That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that this House:
Agrees with amendments numbered 1, 3, 13, 16, 17, 21, 26, 27, 32, 33, 55(e)(i), 63, 64, 66, 70, 72 to 79, 81, 82, 84, 86, 87, 91, 93, 95, 97, 99, 103 to 106, 111, 112, 114, 117, 122, 124 to 127, 135, 144, 146, 152, 156 and 158 made by the Senate to Bill C-2, An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability; but
Disagrees with all other amendments except amendments 29, 67, 98 and 153, because this House believes that amendments 2, 4 to 12, 14, 15, 18 to 20, 22 to 25, 28, 30, 31, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65, 68, 69, 71, 80, 83, 85, 88 to 90, 92, 94, 96, 100 to 102, 107 to 110, 113, 115, 116, 118 to 121, 123, 128 to 134, 136 to 143, 145, 147 to 151, 154, 155 and 157 are in contradiction with the principles of the bill of effectively strengthening accountability, increasing transparency, improving oversight and building confidence in government and parliamentary institutions, and that these amendments contradict the stated policy goal of rebuilding the public’s trust in the institutions of government; and
That this House considers this matter to be of significant importance and urges their Honours to respond expeditiously to this message.
Amendment 2 would weaken the Conflict of Interest Act by removing the prohibition on public office holders who have duties in respect of the House or Senate, or their families, on contracting with the House or Senate;
Amendments 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 15 would undermine the ability of public office holders to discharge their duties and substitute the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for Parliament or the public as the final arbiter of an appearance of conflict by expanding the definition of “conflict of interest” under the Conflict of Interest Act to include “potential” and “apparent” conflicts of interest;
Amendments 6, 28, 30 and 31 would weaken the Conflict of Interest Act by preventing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from issuing an order to a minister or parliamentary secretary to recuse himself or herself from voting on or debating matters in Parliament when doing so would place them in a conflict of interest as well as limiting the timeframe within which an investigation may be carried out
Amendments 7, 10 and 14 are an inappropriate intrusion into the private lives of public office holders and their families as they would narrow the exemption for gifts to public office holders from “friends” to “close personal friends” and require that any gift over $200 to a reporting public office holder or his or her family from any person other than a relative be disclosed to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and publicly reported
Amendments 18, 23 and 24 would undermine the capacity of the Prime Minister to discipline ministers and maintain the integrity of the Ministry by eliminating the ability of the Prime Minister to seek “confidential advice” from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with respect to specific public office holders;
Amendment 19 would deter the public from bringing matters to the attention of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner through a member of either House, create unfairness to individuals who are subject to complaints whose merits have not been substantiated and undermine the Commissioner’s investigatory capacity by deleting the provisions that would protect the anonymity of a member of the public and allow the Commissioner to complete an investigation before the matter were made public by requiring members of either House to keep confidential information received from the public about a possible conflict of interest until the Commissioner issued a report;
Amendments 20 and 22 would prohibit the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from issuing a public report where the request for an examination was frivolous, vexatious or otherwise without basis thereby reducing transparency and requiring a public office holder who has been exonerated to publicize on his or her own a ruling to clear his or her name;
Amendments 25, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65 and 94 are unacceptable because they would continue the separate existence of the Senate Ethics Officer contrary to the goal of a unified Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner who could bring a broad perspective to bear on conflict of interest and ethical matters;
Amendments 68 and 69 are unacceptable because they contravene the objective of reducing undue influence in the electoral process by raising the annual political contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000 and providing for a “multiplier” so that the contribution limit is increased by an amount equivalent to the limit for each general election held within a single year;
Amendment 71 would undermine the capacity of the Commissioner of Elections to investigate alleged offences under the Canada Elections Act. The amendment would shorten the overall limitation period from ten years to seven years after the offence was committed (reverting to the status quo) and change the knowledge portion of the limitation period from five years to two years from the time the Commissioner of Canada Elections had knowledge of the facts giving rise to the offence. This would not address the current problems with the limitation period that were identified by the Chief Electoral Officer and only provide an additional six months during which the Commissioner must complete several hundred concurrent investigations after an election;
Amendments 80 and 89 would undermine the authority of the Commissioner of Lobbying by removing the Commissioner’s discretion to determine whether to report on the failures of designated public office holders to verify information filed by lobbyists and shortening the period of investigation and limitation period in which the Commissioner may conduct an investigation;
Amendment 83 would seriously weaken the scope of the five-year prohibition on lobbying by designated public office holders by allowing them to accept employment with an organization that engages in lobbying activities provided that they themselves do not spend a significant part of their time engaged in lobbying activities;
Amendment 85 would create significant uncertainty in the private sector and create an inappropriate incentive for corporations to prefer consultant lobbyists over in-house lobbyists as all employees of any corporation that contracts with the Government of Canada would be prohibited for five years from engaging in any lobbying activities with the department involved in the contract. The amendment does not provide for any exemptions from this prohibition and potentially subjects these individuals to criminal liability;
Amendments 88 and 90 would add a prohibition for obstructing the Commissioner of Lobbying and create a specific offence for the failure to comply with a prohibition on communication ordered by the Commissioner. The Bill already contemplates these matters in section 80;
Amendments 92 and 113(a) would not substantively amend the Access to Information Act provisions that apply to the Commissioner of Lobbying as proposed in the Bill. However, these amendments, which only go to form, would technically mean that the government institutions listed in section 144 of the Bill, such as the Office of the Auditor General of Canada and the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, could not be brought under the Access to Information Act until the Commissioner of Lobbying is brought into existence;
Amendment 96 would undermine the merit-based system of employment in the public service by continuing to unfairly protect the priority status of exempt staff who leave their positions after the coming into force of the provision rather than requiring them to compete with public servants for positions in the public service
Amendments 100 and 102 would unacceptably interfere with the exercise of authority by the Government by requiring the Governor in Council to only appoint the Parliamentary Budget Officer from a list of candidates submitted by the selection committee. In addition, these amendments would fix the membership of the selection committee rather than leaving it to the discretion of the Parliamentary Librarian;
Amendment 101 would unnecessarily complicate the procedure by which the selection committee informs the Governor in Council of their list of candidates for the Parliamentary Budget Officer by requiring, in addition to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, that the Leader of the Government in the Senate present the list;
Amendments 107, 109 and 110 would involve members of the Senate in the appointment and removal process for the Director of Public Prosecutions. As this is a body housed within the Executive branch of the government, the involvement of the Senate in the appointment process is inappropriate;
Amendment 108 would undermine the authority of the Attorney General to determine which candidates the selection committee should assess for the position of Director of Public Prosecutions. As this position is exercising authority under and on behalf of the Attorney General, the amendment is an unacceptable interference in the Government’s exercise of its executive authority;
Amendment 113(b) would seriously weaken the audit and investigatory capacity of the Auditor General and Official Languages Commissioner. The amendment would limit the exemption in subsection 16.1(1) of the Access to Information Act so that it does not apply to records that contain information created in the course of an investigation once the investigation and related proceedings are completed and would undermine an investigator’s ability to guarantee anonymity to a potential witness;
Amendments 115 and 116 would undermine the objective of greater transparency for the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology by providing the Foundation with specific exemptions that are unnecessary given the nature of its business which is similar to that of other government institutions under the Access to Information Act such as the Department of Industry and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency;
Amendment 118, which is related to Senate amendment 113(b), would seriously weaken the internal audit capacity of the Government by permitting the disclosure of “related audit working papers” in addition to “draft reports” under the Access to Information Act where a final report has not been delivered within two years;
Amendment 119 would reverse the policy on which the Access to Information Act was based, which policy was not changed in the Bill as passed by this House. The amendment would undermine the balance between discretionary and mandatory exemptions in the Access to Information Act by giving the heads of government institutions the discretion to override existing and proposed mandatory exemptions. In addition, the amendment would give de facto order powers to the Information Commissioner, who, as a head of a proposed government institution to be brought under the Access to Information Act by this Bill, would be able to disclose records obtained from other government institutions;
Amendments 120, 121 and 123 would undermine the objective of greater transparency by forever excepting from the application of the Access to Information Act information under the control of certain government institutions prior to when those institutions become subject to the Act and by removing the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this Act;
Amendments 128 and 131 would undermine the objective of stronger protection for public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the public sector by creating confusion as to the types of disclosure that are protected or not under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The amendments would confuse the clear parameters set in the Act to guide public servants who are considering making a disclosure by incorporating vague common law principles, which could lead to public servants making public disclosures that they think are protected, but turn out not to be;
Amendments 129 and 132 would unbalance the reprisal protection regime proposed in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act by expanding the definition of “reprisal” to include “any other measure that may adversely affect, directly or indirectly, the public servant” and providing for a reverse onus, such that any administrative or disciplinary measure taken within a year of a disclosure is deemed to be a reprisal, unless the employer shows otherwise. These amendments would expand the definition of reprisal to include behaviours unlikely to be under the control of the employer and managers will be reluctant to take legitimate disciplinary action for fear of being the subject of a reprisal complaint, which would expose them personally to a disciplinary order by the Tribunal;
Amendment 130 would increase the risk of disclosure of sensitive national security information by subjecting the Communications Security Establishment and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act without additional specific disclosure protection measures;
Amendment 133 would extend the time limit to file a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. The amendment undermines the discretion of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner who already has the authority to extend the time limit beyond 60 days if he or she feels it is appropriate;
Amendment 134 would undermine the objective of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to balance appropriate and responsible protection from reprisal for public servants that make a disclosure without creating unintended incentives for vexatious or frivolous complaints. The amendment would remove the $10,000 limit on awards for pain and suffering, leaving the amount to the discretion of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal;
Amendment 136 would undermine the principles of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act by increasing the maximum amount for legal advice from $1,500 to $25,000, or to an unlimited amount at the discretion of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The legal assistance is intended to provide any person who could become involved in a process under the Act with legal advice as to their choices, rights and responsibilities. In relation to reprisal complaints, the Commissioner investigates and determines whether a reprisal complaint should be brought before the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal and is a party before the Tribunal so that he or she can present the findings of the investigation. The amendment would make all processes under the Act far more legalistic and litigious;
Amendments 137 and 138 would give the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner the power to compel evidence and pursue information held outside the public sector. This amendment is unacceptable as it would increase the risk of challenges to the Commissioner’s authority and jurisdiction without providing significant assistance to the discharge of his or her mandate under the Act, which is to investigate wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal related to the public sector;
Amendments 139 to 143 would increase the risk of harm to the reputations of those that are falsely accused of wrongdoing as the narrowing of exemptions provided to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and other heads of institutions under the Access to Information Act, Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act would increase the risk of their names being released to the public;
Amendments 145, 151 and 154 would limit the capacity of the Governor in Council to organize the machinery of government, specifically with respect to the establishment of the Public Appointments Commission and the position of the Procurement Auditor, and as such are unacceptable;
Amendment 147 would explicitly require reappointments to the Public Appointments Commission go through the same statutory requirements as an appointment. The amendment is unnecessary and redundant because a reappointment is a new appointment and, as such, must conform to all relevant statutory requirements;
Amendment 148 would involve members of the Senate in the appointment of members to the Public Appointments Commission. As this is a body housed within the executive branch of the government, the involvement of the Senate in the appointment process is inappropriate;
Amendment 149 would create confusion as to the proper role of “appointees” in the Governor in Council appointment process under the Salaries Act by expanding the mandate of the Public Appointments Commission to include educating and training appointees, who are not involved in the appointment process;
Amendment 150 would expand the term of appointees to the Public Appointments Commission from five to seven years and is unacceptable as that length of term is not necessary for the efficient and effective working of the Commission;
Amendment 155 would undermine the confidence of private sector suppliers in the government as a business partner and could increase the number of legal actions brought against the government by giving the Procurement Auditor the discretion to recommend the cancellation of a contract to which a complaint relates. The Procurement Auditor was not provided the powers, duties and functions to discharge a mandate that would include reviewing the legal validity of a contract award, but rather the mandate was focussed on whether government procurement practices reflect the government’s commitment to fairness, openness and transparency in the procurement process;
Amendment 157 would increase the risk of disclosure of sensitive national security information by removing the ability of the Governor in Council to prescribe, through regulation, those departments would fall within the jurisdiction of the Procurement Auditor; and
That this House agrees with the principles set out in parts of amendments 29, 67, 98 and 153 but would propose the following amendments:
Senate amendment 29 be amended to read as follows:
Clause 2, page 32: Replace lines 23 to 25 with the following:
“64. (1) Subject to subsection 6(2) and sections 21 and 30, nothing in this Act prohibits a member of the Senate or the House of Commons who is a public office holder or former public office holder from engaging in those”
Senate amendment 67 be amended to read as follows:
Clause 44, page 58: Add after line 5 the following:
“(4) Section 404.2 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (6):
(7) The payment by an individual of a fee to participate in a registered party’s convention is not a contribution if the cost of holding the convention is greater than or equal to the sum of the fees paid by all of the individuals for that purpose. However, if the cost of holding the convention is less than the sum of the fees paid, the amount of the difference after it is divided by the number of individuals who paid the fee is considered to be a contribution by each of those individuals.”
Senate amendment 98 be amended to read as follows:
Clause 108, page 94: Replace lines 1 to 2 with the following:
“(4) Sections 41 to 43, subsections 44(3) and (4) and sections 45 to 55, 57 and 60 to 64 come into force or are deemed to have come into force on January 1, 2007.
(4.1) Sections 63 and 64 come into force or are deemed to have come into force on January 1, 2007, but”
Senate amendment 153 be amended to read as follows:
Clause 259, page 187: Add after line 12 the following:
“16.21(1) A person who does not occupy a position in the federal public administration but who meets the qualifications established by directive of the Treasury Board may be appointed to an audit committee by the Treasury Board on the recommendation of the President of the Treasury Board.
(2) A member of an audit committee so appointed holds office during pleasure for a term not exceeding four years, which may be renewed for a second term.
(3) A member of an audit committee so appointed shall be paid the remuneration and expenses fixed by the Treasury Board.”
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is no great pleasure for me to make this speech here today.
Today I am rising to speak once again to Bill , the federal accountability act. I would like to say that it is a pleasure for me to rise again to speak to this bill, but I am very disappointed by the attempts of certain senators to dilute this piece of landmark legislation.
This government was elected on a plan for change. This government was elected because Canadian voters and Canadian taxpayers wanted change. Voters said they wanted an honest and accountable government, a government they could trust. They want to know that elected officials and public service employees act in the best interests of Canadians. I believe that this trust must be earned each and every day and it starts with making government more accountable.
That is why our first legislative priority focused on making government more open, more honest and, most important, more accountable. The public was so suspicious of government as an institution that the then leader of the opposition made a commitment that this would be the first piece of legislation his new government would bring forward, so that there would be no excuses as to why it was not introduced and successfully passed.
On April 11, only nine weeks after this government officially took office, I was very pleased on behalf of Canadians and on behalf of the entire government caucus to introduce the federal accountability act in this House. The act and the accompanying federal accountability action plan, almost as important as the act, focus on making everyone in government more accountable, from the Prime Minister down.
We understand that our success as a nation depends on instituting a more effective capability to get things done better for ordinary working Canadians and their families. By instituting an unprecedented level of rigour and scrutiny across the federal public sector, the federal accountability act provides a firm foundation for rebuilding Canadians' trust in government.
I will tell the House that in drafting this legislation we paid careful attention to a couple of very important factors.
First, we did not want to establish more red tape, more bureaucracy or a significant increase in the number of rules. Most of the new entities created in our bill replace or strengthen the independence of existing ones. Where there are new rules, we have endeavoured to make them simpler, more straightforward and more effective.
Second, we did not want to build a government that stifled innovation and created within the public service a culture that is overly risk averse. We wanted to balance more effective oversight with flexibility. This is incredibly important if we want a dynamic public service for the next generation and the next century. We want to have the best and the brightest in the public service, recognizing that whenever people of good faith act, there will be mistakes from time to time.
In drafting Bill , this government listened to many stakeholders. We received contributions from all parties in the House. I believe that made this piece of legislation stronger. Members of the House of Commons worked to pass the federal accountability act in 72 days. They thoroughly reviewed and analyzed hundreds of separate clauses and amendments. They put in well over 90 hours of work in six weeks, above and beyond their regular duties, to make sure they got it right.
I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the member for in that committee. He worked tremendously hard with all the government members on the committee.
I would also like to recognize a number of others.
I would like to recognize the member for , who worked tremendously hard on this issue. We often disagreed with the member, but we never disagreed on the fact that he was well motivated and wanted to strengthen the bill. I congratulate him for his work. I was particularly pleased with some of the amendments he brought forward, particularly the one in regard to putting the Canadian Wheat Board under the access to information regime. That was one of the best amendments to the bill and we were very happy to support my friend from Winnipeg. I will say to the member from Winnipeg that I read the paper on Saturday and simply want to remind him of the great amendment that he brought forward.
I also want to acknowledge the member for . We often disagreed, but he brought a high level of commitment to the task and I should recognize that.
I would also like to thank the former hon. member for Repentigny, Benoît Sauvageau, who worked very hard. As a new member and new minister, it was definitely a great pleasure for me to work with Mr. Sauvageau. His efforts, hard work and friendship were well known to all members. Above all, I would like to underscore here in this House just how important his work was, enabling us to introduce this bill within the first 72 days of this 39th Parliament.
Benoît Sauvageau will be greatly missed, not just within the Bloc Québécois caucus and his own constituency of Repentigny, but by those of us on all sides of the House. Many Canadians watch Parliament, not least of which my performance, and they see a very adversarial system from time to time. What they do not see is quite often members from different parties are able to work together. The late member for Repentigny's work is the best example of that.
I firmly believe that we did a good job in the House of Commons. The committee did a good job. The government did not get everything it wanted, but the bill came out of the special committee stronger than it went in. I firmly believe that this House did its work. I do note that not a single member of Parliament in the House of Commons wanted to go on record as opposing this bill. I do recall that the member for said in his first two minutes of speaking that he supported the bill, as did the member from the Bloc Québécois, and of course the New Democratic Party.
Aside from a few typos and ambiguities in wording, the bill as sent to the Senate was effective, comprehensive and carefully focused. Unfortunately, the majority of the more than 100 amendments proposed by the Senate have drastically diluted the objectives of Bill 's wide portfolio of initiatives. I have grave concerns that most of the amendments passed by the Senate, if left in place, would do irreparable damage to the overall intent and effectiveness of the federal accountability act. These include the most egregious examples of amendments, including increasing the political donation limit from $1,000 to $2,000.
We want to end the role of big money in politics. One thing we can say about Mr. Chrétien and the Liberal government he led is that they did a lot in this regard. We are finishing the Chrétien work and making it even more modest to ensure that it is middle class Canadians, and not the interests of a few high powered financial contributors, who have a bigger voice in politics. This was a welcome change of which I think all members took great note.
The Senate also proposed amendments to delay the implementation of the new political financing laws until as late as 2008. That is too late. These measures should be put in place in very short order so that Canadians can have the benefit of this new regime.
We had discussions with members of the official opposition and we made what I think is a reasonable and honourable compromise to have these new limitations come into effect on January 1 so it would not affect the current Liberal leadership convention. This was also an issue which was spoken to by the Bloc Québécois and others. In the spirit of working together, in the spirit of cooperation, something, Mr. Speaker, which you know I bring to this House each and every day, we agreed to consider a change.
With respect to political staffers jumping the queue and getting priority placement over other applicants for public service jobs, the Senate wants to allow partisan political aides to get into our non-partisan public service. This is something that has deeply troubled public servants in the nation's capital for many years, where they want to compete for a job but the competition is cancelled and a political appointee gets the job.
If we believe in the merit principle, there should be competition, and that is what we are seeking to do. This is an issue which was brought to my attention even before the election by the Public Service Alliance of Canada representatives, and it is certainly one which I support. Political aides, whether they be Liberal, Conservative or what have you, have a great deal of experience, but they should have to compete like everybody else for a job in the public service.
The other concern I had was the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board from inclusion under the Access to Information Act. We want to bring light where there is darkness. We believe that wheat and barley producers in western Canada should have the right to know what is going on at their Wheat Board. That is important. I was terribly distressed to see the unelected Liberal Senate try for the very first time to remove an agency from coverage under the Access to Information Act. Some people said we were not going far enough but then wanted to retreat. I say to the Canadian Wheat Board and its supporters, what have they got to hide? Let us bring more openness to the Canadian Wheat Board.
Adding exemptions for foundations under the Access to Information Act caused all of us a great deal of concern. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the Senate's amendments would place an unfair burden on the private sector, would shackle managers in the public service and would stifle innovation. This is especially true with the Senate's amendments to the sections dealing with whistleblowing.
Whistleblowing is important to me. It is important to the member for , and I know it is important for all members. For my constituents in Ottawa West--Nepean this was an issue in the recent election. We want our public servants to be confident that they can step forward and follow a simple process to report wrongdoing without concern that they could lose their jobs and not be able to provide for their families. This is a change in culture that we want to take within the public service.
I suspect the measures contained in the federal accountability act go further than measures in any other western democracy with respect to protecting whistleblowers. I am very proud of that.
This House presented a balanced piece of legislation to the Senate and we are now faced with the task of having to restore that balance. This is especially dismaying given that the government demonstrated its willingness to work with the Senate to achieve a strong consensus. We agreed to a number of amendments to the bill, some before it ever reached the Senate, and others subsequently during the clause by clause deliberations in the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I should underline the great work done by the chair of that committee, Senator Don Oliver. He is an exceptional Canadian and he did an excellent job.
Unfortunately, this spirit of cooperation was either misunderstood or simply ignored by some hon. senators. That leaves the members of the elected House of Commons facing a major challenge. We must rebuild this legislation. We must strengthen it. We must restore the measures for increasing the accountability that Canadians want and deserve.
We will look at each of the Senate's proposed amendments on a case by case basis. We will judge each one on its merits. Some are acceptable, but the government cannot support them all.
I am very eager, as are my constituents in Ottawa West--Nepean, as I believe are Canadians in general, that the bill be implemented quickly, but we will not compromise our commitment to deliver more accountable government simply for the sake of expedience. In fact, let us be clear. The Senate, in proposing a host of counterproductive amendments, has unnecessarily delayed passage of the bill. Canadians will see this for what it is and I believe they will ultimately hold those responsible to account.
The federal accountability act and our federal accountability action plan as passed by the House focused on fixing problems. They focused on rewarding merit. They focused on achieving value for money and on being more honest and building a more effective government.
On June 16 I noted in the House that if this Parliament could do one single thing, it would be to end the culture of entitlement and replace it with a culture of accountability. This government remains absolutely committed to achieving that crucial objective.
I urge members of the House to help us meet this challenge by demonstrating the same spirit of cooperation they so wisely adopted four short months ago. Together we can ensure that the federal accountability act serves the purpose it was designed for: to provide a government based on openness and honesty which reflects the very best that Canada has to offer.
Mr. Speaker, I did not know that. It gives me a sense of false power, perhaps, but I will keep to the time my whip has given me and remind myself of when I need to wrap up.
I was a member of the Bill legislative committee.
First, I would like to thank the committee's Liberal members, namely our leader on the committee, the hon. member for , and the hon. members for and . They worked very hard together, along with the leaders of the other parties, including the members for and .
I would like to add a special word in memory of the hon. member for Repentigny, who died recently.
We worked together when we could and voiced our opinions with much passion. In many cases, I recall the member for , with exceeding passion in language, which we all remember well.
According to the hon. , this was a project to end the role of big money in politics. How farcical. A year ago, the Conservative Party was campaigning under the slogan, “Stand up for Canada”. Today, 10 months later, its true slogan appears to be, “stand up for Conservative friends only”.
Once again, this Conservative minority government—and I emphasize the word “minority”—is trying to use the House of Commons for partisan purposes. Once again, Conservative partisanship has prevailed over the common good and the interests of all Canadians.
Today we clearly see why the minority government wanted to rush the bill through the House, the committee, then on to the Senate and through its committee. The Conservatives thought no one would see how partisan and biased it actually is in certain respects. The more time we spend on the bill, the more flaws and loopholes we find. That is why there was such a dépêche, quite a rush to get the bill out from the spotlight and the microscope of the committees, which did good work, and to the final passage of the bill in the House.
I see it, therefore, as quite ironic in that the Conservatives' campaigned on the promise of cleaning up government and to play by the rules and how today they are trying to tweak the law to sneak in some self-serving loopholes on political donations.
All this after an Elections Canada investigation targeted the Conservative Party, following a statement by the President of the Treasury Board to the effect that his party had forgotten to declare costs of some $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention.
In the process of the hearings, the admitted, particularly in the case at the Senate level, that the Conservatives forgot to declare convention fees as political donations for their convention of March 2005. They had an opinion, which was almost, in this post-football weekend, an audible from the line, the quarterback at the Bill legislative committee, a representative of the Conservative Party at that point, merely suggested that the Conservatives did not think that convention fees were donations. That has since been ruled completely out of order and improper by Elections Canada officials and by every party in the House except the Conservatives.
Now we will see, as the theme of the response to the speech by the , that it was really all about cover-up and legitimizing something that is quite possibly illegal. Almost $2 million is no small change. The Conservative minority talks about tightening Canadian laws and yet it cannot even follow the existing laws when it comes to political donations.
As I say, I am not the only one saying this. The people of Canada should know that the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, repudiated the Conservatives' excuses and ruled that the party violated the rules.
Other complaints have been made against the Conservative Party. The Conservatives are attempting to fix their illegalities with certain portions of this law. Today, with Bill , the minority government is trying to cover up its past mistakes and clean up its mess. The very fact that it is trying to change the rules, in extremis, at the last possible minute, clearly is an admission of guilt.
In addition to the convention attendance fees, les frais d'inscription pour les congrès de partis politiques, the fees paid by every party member attending a convention, in addition to the colouring of those as non-political donations, erroneously and quite possibly illegally, the Conservative Party had the temerity and gall in practice to allow corporate observers.
By way of footnote, we must remember that Bill , the very fine Liberal bill brought in under the Chrétien government, made it law that corporate and union donations would not be acceptable. However, the Conservative Party has charged to this date $1,000 for corporate observer fees which were not reported as political donations.
After 70 meetings of the Bill legislative committee and following the Senate committee, I now understand what the meant when he said that he wanted to take the big money out of politics. He meant all the big contributions that were made off the radar screen, not under the Canada Elections Act, not reportable and elicited by a Senate hearing in the spring of the year by the committee of which the President of the Treasury Board was a member.
These amounts, totalling probably more than $2 million, were corporate donations that the and the Conservative Party wanted out of politics. They did not want them reported. Unfortunately, hijacking the House agenda to pass partisan legislation is becoming a full time hobby for the minority Conservative government.
Time and again the stated that he wanted to reduce the influence of big money and make the political process more open.
He said it again on May 4, when he testified before the committee that was reviewing Bill . Even his boss, the, said he wanted t o “put an end to the influence of money” in the Canadian government.
We have it at both levels. We have the , who is sometimes given to bombast, and we can understand his enthusiasm, but on the other side we have the cold eye of the on this very subject saying that he wants to finish the role of big money in politics. Now we see what they meant, which is that the corporate observer status fees and the registration fees for conventions as being out of politics and not reportable. However, we did not see it at the time.
Unfortunately, this government is unable to move from talk to action. On the one hand, it boasts about being a champion for transparency, but on the other hand it finds it normal not to have declared costs of close to $2 million relating to its March 2005 convention. Today, the Conservatives want to use Bill to correct their own mistakes of the past.
Accountability, however, is not a bendable concept that can be adjusted to fit partisan objectives and past illegalities. Contrary to what the Conservatives may think, the Liberals believe accountability should apply to all parties all the time, not only when it is convenient to do so or in their case, when they get caught.
A review of Bill is necessary because there is more than just the passing illegality and cover up, Watergate-like as it is, by the government with respect to political donations.
There were some accomplishments at the legislative committee with respect to making deputy ministers more accountable to Parliament. This is a good thing, with a tighter lobbyist regime. At first the Conservatives did not want people who were past workers for them in opposition to be able to ratchet up the ladder of influence when the government changed, but there was much debate on that.
There was some discussion of the access to information program and Access to Information Act pertaining to some of the agencies, boards and commissions which it can be argued is good and bad depending on the commission, agency and board. Time does not permit, unlimited as it is, for me to get into all of the agencies, boards and commissions involved.
It bears saying there were also some Liberal accomplishments. The Liberal members, at committee, following on the advice of the legal counsel to this Parliament protected an 1868 constitutional privilege which in their haste the Conservatives tried to roughshod through the House. The Liberal opposition members removed the aspect of the secret ballot and most importantly, despite the words of the minority government, saved aboriginal first nations communities from the overreach of audit principles to be imposed by the government.
However, there were some significant missed opportunities in not properly debating, in the haste that was the aura of both committees frankly, many amendments that were brought forward by all parties with respect to some very key elements which might have made the bill stronger. There was a proposal to eliminate donations from people under 18 years of age. This was ironically proposed and was ironically defeated by the Conservative majority on the committee with the help of the New Democratic Party.
It might also be said that in the haste to put the Bill legislative committee together there were no opinions from constitutional scholars. There was neither the time nor the inclination of the leading constitutional scholars to give evidence at those committees. One wonders if we had the sage advice, for instance, of Donald Savoie and his thoughts regarding the freeze in public sector and lobbying industries with respect to how government should work, how much different a bill we might have.
Last year the Conservatives campaigned on six key words. We often think they only had five principles, but they are much more imaginative than we give them credit for. They actually used six words in their platform. They used: accountability, opportunity, security, family, community and unity, and those are good words. Now let us take a minute to analyze what the government has done since it came into power.
On the same day the Conservatives announced over $13 billion in surplus, thanks to good Liberal management, they cut funding to some of the most important community programs in the country, including: literacy, aboriginal programs, minority groups support and women's equality issues. This is their vision for community presumably from their election campaign.
They cut many youth programs that aimed at promoting exchanges between young Canadians of different regions such as the summer work student exchange program.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister publicly accused many Liberals of being anti-Israel. This is presumably their vision of promoting unity, a further campaign promise.
Conservatives decided in favour of sending a $100 monthly cheque per child to Canadian families, a sum not good enough to pay for quality day care services and child care services, especially when this measure is taxable, while creating no new child care spaces whatsoever. This must be their concept of family as enunciated in their campaign strategy.
As for security, another key word, the Conservative minority government decided to bring forward a very American “three strikes, you're out” law with Bill . The concept of innocence until proven guilty is out the door. This must be the Conservative vision of justice.
Then there is the theme of accountability which is dealt by this bill. In light of what the Conservatives are proposing to do with Bill , it is clear they believe that accountability should mostly be a tool to help clean their own past mistakes, especially the $2 million in convention registration fees that have not been disclosed, that are the subject of complaints officially filed with Elections Canada, and the untotalled amounts of corporate observer fees given by corporations who were, by Bill , outside the scope and allowability of political contributions before this act.
We have large sums of money that have not been accounted for, so how is it that this government can stand on this bill with respect to political contributions and say that it is truly an accountability act? It cannot.
Finally, the last word in the Conservative's campaign was opportunity. Once again, what the Conservative minority government is trying to do with Bill is to create a partisan loophole, weakening the access to information laws, and watering down the federal accountability act. Opportunity is probably the word that currently best describes the government's principles and modus operandi. More specifically, it is highly opportunistic and partisan.
Today the government should truly stand up for Canada as it promised to do. It promised to adopt the recommendation of the Information Commissioner's report on access to information. It has already had two chances and yet it continues to break this promise. If the government truly wants more transparency and more accountability, it needs to leave partisanship behind and support these amendments. This is what true accountability is all about.
It is important to underline that we have supported in many instances this bill and its thrust, but it is important to underline that the concept of the bill is nothing new.
Bill , as the hon. has already said, was a very good step. It was a Chrétien government step with respect to political financing and transparency. Would that the Conservative government in its most recent clandestine fundraising activities and would that it would follow its own words of the in the House today and be more accountable. Sadly, it is not going to be. It is going to wait until it is dragged, talk about foot-dragging, before the courts and found to have been part of illegal contribution schemes as indicated by Mr. Kingsley.
In the spirit with which the Liberal government brought in Bill and with which it promised to implement the recommendations of Justice Gomery's report, we moved forward with the deliberations on Bill and are happy in the further vein to propose these amendments. I move:
That the motion be amended
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 25, 34 to 54 (a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65, 94
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 25, 34 to 54, 55(a) to (d), 55(e)(ii) to (viii), 56 to 62, 65 and 94”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 25”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 121, 123
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 121 and 123”
3. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendments 120” the letter “s” is the first word, the numbers 121 and 123 and the words “and by removing the Canadian Wheat Board from the coverage of this Act”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 118, 119
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with” immediately after the number “158”, the following “and 118 and 119”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 118” and the paragraph commencing with the words “Amendment 119”
1. Deleting from the paragraph commencing with the words “Disagrees with” the following: 67
2. Inserting in the paragraph commencing with the words “Agrees with”, immediately after the number “158”, the following: “and 67”
3. Deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “Senate amendment 67”
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, do I not have some time to conclude?
Mr. Speaker, today marks the return of Bill to the House of Commons, after adjustments by the Senate.
To begin, I would say that the Bloc Québécois will support Bill . While the bill is not perfect, it introduces measures that will increase government accountability and transparency. This bill lays the foundation for introducing a culture of openness as opposed to a culture of secrecy, which we have seen before; a culture of accountability as opposed to a style of management with no regard for the values of the public good. From that point of view, the Bloc Québécois is very happy that this bill paves the way for solutions.
We support Bill , especially because it introduces, in the form of a law, a code of ethics for ministers. In addition, the bill puts an end to the favouritism that enables political staff in ministers’ offices to enter the public service ahead of qualified public servants—which we have unfortunately seen in the past.
Bill also reinforces the powers of the Auditor General and the Ethics Commissioner, as well as placing more restrictions on lobbyists, which is not inconsequential. This bill significantly reduces the influence of money in election campaigns, nomination meetings and leadership campaigns. In addition, Bill establishes the position of Director of Public Prosecutions, thereby reinforcing the independence of the judiciary. Above all, Bill is a response—albeit partial—to many of the problems raised by the sponsorship scandal.
The Bloc Québécois especially supports this bill because many of its traditional demands have been incorporated into Bill , in particular, the appointment of returning officers by Elections Canada on the basis of merit.
The bill establishes a Commissioner of Lobbying, who will no longer be a public servant but rather an officer of Parliament. Thanks to Bill , the law dealing with financing of political parties will more closely resemble the Quebec legislation. As a result, corporate donations will be forbidden and individual contributions will be limited to a much more reasonable level.
We will be seeing the powers of the Auditor General strengthened, as I said earlier: she will now be able to follow the money to its end recipients. As well, unlike what was in the initial bill brought forward by the government, rewards for whistleblowers have been eliminated. We argued—and we still argue—that a measure like that would have resulted in an unhealthy culture of informing being created in the public service.
The Bloc had also asked for something else: that the Ethics Commissioner, rather than a minister, have the power to exempt political staff from the act, particularly in the case of students, junior employees or part-time workers.
We are also very pleased that a requirement has been incorporated in Bill for the Conflict of Interest Act to be reviewed in five years. At that time, members of Parliament will have an opportunity to consider the effects of the act. In our opinion, that exercise will tell us that the Conflict of Interest Act has no teeth and no power.
There is also, and most importantly, the request made by my former colleague from Repentigny: that the word “imputabilité” be replaced by the word “responsabilité”, so that the title of the act is now written in correct French.
The Bloc Québécois supports the government’s motion concerning the amendments proposed by the Senate. It supports the government’s adoption of a number of Senate amendments that promote ethics and transparency, and in particular the improvement of access by the Parliamentary Budget Officer to government financial and economic information, by replacing “access at all convenient times” with “access”.
As well, it strengthens the Access to Information Act by allowing the National Arts Centre Corporation to protect the identity of patrons who insist on anonymity.
We will also have more transparency in relation to exemptions granted to the Ethics Commissioner, who must now publish the exemptions he grants. That is amendment 16.
Amendment 95 is in response to a criticism by the President of the Public Service Commission, who was afraid that clause 106 of Bill would allow ministers to appoint special and political advisers to the public service.
The Bloc Québécois also supports the government’s rejection of a number of Senate amendments that do not promote ethics and transparency.
Some senators would like to keep their own Senate adviser and a puppet adviser under the authority of Senate committees. A number of Senate amendments would have operated to reduce the time the Ethics Commissioner and the Commissioner of Elections have to prosecute offenders. That is amendment 89.
A Senate amendment introduced a grandfather clause that would allow political staff to continue to join the ranks of the public service for another year, with priority over other applicants, and this is contrary to a measure like the one we have just supported. Some amendments proposed by the Senate operated to exclude certain public bodies from the Access to Information Act. Here again, we will have to speak to those amendments.
As I said earlier, this is not a perfect act and we regret that the government is rejecting several Senate amendments that were valid in the eyes of the Bloc Québécois. By amending Senate amendment 67, in our opinion, the government is trying to exempt certain political contributions from the scope of the political party financing legislation. The government is rejecting several Senate amendments designed to provide better whistleblower protection. The Senate suggested broadening the definition of “reprisals” in order to include “any other measure that may directly or indirectly harm a public servant”, which to our mind was much better. The Senate suggested increasing the time limit for filing a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. The Senate also suggested eliminating the $10,000 ceiling on awards for pain and suffering. The Senate suggested increasing the maximum for legal advice reimbursements from $1,500 to $25,000, or not setting any ceiling, at the commissioner’s discretion.
Amendment 119, which adds an interpretation clause, would authorize the communication, for reasons of public interest, of any banned document. This would be a very significant improvement to the Access to Information Act, in particular.
Then there is amendment 85, designed to solve the problem of consultants who are retained by certain departments to provide them with assistance in developing policies and who then lobby the same public servants on behalf of private clients. There is an ethical issue here.
Amendment 90 gave more clout to the lobbying commissioner. Under this amendment, the commissioner can prohibit lobbyists from lobbying for two years if they do not comply with the law. If a lobbyist failed to comply with the lobbying prohibition, he would be subject to a $50,000 fine. So this would have been a good amendment, one that would have consolidated the ethics commissioner’s power.
The Bloc Québécois condemns the idea of postponing the comprehensive reform of access to information; this very important aspect is missing from Bill . We have already mentioned this and we maintain our position.
The Bloc Québécois also condemns the fact that the government is trying to exclude from the political financing legislation the contributions made by supporters during conventions. It also condemns the fact that the Conservative Party did not keep its campaign promise to subject all crown corporations and foundations to the Access to Information Act. This is no longer in the bill. It is also disgraceful that the government refused to increase penalties for people who violate the ethics legislation. Another negative aspect is the fact that the new parliamentary budget officer is attached to the Library of Parliament.
As we all know, Bill stems from the problems associated with the sponsorship scandal. The Bloc Québécois made a number of recommendations to Commissioner Gomery in order to improve the current state of accountability. The Bloc Québécois 2005-06 election platform included various recommendations along the same lines. We are very pleased that several measures regarding accountability are now an integral part of Bill C-2.
We succeeded, for example, in making the legislation concerning the financing of political parties very similar to legislation that has existed in Quebec for several years. We also achieved some strengthening of the Lobbyists Registration Act.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into the debate at this stage of Bill .
Let me start by laying the foundation of the remarks that I hope to make. I firmly believe that if we did nothing else in this 39th Parliament other than to pass the federal accountability act and give meaning and substance to the clichés of transparency and accountability, we would at least be able to say that we spent our time well and we would have something to show the Canadian people.
I start my remarks with that note because I can say without any fear of contradiction that the federal accountability act is in a very fragile state as we speak. We run the risk, and I believe due to political mischief, of losing the federal accountability act, this great project that we undertook many months ago. At that time we cautioned that if we did not move swiftly, with a collective will and with some cooperation, a project of this magnitude is fraught with pitfalls and could easily collapse under its own weight or fall vulnerable to political influence and political mischief that have nothing to do with making the nation-state of Canada more transparent or the system accountable.
The debate will become very complex as we debate 154 amendments from the Senate. A comprehensive amendment from the Liberal Party has just been moved, as has a comprehensive subamendment from the Bloc Québécois. Let us bring this back to basics.
What we started back in April with Bill , the federal accountability act, would have given us for the first time ever comprehensive whistleblower protection. That alone I would have voted for in Bill C-2, just to be able to have done that one thing in this 39th Parliament.
The public appointments commission, the PAC, alone would put an end to patronage. Imagine, on behalf of the people of Canada, putting an end to pork-barrel patronage in the 39th Parliament. We could tell our grandchildren that we did something in this Parliament if we could deliver on that one chapter of Bill alone. It would be spectacular. It would be sensational. Those things are at risk as we speak.
The parliamentary budget officer, the director of public prosecutions, all of these worthy initiatives that are not very controversial and have broad support from all the political parties, are now vulnerable. They could crash and burn as we bicker and toss back and forth between the Senate chamber and the House of Commons amendments on the most minuscule, trivial, virtually meaningless things.
Let us strip it down to basics. The one thing that is holding up the bill right now is whether or not a single ethics commissioner would administer the two codes of conflict of interest for this chamber and the Senate or if there would be multiple ethics commissioners. We are debating how many ethics commissioners can dance on the head of a pin. That is really what the whole thing boils down to. All of these wonderful initiatives will fall by the wayside if we cannot agree to something that silly.
To hear the senators tell it, it would be a constitutional crisis if there were two ethics commissioners. Constitutional crisis is a phrase that is tossed around in modern day Canada, saying constitutional crisis is the last refuge of a scoundrel in Canadian terms. It is a smokescreen to stall and delay the important reforms that Canadians expect, Canadians demand and which Canadians sent us here to put into place.
People tuning in or trying to weave their way through this quagmire that is the federal accountability act and all the amendments, subamendments and compounding amendments, should just remember that we are trying to implement whistleblower protection. We are trying to implement a public appointments commission so we cannot make political patronage appointments to unqualified nephews, et cetera. We are trying to put in a parliamentary budget officer, and we are hung up on things like how many ethics commissioners shall administer our codes of conduct. It is so petty that a lot of people would not believe that we could be tripped up so readily, to have such a noble pursuit held up, intercepted and sabotaged by such trivial arguments.
I am very proud of the role that the New Democratic Party has played in trying to make sure that at least the key elements of this bill are salvaged and come to possible fruition.
I should pay tribute to the contribution of my former colleague, the former leader of the New Democratic Party and member for Ottawa Centre, Mr. Ed Broadbent. In the 38th Parliament it was Ed Broadbent, in coming back to the House of Commons after many years of doing other work, who recognized there were enormous gaps and lapses in the ethical standards and conduct of the Parliament that he left those many years ago. He put in place a seven point ethics package. A great deal of the elements from Ed Broadbent's recommended package of reform for this House of Commons found its way into Bill .
It was a natural match. For those who may think it is strange bedfellows to see the NDP in support of an ethics package put forward by the Conservative government, we did not find it to be contradictory at all. Nobody has a monopoly on ethical standards. We were pleased to see some of the things that were suggested and recommended by Ed Broadbent in Bill , so we could say that we would support it.
I honestly think sometimes that we in the NDP over here in this corner are wearing blue helmets, like peacekeepers, in this initiative. We are the honest brokers in this. There is politics being played over there. There is politics being played over there, and yes, there is politics being played by the federal government in trying to achieve secondary objectives with Bill . We in fact have a sincere and genuine interest in trying to fix the things that are broken so that we can be proud when we go home and tell our people what we did for them when they sent us to Ottawa.
Let us be clear. The power to kill Bill rests totally with the backrooms of the Liberal Party as we speak. It is the Liberal Senate that has been holding this bill up unreasonably. I heard comments from my colleagues. Maybe they did not notice but the Senate had this bill for months and months. It heard the same witnesses that we heard, asked the same questions that we asked, endless and needless hours of study that we believe was designed to stall this bill until the Liberal convention was finished. They were hung up on how the election financing changes would impact the Liberal leadership convention. They pretty much served notice that they were going to sabotage and undermine the bill when it was introduced in April, at least until it got past that hurdle.
I am asking them now to stop their delay and stalling tactics. They got away with it. They managed to delay implementation of the bill until their convention is over. The implementation date is January 1, 2007. They should stand down on that issue because the undemocratic and unelected Senate did not just amend the federal accountability act, it took it hostage. Today we are debating the outrageous ransom demands that still threaten to kill Bill unless we give in. Well, we have given in on a great deal, incidental issues that simply do not weigh enough to justify blocking the passage of the whole bill.
Now we are saying that it was the rudderless Liberal Party that allowed those rogue senators to run amok, as it were. It would be interesting if some of the Liberal leadership hopefuls would show some leadership and maybe intervene at this point and rein in their rogue senators, those senators who have blocked this bill and still threaten to kill it.
Let us not kid ourselves. If we send this bill back to the Senate again and the senators still do not like it--let us say it still calls for separate ethics commissioners--they have the ability to debate it endlessly, send it back to committee, make more amendments and send it back to the House of Commons, until we reach an absolute impasse, a logjam. If we delay it much further, we can all acknowledge we will be at the polls sooner rather than later. This entire project could collapse and I do not know how it would ever get rebuilt.
It is really only in minority parliaments that we can do these kinds of comprehensive amendments. I do not like our chances of getting a sequel, bill the second, through in a majority parliament, whether it be a Liberal majority or a Conservative majority. Maybe if it was an NDP majority government this initiative would survive. We would be proud to make it our first bill in an NDP government.
In much of what the Senate did, and my colleagues in the Bloc should be very sensitive to this, the Senate exceeded its place in the Constitution. It is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. It is supposed to watch for constitutional or legal errors that may have been made by this chamber. It is never supposed to interfere with a piece of legislation from the elected chamber to the point where it would be a serious policy shift. It is not supposed to undermine the government's initiatives or the initiatives of the elected chamber.
Many of the amendments that the other place put through did all of these things. Many of the amendments that it put through are spurious, mischievous, raise constitutional problems and some of them are simply in error. I will point out some of those should time permit.
I know that I am speaking broadly and in general terms. I will narrow my remarks to the amendment moved by the Liberal Party. I can support half of what the Liberals put forward as an amendment to the motion put forward by the government and I will have to reject the other two. Let me speak specifically.
Part A of the Liberal amendment speaks to the Senate ethics commissioner. It brings back the notion that there should be separate ethics commissioners, one for the Senate and one for the House of Commons. I do not care. It is not that important to me. I am not going to jeopardize the success of this whole project arguing how many ethics commissioners can dance on the head of a pin. I do not care if we have 10. I will recommend that the NDP vote in favour of this amendment that the senators have their own separate Senate ethics commissioner. I do not buy their line that it is a constitutional crisis, but I do firmly believe that if they are going to get stubborn and ruin this whole project, the senators can have a separate ethics commissioner.
Part B argues that the Wheat Board should not be subject to the Access to Information Act. I also will vote in favour of this. I support this, notwithstanding what went on at the committee meeting on . Since that time the government has launched a full-blown attack on the Canadian Wheat Board. An absolutely mad crusade has begun to undermine the important work of the Canadian Wheat Board and I will not be a party to it.
I will officially state that I will not support anything that will undermine that great prairie institution the Canadian Wheat Board. I will proudly stand in my place and vote in favour of the Wheat Board. I will not participate in this lynch mob mentality, tactics that Mussolini would be proud of, in trying to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board, denying its members even the right to vote. Their statutory guaranteed right to vote on their own future is being denied to them by the Conservative government. I will not be a part of it. I will not be a party to it. I will support the Liberals' amendment regarding whether or not the Canadian Wheat Board should be included under the ATI provisions of the act.
Part C deals with internal audits and papers. It says that the Liberal Party believes that internal draft documents should be subject to access to information as well. I would only ask that my Liberal Party colleagues look at what the Auditor General had to say about that. She does not believe this is a good idea. She specifically spoke to this at committee not only once, but twice. She feels it would be a serious error if all of the working documents and draft notes dealing with an audit were subject to access to information requests because much of her work relies on the free communication of background information. People would bury that information and would simply not have it available if they were worried that it would become public. This is a bad idea. I wish my colleagues of the Liberal Party would reconsider this. We will vote against this one which amends Senate amendment 118.
Also, on Senate amendment 119, the Liberal Party would have us introduce the concept of a public interest override within the context of the Access to Information Act. The NDP will not support this either. There is good background for that. NDP members are not being stubborn.
We believe that if the public interest override were introduced to the bill as contemplated by Senate amendment 119, it would put the public interest override in the hands of the head of the institution and not in the hands of the Information Commissioner. It actually would weaken the Access to Information Act and the discretionary authority of the Information Commissioner. Again, I do not think the Liberals thought this through, but I wish they would reconsider. The NDP cannot support this at all.
The last element of the amendments put forward by the Liberal Party deals with convention fees. This has been the second source of mischief that has delayed and stalled this bill, the first being the dual ethics commissioner and the second being the whole sensitive subject of convention fees, election financing limits, et cetera.
NDP members read the current Elections Act the way we always have. We have no conflict. We have no misunderstanding. We do not believe it should be changed or altered in any way. We believe the election financing limit should be $1,000 per year and that convention fees should be viewed as political donations and should be treated that way, just like we have always treated them.
I know that the other parties are having problems, partly due to their own greed. When a party charges $995 for a convention fee and the donation limit per year is $1,000, that party is going to run into trouble. NDP convention fees are $135, with an early bird fee of $95. We in the NDP do not have that problem, so I would advise the parties that are having difficulty fitting in underneath the new election campaign donation limits to look inward, to have a look at themselves in the mirror. That may be where they find the problem, not within the Elections Act.
As far as the subamendments that have been put forward by my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois are concerned, I know that Bloc members are not big fans of the accountability act. It is no secret that the Bloc Québécois will do better in the next federal election if the federal government is still corrupt. Those members do not really want the federal government to be cleaned up, because they have to be able to point to a corrupt federal government to justify voting for the Bloc Québécois. We in the NDP do not buy into that and will not support that. So the Senate ethics--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Pat Martin: I do not know why they would undermine the Canadian Wheat Board, because supply management in Quebec is very important to the well-being of the agricultural sector in Quebec. In a similar way, the Canadian Wheat Board is very important to the good people in the prairie provinces where I live. I do not know why they would seek to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board in this way.
As far as a Senate ethics commissioner is concerned, again, I will not get into that debate. I do not care how many ethics commissioners those members want, as long as they do not hold up the important amendments dealing with Bill .
We worked like crazy on this bill. It has been a pleasure to be part of something productive. If we get this bill through the Senate this time, it will be something that we can all look back on and be proud of, because we will have changed the way Ottawa does business. We will have changed the culture of secrecy and corruption that caused us all such consternation with the past government.
I understand why the Liberal Party hates the federal accountability act. It is all about the Liberals' last 10 to 12 years. Every page of it, I suppose, would be an insult if one were a member of the Liberal Party, because a lot of what it does changes the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish in previous years. It is the job of members to put a stop to it. We are going to do our best to see the speedy passage of Bill , even if it means compromising on some of the minor details.