Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out that what we have in front of us today is an allotted day opposition motion from the Liberal Party of Canada. I would like to actually thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for his motion, because moving toward increased transparency and accountability is something our Conservative government has strongly supported and continues to support. Our government has a solid track record of achievement when it comes to improving the transparency of all aspects of government operations, including contracts, tenders, and government records.
I think it is easy to forget how far we have come since 2006. Today, we take for granted all the protections we now have in place as a result of our initiatives, but we should not lose sight of what inspired us to make these changes in the first place.
We had a Liberal government that was caught with both hands in the cookie jar. There were mysterious and lucrative contracts with Liberal-friendly ad agencies, with little or no work to show for them. There was misappropriation of taxpayer money, kickback schemes, and money changing hands in brown envelopes. As the Gomery commission poked at the rot, a picture began to emerge of a system tailored to benefit the Liberals and their friends. There was a systemic lack of accountability and oversight. There were insufficient guidelines governing appointments, advertising, and behaviour of ministers and their staff.
With all this in mind, our first order of business when we formed government was to enact the Federal Accountability Act, the toughest accountability legislation in the history of Canada. This was a sweeping initiative, designed to close the loopholes the previous government had used to enrich itself and its friends.
For example, the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, among other things, reformed the financing of political parties; cleaned up the procurement of government contracts; cleaned up government polling and advertising; provided real protection for whistleblowers; strengthened access to information legislation; strengthened the power of the Auditor General; strengthened auditing and accountability within federal departments; strengthened the role of the Ethics Commissioner; and toughened the lobbyists registration act.
In all, our Federal Accountability Act and action plan made substantive changes to 45 federal statutes and amended more than 100 others, which touched virtually every part of government. This was a significant achievement.
However, since then, our government has continued with its unprecedented work on strengthening the transparency and accountability of our public institutions. For example, we are working to ensure that federal departments post more information on contracts, including those for professional services and management consultants and those awarded to former public servants.
We have also taken significant steps to make important information more accessible than ever to the public. For example, government procurement information can now be found on a single website called Buyandsell.gc.ca, which is free of charge and does not require registration.
In 2012, departments began publishing quarterly financial reports, which are accessible through the open data portal, which can be found at data.gc.ca. Summaries of completed access to information program requests can now be searched online through this open data portal.
We have also unveiled a searchable expenditure database, which for the first time provides citizens and parliamentarians with easy access and analysis of all government spending.
We continue to strive to make information more accessible to Canadians.
Though this government released a record number of materials through access to information requests in 2012-13, which was a 27% increase over the previous year, we still had one of the fastest turnaround rates on record for processing access to information requests. There is no question that this is a record of achievement. It is a record that shows relentless progress toward increased transparency and accountability. It is a record that shows necessary respect for the right of taxpayers to see where their money is going.
It takes great effort to get to where we are today, and it will require great effort to continue our progress. It has required an investment of time and political will to continue moving it forward. We have done it because it was the right thing to do.
We understand that the same information that helps Canadians understand their government can also be twisted and mischaracterized by our political opponents, which might explain why previous governments did not enact the changes we have enacted and why we have had so much ground to cover as we work to improve transparency and accountability in government. However, that still has not deterred us. We will continue to move forward, knowing that we are building a system that makes it harder for people to misuse government resources for personal gain.
Our determination ultimately arises out of a respect for taxpayers that underpins our party. We are not afraid to set higher standards for ourselves. We do not try to fool Canadians with grand schemes that distract the eye and empty the wallet but accomplish nothing. We try to develop practical solutions to real problems that respect the bottom line. We have not governed to enrich ourselves but to build a better, stronger Canada. We have shown unprecedented leadership in transparency and accountability and are very proud of our accomplishments in this regard.
Today I would like to focus on specific actions Conservative parliamentarians have taken to apply these principles in their personal affairs, specifically by improving transparency and accountability for travel and hospitality expenses.
The motion in question calls for the travel and hospitality expenses of members of Parliament to be reported in a manner similar to the government's proactive disclosure guidelines for ministerial expenses. I am proud to say that Conservative members of Parliament have gone further down this road than anyone.
We knew that Canadians were concerned about expenses both here and in the other place, and we sought a way to provide them the assurance they need with respect to how their money is being used. We pushed for improved reporting that would provide more details for all MPs, particularly with respect to travel and hospitality, but we were concerned about the time frame required to achieve this within the formal reporting mechanisms that apply to all members. Rather than wait, we developed our own system for tracking travel and hospitality expenses.
We chose to base our own reporting system on that used for proactive disclosure under the ministerial model for travel and hospitality expenses. The model is adapted to fit MP expenses and is driven by two primary principles. The first is that if a travel or hospitality expense is paid for by the taxpayer, it should be reported within our system. Second, the most important relationship, when it comes to reporting expenses, is between the member and his or her constituents.
Although our Liberal colleagues also developed a reporting system, there are a number of differences in our respective approaches. It is impossible to compare principles with the NDP, since it has no reporting system at all. Instead of making an honest effort to require their members to improve their transparency, they offer only excuses and deflection.
A careful look at proactive disclosure by ministerial offices reveals comprehensive accounting of travel and hospitality expenses, not just by ministers but also by their political staff.
Conservatives are the only party currently posting complete travel and hospitality expenses for staff as well as for parliamentarians. MPs' staff do important work for our constituents and are in a position of trust. It is no less important for us to account for travel and hospitality expenses for our staff. Just as ministerial staff have to disclose all travel expenses charged to the taxpayers, Conservative MPs also provide proactive disclosure on all staff travel expenses.
My Liberal colleagues go partway in this regard in that they appear to report staff travel when it takes place between Ottawa and the riding, but there is no sign of travel expenses incurred within the riding. This is at best a half-measure, but to be sure, and in fairness, it is a vast improvement over the complete lack of measures exhibited by the NDP.
Another apparent difference between the Conservative and Liberal systems is that Conservatives are posting all items charged under the hospitality budget as hospitality expenses. It is not clear if this is the case for the Liberal system, but perhaps they could clarify whether they are posting all hospitality charges or just selected ones.
One thing is clear. There is one party in this place that is not offering details of its hospitality expenses, and that is the NDP. My colleagues in the NDP have decided that they would rather not post any detailed expenses. Not only that, they have tried to disparage our attempts to increase transparency regarding our expenses. They have the gall to wrap their lack of transparency in a cloak of virtue. The NDP members claim that they will not report their travel and hospitality expenses because there is not currently a system that applies to all MPs.
Well, we agree that there should be a system that applies to all MPs. We do not agree that this should stop MPs from taking steps to increase their own transparency. A new system will not appear overnight, so we have taken steps to fill the gap. In the end, while the NDP waits for a system that applies to all MPs, virtually all MPs except the NDP have a system in place.
Mr. Peter Julian: April 1, April 1.
Mr. Blaine Calkins: The truth hurts.
Hon. John Duncan: They are heckling me now, Mr. Speaker.
The NDP members claim that they will not report their expenses because the systems currently used by other parties require self-policing. While we agree that we should work toward a system that is vetted by House administration, we do not agree that this is a barrier to MPs being accountable to their constituents. I have worked hard to ensure that my travel and hospitality reports accurately reflect my expenses, and I believe that my colleagues have done the same.
I wonder why the NDP balks so much at posting its expenses. Is it because it mistrusts its own members so deeply that it would rather post nothing than coax them to do it themselves, or is it because they are worried about what the public might see if their spending were posted? Whatever ideas the NDP offers as a distraction, the fact is that absolutely nothing prevents it from taking immediate steps toward being transparent now.
Currently, MP expenses are closely scrutinized by the non-partisan experts within House administration. The quality of their work, as far as I understand, is not being debated, and the Auditor General has confirmed that the safeguards they have in place are rigorous and effective. This motion, as I understand it, would allow us to explore ways in which we could collect and collate information so that it could be presented in a format similar to ministerial proactive disclosure, which has been widely accepted. This makes sense.
The NDP, on the other hand, would have us do away with the current system entirely. It would have us set up a new system, based on the British system, which, according to evidence provided at procedures and House affairs, functions in a manner very similar to our own system.
The British developed an arm's-length organization, because their system was not working. Setting up their organization cost millions of pounds and took several years and a lot of growing pains. It was worth the cost and effort for them because they were replacing a system that was completely broken. In the end, they ended up with a system of safeguards not remarkably different from what we already have in place. Why would the NDP ask us to spend millions of dollars to end up no further ahead?
I am proud of our government's record on transparency and accountability and can confidently state that we will continue to lead on this front. Since this motion is consistent with the direction we have already taken and efforts already under way, thanks to Conservative leadership, I have no problem supporting it. In fact, I move:
That the motion be amended by adding immediately after the word “posting”, the following words, “, on April 1, 2014,”.