill C-2. I want to address a couple of specific issues.
In the last few minutes, we have heard the member for Malpeque attacking the member for Winnipeg Centre. We also heard him on a rant about the Canadian Wheat Board and his beliefs on that. I want to quote him a couple of times. He said in his speech in talking about political fundraising that he wants the inclusion of everyone. He wanted to have everyone treated equally in terms of fundraising for political parties. He also said that exclusions hurt democracy, but it is interesting that when it comes to his position toward the Canadian Wheat Board, he wants it excluded from the access to information provisions of this bill. We need to say that it would a tragic thing if that were to happen in this House.
I want to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for having brought forward the amendment in the committee and for standing strongly behind it, because we believe it is an important amendment.
For 13 years the Liberal Party was in power and for 13 years the Liberals have hidden things. We know that they have hidden things because, in the end, we saw the results of them hiding one thing after another. Finally there was the scandal and the corruption was revealed, which everyone in Canada is familiar with, but I do not think there was any place in this country where they hid things more than they did in terms of the Canadian Wheat Board.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are fairly young, but in the 1990s you must have heard this. All of Saskatchewan is familiar with the fact that at one point the present House leader of the Liberal Party was in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board. There was a time when the Canadian Wheat Board, the RCMP, the customs department and Revenue Canada banded together to come up against individual farmers. There is a litany of times when farms were raided in the middle of the night. There was one story of people who got home from the hospital in the afternoon and this conglomeration of government officials invaded their farm in the middle of the night, trying to seize their trucks and their grain because these farmers had had the courage to actually take a load of grain across the border.
It ended badly. It ended with a dozen farmers in jail. The problem with the whole situation was that no one could find out what happened. There was no access to information as to what had happened in that whole scenario. Farmers still do not know who was doing what, how the whole thing was put together, and why they ended up in jail.
Not only that, but farmers have questioned the Canadian Wheat Board's spending over the years. They have not been able to find virtually any information about the spending. The member for Malpeque mentioned that the Wheat Board has annual reports. It is true that it does have annual reports, but each one of them has become harder to dig through to find out the information as to how it is spending farmers' money.
I need to point out that it is all farmers' money that is being spent by the Canadian Wheat Board. It takes the grain, it sells the grain, and it takes off what it needs. It now has $70 million a year in administration costs. Then it delivers the rest of the money, or it is supposed to, back to the farmers. Farmers have no way of knowing if that is in fact what happens, because there is no way of finding out what is going on behind the scenes at the board.
Farmers have questioned things like the cost of administration, which has risen to the point where it is at $70 million a year. They have questioned how the special funds and the contingency funds are being put together and managed. I do not know if members know this, but there is a fund of farmers' uncashed cheques. The board keeps these farmers' uncashed cheques set aside, and after six years they are put into another fund. The board has been spending that money. There is no way that farmers can find out how that money is being spent. Actually, I do not think there is even any way for farmers to find out if they have money in that fund.
It is very important for farmers in western Canada to have access to information for the Canadian Wheat Board. It is a government agency. It is legislated and mandated by the Canadian government. We have a Canadian Wheat Board Act. We have a minister in charge of the Canadian Wheat Board. Certainly it is a government agency. For a long time, the Liberals have stopped farmers from finding out what is going on there. We need to have access to that information.
I again want to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for having the courage to bring forward the inclusion of the Canadian Wheat Board in the provisions of the access to information sections of this bill. Obviously anyone who is concerned about fairness and accountability would be willing to support those provisions.
One of the things that really bothers me is this. What is it that the Liberals are afraid of here? Why is it that the member for Malpeque would be so paranoid about farmers actually finding out about what is happening within the Canadian Wheat Board? I think that probably it is because they know that after 13 years it is just as well that farmers do not find out what has been going on there and what role the Liberals have had to play within the Canadian Wheat Board. We know that it has been significant. We know that they have had a lot of influence on it over the years. We also know that where they have had influence throughout this country in the past 13 years, it generally has not been a good thing for Canadians.
My question, then, is this. What is it that they are so afraid of? What is it that they are afraid farmers will find out if farmers have access to the Canadian Wheat Board's general information?
I want to point out that this access to information provision protects commercially sensitive information. It is not that farmers, competitors or whoever are going to be able to go in and find out what is going on with the commercial contracts. That is not a part of this. It is about the general information and the work that is being done there.
I again want to congratulate the member for Winnipeg Centre, thank him for including the Canadian Wheat Board in the access to information provisions and encourage him to continue to support that provision.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I take the floor in this chamber. Perhaps I shall succeed, as women often do, in restoring a little moderation to all these discussions.
Let us look first of all at the evolution of this bill. As it is a bill on accountability, one cannot help but be struck by the way that certain powers have been removed from the parliamentary committee by hastening the debate and ending up with certain amendments that will reduce the power of parliamentarians.
As a parliamentarian, I take my responsibilities to heart. The citizens of Trois-Rivières have placed their trust in me. For me, it is important to guarantee democracy in this Parliament. The committees are an important mechanism for achieving that goal.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill. For some months now, it has proposed numerous recommendations for improving the current accountability framework.
The Bloc Québécois did its homework and tabled 72 recommendations in the wake of the Gomery commission. Those 72 recommendations were made necessary by all the ethical problems that have been encountered. We wanted to locate the sponsorship money, assign powers and resources to officers of Parliament, amend the Access to Information Act and the Lobbyists Registration Act, and protect whistleblowers. All of these subjects are addressed in this bill—unfortunately, some not so successfully.
For example, consider ethics. Ethics was certainly at the heart of the last election campaign. The sponsorship scandal was revealed by the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc was constantly alerting the public on this subject, and so helped to oust the Liberals from power.
What did the public tell us in electing a minority Conservative government? It told us that this government had to clean up political practices and establish accountability in this Parliament. However, one can wonder why it is necessary to do this so quickly, in such a rush.
The Bloc Québécois has some major criticisms to make about the passage of this bill, which is crucial and much awaited by the population, and which deserved more extensive review. Why the urgency? We have the right to ask the question.
The Gomery commission produced a set of recommendations which have to be implemented: that is certain. However, given all the abuses we have seen, it is clear that the problem is not caused by a lack of rules, but by the fact that those rules are not being followed. Now what does this bill propose to us? It proposes new rules.
In the opinion of the Bloc, the bill has certain weaknesses in this regard, insofar as the process is not clear. This amendment calling for a review every five years, to which the Bloc has just given its support, can certainly provide the beginning of a solution.
In five years, perhaps we will be having the same discussions, to the effect that we have a lot of rules, but no means of preventing the rules from being circumvented and that a review is needed.
Accountability demands a great deal of transparency. One wonders how an abuse can be denounced if it is not known. That is why the Bloc called for a reform of the Access to Information Act. Information is power. For the Bloc, it is important for all information to be accessible. It is also important for all the foundations and crown corporations to be subject to this Access to Information Act.
One cannot be halfway transparent or a quarter or an eighth of the way transparent. When we talk about transparency, we must be sure that everything is on the table so that parliamentarians, and parliamentary committees in particular, can debate it and come up with solutions. Human nature being what it is, we know full well that there will always be individuals who will sneak through the back door. That is how we end up with such significant abuses.
There is another crucial aspect that is very little talked about and that is the real will of the government caucus and all parliamentarians in this House to intervene and change things. I have been a member here in this House for two years now. Judging by a number of bills and committee reports, we find that political will is lacking. Things do not change. Another election is called and we end up dealing with the same problems.
What is more, in this bill, the government refused to increase the penalties for those who contravene the Ethics Act. We feel this lacks transparency and this certainly would have been a way to prevent abuse. It is important for this bill to be debated in this House. It is a shame it is being debated so quickly. Even elected officials from France, on their recent visit to Canada, said they were watching what was going on this House and mentioned that they, too, were having challenges with respect to accountability and that our work could, perhaps, have been used as a model. Nonetheless, it seems we are missing a good opportunity to get to the bottom of things because we are only skimming the surface and moving far too quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak at this stage, to address the first group of amendments, which takes certain powers away from certain committees.
I have had the pleasure of sitting on both the legislative committee on Bill C-2 and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. I say that I have had the pleasure, but I should rather say that I have had the experience of working on them, because I will admit that it was not always pleasant.
Yesterday, as well, we had the pleasure of meeting with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. He came with some reservations about the Information Commissioner’s proposed open government act, and he asked us to bring forward a bill. Obviously, that was not our intention, because that is the job of the government. On occasion, some of us have brought forward private member’s bills, which is proper, but we may not bring forward bills that involve an expenditure of money. It would seem that a bill on transparency would cost this government a good deal of money.
The minister told us then to continue our studies and our reports, to modernize and strengthen the act that was passed in 1987. When I asked him whether he had a timetable for this bill, he did not answer. We know what that means: he had no timetable.
And why he has not set a timetable? Because he has no political will. What would he have done if he had had the political will to bring forward a real transparency bill, a real bill on access to public information, one that really modernized and strengthened the act? He would have done exactly as was done for Bill C-2; he would have done it himself and he would have submitted it to a legislative committee. In fact, for Bill C-2, he stretched it to its limit, if I may say so. Not only did he have the political will, but it rose to the level of arrogance. We have seen and felt it; each one of us has complained about it among ourselves. The timetable was much too tight. The witnesses were zipping past at a great rate and we had no time to think about what they were saying. We had no time to read the invaluable documents being given to us. We had no time to do research, to compare, and to seek out more information. None at all. The committee sat as many as 45 hours in a single week. And then, we told them what I will say again now: Watch out! We are going so fast that we are putting together a flawed bill full of holes. The proof of this is that once again the minister has just brought forward a last-minute amendment to fix it. So we know that this bill will be flawed.
This bill also includes some amendments, not a lot, to the Access to Information Act. That is why the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is not going to do anything more.
Indeed the real changes he wanted to make to the Access to Information Act are contained in Bill C-2. We should not expect anything else of this government or of this minister. In my humble opinion, this government will not table another bill on access to information. We also know that Bill C-2 contains a few partisan elements, such as the one that might throw a wrench into the works of the Liberal Party leadership race. Also, as we can see now, it even takes away certain powers from certain committees, as witnessed by this group of amendments.
There should be a little more balance in this government. In fact there is no schedule proposed for the Access to Information Act.
The minister told us to take our time, to make reports and do analyses, to make sure it was perfect. We have done enough studies and reports. I could pile them up here at least a foot or two high.
It must be understood that there is no political will behind the Access to Information Act. This is so true that yesterday, in our committee, when we were discussing our fall action plan and were getting ready to vote on a measure that would have enabled us to ask the Minister of Labour and the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec Act to come back, when the House resumes in September, with a government bill on access to information this time, what happened? The Conservative members on the committee monopolized the floor.
The member for Dufferin—Caledon, among others, talked for the rest of the meeting. There were 10 or 15 minutes remaining. He talked the whole time. He said things and contradicted them. He said the opposite of what he thinks. The members were contradictory, talking non-stop, stating figures. They said any old thing to use up all the time so that we could not discuss a bill that would come from the department.
It was too bad for democracy and too bad for transparency. Some transparency! If this government does not intend to rewrite the Access to Information Act, let it say so quite simply instead of beating around the bush and avoiding real debates. One of the Conservative members even said yesterday in committee—this is a laugh—that a minister was also a member, and that a member was also a minister. I did not know I was a minister. I learned this from a colleague in the Conservative Party, who said so in committee.
How can we expect this government to offer us a real transparency act? In committee, I asked this government to propose an access to information act. That motion was rejected by the Conservative members. The same request was made last November, and the motion was adopted unanimously. The same motion that was rejected by the Conservatives in committee on May 15 had been adopted unanimously last November. Remember that there was even a Conservative Party opposition day, last November 15, regarding a new access to information act. What has changed between last November and now? Simply that this party got itself elected and is forgetting its election promises one after the other.
The Conservative government promised to reform the Access to Information Act many times during the last election campaign. It was in their last election platform. Yesterday we saw that this was not true. There will be no new access to information act.
The pity of it is that an accountability act is a fine and proper idea, even though this act is very imperfect and even though the Bloc Québécois has many reservations. This government can expect the Bloc to vote in favour of this bill. But an accountability act without a transparency act is not going to work. It would not prevent a new sponsorship scandal, or other scandals. It is in fact the intention of this government to avoid transparency. It does not want to be transparent. The unfortunate result of this is that Bill C-2 is not going to achieve the goals we thought it would.
The Gomery report recommended many things, including new transparency legislation. One can see that few of those recommendations have been adopted in Bill C-2.
From now on, when people talk about an election promise that is forgotten as soon as the party is elected, they will use the term “Conservative promise”. That is what this is. We thought that a transparency act and a modernized and strengthened Access to Information Act would be forthcoming from this government. Alas, no, it was a “Conservative promise”. There will be no new access to information act.
This government is not seeking to avoid a new scandal. That is not what it wants to avoid. Its initiative is partisan, opportunistic and superficial. All that it wants to tell its electors the next time it goes on the campaign trail is “mission accomplished: we created an accountability act”. That is all it did, but it did it. That is all.
When we look at what is in this bill, we see that it is a very timid step in the right direction and does not include transparency. As I was saying earlier, accountability without transparency will not go far.
This Bill C-2 is a small step forward, but a very small step, a feeble, tottering step. However it is better than a step backward, and therefore the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert on her excellent work and her excellent presentation.
I will also take this opportunity to commend the excellent work done in committee by our colleague from Repentigny. He took the time and had the patience to try, for hours and hours, to make the government understand that it had to take all the time needed to do the job right. He had no shortage of either time or patience. He was even prepared to give of his time for the entire summer so that he could talk to the government members about how this accountability act has evolved.
The Bloc Québécois’ position has never varied: the ethics of this Parliament have to be changed, and the job has to be done right. That has always been the message delivered by the Bloc Québécois.
Our colleague from Repentigny has consistently delivered the same message and invited his colleagues to take the time that was needed to genuinely change the ethics of this administration, of this Parliament, and the way that the government of Canada operates, a government that, over the years, has set about evading virtually every law there is and making off with taxpayers’ assets as if they were its own.
That is rather like what was done in the case of this Bill C-2, which has been presented to this House. But the men and women listening to us, Mr. Speaker, have to try to understand how Parliament works.
Introducing a bill is all very well, but when a government is in a minority position, a bill that it brings forward has to be studied in committee and have the benefit of the improvements suggested by the opposition parties, who, you will have noticed, hold a majority of the seats in committees. In a minority government, it is the opposition parties that are in the majority in committees. The government must therefore take all parties’ positions into consideration, and not just enter into misalliances of convenience, as the New Democratic Party did, to try to push the bill through and get a few minor improvements, so the NDPers will be happy and, once again, a bill will be passed that will not solve the entire problem.
When we analyze a bill that is presented in Parliament, we have to know where it comes from. Where does this accountability act come from? It is the direct descendant of the sponsorship scandal. For everyone in this House, including the new members, the sponsorship scandal is the biggest scandal to have hit the federal government in its entire history. Those are the facts.
Today, the bill they are trying to ram through is the very foundation of the entire operation of the government of Canada. The scandal that struck the people of Quebec, and others, deserves the time it takes for us to be able to pass a bill that will guarantee to Quebeckers that no one will ever again try to buy their social conscience with their own money. That is what they tried to do. That is the tragedy of the sponsorship scandal: taking the public’s money and giving it to advertising agencies that handed it over to political parties. We want to do the right thing.
I encourage my colleagues in the Conservative Party, especially the new members, to take another look at the Gomery report, to re-read what the judge said and even the questions asked before the Gomery commission. The reality, ultimately, is that there was a culture of silence. The bill before us today will do nothing to stop that. The proof lies in what the Information Commissioner said.
During the last Parliament, I sat on the committee responsible for studying access to information and the duties of the other commissioners. The Information Commissioner said that there was, in fact, a culture of secrecy. There was no paper trail, no documents. That is why some of the guilty parties have not been punished: there was no documentation. People talked. Paul’s office talked with Pierre’s office. Somewhere, everyone talked with each other in Jean’s office. So Pierre, Jean and Jacques were all there. The problem is that there was no paper trail.
The Information Commissioner told us in regard to the accountability bill that we should watch out because it did not get to the heart of the problem at the Gomery commission and in the sponsorship scandal. Everything was done without documentation.
The accountability bill does not deal with this problem at all. The Bloc’s concerns are therefore very understandable.
In its election campaign, the Conservative Party said that when it arrived it would clean everything up and introduce a bill to prevent what had happened in the past from happening again.
I encourage my Conservative colleagues to read the recommendations in the Gomery report, which also said that this bill did not go far enough. The Conservative Party’s cure for the disease of corruption does not remedy anything because it does not prevent the culture of secrecy. The government will not keep any trail and public servants will be able to continue to communicate by telephone without having to put anything in writing. That is what happened in the sponsorship scandal: everything was done on the phone and nothing was in writing.
When the Information Commissioner received requests, whether from Mr. Justice Gomery or all the various departments, he could not find the documents that were requested. That is what Commissioner Reid still says today when he maintains that this bill does not change what is important, namely the fact that everything is based on access to information but only to the extent that the information is available.
So you will understand why our colleague from Repentigny went to such lengths to try to make the other parties, especially the Conservatives and the NDP, understand that they should not go so fast. Some very important things were criticized, and this bill does not change them.
The most important of these things is to require that the administration keep written records and keep all the documents about every issue, every program. This bill does not do that, as the Information Commissioner and others said. Access to information is not amended, so no information is available, and there is no requirement to keep any information.
A full-scale reform of the situation that gave rise to the sponsorship scandal is needed. Yet this is not what the Conservative Party is doing. The Conservative Party is playing politics. It has a minority government, and it had high hopes of quickly winning a majority, but this will not happen. Why? Because too many Conservative members do not realize that by going too fast, they are not fixing anything.
Obviously, no one could be against the principle of the bill, which is a step in the right direction. But this is not what the Conservatives promised during the election campaign. They promised to fix the problem.
Hon. members will no doubt understand why the position of the Bloc Québécois was clear, why our leader explained the Bloc's position. This bill will not fix the real problem that led to the bill: the sponsorship scandal.
As a result, if we pass this bill, there could be another sponsorship scandal or another scandal where public money is misappropriated for strictly partisan purposes, simply because the Access to Information Act has not been amended, because there are no requirements and because the guilty parties will not be penalized, as the Information Commissioner recommended. During the last Parliament, not ten years but just eight months ago, he tabled in our committee, at the committee's request, a bill to amend the Access to Information Act.
At the time, the Conservatives were in agreement; there was unanimity. The Information Commissioner had been asked to put forward legislation precisely to allow him, who has to field requests from all departments whenever a scandal like the sponsorship scandal breaks out, to provide all the information and to ensure that all pertinent documents are available. So, the commissioner put forward a bill himself. This was the first time that a bill prepared with his staff and legal counsel was put forward by a commissioner to tell us what was required.
However, in its accountability bill, this government totally ignores the Information Commissioner's recommendations, which were at the heart of it all.
Obviously, as you can understand, Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support this measure. It does not make things right, however, because the Conservatives said they were going to deal with programs like the one involved in the sponsorship scandal. It is obvious that this bill does not do that.
We will support this measure, which is a very small step for a government hoping to become a majority government very soon. Once again, Quebeckers will realize that this attempt at dealing with a problem is nothing but smoke and mirrors and, therefore, will continue to turn to the Bloc Québécois, and the hon. member for Repentigny among others, to defend their interests.
Mr. Speaker, it would have taken hours to make this bill acceptable, and I do say “acceptable”, in spite of the concessions made to the members of the Bloc Québécois who sit on this committee. I take this opportunity, moreover, to express to them my admiration. I am talking about the members for Repentigny and Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert. Up to now they have been sitting for 42, 43 and even 45 hours a week in order to study this bill.
Many workers will say that is nothing, since they work that many hours every week. But I am talking about 42, 43 and maybe even 45 hours just studying this bill. They still had to do their office work here in Ottawa and in their constituency. I can assure you that they are very present in their ridings. I am talking about the members of the Bloc, of course, because I know them.
This bill, the French title of which the government agreed to improve, further to the repeated demands of the Bloc Québécois, was suggested in large part by the Gomery commission. I say “in large part” because a lot of redundant, irrelevant and unverifiable statements were added, as we shall find out in the future. It will be hard for a layperson to interpret it; it will be one more law to make the lawyers wealthy.
A coincidence maybe, but this morning this is a topical subject, what with the case of Charles Guité. Is his sentence deserved? I think so, of course, but at what level would a psychologist, especially a military one, have evaluated his degree of responsibility? That would have been interesting to know when creating a law like the one we are presenting today.
The credibility of this bill would be tarnished if this government used it as an election springboard. This means that it is now, at the same time as this bill is enacted, that the procedure must begin, if the government is serious, of course.
There are other public servants like Charles Guité who think that their duty forces them into unconditional loyalty. In this case, he had been a soldier who had learned to carry out orders. As a soldier, it was not up to him to ask questions. He had his mission. And this bill was to be the rule that would make it possible to seek out the person of whom someone like Guité could not ask questions. I doubt the capacity of this law to do the job.
However, as I said at the beginning of my address, our Bloc representatives on this committee managed to get enough changes made for them to feel that not all the time they spent working was in vain.
The Auditor General will be somewhat disappointed to note that she still does not have access to all government services and crown corporations, once again due to one party's lack of political courage. Although that party was very brave in opposition and during the election campaign, it loses its nerve when it is time to act. If this is any consolation to the Auditor General, I would like her to know that the Bloc Québécois, myself included, is just as disappointed.
The Auditor General, as I know her role, and who will serve as a reference point for several years to come, will certainly be happy to maintain her political independence and to acquire additional powers, even if they are still insufficient. She must be fed up. Even though I was not terribly pleased with this bill, I think I would support it simply to be able to continue to applaud her work.
Unfortunately, nothing in life is ever perfect. What casts a shadow on this bill is the absence of real sanctions for those who violate the ethics legislation. However, the commissioner is so closely monitored in his duties that, if he announces an offender, it means that he really and truly has no choice. Whatever the members of this government may be guilty of or believe they may be criticized for, that is up to them to judge.
They are so perfect, they do not want to implement Kyoto, but it is not their fault; the Liberals were the ones who polluted. They do not want to pay back the money taken from the EI fund; again, the Liberals are to blame for taking it. They do not want to create an agency to monitor gas prices; that was the Bloc Québécois's idea, and the oil companies might become separatists some day.
Surely they have no need to worry, they are so perfect! And like angels, if they make just one little mistake, like changing parties after leading the voters to believe that the other party is the devil, they lose only one wing, after all.
Does the Ethics Commissioner really have all the powers and the independence—above all, the independence—necessary to perform his duties? Allow me not to think so. The complaints of citizens, among others, will still be filtered by parliamentarians. They will be losing more than wings.
The public will say, probably rightly, that the corrected political party financing legislation is a fine smokescreen cast in the face of the electorate. I do not think they will be far wrong.
One has to be realistic. Quebec has made every effort to try to clean up the political party financing legislation, but something is always happening to distort the data. Take the example of a minister who announces a government grant in a community. Is this not a political message to those who will benefit from that grant? And yet it is taxpayers’ money that is paying for the financing and announcement of this project. Is this recorded in the financial books of the party in power?
We have a flagrant example with the Quebec Election Act, which is a very good law. In the Mont-Orford case, it appears that the shareholders, destined to be the biggest winners of this privatization, are very good financial backers of the party in power. Can this reward be considered an encouragement to new financial backers? Will it simply encourage the same backers to continue contributing so generously? That is the impression left with the population.
When that population understands that smoke has been thrown in its eyes, as in the case of Quebec’s presence at UNESCO, the sentence is a stiff one. Just ask our neighbours on the benches.
With regard to the Access to Information Act, I would like to remind this government that, no later than last fall, it supported a unanimous motion of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. That motion rejected a suggestion by the justice minister on setting a deadline for review of the act.
No later than last January, this party was saying on page 13 of its election platform:
A Conservative government will:
Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to information Act.
Does our view of ethics not change, once we are in power?
Is the House ready for the question?
Some hon. members: Question.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): In my opinion the nays have it.
And more than five members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): The recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred.
The next question is on Motion No. 2. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): In my opinion the yeas have it.
I declare Motion No. 2 carried.
(Motion No. 2 agreed to)
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): The next question is on Motion No. 3. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): In my opinion the yeas have it.
And more than five members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Andrew Scheer): The recorded division on Motion No. 3 stands deferred.
The next question is on Motion No. 5. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
(Motion No. 5 agreed to)
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to address very succinctly the motions that we have before us in the Group No. 2 package of amendments to the accountability act. I will list very quickly the government's position on those amendments.
First is Motion No. 8 by the NDP. We are open to considering this amendment. This would provide a permanent exemption for information obtained during an investigation and an exemption for information created during the investigation until that investigation is complete for the commissioner of lobbying. This allows, for example, the commissioner of lobbying to carry out an investigation without being harassed by access to information requests. It seems to me to be a reasonable amendment. We will consider it and are open to be persuaded on it.
Second is Liberal Motion No. 13. We will support the amendment because it amends the definition of a government institution to include only wholly owned subsidiaries of crowns. The subsidiaries of crown corporations that are majority owned include private sector ownership. Under the ATI we do not want private sector owned organizations to be subject. As a result, we think Liberal Motion No. 13 is very reasonable and we can support it.
Motion No. 14 by the NDP removes the permanent ATIA exemption for records created by the Auditor General. We will oppose this amendment. We do not believe the Auditor General should have to reveal all of the documents and notes that she creates in the course of her investigation. She clearly operates in the spirit of transparency and is willing to release all relevant information when she tables her report to the House of Commons. It is not, therefore, necessary for all her notes to be made public. As well, it might inhibit open discussion within her office, when that office is carrying out audits, if it knows that those discussions may be subject to access to information. As a result, we will oppose NDP Motion No. 14.
Motion No. 17 by the NDP adds ACOA to the English version of clause 165. The government's Motion No. 18 accomplishes the same objective, but does so in a more legislatively eloquent fashion. Therefore, we do not believe that NDP Motion No. 17 is necessary.
Finally, I will address Motions Nos. 18 and 22, amendments to schedule 1 of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, resulting from the adoption of previous motions. These motions are worthy of some discussion. During the legislative committee's review of Bill C-2, motions were made by the NDP with respect to the definition of “government institution” under the Access to Information Act. Those were adopted.
The definition of “government institution” was amended to include parent crown corporations and their subsidiaries, which made listing them in the schedule of these acts duplicative and no longer necessary. To remove them from the schedules of these acts, the NDP put forward motions that contained the list from crown corporations to be removed. At this point, we will be looking for some commentary from the NDP on these matters. I suspect we will want to speak to Motions Nos. 18 and 22.
That is a very quick summary of the government's response to the motions in Group No. 2. By and large, we look forward to a vigorous debate and prompt passage of the accountability act.