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Results: 1 - 13 of 13
View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Legault, for your input.
I had wanted the committee to hear from the Privacy Commissioner, and she sent us a brief. Nothing you are saying contradicts what the commissioner said about personal information and privacy. But I would like to hear your thoughts on a point Mr. Lamoureux brought up.
How much information should we disclose? It's important for us, but there are two sides to disclosure. To my mind, it makes perfect sense for my constituents, or the general population, to know how my budget is being spent, because, at the end of the day, it's their money. That's no problem. Like it or not, however, other people are sometimes involved.
For instance, if I sign a service contract with the community television people in my riding, what problem could that cause for them, in terms of other media, since they are also involved? Kevin mentioned taking someone to lunch. Obviously, someone who wants to keep the discussion completely confidential will come to my office, where we can close the door. And the discussion will remain confidential. But even in that case, I have to tell you that my office is located right across from a local newspaper, and the reporters have called me up before to ask why so-and-so came to see me. In those situations, we don't give them an answer.
Basically, if we go out to eat with someone, do we have to disclose who the person is and what the meeting was for? We also want to know whether certain pieces of information need to be disclosed when it comes to the contracts for our employees.
Of course, there are guidelines. But I would like you to elaborate on what we need to do to prevent certain pieces of information from getting out and being made public, information that could harm people who are not members of Parliament.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Again, thank you, Ms. O'Brien, for joining us today. You were here when the committee began its study and here you are again as we wrap things up. We have come full circle.
Since your first appearance before the committee, we have heard from other witnesses, including two former House speakers, Mr. Milliken and Mr. Fraser yesterday. Their remarks shed light on progress as it relates to the Board of Internal Economy. Mr. Milliken told us that, in 10 years, he had seen very little in the way of change with respect to how the board operated.
Something former Speaker of the House John Fraser said really struck me. I was asking him about the representation of the Board of Internal Economy. Yesterday, we also heard from someone representing the Canadian Association of Journalists. We've talked a lot about transparency as it relates to the public and the media. But we haven't really discussed what happens on the inside. As I said yesterday, during my first seven years as an MP, our representatives on the Board of Internal Economy were Michel Guimond and then Claude DeBellefeuille. We had a rough idea of what went on and we trusted our whip to look after our affairs. We didn't ask too many questions.
Today, I'm in a different boat. The NDP and the Conservatives experienced the same thing from 1993 to 1997. The members of my party are in the dark. We don't really know what goes on at the Board of Internal Economy. The minutes barely tell us anything about what's going on or how matters are progressing.
Former Speaker Fraser told me that it was definitely possible to make adjustments as far as our representation in the House of Commons was concerned. Belonging to a party that isn't recognized or being an independent doesn't make us second-class citizens. And yet that's how the Board of Internal Economy treats us. If the solution ends up being business as usual and that's how it is, I completely disagree.
The first thing we need to do is stop navel gazing and make the changes required internally to improve representation. Next, the Board of Internal Economy needs to be more transparent to the public. What's more, whether it's legislated or at the Auditor General's request, once or twice a year, he or she should conduct the necessary audits of the board's activities. The Information Commissioner mentioned some requests to that effect that could be granted.
I don't want to put words in the mouth of former Speaker Fraser, given that, in his case, we were talking only about representation. Nevertheless, I would like to know whether we could overhaul the Board of Internal Economy, rename it and transform it into a different organization, one that was more in line with what I was talking about.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Fraser, I would like to remind you of your last years as chair of the Board of Internal Economy, from 1993 to 1994. At that time, the Conservative Party and the NDP were not yet recognized. They had two and nine MPs, respectively. They certainly were not on the BOIE. Do you remember the two parties complaining about not being on the BOIE and not being sufficiently informed about what was being discussed there?
I'm going to relate a short anecdote about what we experienced on our side. I had no problems in the first seven years I was an MP because our party was represented on the Board of Internal Economy. But in 2011, when the board looked into a matter involving the Bloc Québécois, I asked to attend the meetings as an observer, but my request was denied.
For the sake of greater representation of all members of the House, when it comes to their own political party or, at the very least, when some files affect them, meaning almost all of them, should space not be made for MPs who are members of a party that is not recognized or who sit as independents?
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
When Ms. O'Brien was here, she said that the board was able to adapt to changing needs. Do you remember the main changes that took place in the 10 years you were chair of the Board of Internal Economy, particularly with respect to transparency? What changed the most from your first to your last year as chair of the board?
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here.
As a former journalist, I can understand this concern about transparency. I can understand it even more now that I belong to a non-recognized party.
As I said earlier to Mr. Milliken, in the first seven years I was an MP, my party was represented on the Board of Internal Economy. I trusted my whip, who reported what he could to us. Not all the discussions were systematically made public, even for party caucuses.
Now I am in exactly your position, even though I have been an MP for nine years. I don't know much about what has happened in the past two years. The Board of Internal Economy brags about transparency, but even the MPs, particularly those whose parties are not recognized or who are independents, are suffering from the lack of transparency. This is especially true for journalists, even though they in some way represent the public. But the money being spent is taxpayers' money, who deserve to have watch dogs—pardon the expression—check what is going on and how the money is being spent. Yes, there is a lack of transparency, internally and externally.
However, although Mr. Milliken said that there were no major changes in his 10 years as Speaker, I have seen a change. More information is available now, online for example, but there is much more on each expenditure.
Would you be satisfied if, rather than indicate a bunch of expenditures and the amount an MP spent on travel, we said what the trip was, and where the MP went and when, for example? All that information is submitted to the auditor anyway. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have a problem with it, but the 307 other MPs should do the same. It shouldn't be up to each individual to decide what information to provide.
What additional information would be useful to you in doing your job?
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Mr. Lukiwski gave us an example earlier. But if this story about Ralph Goodale had happened in Quebec, it would have certainly been in the newspapers. I'm convinced of it. For us, the media report on details of MP expenditures at least once a year.
Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but I would still like to point out that every MP's reality is different. I myself am not one of the biggest spenders in Quebec: out of 75 ridings, I rank about 44th. Having said that, I don't want to judge the others who have higher expenses. Since my riding includes 40 municipalities and covers 3,000 km2, I have not one office, but three. So I need employees who drive two hours to get from one constituency office to another to work.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Auditor General, your suggestions and observations are very relevant. Not that long ago, MPs and political parties wanted to make all decisions regarding the administration of their expenses behind closed door. Indeed, in 2010, when your predecessor, Ms. Fraser, asked to do an audit, the Bloc Québécois was the only party that accepted right away to divulge all of its expenses and be as transparent as possible. We can see that things evolved because I think that the population, as you said so well, no longer accepts that expenses be kept secret, since we are talking about taxpayers' money, their money. We are headed in the right direction.
However, I have questions on how the transparent governance you allude to would function. Is it really necessary to create another organization? We are already sending of all our invoices and supporting documents to the controller's office. Would it be possible to be totally transparent and divulge as much of this information as possible, while allowing the Office of the Auditor General to have the legal right to perform audits, either once a year or twice a year, with the necessary means? I am wondering about this hybrid system to provide greater transparency. Currently, we are divulging information by work station and this is on the Internet. That is already an improvement compared to what used to be done, but it seems to me that we can still improve this by providing more details and by allowing you to perform audits. A statutory report would really allow for recommendations and modifications, if need be, on certain practices that may still need to be improved.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
I am going to use them, Mr. Chair.
According to you, this independent organization should be made up of representatives from the public, people who, of course, would have particular expertise. It is clear to all of us that in the current situation, with the Board of Internal Economy, it is difficult for parliamentarians to remove their partisan hats when they are discussing things together.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Sills, a first question comes to my mind. I am convinced that the population is asking itself the same question, and that when this happened, people in your country as well wondered how a system could have allowed such inappropriate expenses as home renovations, the purchase of electronic devices, etc.? How did MPs, ministers and even House personnel manage to fall through the cracks?
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Mr. Sills, since IPSA took over the audits, do you receive a lot of claims that seem inappropriate to you? Have you had to refuse many expense claims from MPs or ministers, or have past practices been completely eradicated?
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I plan to show you that I have not lost my touch, at least I hope I haven't.
Thank you for your testimony. I have two matters to bring up and not a lot of time to do it.
Times have changed in terms of transparency, and that is a good thing. You gave us a great example of that earlier on.
For the Bloc Québecois, it is quite normal for the public, and, by extension, the media, to be able to have access to our expenses, given that people have questions about them. It is their money, after all. We feel that this is a very important question.
With expenses posted, we might look forward to the time when even more details may be available on the Internet. Ms. May, for example, pointed out the costs of air travel. We do not know whether a member flew economy or business class, nor how many times he or she did so. But we know that business class is much more expensive. This possibility would answer the public's question about that.
My first question is for you, Ms. O'Brien, or for the person with you. It is about the importance of protecting privacy. We have a law about that. People might want to know whom we are meeting with, and why.
Also, there are all those cases of whistleblowing, including the one at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, where the person was fired because of the revelations she made.
Someone meeting with an opposition member of Parliament could be targeted by the government. It would not matter who, because in the list of expenses, you could see that they went to a restaurant, for example. I am sure that you will tell me that people will be more careful in cases like that. But it is a problem that we should think about.
Everyone feels that their consciences are clear by saying that they want more transparency. But it not the same for everyone at the moment. And it has to be. We cannot ask each member of Parliament to reveal more and more all the time, as if this was the dance of the seven veils.
The other part of my question deals with independence. Mr. Watters, you made me sit up and take notice when you said we have to be careful. Yes, but sometimes there is nothing better than a real example for showing the importance of independence.
With the exception of the Liberals, every party has been non-recognized at some stage, when they had fewer than 12 members. A non-recognized party can be subject to the scrutiny of the Board of Internal Economy. I will not remind you of the case, but it has happened to us, as you know full well. But despite our requests to the Board of Internal Economy and to the other parties, everyone washed their hands of the matter and it was decided that the discussions would be held without the party there. It took several meetings and, because it all went on behind closed doors, we knew nothing about it. This ties in with what my colleagues said earlier.
We suffered the consequences after the fact. In my opinion, the Board lacked all credibility and legitimacy in that study, given that the people affected were not able to be there.
So, in terms of independence, I also feel that there is certainly some room for improvement.
Could you comment on the two points I have raised?
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